Some songs become such instant classics that just about everyone can recognize them when they start to play.
If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about some of these widely loved tracks, you’ve come to the right place. Discover details about some of the popular songs everyone knows, ranging from disco to rock to pop music.
- Billie Jean – Michael Jackson
- Uptown Funk – Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars
- Neil Diamond – Sweet Caroline
- Wonderwall – Oasis
- Thinking Out Loud – Ed Sheeran
- Despacito – Luis Fonsi ft. Daddy Yankee
- Mr. Brightside – The Killers
- I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction) – The Rolling Stones
- I Gotta Feeling – The Black Eyed Peas
- Hey Ya! – OutKast
- My Way – Frank Sinatra
- Imagine – John Lennon
- Rocket Man – Elton John
- I Will Always Love You – Whitney Houston
- Shake It Off – Taylor Swift
- Blinding Lights – The Weeknd
- Vogue – Madonna
- Help! – The Beatles
- Don’t Stop Me Now – Queen
- Gangnam Style – PSY
- My Heart Will Go On – Celine Dion
- Macarena – Los Del Río
- Girls Just Want to Have Fun – Cindy Lauper
- Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey
- Happy – Pharrell Williams
- Old Town Road – Lil Nas X ft. Billy Ray Cyrus
- I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor
- Sweet Child O’ Mine – Guns N’ Roses
- Purple Rain – Prince
- Poker Face – Lady Gaga
Billie Jean – Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson wrote this iconic song based on actual encounters with a stalker. She wrote to him claiming her child was his; the song helped him process his discomfort in a non-direct way. The vocals of this hit were recorded in one hit; Jackson developed its rhythms on his home drum machine.
Related: Groove to more great disco songs.
Uptown Funk – Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars
This is a fun song with unique rhyming patterns that lend to its appeal. It finds Bruno Mars bragging about his class and talent in outrageous and sometimes silly ways. It marked Mark Ronson’s first Hot 100 entry in the United States as an artist and is a uniquely woman-friendly track for a boasting funk piece.
Related: See these songs with dancing in the lyrics.
Neil Diamond – Sweet Caroline
Perhaps one of the most famous songs, this one was said to have been written about Neil Diamond’s second wife, Marcia; the name was said to have been changed to fit the song’s rhythm. However, it was later revealed that the track was actually an ode to Caroline Kennedy, and he even performed it for her 50th birthday.
Related: Find this song on our list of the greatest sing along songs.
Wonderwall – Oasis
It was always believed that this track is about Noel Gallagher’s girlfriend, Meg Mathews. Gallagher eventually said that this interpretation was wrong but didn’t say who the song was really about. In any case, the song asks a love interest to move on past disappointment and get on with life. The music is based on an instrumental album that George Harrison wrote for the film Wonderwall.
Related: Check out these popular acoustic guitar songs.
Thinking Out Loud – Ed Sheeran
This song is about loving someone special as you grow old together. Sheeran wrote it with frequent collaborator Amy Wadge about his then-girlfriend, Athina Andrelos. The songwriting session which led to this hit was held to help Wadge through some financial issues and led to one of the biggest successes the two musicians created together.
Related: Here are the best songs about overthinking.
Despacito – Luis Fonsi ft. Daddy Yankee
Here’s a Spanish-language track specifically written to make listeners want to dance. It discusses a passionate relationship but does so with subtle and romantic language. It became an international hit and found even more success when it was remixed and featured Justin Bieber.
Related: This song is on our pop songs playlist.
Mr. Brightside – The Killers
The Killers explore the feeling of knowing you’ve been cheated on and the pain that ensues in this track. Guitarist Dave Keuning wrote it about Brandon Flowers’ ex-girlfriend, who cheated on him. An X Factor performance helped the track hit the UK Top 40 once again in 2013.
Related: Here are some more famous 2000s songs.
I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction) – The Rolling Stones
As this classic’s title suggests, the protagonist is frustrated because nothing in life ever makes him feel satisfied. The title and lyrics use a technically grammatically incorrect double negative for emphasis. It is possible that this was the first rock song to use fuzz guitar.
Related: Want to keep singing? Here are some good beginner songs to sing.
I Gotta Feeling – The Black Eyed Peas
Here’s a Black Eyed Peas hit about letting loose and looking forward to a good night on the dance floor. It samples David Guetta’s ‘Love is Gone,’ which found international success in 2007. It highlighted will.i.am’s newfound love for dance music at the time it was written.
Related: Dance along to the best prom songs of all time.
Hey Ya! – OutKast
While this crossover hip-hop hit sounds upbeat, its lyrics reflect how hard it is to keep a healthy relationship going. The famous lyric “shake it like a Polaroid picture” helped renew interest in the defunct Polaroid camera line, which had sinking sales due to the popularity of digital cameras.
Related: Make your trip more fun with these songs for car rides.
My Way – Frank Sinatra
Some listeners would be surprised to learn that this classic originated as a French song called ‘Comme D’Habitude,’ which means ‘As Usual.’ That original was about a man bored in his marriage. It was Paul Anka who discovered the track and re-wrote it as ‘My Way,’ a song that ended up as one of Frank Sinatra’s signature pieces which tell of a man who looks back proudly on a life lived his way.
Related: Consider these other good funeral songs.
Imagine – John Lennon
Here, John Lennon asks the listener to imagine a peaceful world where the things that divide us and make us argue do not exist. “Imagine all the people living life in peace.” Lennon hoped the song’s soft sound would make its political themes palatable to a large audience, which it did.
Related: This song made it to our playlist of the best songs of all time.
Rocket Man – Elton John
When writing the lyrics for this track, Bernie Taupin was inspired by another song based on Ray Bradbury’s short story, The Rocket Man. The story tells of an astronaut’s departure to space through his child’s eyes. The song has similar themes, telling the tale of a man being sent to space as an experiment. However, it can also be viewed as a song about the isolation and downsides of living as a rock star.
Related: These rocket songs are out of this world!
I Will Always Love You – Whitney Houston
This track was originally performed by Dolly Parton, who wrote it and saw it rise to number one on the US Country chart in 1974. The lyrics are pretty sad, telling about a woman who will love her romantic partner forever but realizes she has to let him go. Parton wrote the track about her professional breakup with her music partner, Porter Wagoner. Whitney Houston performed the track for the film The Bodyguard and found her own success with the song.
Related: See more songs from The Bodyguard.
Shake It Off – Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift encourages listeners to “shake off” their worries and insecurities by dancing and having fun in this track. Swift was encouraged by her own critics when writing the song—specifically those that spread false rumors about her after the release of her 2012 album Red, which helped Swift learn to be herself and not worry about what others think.
Related: Rise and shine! Here are some good wake up songs.
Blinding Lights – The Weeknd
The Weeknd vows not to let his lover go this time in this track, as she lights up his world like blinding lights. The song may refer to the singer’s on-and-off relationship with Bella Hadid.
Related: Light up your playlist with these songs with the word light.
Vogue – Madonna
“Voguing” was a popular dance movement that was popular with the gay community around the time this song was released. Madonna’s celebration of the dance style made it more widely accepted and demonstrated her support of the gay community.
Related: This song features on our playlist of songs about style.
Help! – The Beatles
‘Help!’ was the title song to The Beatles’ film of the same name. It’s a short piece that was one of the most lyrically dense tracks of the 1960s. Paul McCartney did not realize at the time of writing with John Lennon that the track’s cries for help were real on Lennon’s part.
Related: Feeling frazzled? Check out these songs about worrying.
Don’t Stop Me Now – Queen
This song is about the unstoppable and powerful feelings one gets in a positively heightened emotional state. While it sounds like a feel-good song to most listeners, this Freddie Mercury penned track was worrisome for Mercury’s fellow Queen bandmates, as he was going through an uncontrollable period in his life when it was written.
Related: Liven up your PTA meetings with these school appropriate songs.
Gangnam Style – PSY
Psy compares an attractive and confident woman to the opulent Gangnam section of Seoul, South Korea. The woman knows when it’s appropriate to be classy and when she can let her hair down, making her interesting and desirable to the narrator. This song helped Psy become the first K-pop artist to hit the top of the UK Singles chart; the song also hit number two on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US.
Related: This song makes for a great drumming workout!
My Heart Will Go On – Celine Dion
Here’s a famous piece written specifically for the film Titanic. The soundtrack sold approximately 15 million copies, most likely because of this song’s popularity; the rest of the album contained instrumental film score pieces. The lyrics are about a love that goes on forever, but also the ability of its subjects to carry on apart from one another at the same time.
Related: Enjoy our list of slow songs from the 90s.
Macarena – Los Del Río
This is one of the most popular dance songs in modern history. The Spanish version was such a success in Spain that an English version was marketed in the United States, where it also found popularity. It stayed number one in the US for 14 weeks in 1996, when the dance became the latest trend. While the exact meaning of the song changes between its many versions, ‘Macarena’ is always about a young woman by that name.
Related: Head over to our playlist of line dance music.
Girls Just Want to Have Fun – Cindy Lauper
‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ was Cyndi Lauper’s first solo single that was an instant hit and propelled her to fame. It has a lighthearted message of empowerment for women that set the mood and culture for the 1980s, especially for girls and women. The music video also helped influence the major trends we now think of with 80s fashion.
Related: This is one of the coolest cover songs!
Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey
The chorus of this track doesn’t play until the end, which may be one of the reasons that it has stuck in listeners’ minds over the decades as Journey’s signature hit. The track tells stories of individuals who aren’t giving up on their dreams, regardless of their current circumstances.
Related: Be brave with these songs about heroism and courage.
Happy – Pharrell Williams
Pharrell Williams recorded this ode to happiness for the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack. Williams’ repetition of the title word and chorus may have helped it become the distinct hit it was in 2013. The song’s music video was the first-ever 24-hour music clip, which curious listeners could watch all day long on its own now-defunct website. A regular-length version also exists.
Related: Need a smile? Here are some happy songs to listen to.
Old Town Road – Lil Nas X ft. Billy Ray Cyrus
Heartbroken and disenchanted with materialism, Lil Nas X dreams of giving up his life and possessions to become a humble cowboy in this catchy tune. Lil Nas X was one of the first artists to use TikTok to his advantage by promoting this song on the platform, which launched him to stardom.
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I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor
Gloria Gaynor knows she will make it without her hurtful lover in this empowering track. Today, the song is a universal anthem for overcoming any difficult time that may seem insurmountable. ‘I Will Survive’ won a Grammy Award for Best Disco Recording in 1979.
Related: You’ll love the best songs for survivors.
Sweet Child O’ Mine – Guns N’ Roses
This track was about Axl Rose’s girlfriend at the time. The now famous lyrics came from a poem about an unusually happy time in Axl Rose’s otherwise painful childhood. He was inspired by the style of Lynyrd Skynyrd when recording the track’s vocals.
Related: This song is on our playlist of 80s love ballads.
Purple Rain – Prince
Prince sings this title track from his film of the same name. It also serves as one of the film’s main plot points, as it appears as a song that is quite significant to Purple Rain’s storyline. Prince apologizes for hurting a lover within the lyrics, where he hopes the other party can be happy once again.
Related: Grab your raincoat and enjoy these songs with the word rain.
Poker Face – Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga boasts about playing with guys’ emotions as if she were a poker player on this track. Gaga has also said that the song is partially about being with a man in a passionate way but imagining you are with a woman instead. ‘Poker Face’ became a chart-topping international hit after its release.
More songs that everyone knows:
- Party in the USA – Miley Cyrus
- All Star – Smash Mouth
- Wannabe – Spice Girls
- All I Want for Christmas is You – Mariah Carey
- Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen
- Livin’ on a Prayer – Bon Jovi
- Barbie Girl – Aqua
- I Want It That Way – Backstreet Boys