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The 500 Best Pop Songs (Nos. 500-301): Staff List

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It all comes back to pop music. Pop is the backbone not only of the music industry, but of culture in general: Nothing else connects people, defines moments and lives and passes down history from generation to generation the way pop does. It’s our shared language, our communal experience. It’s why wedding receptions are usually joyous and celebratory occasions even if the DJ doesn’t know a thing about the people they’re playing to, why karaoke can feel like a spiritual awakening in the right circumstances, why top 40 and oldies radio remain cultural staples a decade into the streaming era. There is no safer bet, no easier sell than pop music.

And yet, there’s been relatively little attempt to properly canonize modern pop’s greatest works and practitioners. While rock as a genre has been listed and anthologized to death over the past 50 years, and hip-hop and country are finally starting to catch up, such pop histories are relatively few and far between. There’s no official pop hall of fame, like there is for those other genres. It shouldn’t be possible for the biggest music on the planet to be overlooked, but it does feel that way sometimes.

So we here at Billboard have decided to take the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the Billboard Hot 100 — with the chart finally having lived a full-enough life to be at retirement age, though it’s still as vital as ever and certainly nowhere near hanging it up — to take our shot at listing the 500 best pop songs since the chart’s debut. Though songs had to hail from the Hot 100 era to qualify for our list, this isn’t a charts-determined ranking: Rather, these are the songs our staff felt were simply the greatest, most enduring pop songs of that 65-year period, the songs that we most think of when we think of what pop music could and should be. (Because 500 is a much smaller number than you think when talking about 65 years of pop music, and because we wanted to be able to include as many different artists as possible, we capped the number of pop songs per lead artist at three.)

How are we defining “pop songs,” you might ask? Well, that’s a little tough: One of the reasons pop can be hard to summarize is because there’s no real sonic or musical definition to it. There are common elements to a lot of the biggest pop songs, but at the end of the day, “pop” means “popular” first and foremost, and just about any song that becomes popular enough — whether it be rock, dance, rap, R&B, country, reggaetón or some combination — can be considered a pop song. So the only hard-and-fast qualification we laid down for songs to be eligible for our list was that they had to have hit the Hot 100 at some point, in some version. (The only exception we made was for songs that came during the ’90s period where many huge airplay hits were ineligible for the Hot 100; read here for more details on that.)

All that said, the “pop” part of this project was still essential when determining our ranking. We were looking for the songs that most fit our idea of pop music — catchy, tight, rousing, emotional, immaculately crafted, instantly memorable. If a song didn’t strike us as an obvious pop song, we might have ranked it lower on our list than most other all-time songs lists have in the past, or left it off altogether. Conversely, if a song makes us go “now that’s a pop song!” every time we hear it, even if it’s not the kind of critically revered song that often ends up on all-time lists, we made sure to give it a little extra love here. Our definition of pop might differ from yours — we couldn’t even all agree on every song ourselves — but even if we can’t do much better than “we know it when we hear it,” we’re confident you’ll hear it plenty yourself while reading through the songs on our list.

Here are our staff’s 500 favorite pop songs since the introduction of the Billboard Hot 100 on Aug. 4th, 1958 — from Lesley Gore to Carly Rae Jepsen, from Sam Cooke to SZA, from The Kinks to The Chainsmokers, from Chubby Checker to Rae Sremmurd. We’ll be counting down from 500 to 301 today (Oct. 17), then from 300 to 101 on Wednesday, with the final 100 being unveiled on Thursday (Oct. 19), along with more related articles you can read all about here.

Join us below all week, and feel free to sing along; we know you know the words.

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12 Outfits to ‘Dress You Up’ for Madonna’s Celebration Tour & Beyond

All products and services featured are independently chosen by editors. However, Billboard may receive a commission on orders placed through its retail links, and the retailer may receive certain auditable data for accounting purposes. Madonna‘s Celebration Tour has kicked off, and whether you already have tickets or plan to get tickets to the tour, you’ll also need to ensure your outfit is “Take a Bow”-worthy. The “Material Girl” singer is traveling the globe with a show that spans four decades […]

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