The UK's Best Selling Singles
Commentary by Theo Morgan-Gan


1 Candle In The Wind 1997 / Something About The Way You Look Tonight
Elton John (4.8 million copies) 1997

On 31st August 1997, Princess Diana died in a car crash with companion Dodi al Fayed. The news shocked the world. The world was plunged into mourning. Tributes flooded in. The funeral was held on 6th September 1997 (coincidentally, her wedding heads the top TV list, with 39m and the funeral is 5th with 31m). Sir Elton John performed this song of his at the funeral. It was originally a tribute to Marilyn Monroe when released in 1974, reaching #11, and #5 in 1988 when recorded with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. It was released on 13 September (a Saturday, unusually) and sold 658,000 copies on that one day, enough to send it straight to number one after just one day on release. It had sold 2 million by the end of its second week on chart, 3 million the next week, and eventually reached 4.8 million, thus making it the biggest selling single in the UK by a fair lead. In the USA, it received the grand total of 11 million sales. In Canada it probably fared best in terms of chart success, spending an astonishing 45 weeks at Number One over there. It became the best-selling single in the world, with total sales standing at 37 million. Fact: It was actually voted the third WORST Number One single in Channel 4's 100 Greatest #1s poll.

2 Do They Know It's Christmas?
Band Aid (3.51m) 1984/5

This record was the brainchild of Boomtown Rats (2 #1s) frontman Bob Geldof. Watching the news one night, he saw the disturbing images of starving children in Ethiopia, and felt he simply had to do something. So the biggest superstar line-up was arranged for each star to sing their own part in this record, co-written and produced by former Ultravox (#2 with Vienna in 1981) frontman Midge Ure. At the time it was the fastest-selling single in UK history, shifting 750,000 copies in its first full week alone. The same recording returned to #3 the next Christmas, and a SAW (Stock, Aitken and Waterman) version recorded with SAW stars such as Kylie Minogue and Bananarama with the group entitled Band Aid II was the Christmas #1 for 3 weeks in 1989.

Together with the Live Aid concert in 1985, they successfully raised 110 million for the worthy cause. Sadly, then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher refused to drop the VAT (Value Added Tax) bill on the record.

Artists featured on Band Aid: Adam Clayton, Bono (U2); Bob Geldof, Johnny Fingers, Simon Crowe, Pete Briquette (Boomtown Rats); David Bowie; Paul McCartney; Holly Johnson; Midge Ure, Chris Cross (Ultravox); Simon LeBon, Nick Rhodes, Andy Taylor, Roger Taylor, John Taylor (Duran Duran); Paul Young; Tony Hadley, Martin Kemp, Gary Kemp, John Keeble, Steve Norman (Spandau Ballet); Martyn Ware, Glenn Gregory (Heaven 17); Francis Rossi, Nick parfitt (Status Quo); Sting; Boy George, Jon Moss (Culture Club); Marilyn; Keren Woodward, Sarah Dallin, Siobhan Fahey (Bananarama); Jody Watley; Paul Weller; Robert "Kool" Bell, James Taylor, Dennis Thomas (Kool And The Gang); George Michael.

3 Bohemian Rhapsody
Queen (2.13m) 1975 & 1991

Allegedly mapped out by songwriter Freddie Mercury of Queen on the back of a cereal packet, this almost six minute wonder is like three songs in one, with stunning nine-part harmony vocals and combining grunge metal with almost kitsch opera, accompanied with what was conceived as the first pop video. The group consisted of Roger Taylor, John Deacon, Brian May and Mercury. It entered at #47 and was #1 within three weeks, where it stayed for a groundbreaking 9 weeks. It sold a million copies. Then, 16 years later it returned, upon Mercury's AIDS-related death, to the #1 spot for another five weeks, pushing the total weeks at #1 to 14 (4th most) and it shifted, astonishingly, another million copies helped with the coupling of new track These Are The Days Of Our Lives (winner of 1992 award for Best British Single at the BRITs), and in addition all profits from the 1991 release went to charity, completing this all-charity Top 3. Fact: Was runner-up by two votes in Channel 4's Greatest #1s poll.

4 Mull of Kintyre / Girls' School
Wings (2.05m) 1977

After coming close with three #2s, this was Paul McCartney's first post-Beatles #1. It reached #1 upon its third week, and just like the aforementioned song and topped the listings for nine consecutive weeks for his group Wings which also included wife Linda. It was written by McCartney as a paean to his Scotland home with group member Denny Laine because he felt Scotland needed a contemporary anthem. Parlophone thought Mull Of Kintyre wasn't strong enough to be a single in its own right, so the rockier Girl's School became its official double A side. They needn't have worried. The bagpipe-driven anthem became the UK's first single to top two million copies sold. Fact: despite selling more copies, this was at the tail end of the Channel 4 100 Greatest #1s poll (#100) while former bandmate John Lennon's Imagine, which also sold a million copies, headed the list. I'll stop the Channel 4 trivia now...

5 Rivers of Babylon/Brown Girl In The Ring
Boney M (1,995,000 copies) 1978

Boney M were a disco-pop group manufactured by mogul Frank Farian (later behind lip-synchers Milli Vanilli) named after, of all things, a cop in an Australian TV show. The group consisted of Maisie Williams, Liz Mitchell, Marcia Barrett and Bobby Farrell. They were all originally from the West Indies but were based in Germany. The group did not sing vocals on their first single Baby Do You Wanna Bump (a hit in Germany) but that was the exception. They started out with four top ten hits, including a #2 hit. They were all simple disco-pop hits. Then this came along. It was the recording of Rivers of Babylon (previously recorded by the Melodians) which hit #1 in its third week. Choosing to record the song was a good move by them and Farian: it originally appeared in the Bible, therefore covering it would mean no royalties to pay to anyone - after all, the Bible is non-copyright. It stayed at #1 for five weeks in all, selling a million copies.

The song was popular with a large audience, from young children to the elderly, but like all #1 hits it was destined to slip down the rankings. And so it did. But when the single was residing at #20, radio DJs started playing the supposed b-side, Brown Girl In The Ring. It rebounded and eventually reached #2 as a double a-side, with only John & Olivia (see #8) stopping it reaching the summit again. It went on to sell nearly two million copies, become the best-selling record of 1978 and is still the best-selling foreign single of all time in the UK. Furthermore, its 40 weeks on chart are enough to place it as one of the records with most weeks on chart. Critics loathed them, like any manufactured group, with one critic saying: "Boney M are as plastic as the records they make." But I think singer Maisie Williams has the final word here. "Someone must be buying our records and coming to our concerts, so we must be doing something right. In cold facts, a record sale is equally valid from anyone."

6 Relax
Frankie Goes To Hollywood (1.91m) 1984

Ooooh. Bit of controversy here. Merseyside-based group Frankie Goes To Hollywood (named after a newspaper headline regarding Frank Sinatra's movie career*) first premiered this track on pivotal music show The Tube. It sounded like late-Seventies funk. So they hooked up with producer Trevor Horn (part of group The Buggles - Video Killed The Radio Star #1 in 1979). Horn made three versions, before finally hitting on his fourth version as the final cut. His version was one of the first dance tracks ever made and frontman Holly Johnson says it inspired the dance boom. Oddly, the only presence of the group on the final cut - apart from Johnson's lead vocal - is the sound of them all jumping into a swimming pool. (Well what did you think it was? The mind boggles...)

Anyway, moving swiftly on... it was released in November 1983. After a wait of 10 weeks, the track reached #1 in January 1984 and stayed there for five whole weeks. They'll be remembered for the record's unique marketing technique: the t-shirts. Paul Morley, co-director with Horn of ZTT Records, dreamt up the idea, and sold it to the band for 200-300. Soon everybody had snapped up a t-shirt, emblazoned with phrases such as "Frankie Says 'Relax!'". It was a great promotion tool. It was also aided in getting to #1 by the BBC... but not in a way they had hoped. As the record's prospects were mounting, with it finally entering the Top 40 after more than a month on sale, the BBC banned it for its sexually orientated lyrics, ensuring its swift rise from #35 into the top ten (#6) the following week, and on to #1 two weeks later. It slipped down the chart. But in June 1984, the record was #2 again while their second single Two Tribes had soared off record store shelves in its first week and gone all the way to #1 (one of only 14 records that decade to be a new entry at #1). Two Tribes was another million-seller for the group. Relax spent 48 consecutive weeks on chart. It later re-entered to bring the weeks on chart total to 52, and a 1993 re-issue brought the current total to 59 weeks.

* (Editor's note: although this is the most commonly-given explanation for the group's name, there are in fact good reasons to suspect that the Hollywood-goer in question is actually Frankie Vaughn. Both Vaughn and Sinatra were mentioned as sources when FGTH first appeared, and given that FGTH displayed more local pride than just about any other chart act ever, it seems more likely that they would take their name from their fellow Liverpudlian. Besides which, Frankie Vaughn was actually known as Frankie...)

7 She Loves You
The Beatles (1.89m) 1963

Well, it's perhaps only fitting that the biggest British group of all time have an entry in this Top Ten. One of five million-sellers for the group - a record. Had record-breaking advance orders of 300,000 and hit #1 in its third week (like many records here) and stayed there for four weeks, spending a lengthy 36 weeks on chart in total. It is also one of only three singles to return to the top with two records reaching the summit in between (the others being Doris Day's Secret Love and Various Artists' Perfect Day). This one had a gap of seven weeks between appearences at the top. After another two weeks at the top in its second run, it was knocked off by their own follow-up, I Want To Hold Your Hand. This was later equalled in 1981 by band member John Lennon with Imagine and Woman, posthumously of course.

She Loves You was also #1 in America, where it was one of the five records that occupied an all-Beatles Top 5 in 1964.

8 You're The One That I Want
John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John (1.87m) 1978

One of two acts in this chart that specialised in duets and did two or three singles in all. Newton-John was already an accomplished country star, born in Cambridge, England, raised in Australia and Travolta a hot new American star, having just starred in classic disco movie Saturday Night Fever. They starred as Sandy Olsen and Danny Zuko in a movie version of Broadway hit Grease. It was surprising Newton-John starred, as she was nearly 30 at the time, with Travolta a youthful 24. Grease is the tale of teenage love; Danny the cool leader of the male gang at school, Sandy the new goody-two-shoes at school. At the end of the movie, she undergoes a complete transformation to become a rock chick. It was originally planned that they would sing a version of Elvis Presley's All Shook Up, but movie songwriter John Farrar had other ideas. He came up with an irresistible slice of racy country-pop. It reached #1 quickly and stayed there for nine weeks, thus making it the biggest #1 hit of the decade in chart terms. The follow up, Summer Nights, a cut from earlier in the movie also hit number one three months later and stayed there for seven weeks. You're The One That I Want has featured on two hit megamixes and appeared in its own right as a single again upon its 20th anniversary in 1998 (when the movie also reappeared) and reached #4.

9 Unchained Melody / (There'll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs Of Dover
Robson Green and Jerome Flynn (1.82m) 1995

It came from nowhere really. Robson and Jerome were starring in popular television drama Soldier Soldier in 1995. In one show they sang their version of Unchained Melody, best known as a hit for another duo, the Righteous Brothers, whose version had originally reached #14 in 1965 and later #1 after being used in the popular movie Ghost in 1990 (actually the biggest selling single of 1990). Record stores were inundated with customers wanting to buy a record which wasn't actually on sale. Simon Cowell, then head of RCA Records, left endless messages with the boys' agents begging them to record this. One of them eventually said that if he continued to harass his client he'd sue him. Jerome Flynn stepped in though, and asked how much was on the table. He and Robson agreed. They recorded it, and it shot straight to #1, remaining there for seven weeks. Cowell estimates that most buyers were housewives who had seen the show. Another #1 million-seller followed (another double a-side of covers) and their final single, almost a year later sold 600,000 copies and was, surprise, surprise a covers extravaganza - this time, would you Adam and Eve it, a TRIPLE a-side of covers from the Geordie kids. Apparently Robson plans a comeback...

10 Mary's Boy Child - Oh My Lord (medley)
Boney M (1.79m) 1978

And so we end this Top Ten with that lot again. It's one of four singles here to top the Christmas chart, but one of two here to top the chart at Christmas and have a Christmas theme. Not much really to say. A cover of Harry Belafonte's Mary's Boy Child (the 1957 Christmas #1 and also a million seller) mixed into a medley with Oh My Lord, it entered at #7 and soared the next week to #1. It spent four weeks at #1, giving the song Mary's Boy Child a total of 11 weeks at #1. It sold rapidly and there was no way it wouldn't have been Christmas #1 that year, its closest competitor having nothing to do with Christmas and reaching #1 right after it (Village People's YMCA). After its spell at #1, it spent little other time on chart. Its eight-week chart run can be broken down as: 1st week: #7, 2-5th week: #1, giving it just three more post-Christmas weeks on chart. With this record 10th, it means that the next song to break into the 10 will dispose of this one... now when will that be?


The Next 90

With sales figures from The Official Chart Company / Channel 4 "Ultimate Chart":

11 Love Is All Around Wet Wet Wet (1,783,82712)
12 Anything Is Possible / Evergreen Will Young (1,779,938)
13 I Just Called To Say I Love You Stevie Wonder (1,775,000)
14 I Want To Hold Your Hand The Beatles (1,750,000)
15 Barbie Girl Aqua (1,722,418)
16 Believe Cher (1,672,108)
17 Perfect Day Various Artists (1,548,538)
18 (Everything I Do) I Do It For You Bryan Adams (1,527,824)
19 Tears Ken Dodd (1,521,000)
20 Can't Buy Me Love The Beatles (1,520,000)

21 Summer Nights John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John (1,515,000)
22 Two Tribes Frankie Goes To Hollywood (1,510,000)
23 Imagine John Lennon (1,486,581)
24 Baby One More Time Britney Spears (1,450,154)
25 Don't You Want Me Human League (1,430,000)
26 Last Christmas Wham (1,420,000)
27 I Feel Fine The Beatles (1,410,000)
28 I'll Be Missing You Puff Daddy & Faith Evans (1,409,688)
29 Karma Chameleon Culture Club (1,405,000)
30 The Carnival is Over Seekers (1,400,000)
31 Rock Around The Clock Bill Haley and his Comets (1,392,000)
32 We Can Work It Out / Day Tripper The Beatles (1,385,000)
33 Y.M.C.A. Village People (1,380,000)
34 Careless Whisper George Michael (1,365,995)
35 Release Me Engelbert Humperdinck (1,365,000)
36 I Will Always Love You Whitney Houston (1,355,055)
37 The Power Of Love Jennifer Rush (1,321,530)
38 Unchained Melody Gareth Gates (1,318,714)*
39 My Heart Will Go On Celine Dion (1,312,551)
40 Wannabe Spice Girls (1,269,841)
41 Killing Me Softly Fugees (1,268,157)
42 Never Ever All Saints (1,254,604)
43 Gangsta's Paradise Coolio ft LV (1,246,306)
44 Diana Paul Anka (1,240,000)
45 Think Twice Celine Dion (1,234,982)
46 It's Now Or Never Elvis Presley (1,210,000)
47 Green Green Grass Of Home Tom Jones (1,205,000)
48 Come On Eileen Dexy's Midnight Runners & the Emerald Express (1,201,000)
49 It Wasn't Me Shaggy featuring RikRok (1,180,708)
50 Heart Of Glass Blondie (1,180,000)
51 Mary's Boy Child Harry Belafonte (1,175,000)
52 The Last Waltz Engelbert Humperdinck (1,160,000)
53 Bright Eyes Art Garfunkel (1,155,000)
54 Tragedy / Heartbeat Steps (1,149,000)
55 Don't Give Up On Us David Soul (1,145,000)
56 I Love You Love Me Love Gary Glitter (1,140,000)
57 Tainted Love Soft Cell (1,135,000)
58 Stranger On the Shore Mr. Acker Bilk (1,130,000)
59 It's Like That (remix) Run DMC vs Jason Nevins (1,119,905)
60 Teletubbies Say Eh-Oh! Teletubbies (1,107,235)
61 Spaceman Babylon Zoo (1,098,860)
62 I Remember You Frank Ifield (1,096,000)
63 I Believe / Up On The Roof Robson & Jerome (1,093,972)
64 Saturday Night Whigfield (1,092,250)
65 Pure and Simple Hear'Say (1,078,434)
66 No Matter What Boyzone (1,074,192)
67 2 Become 1 Spice Girls (1,072,073)
68 The Young Ones Cliff Richard & the Shadows (1,052,000)
69 Earth Song Michael Jackson (1,038,821)
70 Can't Get You Out Of My Head Kylie Minogue (1,037,235)
71 Blue (Da Ba Dee) Eiffel 65 (1,023,526)
72 Can We Fix It? Bob the Builder (1,008,777)
73 Merry Christmas Everybody Slade (1,006,500)
74 Save Your Kisses For Me Brotherhood Of Man (1,006,200)
75 Eye Level (TV Theme From "Van Der Valk") Simon Park Orchestra (1,005,500)
76 Blue Monday New Order (1,001,400)
77 Long Haired Lover From Liverpool Little Jimmy Osmond (998,000)
78 Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2 Pink Floyd (995,000)
79 Don't Cry For Me Argentina Julie Covington (993,000)
80 Eye Of The Tiger Survivor (990,000)
81 I'd Like To Teach the World To Sing New Seekers (990,000)
82 Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree Dawn featuring Tony Orlando (988,000)
83 Stand And Deliver Adam and the Ants (985,000)
84 Under The Moon Of Love Showaddywaddy (985,000)
85 Torn Natalie Imbruglia (982,324)
86 Especially For You Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan (982,000)
87 Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick Ian and the Blockheads (979,100)
88 Sugar Sugar The Archies (979,000)
89 The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh) Tight Fit (978,000)
90 The Next Time / Bachelor Boy Cliff Richard & the Shadows (976,000)
91 Fame Irene Cara (975,000)
92 Theme From Ghostbusters Ray Parker Jr (974,001)
93 Uptown Girl Billy Joel (974,000)
94 Ride On Time Black Box (973,000)
95 Telstar Tornados (967,000)
96 Wonderwall Oasis (966,940)
97 Amazing Grace The Pipes and Drums and Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (962,000)
98 Back For Good Take That (959,000)
99 Sailing Rod Stewart (955,000)
100 Mississippi Pussycat (947,000)

*Has sold even more since this chart was compiled and has now outsold The Power Of Love by Jennifer Rush.

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