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Most Played Songs On The Radio: The 10 Biggest Hits On The Airwaves
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List & Guides

Most Played Songs On The Radio: The 10 Biggest Hits On The Airwaves

Breaking records as they have fixed themselves in our memory, the most played songs on the radio continue to rule the airwaves.

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All forms of mass-media communication can be vital for artists looking to reach wider audiences, yet – even in the digital age – it’s radio that arguably still has the edge. Indeed, whether at local, national or international levels, radio airplay is frequently crucial to bringing new music to hungry audiences, with DJs having staunchly supported the rise of countless hit singles down the decades. In tribute to this all-important medium, we turn the dial, tune in and cue up the most played songs on the radio.

Listen to our Rock Classics playlist here, and check out the most played radio songs, below.

10: The Kinks / Van Halen: You Really Got Me (1964 / 1978)

Estimated global radio plays: 8 million

Famously propelled by Dave Davies’ overdriven, distortion-heavy guitar riff, The Kinks’ first major hit, You Really Got Me, has everything the best rock songs should: it’s tight, punchy and anthemic, and it’s also highly accessible fare for the airwaves.

First released in August 1964, You Really Got Me became the iconic London band’s first UK chart-topper, with strong airplay in the US also helping it enter the Top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100. Consistently one of the most played songs on the radio from that point on, You Really Got Me later returned to the mainstream when Van Halen released a supercharged cover of the song as the lead single from their self-titled debut album.

9: The Police: Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic (1981)

Estimated global radio plays: 9 million

With cumulative record sales of over 75 million worldwide, The Police are one of rock and pop’s biggest-selling bands, so it’s no great surprise that they have two entries among the most played songs on the radio. The first, Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic, was released as a single from the group’s fourth album, 1981’s Ghost In The Machine, and its infectious, slightly tropical vibe immediately proved popular around the world. The band promoted the release with a memorable promo video filmed on the Caribbean island of Montserrat (where most of Ghost In The Machine was recorded), but it’s the song’s evergreen appeal which has led to it racking up an estimated nine million radio plays worldwide.

8: Four Tops: Baby I Need Your Loving (1964)

Estimated global radio plays: 9 million

Accurately described by Cashbox magazine as “an intriguing rock-a-cha-cha beat pleader”, Four Tops’ Baby I Need Your Loving helped the Detroit vocal group chalk up a number of important milestones. Their first Motown single – released in July 1964 – it also rewarded the group with their first Billboard Top 20 hit, and went on to become Levi Stubbs and company’s first million-selling single. Popular on US stations from the start, Baby I Need Your Loving has remained among the most played songs on the radio due to the strength of Four Tops’ original recording, but several choice covers, not least Johnny Rivers’ striking orchestral 1967 reworking, which made No.3 on the Billboard Hot 100, have also boosted its popularity.

7: Derek And The Dominos: Layla (1971)

Estimated global radio plays: 9 million

Rather like The DoorsLight My Fire and Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven, Derek And The Dominos’ Layla helped break the mould of what was (and wasn’t) acceptable when it comes to scoring a radio-friendly hit.

As with the two aforementioned classics, Clapton’s iconic song – cut with the short-lived Derek And The Dominos – clocked in at over seven minutes in total, effectively prohibiting it from airplay. Accordingly, a severely truncated edit was released in 1971, and it wasn’t until the following year’s compilation release, The History Of Eric Clapton, that radio embraced the full-length cut, with strong airplay resulting in it going Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic. Helped along by a 1982 reissue which again cracked the UK Top 5, Layla has since remained a huge FM favourite whose continued presence among the most played songs on the radio seems assured.

6: The Righteous Brothers: You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ (1964)

Estimated global radio plays: 10 million

Though sung with passion by US vocal duo The Righteous Brothers (Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley), You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’’s success is often put down to the song’s producer – the late Phil Spector – with many critics believing it to be the ultimate example of his legendary “Wall Of Sound” recording technique. With hindsight, this soaring ballad’s longevity was secured thanks the input of all concerned (co-writers Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil also deserve credit), and its presence among the most played songs on radio is explained not just by the transatlantic success of The Righteous Brothers’ original 1964 recording, but also by big-hitting covers by artists ranging from Cilla Black to Dionne Warwick and Hall & Oates.

5: The Beatles: Yesterday (1965)

Estimated global radio plays: 10 million

Though credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Yesterday was effectively the first Paul McCartney solo recording, as it solely featured his vocal and acoustic guitar, supplemented by a discreet string quartet arranged by producer George Martin. The song famously had the working title “Scrambled Eggs” until McCartney came up with something more suitable – and he was surely glad he did, for the nostalgic lyric he penned infused Yesterday with a perennial appeal, leading to over 2,200 cover versions rendering it one of the most covered songs in the history of recorded music. Bearing all that in mind, it’s entirely logical that this seemingly ageless ballad has become one of the most played songs on radio – a fact borne out by the estimated ten million global plays Yesterday has chalked up since its initial release, in September 1965.

4: Whitney Houston: I Will Always Love You

Estimated global radio plays: 10 million

First recorded by the song’s writer, Dolly Parton, in 1973, I Will Always Love You topped Billboard’s Hot Country Singles chart in 1974 and again in 1982, when it featured (in re-recorded form) on the soundtrack to the film The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas, starring Parton and Burt Reynolds. However, these successes paled in comparison to the soul-infused version of the song Whitney Houston recorded for the soundtrack to 1992’s Hollywood blockbuster The Bodyguard. Indeed, Houston so owned the song that her version has become one of those songs few people know are covers. Topping the Billboard Hot 100 for what was then a record-breaking 14 weeks, Houston’s definitive recording also received enthusiastic support from global radio, and it eventually moved a staggering 20 million copies worldwide.

3: The Rolling Stones: (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (1965)

Estimated global radio plays: 10 million

Arguably the most pivotal of all The Rolling Stones’ singles, (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction rewarded the band with their first million-selling US No.1 and significantly raised their profile on both sides of the Atlantic. Initially, however, UK radio baulked at the song’s themes of frustration and sexual repression, ensuring that it was the country’s leading pirate stations, such as Radio Caroline, who first embraced the track. The tide turned as Satisfaction rose up the UK singles chart, eventually spending two weeks at the top spot during September 1965. By then mainstream radio had relented, and the song has since been a classic-rock staple, becoming one of the most played songs on the radio courtesy of an estimated ten million plays globally.

2: Van Morrison: Brown Eyed Girl (1967)

Estimated global radio plays: 13 million

Containing little hint of what lay in store with his game-changing second album, Astral Weeks, Van Morrison’s debut album, 1967’s Blowin’ Your Mind!, led off with the radio-friendly Brown Eyed Girl. Yet the song initially had a difficult relationship with DJs: though its lyrics were romantic and nostalgic in design, the line “Making love in the green grass” was deemed too explicitly racy for radio at the time, and the lyric was quietly removed in an edit designed to gain airplay. Nonetheless, broadcasters have since embraced the uncensored version of Morrison’s glorious, lilting pop-soul serenade, and it’s now a regular feature in classic-rock programming, having clocked up over ten million radio plays in the US alone.

1: The Police: Every Breath You Take (1983)

Estimated global radio plays: 15 million

Though widely misconstrued as a gentle love song (its sinister lyrics actually examine love in its most possessive form), The Police’s greatest hit is nonetheless beautifully executed, featuring one of Sting’s most impassioned vocals and a sublime guitar figure from Andy Summers, reputedly inspired by Hungarian composer Béla Bartók. Reaffirming The Police’s position as arguably the biggest band in the world circa 1983, Every Breath You Take spent four weeks at the top of the UK singles chart before going on to become the biggest US and Canadian hit of that year, and – on the air at least – it’s just kept going, bolstered in no small part by being sampled in I’ll Be Missing You, Puff Daddy’s 1997 tribute to the then recently murdered rapper The Notorious B.I.G.. Indeed, in May 2019, Every Breath You Take was officially recognised by BMI as being the most played song in radio history, with a staggering 15 million plays to its name.

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