Chart Watch Extra: The Year’s Top Songs

If you’ve been anywhere near a radio in the past year, you don’t need me to tell you the titles of the year’s top three hits: “Somebody That I Used To Know” by Gotye featuring Kimbra, Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” and “We Are Young” by fun. featuring Janelle Monae.

There are three main things you should know about them. First, none of the five artists involved had ever cracked Billboard’s Hot 100 before. Second, all three hits are nominated for Grammys as Record and/or Song of the Year, which shows an unusual degree of fan and industry agreement. Third, each of the three songs has sold more copies so far this year than any song had sold before in a calendar year in digital history.

“Somebody That I Used To Know” has sold 6,721,000 copies so far this year (there are two chart weeks to go in which it can fatten its tally). The smash is the front-runner to win the Grammy for Record of the Year. If it does, this will be the second year in a row that a song has both been the year’s top-seller and walked off with the top Grammy. Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep” achieved both feats last year.

“Call Me Maybe” is #2 for the year-to-date (6,280,000). It’s nominated for a Grammy as Song of the Year. Jepsen has a second song in the top 40. “Good Time,” her cheery collabo with Owl City, is #32 for the year-to-date (2,126,000)

“We Are Young” is #3 for the year-to-date (5,846,000). It’s nominated for Grammys for both Record and Song of the Year. fun., a trio from New York, has a second song in the top 10 for the year-to-date. “Some Nights” is #8 (3,569,000). fun. will become the first group or duo to have two songs in the year-end top 10 since the Black Eyed Peas scored in 2009 with “Boom Boom Pow” and “I Gotta Feeling.” (Three solo artists have achieved this feat in recent years: Lady Gaga in 2009, Eminem in 2010 and Adele last year.)

“Rolling In The Deep” held the previous record for greatest calendar-year sales in digital history. It sold 5,813,000 copies in 2011. To find a song that sold more copies in a calendar year than each of this year’s top three hits, you have to go back to Elton John’s pre-digital smash “Candle In The Wind 1997,” which sold 8,111,000 physical copies in the last 14 weeks of 1997, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

“Payphone” by Maroon 5 featuring Wiz Khalifa is #4 for the year-to-date (4,615,000). This matches Maroon 5’s showing last year, when “Moves Like Jagger” (featuring Christina Aguilera) was #4 for the year (though with a slightly smaller sales tally: 4,111,000). The pop group may wind up with two songs in the year-end top 10: “One More Night” is #12 for the year-to-date (3,144,000).

Nicki Minaj’s “Starships” is #5 for the year-to-date (3,898,000). This will be the second year in a row that Minaj has a song in the year-end top 10. “Super Bass” was #9 for 2011. Minaj has had five million-sellers so far this year (combining lead and featured credits), which puts her in a tie with Adele for the most by any artist.

Kelly Clarkson’s

“Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” is #6 for the year-to-date (3,770,000). It’s nominated for Grammys for both Record and Song of the Year. It’s the first hit by an American Idol alum to receive a Record of the Year nomination. In addition, it’s the best-selling song by an Idol alum. (More on that in a minute.)

One Direction’s effervescent “What Makes You Beautiful” is #7 for the year-to-date (3,759,000). It’s the best-selling song by a boy band in digital history.

“Wild Ones” by Flo Rida featuring Sia is #9 for the year-to-date (3,397,000). If it holds on to its place in the top 10, this will be the third time that Flo Rida has had a song in the year-end top 10. “Low” (featuring T-Pain) was #3 for 2008. “Right Round” was #4 for 2009. Flo Rida could even wind up with two songs in the year-end top 10. “Whistle” is #11 for the year-to-date (3,208,000). (fun., Maroon 5 and Flo Rida are the only acts with two songs that have each sold 3 million or more copies in 2012.)

The Wanted’s “Glad You Came” is #10 for the year-to-date (3,335,000).

Justin Bieber has two songs in the top 40. “Boyfriend” is #13 for the year-to-date (3,126,000). “As Long As You Love Me” (featuring Big Sean) is #33 (2,046,000).


loopy “Gangnam Style” is #14 for the year-to-date (3,075,000). It’s the year’s best-selling novelty song. It tops LMFAO’s 2011-2012 smash “Sexy And I Know It” (2,499,000 sold so far this year) and Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup” (1,270,000).

A record 16 songs have sold 3 million copies so far this year. The old record for a full calendar year was 14, set last year. Digital song sales have been steadily increasing. There were just two 3 million sellers in all of 2008; seven in 2009; 12 in 2010 and 14 last year.

How does this compare to the latter years of the physical era? Very favorably. There was just one 3 million-selling single in 1992 (Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”), none from 1993 through 1995, one in 1996 (Los Del Rios’ “Macarena”), two in 1997 (“Candle In The Wind 1997” and “I’ll Be Missing You” by Puff Daddy & Faith Evans featuring 112) and none after that.

Phillip Phillips’

“Home” is #17 for the year-to-date (2,898,000). It’s already the fourth best-selling song by an American Idol alum, following Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” (3,957,000), Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” (3,626,000) and “No Air” by Jordin Sparks & Chris Brown (3,486,000). This makes it the top-seller by a male Idol alum. The old record was held by a different song also titled "Home" by Chris Daughtry’s band Daughtry, which has sold 2,323,000 copies. (The old record by a male Idol alum who remained a solo artist was held by David Archuleta’s “Crush,” which is up to 2,087,000.)

Taylor Swift’s

“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” a Grammy finalist for Record of the Year, is #19 for the year-to-date (2,768,000). It’s the year’s best-selling country crossover song, though many would say it’s more “crossover” than “country.” Here are the rest of the top five country songs for the year-to-date: Luke Bryan’s “Drunk On You” (2,019,000), Hunter Hayes’ “Wanted” (1,959,000), Eric Church’s “Springsteen” (1,905,000) and Little Big Town’s “Pontoon” (1,678,000).

Katy Perry has two songs in the top 30 for the year-to-date. “Wide Awake” is #20 (2,704,000). “Part Of Me” is #24 (2,474,000). “Wide Awake,” which appeared in the movie Katy Perry: Part Of Me, is the year’s best-selling song that originated in a movie. It’s eligible for an Oscar nomination as Best Song. Nominees will be announced Jan. 10.

“Titanium” by David Guetta featuring Sia is the top-selling dance/electronic song for the year-to-date, with sales of 2,362,000. Here are the #2 and #3 dance songs for the year-to-date: Calvin Harris’ “Feel So Close” (2,136,000) and “Turn Me On” by David Guetta featuring Nicki Minaj (2,036,000).

Other songs (from all genres) that are moving up fast include the Lumineers’ “Ho Hey (#39 for the year-to-date, 1,916,000), Ke$ha’s “Die Young” (#50, 1,645,000), Rihanna’s “Diamonds” (#56, 1,586,000), Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out Of Heaven” (#59, 1,571,000) and Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble.” (#75, 1,238,000).

Two rock icons appear in the titles of million-sellers. As noted above, Eric Church’s “Springsteen” has sold 1,905,000 copies so far this year. “Moves Like Jagger,” the 2011 smash by Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera, has sold 1,651,000 copies this year. (Bruce Springsteen’s own song, “We Take Care Of Our Own,” has sold just 87K digital copies so far this year.)


“Skyfall” from Skyfall has sold 1,136,000 copies so far this year. It’s the first Bond theme song to sell 1 million digital copies. In the pre-digital era, two Bond themes were certified gold by the Recording Industry Assn. of America, signifying sales of 1 million copies: Paul McCartney & Wings’ 1973 hit “Live And Let Die” and Carly Simon’s 1977 hit “Nobody Does It Better.” Both of those songs were nominated for Oscars for Best Song. “Skyfall” is expected to follow suit.

As noted above, Adele and Nicki Minaj have each sold more than 1 million copies of five different songs so far this year. That's more than any other artist--though Rihanna will surely join them: “Birthday Cake” is just a hair under 1 million. Big Sean, Flo Rida, Pitbull, Rihanna and Taylor Swift are tied for second place, with four each. (Maroon 5 is the top group or duo, with three million-sellers in 2012.)

Whitney Houston’s

1992 classic “I Will Always Love You” has sold 961K copies so far this year. This will be the third year in which its sales will top 1 million. The song sold 3,086,000 physical singles in 1992; 1,431,000 in 1993, per Nielsen SoundScan.

Two other old songs appear on Nielsen SoundScan’s running list of the 200 best-selling songs of 2012. Eminem’s 2002 classic “Lose Yourself” has sold 745K copies so far this year. Journey’s 1981 perennial “Don’t Stop Believin’” has sold 582K.

“Danza Kuduro” by Don Omar & Lucenzo is the top-selling Latin song for the year-to-date, with sales of 521K.

Mariah Carey’s

1994 classic “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is the top-selling holiday song for the year-to-date, with sales of 247K. It was also the year’s top holiday seller in 2010, but was bumped down to #2 last year by Justin Bieber’s “Mistletoe.”

To My Readers: There are still two weeks left in the 2012 chart year. I’ll update all the tallies in this report after Nielsen SoundScan posts the final charts of 2012 on Thursday, Jan. 3.