What Was The Best Year For Music


What Was The Best Year For Music

From the swinging 60s to punk, acid house to Britpop, everyone has a favourite era in music.

But is there a single year where rock and pop peaked?

Maybe it came with The Beatles’ mould-breaking sonic experiments of 1968, or the mid-80s purple patch where Prince, Madonna and Michael Jackson pushed each other to ever-greater heights.

If you ask most people to choose a defining year in music, they’ll almost certainly name one of their teenage years.

In adolescence, our brains are more active, we have more time to listen to music and we’re experiencing a lot of things for the first time – all of which makes songs from that period more memorable.

When economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz analysed Spotify data on people’s listening habits, he found that if you were a teenager when a hit song was first released, it remained popular in your age group 10 years later.

Radiohead’s Creep, for example, is a favourite amongst 40-year-old men. For people in their 20s, it doesn’t even reach the top 300. For millennials, Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe has a similar resonance.

But psychologists believe there’s a deeper reason why we cling to those pieces of music.

What Was The Best Year For Music

“It is during these formative years that we make many crucial life-changing decisions, initiate significant long-term relationships and establish the cultural and political beliefs which form our identity,” cognitive neuropsychologist Dr Catherine Loveday told BBC Radio 3.

“Music has an intrinsic capacity to regulate emotions [so] these songs naturally become embedded in our important memories, both positive and negative.”

  • What Was The Best Year For Music

All of which is fascinating – but it still won’t help us decide empirically which year produced the best music. Luckily, new research from music industry body the BPI helps narrow down the field.

By analysing all the music we streamed in the UK last year, they’ve drawn up a list of the most popular musical year for every decade of the rock and roll era.

What Was The Best Year For Music

So now we know that people have greater affinity for 1984 (Purple Rain, Wake Me Up Before You Go Go) than 1989 (Like A Prayer, Ride On Time). We also prefer the hits of 1977 (We Will Rock You, Stayin’ Alive) to those of 1971 (Brown Sugar, Get It On).

2019 was the most popular year overall – but only because current chart hits account for a fifth (21.1%) of all streaming activity.

What Was The Best Year For Music

Here are the top 10 songs from each of those eras, revealed exclusively on the BBC before they appear in the BPI’s yearbook: All About The Music 2020, which is released later this month.

The most-streamed songs of 1969

Title Artist Streams (m)
1) Here Comes The Sun The Beatles 25.3
2) I Want You Back Jackson 5 21.1
3) Sweet Caroline Neil Diamond 17.8
4) Come Together The Beatles 12.5
5) Suspicious Minds Elvis Presley 11.2
6) Fortunate Son Credence Clearwater Revival 10.7
7) Gimme Shelter Rolling Stones 10.5
8) Space Oddity David Bowie 9.9
9) The Boxer Simon & Garfunkel 7.2
10) Bad Moon Rising Credence Clearwater Revival 7.1

The most-streamed songs of 1977

Title Artist Streams (m)
1) Mr Blue Sky ELO 31.0
2) The Chain Fleetwood Mac 27.4
3) Dreams Fleetwood Mac 24.2
4) We Will Rock You Queen 23.1
5) We Are The Champions Queen 18.1
6) Three Little Birds Bob Marley 13.9
7) Lovely Day Bill Withers 12.6
8) Stayin’ Alive Bee Gees 12.4
9) She’s Always A Woman Billy Joel 10.9
10) Easy The Commodores 10.8

The most-streamed songs of 1984

Title Artist Streams (m)
1) Last Christmas Wham! 42
2) Do They Know It’s Christmas Band Aid 30.2
3) Take On Me A-ha 25.3
4) Summer Of ’69 Bryan Adams 25.2
5) I Want To Break Free Queen 20.9
6) Radio Gaga Queen 20.3
7) Wake Me Up Before You Go Go Wham! 19.5
8) Footloose Kenny Loggins 18
9) Dancing In The Dark Bruce Springsteen 14.8
10) Purple Rain Prince & The Revolution 13.5

The most-streamed songs of 1999

Title Artist Streams (m)
1) Dancing In The Moonlight Toploader 27.3
2) No Scrubs TLC 24.7
3) I Want It That Way Backstreet Boys 22.4
4) Say My Name Destiny’s Child 19.4
5) All Star Smash Mouth 16.0
6) Californication Red Hot Chili Peppers 15.6
7) Still D.R.E. Dr Dre ft Snoop Dogg 15.5
8) All The Small Things Blink-182 14.7
9) Forgot About Dre Dr Dre ft Eminem 14.2
10) Keep On Moving Five 10.9

The most-streamed songs of 2006

Title Artist Streams (m)
1) Naïve The Kooks 27.4
2) Chasing Cars Snow Patrol 26.6
3) She Moves In Her Own Way The Kooks 21.8
4) Hips Don’t Lie Shakira ft Wyclef Jean 18.2
5) Mardy Bum Arctic Monkeys 18.2
6) How To Save A Life The Fray 18
7) When The Sun Goes Down Arctic Monkeys 17.7
8) Last Request Paolo Nutini 17.5
9) I Write Sins Not Tragedies Panic! At The Disco 15.5
10) Chelsea Dagger Fratellis 15.2

The most-streamed songs of 2017

Title Artist Streams (m)
1) Bruises Lewis Capaldi 85.2
2) Perfect Ed Sheeran 60.2
3) This Is Me Keala Settle 55.5
4) Body Loud Luxury ft Brando 53.3
5) Leave A Light On Tom Walker 52.5
6) Baby Shark Pinkfong 50.8
7) Lost Without You Freya Ridings 50.7
8) Shape Of You Ed Sheeran 49.1
9) Truth Hurts Lizzo 43.6
10) The Greatest Show Hugh Jackman 41.9Interestingly, the most-streamed songs from those years don’t always correlate to the hits of the era.

Wings’ Mull Of Kintyre, which was the biggest-selling single of 1977, is nowhere to be found in that year’s streaming data.

Meanwhile, Smash Mouth’s All Star, which only reached number 24 in 1999, leaps into that year’s most-streamed chart, having become a karaoke standard after being featured in the first Shrek film.

The most-played song of 1999, however, was Toploader’s cover of Dancing In The Moonlight.

“It’s one of the go-to happy songs, I think,” said singer Joe Washbourn, explaining the track’s enduring success.

“It still out there on the radio and getting streamed all over the world.

“People know the song more than the band, to be honest.”

Queen are well-represented in the charts, thanks to the success of their Bohemian Rhapsody soundtrack, while the back catalogues of The Beatles, Wham! and Fleetwood Mac also remain popular.

Songs released in 2019 were discounted to stop recent hits flooding the data set, but the late-blooming success of 2017 recordings by Lewis Capaldi, Tom Walker and Lizzo (all of which hit the charts in the last 12 months) made that year the dominant player of the 2010s.

A separate chart of last year’s most popular songs sees Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber’s I Don’t Care take first place.

All of the top 10 were streamed more than 100 million times.

The most-streamed songs of 2019

Title Artist Streams (m)
1) I Don’t Care Ed Sheeran & Justin Bieber 138.8
2) Bad Guy Billie Eilish 137.1
3) Vossi Bop Stormzy 121.3
4) Location Dave Ft Burna Boy 120.4
5) Giant Calvin Harris & Rag ‘N’ Bone Man 115.7
6) Piece Of Your Heart Meduza Ft Goodboys 110.5
7) Don’t Call Me Up Mabel 107.4
8) Ladbroke Grove AJ Tracey 106.7
9) Senorita Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello 106.5
10) Dance Monkey Tones And I 105.8
Source: BPI Yearbook

The popularity of streaming has been a lifeline for the music industry, after years of piracy and falling CD sales.

According to the Entertainment Retailers Association, people in the UK spent £1bn on music subscriptions last year, a rise of 23.5%, and played a total of 114bn songs.

By contrast, physical sales of CDs fell 17% to £318m – two-thirds smaller than the £873m market of 2010.

The popularity of streaming has been a lifeline for the music industry, after years of piracy and falling CD sales.


According to the Entertainment Retailers Association, people in the UK spent £1bn on music subscriptions last year, a rise of 23.5%, and played a total of 114bn songs.

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By contrast, physical sales of CDs fell 17% to £318m – two-thirds smaller than the £873m market of 2010.

What Was The Best Year For Music


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