Despite there being billions of songs out there, certain ones strike a chord of recognition in everyone. Hum the opening bar to one of these, and soon you’ll have a sing-a-long on your hands.
These songs bridge the gap between generations, as people young and old know them and enjoy them together. So, here are our best songs that everyone knows.
“Every Breath You Take” by The Police
Song year: 1983
Written by The Police frontman Sting, “Every Breath You Take” is another song forever burned into the minds of so many.
This song has appeared in several movies and TV shows, notably the hits Glee and Stranger Things. Numerous singers have covered this song, is a sample in the 1997 Puff Daddy tribute to The Notorious B.I.G., “I’ll Be Missing You.”
While some denounce the song for being “creepy” because of its promise to always be watching, it is an inescapable tune known to all.
“All I Want For Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey
Song year: 2011
While most songs recognizable to everyone will be old songs, here’s one that came out about ten years ago!
And yes, it’s a holiday song, and not everyone celebrates Christmas. However, whether you participate in Christmas traditions or not, there’s no chance that you haven’t heard this soulful tune over the airwaves.
The legend Mariah Carey herself co-wrote the song and released it on her 1994 holiday album, Merry Christmas. Ever since then, this song has been burned into the minds of billions of people.
It is simply not winter if you have not yet heard “All I Want For Christmas Is You” at least once – against your will or not.
“Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cindy Lauper
Song year: 1983
It is a little-known fact that “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” was written and performed in 1979 by Robert Hazard.
Cindy Lauper recorded her version from a female perspective to release on her 1983 album. The song was considered a feminist anthem at the time.
Lauper sings about wanting to live her life happy and free, not taking life as seriously as everyone expected women to in the ’80s.
The fun, dancy tune puts anyone into a good mood, which is why it has persisted as a popular song known by all ever since.
“Dance Monkey” by Tones and I
Song year: 2019
Toni Watson, better known as Tones and I, is a newcomer to the pop scene. The Australian has spent years as a popular busker, playing music in the streets and performing small shows.
In 2019, her song “Dance Monkey” blew up and became an international hit.
“Dance Monkey” peaked at number 4 on the charts in the United States but hit number 1 internationally.
The song is catchy and fun – in just a short time, it has become a tune that everybody knows.
Song year: 2003
“Hey Ya!” is a fun song that exploded when it came out and has remained popular. It is a catchy, dance-worthy tune that you can’t help but enjoy.
Written and performed by Outkast (Andre 3000 and Big Boi), “Hey Ya!” has been a successful and popular song for nearly twenty years.
It has been covered many times, with versions from various genres.
If you were to sing this song in a crowded room, you would hear at least one (or ten!) people sing along with you.
Song year: 1987
Singer Whitney Houston is responsible for many hit singles that have persisted through the decades.
One of the most notable is “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” which won a Grammy in 1988 for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam wrote this song. They were also the authors of Whitney Houston’s previous hit, “How Will I Know” (which would hold its own on this list as well).
The song is about more than dancing. It was about wanting to find a true soulmate to live life with.
Perhaps because of the meaning, this song is relatable to many. It has stuck around as one of those older songs that everyone knows, even to this day.
Song year: 2004
“Yeah!” from Usher’s famed 2004 Confessions album features rappers Lil Jon and Ludacris. This song has been quoted, covered, and parodied so much since its release.
Popular with kids and adults alike, this is one of those new songs that everyone knows. While it’s not exactly current pop culture, it’s at least from this century, where most well-known songs that cross generations are from the ’80s.
“Yeah!” is significant because it combines two popular genres of the time, R&B and Crunk, which were referred to as “Crunk&B” by the artists involved.
Close to twenty years after the song’s release, we bet you still have the urge to dance whenever someone says the word “yeah” in any context.
Song year: 1975
If we are going to talk about songs that everyone knows, “Bohemian Rhapsody” has a well-earned spot on the list.
Most people have grown up hearing the lyrics sung by the legendary band Queen. There have been covers and features in various forms of media, keeping it relevant and well-known.
The song itself is six minutes long and considered a suite.
Most progressive rock songs didn’t get very popular in the mainstream, but “Bohemian Rhapsody” was an exception. Despite their length, most people have committed Freddie Mercury’s original lyrics to memory and can recite the song at will.
“Baby” by Justin Bieber
Song year: 2010
“Baby” was the 2010 single by sudden pop-star sensation Justin Bieber featuring Ludacris. The song blew up, creating a craze surrounding the young Canadian, who was just sixteen years old at the time.
It charted in the top ten in multiple countries, including the United States and Canada. “Baby” spent several weeks in the charts globally.
The music video for “Baby” remains one of the most-viewed videos on YouTube to this day. Everyone young or old knows this song. Whether they love it or claim to hate it, you can bet that this earworm has spent time in their heads.
“Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson
Song year: 1982
It’s no surprise that one of the old songs everyone knows comes from an incredibly famous artist – Michael Jackson.
Theories surround this tune, from rumors of secret paternities to sordid affairs. However, the likely tale surrounding this song’s inception is that Jackson drew inspiration from a letter from a lovesick fan he had never even met.
People frequently say that “Billie Jean” is the most requested karaoke song of all time, so there’s no wonder how everyone knows this former number-one hit.
“All Star” by Smash Mouth
Song year: 1999
This turn-of-the-century hit, released in 1999, ranked in the top ten charts everywhere and became one of the year’s best songs.
It was featured in the film Mystery Men that same year but received even more notoriety for Shrek in 2001.
Because of its popularity across generations, “All Star” has been ranked one of the top-streamed rock songs in the United States for several years.
You will be hard-pressed to find anybody of any age who does not automatically know “All Star.”
“Cotton Eye Joe” by Rednex
Song year: 1994
There is a unique history behind the song “Cotton Eye Joe.” Rednex, a Swedish Eurodance group, released this famous song in 1994. They based this hit on a traditional folk song in America, however.
The folk song is known to have been a popular song pre-civil war, with versions dating back to the American slavery era. While the traditional song was referred to as “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” Rednex altered the name to “Cotton Eye Joe.”
People play this song at almost every large gathering, party, dance, wedding, etc. Everyone enjoys dancing to this fun tune.
Song year: 1987
This song was a number-one hit worldwide upon its release. Despite being over 30 years old, it continues to be in the minds and hearts of people everywhere.
Although not exactly the future that British singer/songwriter Rick Astley envisioned for one of his tunes, “Never Gonna Give You Up” has been immortalized by the popular internet meme “Rickrolling.” This term refers to when someone links an unsuspecting victim to audio or video of this song.
As a result, the lyrics are practically ingrained in our memories. Everyone knows this song, and most enjoy it, despite our groans after being Rickrolled for the fifth time this week.
Song year: 1993
“Macarena” was a dance craze that swept the 90s. Everyone and their mother knows how to dance the Macarena.
The song was originally released in 1993 and then re-released in 1995. The 1995 version, “Bayside Boys Remix,” is the version you are probably familiar with as it contains lyrics in both Spanish and English.
“Macarena” is about a woman (named Macarena, after one of the band member’s daughters) and the excitement one feels when watching her dance.
The song spent sixty weeks on the Hot 100 charts, and for fifteen years (until Adele smashed that record), this was the longest any song spent on that chart.
Song year: 2002
Vanessa Carlton, Pennsylvania-born singer-songwriter, came on the scene in the early 2000s with her epic hit, “A Thousand Miles.”
She later said that she wrote the song about a crush who was attending Julliard and is now a famous actor.
From the catchy piano intro to the lyrics, “A Thousand Miles” is one of those songs that gets in your head and stays there for years.
Although Carlton is considered by many to be a “one-hit wonder,” she has remained active writing and releasing music and has maintained a steady career.
Nothing tops the notoriety of “A Thousand Miles,” however.
Song year: 1989
For a song as old as many millennials, “Love Shack” is an important piece of musical history.
The B-52s released this song in 1989 after their popularity had declined for a few years following the death of a band member. “Love Shack” was a comeback that put The B-52’s back on the map.
The song was about a Georgia cabin a band member lived in, in the ’70s. The cabin was where the band wrote another famous song – “Rock Lobster.” Sadly, the cabin burned down in 2004.
Although most people do not know the origin of “Love Shack,” they certainly know the tune and the words!
Song year: 1974
It’s a song that needs no introduction.
Start humming the opening guitar, and people all around you will perk up their ears. It’s a tune recognizable to all.
“Sweet Home Alabama” has a controversial message and has caused a rift between American southerners and northerners amidst racial tension. It answers two of Neil Young’s songs about the modern South.
However, despite the controversy, the song is notorious and will often be heard in bars and during karaoke.
Song year: 2003
As a surprising addition to the list, “Stacy’s Mom” remains alive by millennials who blast the song for their friends and family out of nostalgia.
The song is a humorous tale of a teenaged boy who finds his girlfriend’s mother attractive. It suggests that the mother should choose him over being a single mother.
While the pop tune may be a little bit controversial, it is catchy and fun, with that typical early-2000s garage band sound.
Popular among millennial parents and on road trips, “Stacy’s Mom” is well-known by all.
Song year: 1998
Britney Spears continues to be one of the most iconic and celebrated musicians in American pop music. The public has taken a vested interest in her personal life through hashtags like #FreeBritney (which finally occurred in October 2021) and by following her social media.
Nobody can forget the massive debut this megastar made in the late ’90s, however.
“…Baby One More Time” was a bouncy bubblegum pop hit that changed the lives of both Britney and “teeny boppers” everywhere.
The song was played continuously through the turn of the century and is still wildly popular today.
“Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey
Song year: 1981
This ’80s hit from Journey’s Escape album is one of the most iconic songs of the twentieth century. Whether you love it or hate it, we guarantee that you would recognize it anywhere.
As a nostalgic song based on Journey keyboardist Johnathon Cain’s upbringing in Detroit and his determination to make something of himself, “Don’t Stop Believin’” is a staple in karaoke parlors everywhere.
There are at least 70 recorded cover versions of this song. Young or old, nearly everyone you encounter is familiar with it.
“Don’t Stop Believin’” is a hard one to beat as we kick off this list of songs that everyone knows.
Song year: 1969
“Proud Mary” was released by Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1969, on their Born on the Bayou B-side.
The song is extremely popular still, even after more than fifty years. One of the most famous cover versions of this song was by Ike and Tina Turner in 1971. In fact, both the original version by CCR and the Tina Turner version are equally popular.
While it is a song that everyone knows, some people are familiar with one version over the other. There are slight differences in the lyrics, but both songs are terrific.
Song year: 1969
As another 1969 hit, “Sweet Caroline” is one of the most well-known songs of all time.
Neil Diamond wrote the tune about his wife, who was actually named Martha. However, he could not rhyme her name into the song well enough and needed a three-syllable name. So, he chose Caroline.
There was also a rumor that it was about John F. Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline. Neil Diamond did confirm this in an interview. Perhaps the song drew inspiration from both the Kennedy family and from his wife.
Song year: 1988/1993
The Scottish band, The Proclaimers, released this song in the UK in 1988. It was very popular in the UK market and even reached number 1 in Australia.
It was released in the United States in 1993 after being used in the film Benny & Joon starring Johnny Depp. The music video for “I’m Gonna Be” contains scenes from the movie.
Because of its appearance in the film, the song reached the top 3 on the 1993 Billboard Hot 100 Chart in the United States.
It was also a prominent feature in the hit TV show, How I Met Your Mother, and as a result, became a frequent tune played on road trips.
“Mr. Brightside” by The Killers
Song year: 2003
You’re singing it already, aren’t you?
“Mr. Brightside,” released as The Killers’ first single, was an instant hit. However, it gained even more popularity when they re-released it on their debut album in 2004.
Telling the story of a jealous ex-lover trying to move on but being drawn back by his obsession with his former partner’s love life, this song continues to draw accolades from all audiences.
It is an insanely catchy pop tune destined to go down as one of the best songs of this century.
Song year: 2016
“Can’t Stop The Feeling!” is a single by pop sensation Justin Timberlake, a former member of boy band N*Sync.
They released the song as the title track for the 2006 Dreamworks film Trolls.
It debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 chart as an immediate number-one hit, which only a rare handful of songs achieve.
Because of Timberlake’s fame and the popularity of Trolls, this song is a favorite for adults and children alike. Even as the song gains in age, the film is available to stream for children, so the song will remain popular with younger demographics.
Song year: 1997
You may not know the name of this song or the band, but we guarantee that if you were to go listen to the tune, you’d find that you already know it!
In fact, if you play it for anybody at all, you will probably see that they, too, know the song.
It is a catchy, late-90s ska-punk hit that topped the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. “The Impression That I Get” was so insanely popular that it remains well-known to this day.
Song year: 1986
Not only is “Livin’ On a Prayer” catchy, but it is also a timeless rock classic.
The song’s popularity has endured for more than three decades. It is still a feature hit at karaoke nights, and you can hear it playing in bars, grocery stores, or anywhere you happen to be.
Considered Bon Jovi’s most popular song, “Livin’ On a Prayer” has been downloaded more than 3 million times, and the music video has over 775 million views.
Song year: 2000
This turn of the century pop-punk hit speaks to teenagers everywhere, which may explain why it is a song everyone knows.
Brendon B. Brown, the vocalist/guitarist for Wheatus, revealed that he wrote the song about his experience as an outsider as a teenager into rock ‘n roll music and alternative styles.
We can all relate to being branded as “outsiders” and facing rejection because we may be different from our peers.
Perhaps this is why people still know and jam out to “Teenage Dirtbag.”
Song year: 2006
Known for their long song titles, Panic! At The Disco took the pop/punk/emo scene by storm in the early 2000s. Their album, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, is filled with catchy, bouncy hits.
Although the “emo” or “scene” fashion has developed into something else entirely, the music lives on. There isn’t a person on this planet who has not heard “I Write Sins Not Tragedies.”
This song describes the experience of observing a wedding where one spouse is unfaithful, and the venue staff is gossipping about the couple. The slightly-controversial lyrics (which include profanity) can often be heard at parties or playing from any teenager’s bedroom.
Song year: 1995
We can attribute the popularity of the song “Wonderwall” to both its success and its existence as a running joke.
The song itself has become a sort of teenage trope, being named the song of choice for moody teenage boys to play to impress love-sick teen girls. These kids may favor it because of its emotional nature or because it is simple to play.
At one point, even rapper Jay-Z had his audience members sing “Wonderwall” during his performances – although he did this in jest because of a feud between Jay-Z and the Gallaghers.
Song year: 2018
Lil Nas X is an American rapper who recently rocketed into fame. People know him thanks to his involvement in both rap and country music and for being openly gay.
“Old Town Road” was released in 2018, with a remix featuring Billy Ray Cyrus being released in 2019. Both versions are popular, but the later version helped Lil Nas X gain notoriety.
“Old Town Road” is a favorite for people of all ages. It was incredibly popular with children, although Lil Nas X has repeatedly explained that his music is not necessarily ideal for kids.
Song year: 1968
For a song that is more than fifty years old, “Hey Jude” has a certain timeless element.
Although, we could say the same for almost any of The Beatles’ discography. The band’s rush of fame in the ’60s, known as “Beatle Mania,” persists to this day.
The Beatles turned out an impressive catalog of over 200 songs, so it’s hard to pick the most well-known. However, “Hey Jude” is often touted as the most popular Beatles song of all time, and it would be difficult to find someone who does not know this song.
Song year: 2002
In true early-2000s hip-hop fashion, “Hot in Herre” was released and became an immediate craze.
Because of its suggestive lyrics and catchy tune, “Hot in Herre” spread like wildfire.
The music video, which features cameos by famous NFL players and actors, continues to receive large numbers of views to this day!
Song year: 2012
“Gangnam Style” is perhaps a surprising pick for this list. Nobody expected a music video from South Korea to blow up and reach number two on the Hot 100 charts in the United States.
As of November 2021, the video has received more than 4.2 billion views on YouTube, which makes it the 11th most-viewed video of all time.
Something about this song’s catchiness and upbeat tune makes it globally popular and well-loved.
Song year: 1984
This song by Leonard Cohen is just one of those songs. We all know it, but we aren’t sure where we heard it.
It is frequently used in movies and TV shows, including Shrek in 2001.
It has been covered multiple times, with Cohen’s blessing. The most popular recording is the version by Jeff Buckley, although Rufus Wainwright also offers a beloved cover.
Song year: 1983
“Total Eclipse of the Heart” is a long song that reaches almost seven minutes on the album version (though the single is only four and a half). Bonnie Tyler, the Welsh singer behind the ballad, sold more than six million copies of the single worldwide.
The cinematic music video continues to get views online despite its age.
Interestingly, songwriter Jim Steinman originally wrote “Total Eclipse of the Heart” to be a vampire love story!
Song year: 1973
Written and performed by Dolly Parton, “Jolene” is the story of a marriage in trouble when a red-headed seductress tries to move in on the husband.
Dolly Parton confirmed that she based the song on the true events of a bank clerk flirting with her husband.
Although Dolly Parton claims that because of the pain behind the song, she doesn’t like to sing it often, fans everywhere sure do. Everyone knows the song “Jolene.”
There are lots of songs that everyone knows, either old or new. We hope you enjoyed reviewing 37 of them listed above. How many do you know by heart? While songs that everyone seems to know may seem overplayed or cliche, there is value in them. We use music to form connections, and these terrific songs serve to bring us all closer together!