The Most Popular Song The Year You Were Born

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Music is an instant time-travel device. New stuff comes along and into our lives so quickly that certain songs become the soundtrack to specific times in our personal lives, as well as for certain times in history. A familiar song is an evocative tool that, when heard later in life, can instantly take you back to the time and place where you heard it first ... or when it was popular. This is why it seems like every time there's a movie scene set during the Vietnam War, producers throw on Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son" — it tells the viewers "We are in the troubled 1960s now."

Let's all travel back in time then to the year you were born — yes, you, dear reader. Here are the most popular songs that a lot of people associate with the particular year you came into this world, simply because they were the most played and/or bestselling single of that year according to Billboard.

1970 - Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel

There's a comedy duo called Garfunkel & Oates whose joke name is instantly understandable — it's derived from combining the less successful halves of famous musical duos: Art Garfunkel of Simon & Garfunkel, and John Oates of Hall & Oates. Yes, Paul Simon went on to have a legendary and extraordinarily successful solo career, and Art Garfunkel didn't. But neither Paul Simon nor anybody else can ever take away the fact that Art Garfunkel sang the most moving and commercially successful song of their S&G years (particularly because it was the dominant song of 1970). 

Taking a break from the voice-blending and harmonies found on their other songs, like "The Sound of Silence" and "Mrs. Robinson," Garfunkel takes the lead on "Bridge Over Troubled Water," delivering a song about the profound power of love and friendship while he slowly adds in more and more vocal firepower, building to an almost operatic peak. If you aren't moved to tears by Garfunkel's impossibly clear and beautiful voice, you might not have a soul.

1971 - Joy to the World by Three Dog Night

Three Dog Night looked like a bunch of long-haired hippies, but they sang crowd-pleasing, organ-driven pop-rock songs, like "One," "Mama Told Me Not to Come," and "Joy to the World." (It's not the Christmas song.) They also weren't a traditional rock band — the group had three main singers, employed a rotating group of backing musicians, and performed songs written by professional outside songwriters. That means Three Dog Night was kind of the original boy band. 

Its slightly prefabricated nature matters not, because Three Dog Night sang great tunes, chief among them "Joy to the World." Vocalist Chuck Negron powers through this one from the first second, screaming about how "Jeremiah was a bullfrog," a good friend of his who always shared his very good wine. What does that even mean? Who cares? This party and karaoke classic, written by songwriter and folk musician Hoyt Axton, dominated radio and the pop charts in 1971.

1972 - The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face by Roberta Flack

Smooth, baby-makin' soul was at its absolute peak in the early 1970s, what with Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," Billy Paul's "Me and Mrs. Jones," and this ultra-slick, ultra-slow, extraordinarily intimate ditty from Roberta Flack, the honey-throated singer who also delivered the similar "Killing Me Softly With His Song." This ballad with the awkwardly worded title didn't start out as a slow jam — it was written in the '50s by Ewan McColl, who was usually a political singer-songwriter.

It subsequently became a folk standard during the craze for that genre, but it wasn't a big hit or identified with any particular singer until Flack — and Clint Eastwood — got a hold of it. In 1971, Eastwood used it to score a love scene in his directorial debut, "Play Misty for Me." The movie and song proved popular enough to earn the single a proper release. It dominated the pop chart, and, unsurprisingly, the easy-listening chart, enough to make it the biggest song of 1972.

1973 - Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Ole Oak Tree by Tony Orlando and Dawn

Tony Orlando landed a couple hits in the '60s, quit to become a music executive, then returned to performing in the '70s backed by Dawn: female singers Joyce Vincent Wilson, Pamela Wilson, and Thelma Hopkins (who later played Aunt Rachel on Family Matters). The group's biggest hit was, as is rarely the case, inspired by a folk tale. 

Songwriters L. Russell Brown and Irwin Levine based it on a story they'd heard in their military days about a prisoner getting released, who writes to his sweetie telling her that if she still wants him after so much time has passed, that she should tie a yellow ribbon around the tree in front of her house. If it's there, he'll knock on the front door and rekindle the romance. If the ribbon isn't there, he'll take that as a cue to keep walking.

That timeless tale of drama, romance, and dendrology fueled the song's extreme popularity — it stayed at No. 1 for four weeks.

1974 - The Way We Were by Barbra Streisand

Babs doesn't seem like the kind of performer that would have actual hit pop songs — she's more the Broadway belter and standard singer, delivering albums, nightclub acts, and Vegas shows. But she's flirted with the pop charts occasionally, finding a niche singing rich, sad ballads like "The Way We Were." This one also comes from another one of Streisand's domains: acting in romantic dramas, such as "The Way We Were," "A Star is Born," and "The Prince of Tides." 

The song won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, although the movie it came from — a weepy thing starring Streisand and Robert Redford — is forgettable for pretty much everything except its bittersweet theme song about a love from long ago colored by the tint of nostalgia. It was the biggest hit of 1974, as well as of Streisand's storied career. It also helped co-writer Marvin Hamlisch win the Grammy for Best New Artist, because the '70s were weird.

1975 - Love Will Keep Us Together by the Captain & Tennille

In addition to being weird, the '70s were also pretty wild. People crowded into poorly-lit nightclubs to disco dance, all-night celebrity cocaine parties kept Studio 54 in business, and Watergate and the Vietnam War dominated the headlines. And yet the biggest hit of 1975 sounds like it was both played on a toy piano and something your parents listened to at a swingers party (another fun '70s thing). 

Yes, actual married couple "Captain" Daryl Dragon — he wore a captain's hat on stage — and Toni Tennille — the cheerily-voiced lady with the Dorothy Hamill haircut — jumped from Beach Boys backing musicians to a band that churned out love songs for middle-aged married people. Among their ooey-gooey hits about lasting love and defying the odds: "Muskrat Love," "Do That to Me One More Time," and, of course, "Love Will Keep Us Together." It dominated the music charts in 1975, but love didn't actually keep the Captain and Tennille together. They split in 2014 after 39 years of marriage. 

1976 - Silly Love Songs by Wings

Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs, and Paul and Linda McCartney were among them. And, as the lyrics say, what's wrong with that? Nothing, because this bass-heavy, sort-of-disco song about the joys of love and listening to love songs when one is in love was the most popular song of the year of the American Bicentennial

And while McCartney had plenty of hit songs, both on his own and with his band, Wings, in the first few years after the Beatles split in 1970, "Silly Love Songs" proved that he could be just as much of a superstar all by himself (or rather, with his wife, who co-wrote the song and played keyboards in Wings). That was even the intent of the song — Paul McCartney says he wrote it in response to critics who said that while John Lennon wrote deep and political songs, McCartney was content to write "silly love songs." The world didn't mind — the song spent five weeks at No. 1 and is the biggest hit of his post-Beatles career.

1977 - Tonight's the Night (Gonna Be Alright) by Rod Stewart

The gravelly-voiced, open-shirted Rod Stewart has enjoyed many career phases. He started out in the '60s with the blues-rock band Faces; in the 2000s he became a lounge singer to belt out "The Great American Songbook." In between, mostly in the '70s, he was a sex-obsessed himbo with lots of songs about getting it on, his desire to get it on, or how right then was the time to get it on with a sweet, sweet lady. 

Stewart's greatest triumph and success in this vein was "Tonight's the Night," a flirty but kind of pressuring love ballad about how tonight is the night that he and the subject of the tune are finally going to make sweet love. (It's actually about losing one's virginity — not necessarily for the singer, not for the subject.) Stewart's song likely soundtracked many real-life "special nights," and it went on to spend eight weeks at No. 1, easily the most popular song of the year.

1978 - Shadow Dancing by Andy Gibb

Disco, particularly the Bee Gees' brand of disco — soft rock with a beat you could dance to — was so popular in the late 1970s that the world wanted more Bee Gees than the Bee Gees could provide. And so, those three brothers Gibb outsourced the job to their younger brother, Andy Gibb, who had a string of hits that sounded exactly like Bee Gees songs because they were written and produced by the Bee Gees. 

Gibb rivaled his brothers for popularity in 1978 because not only did he make the smooth disco hits that the people wanted, but he was also a super-foxy '70s blonde teen idol kind of dude. Still, his song "Shadow Dancing" was truly the "Let It Be" of songs about Shadow Dancing. After "I Just Want to Be Your Everything" and "(Love Is) Thicker Than Water," "Shadow Dancing" was Gibb's third straight No. 1 hit, and the most popular song of the year.

1979 - My Sharona by the Knack

By the end of the '70s, a disco backlash was probably inevitable. One night in July 1979, the Chicago White Sox held "Disco Demolition Night," a disco record bonfire that turned into a literal riot. The less frightening backlash on the music charts: the rise of a hard-to-define genre called New Wave, which combined the energy and attitude of punk with the tight musical structures of early rock n' roll (and, often, keyboards). 

The most perfect New Wave song just might be "My Sharona" by the Knack. The tune so shook things up with its extremely catchy hooks, guitar riffs, and wordplay-heavy lyrics that the band was actually marketed as the next Beatles (they weren't). The Knack's debut album "Get the Knack" was full of similar gems, but the band never replicated the success and faded away as the '80s took hold. However, "My Sharona" remained both a time capsule from (and biggest hit of) 1979.

1980 - Call Me by Blondie

If you watch one '80s movie in which Richard Gere plays a male prostitute, watch "American Gigolo." The salacious (for 1980) movie about a professional love-maker traipsing around Los Angeles pleasuring women launched the theme song — co-written by Italian disco architect Giorgio Moroder and which hints at the movie's plot ("call me" makes one think of a "call girl," or call boy, as it were) — to the top of the pop chart for the whole of 1980

There was no one better to perform this rock-meets-disco tune than Blondie, a band that could handle almost any style of music, from full-on disco ("Heart of Glass") to reggae ("The Tide is High") to punk ("One Way or Another"). "Call Me" was the perfect song to bridge the '70s and '80s. It smacked of '70s excess and disco, but also hinted contained elements of New Wave, as well as suggesting the glitz, glamour, and sheen of the new decade to come.

1981 - Bette Davis Eyes by Kim Carnes

Long before Shania Twain and Taylor Swift successfully jumped from country music to pop, Kim Carnes did it. She's most memorable for possessing a voice so captivatingly raspy it's a wonder that she could even sing in the first place. While that trait should work for country (a genre in which she'd released a handful of albums), it notably contrasted with the hard-charging, synth-driven, electro-pop she was required to perform for "Bette Davis Eyes." But then this song is all about the old merging and mixing with the new. 

It concerns a beautiful woman who reminds the songwriter, and every man who sees her, of Hollywood legend Bette Davis, she of the haunting eyes and striking presence. Carnes' country-fried voice mixes nicely with the Prince-esque syth-based backing track. The blend was so irresistible that "Bette Davis Eyes" became the biggest hit of 1981. Unfortunately, Carnes was so associated with this song that in the years after its release, she never had another top 10 hit.

1982 - Physical by Olivia Newton-John

Olivia Newton-John took a huge risk with "Physical." Primarily known up to that point as a singer of easy-listening songs like "Have You Never Been Mellow" and "Magic," the bubbly Australian singer and "Xanadu" star rocked a wholesome, innocent persona (with the exception of the final scene of "Grease," where she wears leather pants and puts out a cigarette with a stiletto heel). 

Suddenly, with "Physical," Olivia Newton-John was a man-hungry New Wave sexpot. She tapped into the '80s fitness craze with both this song and its gym-set video, in which "physical" could mean either exercising in a gym or exercising in the bedroom. (Nevertheless, this one was definitely played at more than one '80s-era Jazzercise class.) 

The combination of the charming Newton-John delivering a synth-and-guitar-powered ode to lust and the strenuous expression of such was irresistible — "Physical" topped the charts for a whopping 10 weeks, enough to make it the hottest tune of '82.

1983 - Every Breath You Take by the Police

The Police could do it all, from punk-flavored numbers like "Message in a Bottle," to reggae songs like "Can't Stand Losing You, and even prog rock ("Synchronicity II)." The trio is best known for "Every Breath You Take," a spooky bit of melancholy pop-rock. On an initial, superficial listen, "Every Breath You Take" seems like a bittersweet saga of undying love, an "I'll always be with you" song akin to Richard Marx's "Right Here Waiting." 

A closer inspection, however, reveals that this is way creepier than Richard Marx — it's a song about stalking. Sting himself told BBC Radio 2 (as quoted in

The Girl in the Song: The Real Stories Behind 50 Rock Classics") that he thinks the song "is very, very sinister and ugly." But hey, it's got a lovely melody, so that's probably how it became the biggest song of 1983, the same year that Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and its many hits captivated the world.

1984 - When Doves Cry by Prince

How good does a song have to be to differentiate itself as one of the best and biggest songs of Price's career (and 1984), as well as one of the standout tracks from "Purple Rain," a landmark album? It has to be exactly as good as "When Doves Cry." 

Based on some plot elements from the movie "Purple Rain," it's a song about sex and love (because it's a Prince song), that somehow manages to weave in some lyrics about the universal fear of turning into one's parents ("maybe I'm just like my father / too bold"). "When Doves Cry" features many more trademark Prince touches that were so outside the pop mainstream at the time that listeners couldn't help but pay attention. There's the opening, lightning-quick guitar riff, the fact that there's no bass line, and the song-ending keyboard odyssey. 

Pop music had a big year in 1984 — Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Van Halen, and Phil Collins loomed large — but no other act could hypnotize and innovate like Prince.   

1985 - Careless Whisper by Wham!

With delightfully inane hits like "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" and "I'm Your Man," Wham! was the biggest boy band of the '80s, a two-man, British Menudo. Joining affable guitarist and backing singer Andrew Ridgeley was George Michael: handsome, powerfully-voiced ... and obviously a future solo star. Epic Records made that abundantly clear when it released "Careless Whisper" as a single. 

Although it appeared on the Wham! album "Make It Big" and was co-written by Ridgeley, it was credited to just "George Michael" in the U.K. In the U.S. and Canada, the song was attributed to "Wham! featuring George Michael" (as if anybody who liked Wham! had never heard of Michael, or as if every Wham! song didn't already "feature" Michael). The song, a departure from the usual sunny Wham! stuff, was a massively successful soft launch of Michael's more serious output to come, a tune about heartbreak that uses dancing as a metaphor for love, with melodramatic lyrics like "guilty feet have got no rhythm" and "careless whisper."

1986 - That's What Friends Are For by Dionne & Friends

The mid-1980s were the golden age of well-meaning all-star charity records. Boomtown Rats singer Bob Geldof started the fad with the famine relief single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" which was followed by USA for Africa's "We Are the World." Then came "That's What Friends Are For," which trimmed the usual lineup down from a small army to just four — but what a foursome it was. 

All were (and are) soulful legends of pop and R&B: the Dionne is Dionne Warwick, and the "Friends" are Gladys Knight, Elton John, and Stevie Wonder. The song was a pleasant if forgettable Rod Stewart song that played over the end credits of the 1982 comedy "Night Shift." But re-recorded by Dionne and Friends, it became a showstopper that raised $2 million in the fight against AIDS (one of the first major fundraisers toward that end) en route to outperforming all other songs in 1986. That's what friends are for, indeed.

1987 - Walk Like an Egyptian by the Bangles

This one probably wouldn't fly in today's sensitive and woke climate. Real, actual, present-day Egyptians don't "walk" that way, with one hand pointed forward and one hand pointing backward, and, point of fact, neither did ancient Egyptians. Singer Susanna Hoffs (and the music video) refers to how people often looked in hieroglyphics. "Walk Like an Egyptian" also re-enforces another, closer to home stereotype with one of its semi-rapped, rapid-fire lyrics: "all the cops in the donut shop." 

Nevertheless, or perhaps in spite of these elements, "Walk Like an Egyptian" is a very '80s-sounding slice of pop rock, and one of the first by an all-female rock band to top the chart. It took all the way until the '80s, with groups like the Bangles and the Go-Go's, for that to happen. Unlike most other songs, it sold half a million copies and hit No. 1, both on the weekly chart and the yearly one.

1988 - Faith by George Michael

After Wham! ended, George Michael returned in late 1987 with a new attitude, a new look, and a new sound. He left behind the frivolous music, "Choose Life" T-shirt, and Andrew Ridgeley, and re-invented himself as a bearded, earring-wearing, singer-songwriter of thoughtful pop songs. 

The first single from his debut solo album "Faith" was "Faith," a song about being reluctant to fall in love (which could also serve as a metaphor for Michael's reluctance to re-enter the musical mainstream), and with a melody and acoustic guitar-heavy arrangement reminiscent of an Elvis Presley or Buddy Holly song from the '50s. The world embraced the new George Michael arguably even more than they did the old George Michael. "Faith" won the Grammy for Album of the Year, which makes sense because it produced four chart-topping singles: "Father Figure," "One More Try," "Monkey," and the 1988-leading "Faith," which spent four weeks at No. 1 in late 1987 and early 1988.

1989 - Look Away by Chicago

Very few bands survive when its famous lead singer leaves for a solo career, let alone thrive. But Chicago did, improbably scoring the biggest hit of 1989. The group first found success as a jazz-rock band in the early 1970s with classic rock staples like "25 or 6 to 4" and "Saturday in the Park." 

For the better part of two decades, members Peter Cetera, Robert Lamm, and Terry Kath sang lead on most of Chicago's songs, before Cetera and his otherworldly, naturally Auto-Tuned vocals became the pre-eminent voice of the band ... whose sound evolved from jazz-flavored to synth-based prom jams like "You're the Inspiration" and "Hard to Say I'm Sorry." Cetera went solo in 1985, and vocal duties fell mostly to Cetera's replacement, bassist and singer Jason Scheff, and veteran Chicago keyboard player Bill Champlin. It's the latter that sang on Chicago's only post-Cetera no. 1 hit, the breaking-up-is-hard-to-do power ballad "Look Away."

1990 - Hold On by Wilson Phillips

"Wilson Phillips" sounds like the name of a Montana law firm, not a three-woman vocal group, and yet it dominated the charts at the dawn of the '90s. There were a lot of "girl groups" at the time — Expose, Sweet Sensation, Seduction, Jade, SWV. But none had the pedigree and marketing factor of Wilson Phillips: All three were the daughters of rock n' roll legends. 

Chynna Phillips is the offspring of John and Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas ("California Dreamin'"), while Carnie Wilson and Wendy Wilson's dad is Brian Wilson, the musical genius who wrote all of the best songs for the Beach Boys. They all had lovely voices, which propelled the first four singles off their self-titled debut album to the Billboard top 5. "Release Me," "You're in Love," and "Hold On" all hit No. 1, with the latter the most successful of all. The "radio station you can listen to at work" staple was the most popular song of 1990.

1991 - Everything I Do (I Do It For You) by Bryan Adams

The love theme from the 1991 movie "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" is performed from the point of view of Kevin Costner's title character, but co-writer Michael Kamen originally envisioned it as Maid Marian's song. "I was interested to see if either Kate Bush or Annie Lennox wanted to do the song," said Kamen, who wrote the score for the film, in "The Billboard Book of Number One Hits." Bush wasn't interested, and Lennox was preoccupied with making an album. The "Prince of Thieves" soundtrack advisor got Lisa Stansfield on board, but her label boss, Arista Records' Clive Davis nixed the idea. Finally, the song landed with pop-rock star Bryan Adams, who recorded it after writing a new arrangement with producer Mutt Lange that expressly presented the song from Robin Hood's angle. "I didn't know it was going to be a hit. Mutt really knew," Adams later told Classic Rock.

"(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" spent 16 weeks at No. 1 in the U.K., a longevity record there, and seven weeks in the top spot in the U.S. on Billboard's Hot 100. That performance propelled it to the No. 1 position on the 1991 year-end chart.

1992 - End of the Road by Boyz II Men

Boyz II Men ruled the early 1990s pop and R&B charts. The Philadelphia four-part vocal group, which blended classic soul with contemporary hip-hop, generated four big hit singles from its debut album "Cooleyhighharmony" — "Motownphilly," "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday," "Uhh Ahh," and "Please Don't Go." But its first No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, "End of the Road," was a soundtrack cut, arriving just after the album cycle for "Cooleyhighharmony" ended. 

Producers and songwriters L.A. Reid and Babyface were responsible for populating the soundtrack of the 1992 Eddie Murphy romantic comedy "Boomerang." The duo conceived "End of the Road" with Boyz II Men in mind, although Babyface — a star performer in his own right in the 1990s — nearly snatched it right back. "I sang the demo. When I did, I thought, 'Maybe I can do this song,'" Babyface told "The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits." It was certainly something I was considering, but then I thought Boyz II Men would take it further." 

Boyz II Men recorded the song during a three-hour studio session on an off day in the middle of a concert tour. Upon release in 1992, "End of the Road" set a new record for most weeks in the top spot, with 13. At the end of 1992, Billboard cited "End of the Road" as its biggest song of the year.

1993 - I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston

Arriving in movie theaters in late 1992, "The Bodyguard" marked the first film leading role for pop star Whitney Houston. She played a singer (and Kevin Costner, her bodyguard-turned-love interest), and the soundtrack included six Houston tracks — of which five became top 40 hits, including "Queen of the Night," "Run to You," "I Have Nothing," "I'm Every Woman," and, biggest of all, "I Will Always Love You." The 1992 single would dominate the Billboard Hot 100 (and top the adult contemporary and R&B charts) throughout early 1993, ultimately claiming the No. 1 slot for 14 straight weeks, at the time a chart record and a main factor in propelling it to the position of No. 1 song of 1993.

All that may not have happened had producers made Houston sing their first choice. "The song was originally supposed to be 'What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,'" soundtrack producer David Foster told Rolling Stone, referring to the 1966 single made famous by Jimmy Ruffin. Foster didn't care for his demo version, and neither did Houston. Commiserating with Costner over the matter, the actor suggested a different tune. "The next day, he said, 'What about 'I Will Always Love You?'" Dolly Parton wrote and recorded that song in 1973 as a gift to mentor Porter Wagoner when she left his TV variety show. Parton recordings topped the country chart in 1974 and 1982, but they didn't reach the heights of Houston's version.

1994 - The Sign by Ace of Base

When alternative rock and gangster rap were enjoying a cultural moment, the top-selling single and best-selling album of 1994 both came from a Swedish dance-pop quartet. Comprised of three siblings — Jonas, Jenny, and Malin Berggren — and Ulf Ekberg, Ace of Base formed in 1990 and in 1992 released the single "Wheel of Fortune," a hit so big in Scandinavia that German label Metronome inked a deal with the group to sell its music throughout Europe. That success prompted Jonas Berggren to send a demo of a song called "Mr. Ace" to influential Swedish producer Denniz Pop, who transformed the song into "All That She Wants," which hit No. 1 around Europe, including in the U.K. While vacationing on a yacht, Arista Records president Clive Davis heard "All That She Wants" and set up a U.S. distribution deal for Ace of Base. Davis then took Ace of Base's Europe-released LP "Happy Nation" and added "The Sign," a new song about moments of epiphany that Jonas Berggren had just written. It went on the album, and "Happy Nation" was renamed "The Sign" in its honor. 

After "All That She Wants" hit No. 2 in the U.S. in late 1993, Arista released "The Sign" (the single) in January 1994, and by March, it was spending the first of six weeks atop the Hot 100.

1995 - Gangsta's Paradise by Coolio ft. LV

Coolio's first hit was the 1994 smash "Fantastic Voyage," a breezy, pop-rap single. In 1995, Coolio returned with "Gangsta's Paradise," a song for the Michelle Pfeiffer-starring inspirational teacher movie "Dangerous Minds." Extremely bleak and emotionally affecting, "Gangsta's Paradise" is told from the point of view of a desperate, fearful young street gang member who knows that time is running out before he succumbs to the violence that surrounds him.

One day, after "Fantastic Voyage" hit it big, producer Doug Rasheed was messing around in the studio in the home he shared with Coolio's manager, Paul Stewart. Rasheed built a sample out of "Pastime Paradise," a track from Stevie Wonder's 1976 album "Songs in the Key of Life." Singer L.V., who hung around the studio a lot while trying to get his career going, sang it, with an improvised change. "I came in singing 'Pastime Paradise,' but then I changed it up to 'Gangsta's Paradise,'" he told Rolling Stone. L.V. then suggested that Coolio, who dropped by to see his manager about a check, build a song around the hook.

"Gangsta's Paradise" spent three weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became the No. 1 song of 1995, too. That's the first time that a rap song was named Billboard's top track of the year.

1996 - Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix) by Los Del Rio

Antonio Romero Monge and Rafael Ruiz Perdigones formed the vocal duo Los Del Rio in 1962 in Seville, Spain. Monge and Perdigones performed primarily in traditional Spanish styles like flamenco and rumba, building a mostly local following over three decades. In 1992, Los Del Rio played a party for Venezuelan industrialist Gustavo Cisneros, where both men became transfixed by a flamenco dancer. That inspired Monge to write a chorus, which became the basis for a full song the duo wrote that night, changing the name of Monge's protagonist from Magdalena to Macarena, after Monge's daughter.

The original, acoustic "Macarena" appeared on Los Del Rio's 1993 LP "A Mi Me Gusta." Record label RCA tried to get "Macarena" spins in Spanish clubs by asking dance act Fangoria to record some thumping remixes. Instead, Fangoria's "Macarena (River Re-Mix)" hit big in Miami clubs. A DJ for local station Power 96, Jammin Johnny Caride, received so many requests for the song that he sold his bosses on commissioning an English remake of the song. He sought out his friends, a DJ duo called the Bayside Boys, who remixed the Fangoria remix, added newly written English verses performed by singer Carla Vanessa, and made the song that spread around the U.S. Spending 14 weeks at No. 1, and living on for years as a party playlist staple because of its accompanying dance craze, "Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)" was the No. 1 single of 1996.

1997 - Candle in the Wind 1997 / Something About the Way You Look Tonight by Elton John

In 1997, collective grief caused a remake of an old pop song to become a cultural phenomenon. "Candle in the Wind" had already been a hit song. With lyrics by Bernie Taupin reflecting on the life, legacy, and tragic 1962 death of cinema legend Marilyn Monroe, the cut from Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" reached No. 11 on the U.K. pop chart in 1974. A live version hit the top 10 in the U.K. and the U.S. in 1987.

John and Princess Diana were close friends, and after she died in a car accident on August 31, 1997, at age 36, condolence books were set up at St. James' Palace in London for people to pay their respects. "A lot of them were writing down quotations from the lyrics of 'Candle in the Wind.' Apparently, they were playing it a lot on the radio in the U.K. as well," John wrote in his memoir "Me." John was then asked to rewrite the song and sing it at Diana's funeral. With days to spare, Taupin wrote new lyrics about Diana in 30 minutes, he explained on "The Graham Norton Show."

Immediately after performing "Candle in the Wind 1997," John recorded the song in a London studio and it was released as a charity single. The release spent 14 weeks at No. 1 and became the bestselling physical single of not just 1997 but of all time.

1998 - Too Close by Next

Minneapolis-based R&B trio Next landed its first hit in 1997 with the seductive "Butta Love." Its next single would take a far more blunt approach to human sexuality. A dance club song about rubbing and grinding while dancing in the club, "Too Close" is certainly the biggest hit that explores the male biological response to titillating external stimuli.

While still an unsigned group called Straight Forward, the singers approached Kay Gee of the rap group Naughty by Nature in a mall one day in the mid-1990s. He generously asked to hear their demo tape. "It was professionally done and more complete than a lot of demo tapes," he recalled for "The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits." Kay Gee signed Straight Forward to his Arista Records imprint, Divine Mill, changed the name of the group to Next, and moved the trio out to his home in New Jersey to record an album in his home studio. During production, he asked singer Robert Huggar to write a song inspired by "Christmas Rappin,'" an early rap song from 1979 by Kurtis Blow. "He was skeptical but he did it. I told him it was going to be a number one record," Kay Gee said. Although the song wasn't actually sampled, Kay Gee was ultimately right about "Too Close" — it spent five weeks at No. 1 in 1998 and would later be heralded as Billboard's biggest song of the year.

1999 - Believe by Cher

Only a few acts have managed to stay relevant for decades on end, and among them is Cher. The singer (and variety TV show star and Academy Award-winning actor) hit No. 1 for the first time in 1965 with "I Got You Babe," a duet with her then-husband Sonny Bono. Cher would go on to score a No. 1 hit on one of Billboard's charts for six straight decades. In 1999, Cher landed a Hot 100 No. 1 and the biggest song of the year with "Believe," a dance club track that was the first mainstream recording to play around with Auto-Tune, software used to correct pitch but which could also be used to manipulate the human voice into sounding robotic. At the time, producer Mark Taylor and Cher attributed the distinctive vocal processing on "Believe" to a vocoder, seeking to keep their trick (which would be all over pop records in the early 2000s) to themselves.

After a stint of seven weeks at No. 1 in the U.K. (and becoming the best-selling single ever by a solo female act in that country), "Believe" began its chart rise in the U.S. in December 1998, reaching No. 1 stateside in March 1999. At year's end, Billboard named "Believe" its biggest single of the year.

2000 - Breathe by Faith Hill

Country music had a phenomenally successful run throughout the 1990s, but evidence of that didn't much manifest on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart until very late in the decade and early into the next. Garth Brooks sold more albums in the U.S. than any other country star did in the '90s, moving over 8 million copies by emphasizing LP promotion and lacking interest in selling his work to mainstream pop radio. Shania Twain sold millions of albums too but made inroads on the singles chart in 1998. "You're Still the One" got as high as No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, a feat matched by "Breathe," a pop power ballad with some country elements by genre superstar hitmaker Faith Hill.

Released in late 1999, "Breathe" fused pop, adult contemporary, and country music sounds so well that it proved popular in all those radio formats in the new year. It went to No. 1 on Billboard's adult contemporary and country charts, along with a No. 2 placement on the Hot 100. Because "Breathe" was so successful in so many disparate places, it wound up the No. 1 overall single of 2000, despite never topping the weekly pop chart.

2001 - Hanging by a Moment by Lifehouse

In 2000, Los Angeles alternative rock band Lifehouse found itself nearly finished writing the songs that would comprise its first album, "No Name Face." It wasn't done because frontman Jason Wade knew the record needed something poppy and bouncy to go at the end. The hook of "Hanging by a Moment" came to him while he was recording a different album cut. "This melody just kind of popped into my head," Wade told Billboard. "It was a really surreal, strange thing."

It took Wade about 15 minutes to turn that seed into a fully written composition whose lyrics are subject to the listener's point of view. It could be considered a Christian rock song (Wade's parents were missionaries), making "Hanging by a Moment" theoretically one of the biggest religious-themed singles in Hot 100 history. "I knew at the end of it that it was a love song, and I kind of come from that world, so it can be interpreted as a spiritual song or a love song," Wade said. Hitting radios in October 2000, it took "Hanging by a Moment" the better part of a year to climb various Billboard charts. It reached No. 1 on the alternative rock chart, No. 7 on the mainstream rock list, and, in June 2001, No. 2 on the all-genre Hot 100. Although it never hit No. 1 and arrived in 2000, Lifehouse's "Hanging by a Moment" is Billboard's certified biggest smash of 2001.

2002 - How You Remind Me by Nickelback

With 2001's "Silver Side Up," its third album recorded and released since forming in 1995, Nickelback broke through commercially. The album would go on to sell six million copies, fueled in large part by the first single, the four-million-selling rock radio smash "How You Remind Me," a hard-rocking, plaintive wailing about a lovers' quarrel and the frustrations of romantic relationships. It's based on a true story, when Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger and a live-in partner became embroiled in an argument; he immediately went to work on a song about the fight. "I went downstairs and I turned on my PA system," Kroeger told Billboard about how he sang "How You Remind Me" as he finished writing it. "Instead of her getting the point, she turns to me and goes, 'Whatever song you're working on downstairs, it's great.'"

Released in the second half of 2001, "How You Remind Me" made a bigger impact on the charts in 2002, so much so that it beat out every other song to be named Billboard's No. 1 song of the year. As of 2023, "How You Remind Me" also ranks as the last guitar-driven, hard rock song to top the Billboard Hot 100, in either the weekly chart or in a year-end roundup.

2003 - In Da Club by 50 Cent

As one of the most successful rappers of the 2000s — he scored 12 top 20 hits, including three chart-toppers, and his debut album sold nine million copies — 50 Cent found his way to the top through assists from major hip-hop talents of the 1980s and 1990s. A teenage drug dealer in Queens, New York, 50 Cent (real name: Curtis Jackson) aspired to be a rapper, and a chance encounter with Run-DMC member Jam Master Jay put him on that track. "He wanted to find and develop a new artist and I told him I rap," 50 Cent told "The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits." "He helped me develop my song structure, because I didn't know how to count bars or anything."

In 1999, 50 Cent released his first single, "How to Rob," in advance of a full album for Columbia Records. In May 2000, the rapper was shot, suffering nine bullet wounds but surviving. Columbia quickly canceled the 50 Cent project, and the rapper worked on mixtapes, which earned the attention of Eminem's management. In 2002, Eminem and his mentor, Dr. Dre, brought 50 Cent into Shady/Aftermath Records and recorded "Get Rich or Die Tryin.'" Because Dr. Dre thought "In Da Club" would make the ideal leadoff single, 50 Cent trusted the industry veteran's judgment. That tune spent nine weeks atop the Hot 100 and would lead the 2003 end-of-year chart, too.

2004 - Yeah! by Usher ft. Lil Jon and Ludacris

Pop-R&B balladeer and dancer Usher had already tasted the top of the charts a few times — "Nice and Slow," "U Remind Me," and "U Got It Bad" all previously went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. All that barely compares to how Usher dominated the pop chart in 2004. That year, Usher took four singles to No. 1, a feat not seen since the Beatles scored five chart-toppers back in 1964. The first in that collection: the hard-charging, synth-driven, club-ready, Ludacris-featuring "Yeah!" — a song about making an ill-advised dance-floor connection.

Commercially lauded (it sits at No. 290 on Rolling Stone's "Best Songs of All Time" list and No. 175 on Pitchfork's "The 200 Best Songs of the 2000s"), "Yeah!" was a late addition to Usher's "Confessions" album. LaFace Records pushed the LP's release from late 2003 to early 2004 to give Usher a chance to write and record a proper lead-off single. Usher brought in rising rap star Lil Jon, and they made "Yeah!" — but neither the singer nor producer L.A. Reid were sold on making that the first song to release to radio, favoring "Burn." Lil Jon forced everyone's hands — he sent the song to DJs around the U.S., and it created a stir in late 2003 before hitting No. 1 in 2004. No other song could touch the immediate impact of "Yeah!" — it became the top single of 2004.

2005 - We Belong Together by Mariah Carey

Between 1990 and 2000, Mariah Carey took 15 singles to No. 1. But then she starred in "Glitter," a box office and critical bomb. Carey's soundtrack album generated one top 10 hit and sold so poorly relative to her previous multi-platinum efforts that Virgin Records bought her out of her contract. The 2002 LP "Charmbracelet" also underperformed, so Carey's next album, "The Emancipation of Mimi" would represent a comeback attempt.

The LP was finished and Carey and collaborators were about to enjoy a champagne toast, until Island Def Jam Records executive L.A. Reid stopped it. "I wouldn't do the clink. I said, 'This album is not complete. It's missing a big song,'" Reid recalled to Vogue. Carey asked how to get one, and Reid suggested she call producer Jermaine Dupri, who'd worked on the singer's 1996 hit "Always Be My Baby." Carey and Dupri wrote some songs (including what would become the LP's leadoff single, "It's Like That") before deciding to write a ballad. The pair and associates crafted "We Belong Together" in a matter of hours during an overnight studio session.

"We Belong Together" worked as a comeback vehicle, returning Carey to the top of the pop chart. In the middle of 2005, the tune topped the R&B chart, the dance chart, and the Hot 100. Not only the No. 1 single of 2005, it was also Billboard's biggest hit of the 2000s.