A Look Through Billboard’s Year-End Song Reporting Over the Last 80 Years

From phone reporting to point-of-sale tracking to Luminate’s current data system, Billboard has published year-end music roundups for 80 years. Since 1943, a hit parade of swinging jazz tracks, scorching rockers and hip-hop bangers have ranked as the year’s top song. As 2023 wraps, here’s a look at the genre jubilee in our back pages.


A Jazzy Start

Based on a points system that “gives an approximation of comparative disk sales,” the Jan. 2, 1943, issue crowned Glenn Miller’s “Kalamazoo” as the “top recording” of 1942. Of the 20 entries on the list, 18 were from big bands — the exceptions being Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and Spike Jones’ propaganda polka “Der Fuehrer’s Face.” In the Jan. 4, 1947, issue, Billboard unveiled its “First Annual Chart Count,” based on 106,000 reports from “sheet music jobbers… record dealers, disk jockeys and juke box operators [and] radio stations” — and declared Perry Como’s orchestral pop single “Prisoner of Love” to be 1946’s top tune.

Mambo, No. 1

Latin music spiced up 1955, and the Jan. 7, 1956, Billboard reported that Pérez Prado’s mambo hit “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” was the “top popular record” per “retail sales [and] juke box plays.” That year, rock was crowned king thanks to Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel.” “As could be no surprise to anyone, [Presley] has had a larger number of records on the national pop retail chart this year than any other recording artist,” the Dec. 22, 1956, issue reported. “Rhythm and blues and rock and roll together represent a big chunk of the singles market.”

First Timer

The Dec. 30, 1972, Billboard declared Roberta Flack’s “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” to be the year’s top Hot 100 song. The Dec. 29, 1973, issue said soul music was becoming “more sophisticated, with ‘productions’ rather than the raucous music traditionally associated with soul.” Plus, the genre was receiving “a great deal more attention on television” thanks to Soul Train and variety shows, which fueled sales.

Hollywood Hits

The silver screen’s power to promote hits peaked in the 1990s. Dangerous Minds helped make Coolio featuring L.V.’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” the biggest Hot 100 song of 1995 — the first hip-hop track to achieve the feat. “It’s the fourth time in the ’90s that the top single of the year has come from a motion picture,” the Dec. 23, 1995, issue noted. “Singles from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves [by Bryan Adams], Boomerang [by Boyz II Men] and The Bodyguard [by Whitney Houston] headed the year-end charts in 1991, 1992 and 1993, respectively.”

Pop Life

When Kesha’s “Tik Tok” was crowned the Hot 100’s top song of 2010, Billboard reported that “pop reigned supreme.” By 2018, hip-hop was dominating the charts, with rappers credited on seven of the 10 biggest songs. Drake’s “God’s Plan” was the top track, and the Dec. 15, 2018, issue reported that he “rewrote the record for the most weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100 by any artist in a single year.” For 2023, Morgan Wallen’s “Last Night” ruled — the first Hot Country Songs chart-topper to do so since Faith Hill’s “Breathe” in 2000.

This story will appear in the Dec. 16, 2023, issue of Billboard.

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