According to Guinness World Records, “White Christmas” (1942) by Bing Crosby is the best-selling single worldwide, with estimated sales of over 50 million copies. The song recognized as “the best-selling single of all time” was released before the pop/rock singles-chart era and “was listed as the world’s best-selling single in the first-ever Guinness Book of Records (published in 1955) and—remarkably—still retains the title more than 50 years later.” Guinness World Records states that double A-side charity single “Candle in the Wind 1997″/”Something About the Way You Look Tonight” (1997) by Elton John, a tribute to the late Diana, Princess of Wales, is “the biggest-selling single since UK and US singles charts began in the 1950s, having accumulated worldwide sales of 33 million copies,” making it the second-best-selling single of all time.
The list is split between physical (mainly CD and vinyl) singles and digitally downloaded tracks which first became available to purchase in the early 2000s.
Bing Crosby // 50 million Sales
The first public performance of the song was by Bing Crosby, on his NBC radio show The Kraft Music Hall on Christmas Day, 1941; a copy of the recording from the radio program is owned by the estate of Bing Crosby and was loaned to CBS News Sunday Morning for their December 25, 2011, program.He subsequently recorded the song with the John Scott Trotter Orchestra and the Ken Darby Singers for Decca Records in just 18 minutes on May 29, 1942, and it was released on July 30 as part of an album of six 78-rpm discs from the film Holiday Inn.At first, Crosby did not see anything special about the song. He just said “I don’t think we have any problems with that one, Irving.”
The song initially performed poorly and was overshadowed by Holiday Inn’s first hit song: “Be Careful, It’s My Heart”.By the end of October 1942, “White Christmas” topped the “Your Hit Parade” chart. It remained in that position until well into the new year.It has often been noted that the mix of melancholy — “just like the ones I used to know” — with comforting images of home — “where the treetops glisten” — resonated especially strongly with listeners during World War II. The Armed Forces Network was flooded with requests for the song. The recording is noted for Crosby’s whistling during the second Chorus.
Elton John // 33 million Sales
“Candle in the Wind 1997” is a song by Elton John, a re-written and re-recorded version of his 1973 song “Candle in the Wind”. It was released on 13 September 1997 as a tribute single to the late Diana, Princess of Wales, with the global proceeds from the song going towards Diana’s charities. In many countries, it was pressed a double A-side with “Something About the Way You Look Tonight”. It was produced by Sir George Martin.
According to the Recording Industry Association of America, with certified sales, it is “the best-selling single of all time.”The Guinness World Records 2009 states that the song is “the biggest-selling single since UK and US singles charts began in the 1950s, having accumulated worldwide sales of 33 million copies”.
After being released, “Candle in the Wind 1997” entered at number one in the UK Singles Chart, John’s fourth UK number one single, and became the best-selling single in UK Chart history.In October it became John’s ninth U.S. number one single, where it topped the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 weeks, and is the best-selling single in Billboard history, and was the first single certified Diamond in the U.S.The song topped the German Singles Chart for seven weeks, the Australian ARIA Charts for six weeks, reached number one in Japan, Canada, France and music charts around the world.
The 1997 version won John the Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance at the 40th Grammy Awards ceremony in 1998.At the 1998 Brit Awards the song was nominated for the Brit Award for Best British Single. The lyrics of the earlier version of “Candle in the Wind”, written by Bernie Taupin, were a tribute to Marilyn Monroe. The opening lines of the 1973 version, “Goodbye Norma Jeane, though I never knew you at all,” were adapted to “Goodbye England’s rose, may you ever grow in our hearts.” Most of the lyrics were adapted to suit the circumstances of Diana’s life and death, but a notable omission was the line, “Even when you died, the press still hounded you…” which was replaced with the lyric, “Even though we try, the truth brings us to tears…”
Bing Crosby // 30 million Sales
The song was first performed on Christmas Eve 1818 at St Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf, a village in the Austrian Empire on the Salzach river in present-day Austria. A young priest, Father Joseph Mohr, had come to Oberndorf the year before. He had already written the lyrics of the song “Stille Nacht” in 1816 at Mariapfarr, the hometown of his father in the Salzburg Lungau region, where Joseph had worked as a coadjutor.
The melody was composed by Franz Xaver Gruber, schoolmaster and organist in the nearby village of Arnsdorf. Before Christmas Eve, Mohr brought the words to Gruber and asked him to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for the church service.Both performed the carol during the mass on the night of December 24.
The original manuscript has been lost. However, a manuscript was discovered in 1995 in Mohr’s handwriting and dated by researchers at ca. 1820. It shows that Mohr wrote the words in 1816 when he was assigned to a pilgrim church in Mariapfarr, Austria, and shows that the music was composed by Gruber in 1818. This is the earliest manuscript that exists and the only one in Mohr’s handwriting.
The story behind composing the song was the subject of Christian Vuissa’s 2012 film Stille Nacht (de).It was also the subject of the 2014 documentary The First Silent Night, narrated by Simon Callow.
Mungo Jerry // 30 million Sales
“In the Summertime” is the debut single by British rock band Mungo Jerry. Written by lead singer Ray Dorset, it celebrates the carefree days of summer. In 1970 it reached number one in charts around the world, including seven weeks in the UK Singles Chart, two weeks in one of the Canadian charts, and number three on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in the US. It is considered one of the best-selling singles of all time with an estimated 30 million copies sold.
The song took Dorset only ten minutes to compose on a second-hand Fender Stratocaster while he was taking time off work from his regular job, working in a lab for Timex.The song’s lyric “have a drink, have a drive, go out and see what you can find” led to the song’s somewhat ironic use in a UK advert for the campaign Drinking and Driving Wrecks Lives.
Bill Haley & His Comets // 25 million Sales
“Rock Around the Clock” is a rock and roll song in the 12-bar blues format written by Max C. Freedman and James E. Myers (the latter under the pseudonym “Jimmy De Knight”) in 1952. The best-known and most successful rendition was recorded by Bill Haley & His Comets in 1954 for American Decca. It was a number one single on both the US and UK charts and also re-entered the UK Singles Chart in the 1960s and 1970s.
It was not the first rock and roll record, nor was it the first successful record of the genre (Bill Haley had American chart success with “Crazy Man, Crazy” in 1953, and in 1954, “Shake, Rattle and Roll” sung by Big Joe Turner reached No. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart). Haley’s recording nevertheless became an anthem for rebellious 1950s youth and is widely considered to be the song that, more than any other, brought rock and roll into mainstream culture around the world. The song is ranked No. 158 on the Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Although first recorded by Italian-American band Sonny Dae and His Knights on March 20, 1954,the more famous version by Bill Haley & His Comets is not, strictly speaking, a cover version. Myers claimed the song had been written specifically for Haley but, for various reasons, Haley was unable to record it himself until April 12, 1954.
The original full title of the song was “We’re Gonna Rock Around the Clock Tonight!”. This was later shortened to “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock”, though this form is generally only used on releases of the 1954 Bill Haley Decca Records recording; most other recordings of this song by Haley and others (including Sonny Dae) shorten this title further to “Rock Around the Clock”.
Domenico Modugno // 22 million Sales
“Nel blu dipinto di blu”, is a song recorded by Italian singer-songwriter Domenico Modugno. Written by Franco Migliacci and Domenico Modugno, it was released as a single on 1 February 1958.
Winning the eighth Sanremo Music Festival, the song was chosen as the Italian entry to the Eurovision Song Contest in 1958, where it won third place out of ten songs in total. The combined sales of all the versions of the song exceed 22 million copies worldwide, making it one of the most popular Eurovision songs of all time and the most successful Sanremo Music Festival song ever.
It spent five non-consecutive weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 in August and September 1958 and was Billboard’s number-one single for the year. Modugno’s recording subsequently became the first Grammy winner for Record of the Year and Song of the Year in 1958.
The song was later translated in several languages and it was recorded by a wide range of performers, including Bobby Rydell, Dean Martin, Al Martino, Jerry Vale, David Bowie, Cliff Richard, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, Dalida, Gipsy Kings, Chico & the Gypsies, Deana Martin and Barry White.
Whitney Houston // 20 million Sales
“I Will Always Love You” is a song written, composed, and originally recorded by American singer-songwriter Dolly Parton. The country track was released on June 6, 1974 as the second single from Parton’s thirteenth solo studio album, Jolene (1974). The singer wrote the song, which was recorded on June 13, 1973, for her one-time partner and mentor Porter Wagoner, from whom she was professionally splitting at the time.
“I Will Always Love You” received positive reviews from critics and attained commercial success, reaching number one on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart two times. First, in June 1974 and a 1982 rerecording of the song also reached number one October of that year. With that accomplishment, Parton became the first artist ever to earn a number one record twice with the same song. The song also won Parton Female Vocalist at the CMA Awards, in 1975. Parton’s 1982 recording of the song is from the soundtrack of the film The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
Whitney Houston recorded a cover version of the song for the 1992 film The Bodyguard. It has since become one of the best-selling singles of all time.Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You” re-charted in 2012 after her death, making it the second single ever to reach the top three on the Billboard Hot 100 in separate chart runs.
Elvis Presley // 20 million Sales
“It’s Now or Never” is a ballad recorded by Elvis Presley and published by Gladys Music, Elvis Presley’s publishing company, in 1960. The melody of the song is adapted from the Italian standard, “‘O Sole mio”, but the inspiration for it came from the song, “There’s No Tomorrow”, recorded by U.S. singer, Tony Martin, in 1949. The lyrics were written by Aaron Schroeder and Wally Gold. The single is the second best-selling single covered by Presley, and one of the best-selling singles of all time.
In the late 1950s, while stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army, Presley heard Martin’s recording. According to The New York Times, quoting from the 1986 book Behind The Hits, “he told the idea to his music publisher, Freddy Bienstock, who was visiting him in Germany… Mr. Bienstock, who many times found songwriters for Presley, returned to his New York office, where he found songwriters, Mr. Schroeder and Wally Gold, the only people in that day. The two wrote lyrics in half an hour. Selling more than 20 million records, the song became number one in countries all around and was Presley’s best selling single ever… a song finished in 20 minutes to a half hour was the biggest song of career.”
In 1960, “It’s Now or Never” was a number-one record in the U.S., spending five weeks at number one and the U.K., where it spent eight weeks at the top in 1960 and an additional week at number one in 2005 as a re-issue, and numerous other countries, selling in excess of 25 million copies worldwide, Elvis Presley’s biggest international single ever. Its British release was delayed for some time because of rights issues, allowing the song to build up massive advance orders and to enter the UK Singles Chart at number one, a very rare occurrence at the time. “It’s Now or Never” peaked at number seven on the R&B charts.
A live version featuring “‘O Sole mio” is available on the 1977 live album Elvis in Concert. “‘O Sole mio” is sung by tenor Sherrill Nielson.
In early 2005, the song was re-released along with the other Presley singles in the UK, and again reached number one on the UK Singles Chart for the week of 5 February 2005. The song also appears in the TV mini-series Elvis.
USA for Africa // 20 million Sales
“We Are the World” is a song and charity single originally recorded by the supergroup USA for Africa in 1985. It was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, and produced by Quincy Jones and Michael Omartian for the album We Are the World. With sales in excess of 20 million copies, it is one of the fewer than 30 all-time singles to have sold at least 10 million copies worldwide.
Following Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” project in the UK, an idea for the creation of an American benefit single for African famine relief came from activist Harry Belafonte, who, along with fundraiser Ken Kragen, was instrumental in bringing the vision to reality. Several musicians were contacted by the pair, before Jackson and Richie were assigned the task of writing the song. The duo completed the writing of “We Are the World” seven weeks after the release of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, and one night before the song’s first recording session, on January 21, 1985. The historic event brought together some of the most famous artists in the music industry at the time.
The song was released on March 7, 1985, as the only single from the album. A worldwide commercial success, it topped music charts throughout the world and became the fastest-selling American pop single in history. The first ever single to be certified multi-platinum, “We Are the World” received a Quadruple Platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America. However, the song garnered mixed reviews from journalists, music critics, and the public. Fans enjoyed hearing racially and musically diverse recording artists singing together on one track, and felt satisfied in buying “We Are the World”, knowing that the money was going to charity. Other individuals, including many commentators in the rock press, were disappointed that the song did not challenge listeners as to why famines occur in the first place, and felt that the lyrics were self-aggrandizing.
Awarded numerous honors—including three Grammy Awards, one American Music Award, and a People’s Choice Award—the song was promoted with a critically received music video, a home video, a special edition magazine, a simulcast, and several books, posters, and shirts. The promotion and merchandise aided the success of “We Are the World” and raised over $63 million for humanitarian aid in Africa and the US.
Following the devastation caused by the magnitude 7.0 Mw earthquake in Haiti on January 12, 2010, a remake of the song by another all-star cast of singers was recorded on February 1, 2010. Entitled “We Are the World 25 for Haiti”, it was released as a single on February 12, 2010, and proceeds from the record aided survivors in the impoverished country.
The Ink Spots // 19 million Sales
“If I Didn’t Care” is a song written by Jack Lawrence that was originally sung and recorded by The Ink Spots featuring Bill Kenny in 1939. The Ink Spots recording became the 6th best selling single of all time with over 19 million copies sold making it one of the fewer than forty all-time singles to have sold 10 million (or more) physical copies worldwide. According to Lawrence, he mailed the song before showing it to some of his friends. His friends’ reaction to the song was almost unanimously negative, but he remained positive on it and later it became one of his biggest successes.
In the 1950s both The Hilltoppers and Connie Francis charted with the song, and in 1974 a version was recorded by David Cassidy. Another notable cover came from The Platters (#30, 1961). In 1970, the soul group The Moments (later known as Ray, Goodman & Brown) had a hit with the tune that reached number 44 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was also covered by Madness for their 1999 album Wonderful. In 1999 Bryan Ferry covered the song as a b-side on the As Times Goes By-cd-single. It was added to the Grammy Hall of Fame and was number 271 on the “Songs of the Century” list.