If you get in a taxi in the Andean mountains of South America, you’ll likely hear on the radio popular English songs from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Why? The drivers generally don’t speak English, yet they love listening to old English songs, a passion that is shared by non-English speaking countries around the world. For this reason, the most popular classic “old” songs from around the globe are generally those that were recorded in English.
15 Most Popular Classic Old English Songs
The Beatles – She Loves You (1963)
In 2009, Radio BBC2 announced “She Loves You” as The Beatles best-selling single in the UK, breaking numerous chart records on its release in 1963. The song starts off with that irresistible “yeah, yeah, yeah” hook, drawing listeners straight into the catchy lyrics and up tempo beat. A twist on the classic love song, the lyrics are sung by a narrator, observing an estranged young couple.
Bob Dylan - Like A Rolling Stone (1965)
It is impossible to overstate the importance of this classic old English song. Written after a draining tour in 1965, the youthful cynicism, combination of musical elements and the candour of its question “How does it feel?” all combine to produce a track that has been covered innumerable times and that was listed by Rolling Stones as the number 1 song in their list of the top 500.
Aretha Franklin - Respect (1965)
Regarded as a landmark moment for the feminist movement, the release of "Respect" earned Aretha Franklin two Grammy awards and international recognition. In 2002, the track was added to the National Recording Registry by the US Library of Congress, after earlier being added to the Grammy Hall of Fame. It is ranked in 5th place on Rolling Stones top 500 list.
Marvin Gaye - I Heard It Through The Grapevine (1968)
A classic representation of soul music, "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" inspired a movement and a line dance, and it also became the biggest ever single for a Motown label. In the 50th anniversary edition of Billboard Hot 100, this old English song was rated 65th, and it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for its “historic, artistic” value.
Elvis Presley - Suspicious Minds (1968)
Regarded as one of the top Elvis Presley tracks of all time, "Suspicious Minds" rated on music charts around the world and was a huge seller in Italy, where it was certified gold. Since its release in 1968, this song has been covered by countless international artists and was rated 91st on the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list by Rolling Stones.
The Rolling Stones – You Can’t Always Get What You Want (1969)
This song summed up the dominating international themes of the 1960’s: drugs, love and politics. Perhaps this is why it was one of the most popular English songs on its release in 1969. Showing the enduring quality of the single, Rolling Stone magazine named it the 100th greatest song of all time in their 2004 list of the top 500 songs of all time.
John Lennon – Imagine (1971)
"Imagine" is a song that just cannot be forgotten if you look up for some old English songs to listen, since the brilliance of John Lennon was never more evident than it is in this song, which proved to be the most popular of his solo career. The Guinness World Records British Hit Singles Book has it listed as the second best single of all time, whilst the Recording Industry Association of America placed it 30th on their list of songs of historical significance.
Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)
A metaphor for the road to life’s answers, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” was named by many critics as Elton John’s best ever song, with Allmusic describing it as “a vocal triumph”. So enduring the popularity of this song is that even now, over 40 years after its release, it is still generally included in live performances by Elton John.
Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody (1975)
Undoubtedly one of the greatest and most unique songs of all time, “Bohemian Rhapsody” includes hard rock, opera, guitar solos and a ballad. A huge success at the time of its release, this song returned to the number one chart position in 1991 following the death of lead singer Freddy Mercury, eventually making it the third best-selling single in UK history.
David Bowie – “Heroes” (1977)
A signature classic, “Heroes” blends romantic lyrics and music with a strong dose of irony, most evident in the quotation marks used in the title of the song. As one of David Bowie’s most covered songs, “Heroes” was listed by Q Magazine as one of the 100 greatest singles of all time, as voted by readers of the magazine.
Bee Gees - Stayin’ Alive (1977)
The song that made disco famous around the world, "Stayin’ Alive" was written for the "Saturday Night Fever" movie soundtrack, an album that became an international sensation of the 1970’s. "Stayin' Alive" went on to become the signature song of the Bee Gees, and in 2004 it ranked 9th of AFI’s “100 Years…100 Songs” survey.
The Clash – London Calling (1979)
A move away from their previous style of music, “London Calling” was an angry, apocalyptic, political rant against the big issues facing the world and the band at that time. The lyrics refer to World War II, nuclear incidents, the flooding of the Thames and struggles with debt. Despite its dark tone, the song was rated number 15 by Rolling Stone in their list of top 500 songs.
Pink Floyd – Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2) (1979)
“Another Brick in the Wall” was written and released as a three-part protest song. However, it was part two, an objection to the rigid schooling practices in the UK which included lyrics by a school choir, that proved to be the most popular. The song reached number one in many different countries and sold over 4 million copies. This is one of my personal favorites among all the old English songs.
The Police – Every Breath You Take (1983)
Despite the dark nature of the song (essentially, it is about stalking), “Every Breath You Take” was named song of the year for 1983 and is one of the only singles in history to have sold over 10 million copies. The song was nominated for three Grammy awards and took home two, including “Song of the Year”.
U2 – Pride (In The Name of Love) (1984)
Amongst all the popular old English songs throughout the history of 80's, "Pride (In The Name of Love)" is definitely a classic one. Due to the political nature of this song (written about Martin Luther King, Jr and the civil rights campaign), it was not labelled a critical success upon its initial release. However, the song proved to be a smashing commercial achievement and is now synonymous with the overall success of the band, placing 378th in Rolling Stones top 500 songs list.