Record Breakers and Trivia : Singles : Individual Hits : Sales
Back To The 'Records & Trivia' Index
All-Time Best-Selling Singles
Though somewhat contentious at the lower extremes, we assert the UK all-time top 20 to look like this:
To see a longer list, click here.
- "Candle In The Wind '97" - Elton John. (4.865 million)
The lyrics to Elton's 1974 classic were re-written in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales. The song was only ever performed once publicly; at Diana's funeral. It has sold 37 million around the world.
- "Do They Know It's Christmas?" - Band Aid. (3.575m)
The first ever multi-artist charity single (*), this track was recorded in Christmas 1984 by a host of celebrity vocalists to raise money for the famine in Ethiopia.
- "Bohemian Rhapsody" - Queen. (2.176m)
Arguably the first track to benefit from having a video, this epic spent 9 weeks at number 1 across Christmas 1975 (1.19m). It returned to the top for a further 5 weeks at number 1 at Christmas 1991, a few weeks after the death of lead singer, Freddie Mercury (0.94m).
- "Mull Of Kintyre" - Wings (2.05m)
- "Rivers Of Babylon" / "Brown Girl In The Ring" - Boney M (1.985m)
- "You're The One That I Want" - John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John (1.975m)
- "Relax" - Frankie Goes To Hollywood (1.91m)
- "She Loves You" - The Beatles (1.89m)
- "Unchained Melody" - Robson & Jerome (1.84m)
- "Mary's Boychild - Oh My Lord" - Boney M (1.80m)
- "Evergreen" / "Anything Is Possible" - Will Young (1.787m)
- "Love Is All Around" - Wet Wet Wet (1.785m)
- "I Just Called To Say I Love You" - Stevie Wonder (1.775m)
- "I Want To Hold Your Hand" -
The Beatles (1.75m)
- "Barbie Girl" - Aqua (1.723m)
- "Believe" - Cher (1.673m)
- "Perfect Day" - Various Artists (1.55m)
- "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" - Bryan Adams (1.545m)
- "Tears" - Ken Dodd (1.521m)
- "Can't Buy Me Love" - The Beatles (1.520m)
Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" should perhaps appear somewhere in this list. It is the second biggest-selling single in the world (over 30 million). However, figures for the UK are hard to come by as it was originally released in 1942, well before the introduction of record charts and has continued to trickle-sell ever since.
Biggest-seller by an all-female group is "Wannabe" by The Spice Girls (1.27m).
In the 90's record companies became much more focussed at promoting singles and targeting stock for maximum chart impact. The "fastest-selling single" became a new phenomenon. This basically means how many copies a single shifts in its first week of sale.
The record is held by Elton John's "Candle In The Wind '97" (1.55 million copies in its first full week). A tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, it was released on Saturday 13th Sep 1997, precisely one week after her funeral. Amidst unparalleled national grief, it sold 658,000 on that day alone.
Top debuting artist is Will Young - "Anything Is Possible" / "Evergreen" (1.11 million in 2002). Massive publicity had built up interest in his single as he was the
winner of ITV's Pop Idol programme in which 9 million had taken part in a phone poll to decide the winner a fortnight before.
Similarly, Shayne Ward, winner of ITV's X Factor in 2005 rapidly shifted 0.74 million copies of his debut singe "That's My Goal" which was rushed into the shops immediately after his victory to capitalise on the Christmas week sales. In many ways, this total is less impressive than Will Young's as it was, after all, Christmas week but, to be fair, the physical CD single did not hit the shops until the Wednesday and so only four full days of physical sales were counted (though downloads for the whole week were included). The press at the time heralded this as the "second fastest selling single in history."
Top debuting group - and top group overall in fact - is Hear'Say. "Pure And Simple" (0.55m, 2001) had benefitted from similar exposure via the "Pop Stars" search for a new band. This only applies if we discount Band Aid as a debuting group; they hit 0.75m when the first charity single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" was released in Dec 1984 amidst harrowing pictures of the famine in Ethiopia.
Fastest-seller for a female artist is Britney Spears' "Baby One More Time" (0.46m). This was her debut single in 1999. It benefitted from massive exposure of her video prior to release but was neither a charity single nor the product of a 'talent search'!
There are no remaining weekly records of sales prior to this era. Though The Beatles' "Can't Buy Me Love" had pre-orders of 1.2m in March 1964, it is unclear how many of these were shifted in that first week. Indeed in those days before motorways there is doubt whether that number of singles could be distributed to the shops in a single week.
Lowest-Selling Number One
Lowest selling No.1 in total since at least 1960 is the 2005 re-issue of Elvis Presley's "It's Now Or Never" (39,900 copies). This was, however, a limited edition single.
The record for a non-limited edition single is "Wonderful" by Ja Rule featuring R Kelly & Ashanti. Entering the chart w/e 6th Nov 2004 it went on to sell a total of 65,000 copies. Prior to the slump in singles sales which occurred from late 2002 onwards, the lowest selling no. 1 since (since at least 1960) had been Iron Maiden's "Bring Your Daughter... To The Slaughter"; its first week sales were roughly 42,000, second week 29,000, with a further 30,000 or so in the next few weeks bringing it to a total of around 100,000.
Lowest weekly sale for a no. 1 since at least 1960 is for Orson's 2006 track "No Tomorrow". It sold 17,694 on its third week in the chart to take it to the top spot (w/e 25th March 2005), beating the previous record of 20,463 set by Presley's "One Night / I Got Stung" reissue in Jan 2005. The latter title is also the lowest sale which enabled a track to enter at No. 1
The figures for the period before w/e 23rd April 2005 reflect only physical sales (CDs, vinyl etc) and do not take into account the increasing number of downloads. In Spring 2006, downloads are making a significant contribution to overall sales. In fact the Orson track mentioned above sold a mere 6,249 physical copies in the week in question.
Biggest Selling Single Not To Top The Chart
Wham's "Last Christmas" was held off the top spot by Band Aid's huge sales in 1984. Almost any other week it would have easily topped the chart, selling half a million copies in that week alone. It went on to sell 1.42 million copies.
Biggest selling track only to reach number 3 is New Order's "Blue Monday". It has sold just over a million copies. Puritans argue that "Blue Monday" achieved this feat thanks to two remixes of the 1983 original (in 1988 and 1995). If we accept that these different versions preclude the addition of sales then the best selling track to reach number 3 is Everything But The Girls' "Missing" (1994) with over 870,000 copies sold.
Biggest-selling single to peak at number 4 is Robbie Williams' "Angels". It shipped a million copies to the shops and sold in excess of 864,000.
Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" only made number 5 but is believed to have sold a million. Many of these were before the introduction of the charts and accurate auditing procedures so it is impossible to state anything like a precise figure. Jim Reeves' "I Love You Because" peaked at no. 5 but remained in the Top 40 for 37 weeks, becoming the biggest-selling single of 1964. Again precise figures are hard to come by and estimates vary from 760,000 to 860,000 copies. In any case, it seems sure to have exceeded 750,000 making it the only no. 5 to have done so with this degree of certainty.
Biggest-selling single to peak at no. 6 is most probably "Just Loving You" by Anita Harris (1967) with sales of around 625,000. LeAnn Rimes' 1998 hit "How Do I Live?" stalled a place lower but hung around in the Top 40 for 30 weeks. It sold even more copies than Anita (in excess of 714,000), making it the biggest-selling single to peak at no. 7.
Probably the biggest-selling single not to have made the Top 10 is "Numb/Encore" by Jay-Z & Linkin Park. It entered at no. 14 in Dec 2004 and, though it never climbed higher, continues to sell relatively well today outside the Top 40. It is has cleared 300,000 copies. Close runner-up is Steps' "5-6-7-8." (released in Nov 1997) which yo-yoed up and down the Top 40 for 14 weeks across the festive season, never climbing higher than no. 14. A line-dancing 'classic', it continued to trickle-sell for months beyond that.
Global All-Time Top 10
We tried to resist this. We intended everyHit.com to cover purely British hit facts. But we give in! The Top 10 Best-Selling singles of all time in whole wide world are:
1. "Candle In The Wind '97" - Elton John (37 million)
2. "White Christmas" - Bing Crosby (30m)
3. "Rock Around The Clock" - Bill Haley and His Comets (17m)
4. "I Want To Hold Your Hand" - The Beatles (12m)
5= "Hey Jude" - The Beatles (10m)
5= "It's Now Or Never" - Elvis Presley (10m)
5= "I Will Always Love You" - Whitney Houston (10m)
8= "Hound Dog" - Elvis Presley (9m)
8= "Diana" - Paul Anka (9m)
10= "I'm A Believer" - The Monkees (8m)
10= "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" - The Bryan Adams (8m)
Back To The 'Records & Trivia' Index