What were the biggest hits of the '70s, '80s and '90s? If you go strictly by weeks at #1 on Billboard's Hot 100, the answers are Debby Boone's "You Light Up My Life" for the '70s, Olivia Newton-John's "Physical" for the '80s and the Mariah Carey-Boyz II Men collaboration "One Sweet Day" for the '90s.
But you could argue that the real biggest hits of bygone decades are those songs that fans are paying to download to this day. None of the monster hits cited above are included on Nielsen/SoundScan's running list of the 200 songs with the most paid downloads.
The vast majority of the songs on that list were hits within the last few years. That's no surprise: These are the songs that have been on the radio most frequently in the period in which has downloading has really taken off. The list of the top 200 songs with the most paid downloads includes just 10 songs from the '70s, '80s, and '90s. And they're not necessarily the songs you might expect. But these are the "blasts from the past" that have, in a very real sense, best stood the test of time.
Here are the 10 songs released before 2000 that have rung up the most paid downloads, as of this week.
1. Journey, "Don't Stop Believin'," 1,821,000. This invigorating arena-rock anthem has sold most of its downloads since it was featured in the June 2007 finale of HBO's The Sopranos. The song was a top 10 hit when it was first released in 1981, but not a #1. (It peaked at #9.) It's a #1 now. Top 200 rank: #65.
2. Queen, "Bohemian Rhapsody," 1,348,000. Queen's epic recording made the top 10 twice-in 1976, when it was first released, and in 1992, when it was featured in the hit movie Wayne's World. The Freddie Mercury song reached #2 in May 1992, just six months after Mercury became the first major rock star to die from AIDS. Top 200 rank: #118.
3. Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Sweet Home Alabama," 1,346,000. This zesty 1974 hit is the oldest recording on the list. (The '50s and '60s are officially ancient history to today's downloading pop fans.) Kid Rock's current radio hit, "All Summer Long," which pays homage to the song, is just the latest boost that it has gotten. The song has been featured in several movies, including the Oscar-winning 1994 smash Forrest Gump. It even provided the title for a 2002 rom-com starring Reese Witherspoon. The Southern rock classic has been hugely influential in contemporary country music. Top 200 rank: #119.
4. Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, "Somewhere Over The Rainbow"/"What A Wonderful World," 1,339,000. The Hawaiian singer/ukulele player recorded this medley, which couples Judy Garland's 1939 classic with Louis Armstrong's 1967 gem, in 1993. Four years later, he died from respiratory failure at age 38. Kamakawiwo'ole's recording has since been featured in such films as Meet Joe Black, Finding Forrester and 50 First Dates. Jason Castro borrowed the mellow arrangement when he sang "Over The Rainbow" on American Idol in April. Top 200 rank: #120.
5. Guns N' Roses, "Sweet Child O' Mine," 1,267,000. This rock classic was the biggest hit from the band's chart-topping 1987 debut album Appetite For Destruction. The single reached #1 in September 1988. Sheryl Crow recorded the song for the 1999 movie Big Daddy. Her version won a Grammy-an honor that eluded Guns N' Roses. Top 200 rank: #137.
6. Survivor, "Eye Of The Tiger," 1,206,000. This pumped-up track was featured in Rocky III and was reprised in Rocky IV. The track was #1 for six weeks in the summer of 1982 and won a Grammy for Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group. (It's the only track in this top 10 to have won a Grammy in regular competition.) Top 200 rank: #155.
7. Green Day, "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)," 1,168,000. Though never released as a single, this was the biggest radio hit from the band's 1997 album Nimrod. It has since become a prom night staple. Top 200 rank: #164.
8. Queen, "We Will Rock You," 1,168,000. This Brian May song and its frequent companion, Freddie Mercury's "We Are The Champions," have become sports anthems. Both songs were included in the CD series, ESPN Presents Jock Rock. "We Will Rock You" was featured in the 1978 movie FM. Both songs were heard in D2: The Mighty Ducks and A Knight's Tale. Top 200 rank: #165.
9. Guns N' Roses, "Welcome To The Jungle," 1,154,000. This is also a sports anthem. The 1988 hit was the follow-up single to "Sweet Child O' Mine." Appetite For Destruction is the only album to have spawned two tracks on this list. (The Queen songs originated on different albums.) Top 200 rank: #172.
10. Goo Goo Dolls, "Iris," 1,091,000. This was the big hit from the 1998 movie City Of Angels and its chart-topping soundtrack. Though never released as a single, it topped the airplay chart for 18 weeks. It was also nominated for a Grammy as Record of the Year. Top 200 rank: #191.
Two hits from Bon Jovi's 1986 blockbuster Slippery When Wet and classics by Eagles and Nirvana are among the oldies "bubbling under" the all-time top 200. Bon Jovi's "Livin' On A Prayer" has sold 1,029,000 downloads as of this week. The band's follow-up single, "Wanted Dead Or Alive," is close behind at 964,000. Eagles' Grammy-winning 1977 smash "Hotel California" has sold 1,008,000 downloads. Nirvana's era-defining 1991 hit "Smells Like Teen Spirit" has moved 928,000.