40 vinyl records worth a fortune today
Brought back from the verge of extinction, vinyl record sales are booming due to a renewed interest among younger generations. As a general rule, the rarer the record, more valuable it is — you may have some treasure buried in your garage.
Next time you go crate diggin’, keep a keen eye out for any of these records.
40. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin (1969)
Led Zeppelin’s eponymous debut featured a mix of original material and covers of blues songs, including a re-recording of the track “Dazed and Confused,” originally written and recorded by Jake Holmes, which was also covered by Jimmy Page’s old band the Yardbirds. Oddly enough, the iconic record was met with mixed reviews — Rolling Stone called Robert Plant “as foppish as Rod Stewart, but nowhere near so exciting.” Ouch.
Despite this, it was an immediate commercial success, and Zeppelin would get the last laugh — a 2003 issue of Rolling Stone rated it as the 29th greatest album of all time.
The original UK release of Led Zeppelin’s eponymous debut album features the band’s name in turquoise lettering. All subsequent releases would have the words printed in orange.
The turquoise-lettered version will fetch upwards of $1,000 if it’s kept in good condition.
39. Miles Davis, Kind of Blue (1959)
It may not be number one on this list, but it’s arguably the coolest record on here. Miles Davis revolutionized the jazz genre multiple times during his career, but his most valuable record (at least in financial terms) is Some Kind of Blue.
One of the most celebrated trumpeters in history, Davis recorded Kind of Blue with legendary saxophonists John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley, pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Jimmy Cobb. Many critics consider it to be Davis’ greatest record — it is also the best-selling jazz album to date.
An original pressing of the hard bop classic can rake in up to $1,000.
38. The Who, The Who Sell Out (1967)
There were only 1,000 copies in the first run of the Who’s third album — half pressed in stereo and half mono. The album included a psychedelic butterfly poster. If you’ve got one of the rare albums and the poster, you should be able to get around $1,100 for it on eBay.
Ironically, Chris Stamp, the band’s co-manager and producer asked a few of the brands referenced on the cover and in the interludes for endorsement dollars. The deodorant company Odorono, and PAMS Productions, the marketing company that recorded many of the jingles used as interludes on the album, took offense and sued the band for royalties.
37. Nirvana, Bleach (1989)
Songs from Nevermind may get the most spins on the radio, but it’s the Seattle band’s debut record on famed indie label Sub Pop that’s worth the big bucks. There are two variations in particular that make record collectors salivate.
The original pressing of the vinyl has sold for an impressive $2,500. There were 1,000 copies of this kind pressed and can be identified by their white color. The 3rd pressing of only 500 copies, which had a red and white 12” and a blue 7” vinyl included, has sold for as high as $1,100. Keep an eye out at garage sales and thrift stores.
36. XTC — Science Friction (1977)
The British new wave band put out “Science Friction” and “She’s So Square” as a 45 RPM single. Purportedly, there were only 50 copies printed before the band decided to put it out as a 12-inch instead. If you were able to score a copy of the 7-inch, you may have a small fortune on your hands.
This record marked the beginning of their career. XTC went on to release 14 full-length albums and were particularly influential on the Brit-pop bands that reached popularity in the 1990s. If you have this rare record, you may be able to sell it for $2,000.
35. David Bowie — The Prettiest Star (1973)
The picture-sleeved version of this 45 RPM single is extremely rare. It features one of the most iconic images in rock and roll history. The late rockstar purportedly performed the song over the phone while proposing to his future (ex) wife Angela Barnett.
Marc Bolan, who would become Bowie’s rival for the crown of “The King of Glam” plays guitar on the song. Supposedly, the relationship between the two musicians soured when Bolan’s wife remarked to Bowie, “Marc is too good for you, to be playing on this record!” It seems David Bowie would have the last laugh, however. Conservative estimates put the value of this record at $2,000.
34. ABBA — Hova’s Vittne (1981)
This special promotional copy of the ABBA single was only distributed to those within the record company. Only 200 copies were ever printed of the elusive red vinyl. The rare record features “Hova’s Vittne” on side-A and “Tivedshambo” on side-B.
The swedish band from Stockholm are one of the most commercially successful musical group of all time. The classic lineup consisted of two married couples: Fältskog and Ulvaeus, and Lyngstad and Andersson. Sadly, both marriages could not with stand the pressures of stardom and success. If you kept your copy of Hova’s Vittne in good condition, this record could get you $3,500.
33. The Quarrymen — That’ll Be the Day (1981)
Superfans of The Beatles will surely recognize the name “Quarrymen” as the first name the Fab Four took before skyrocketing into stardom — although this was before Ringo had joined the band. The songs “That’ll Be the Day” (a Buddy Holly cover) and “In Spite of All the Danger” (an original) were recorded in 1958.
This single, which was reprinted by Paul McCartney himself is worth a heck of a lot of money. Supposedly, McCartney only had 50 copies printed for his friends and family. It’s suspected that the original acetate may be the most expensive record in existence, but we won’t know unless Paul decides to put it up for sale. If you’ve got one of the reprints, it’s worth around $3,500.
32. Cherry Five — Cherry Five (1975)
Fans of classic horror movies have definitely heard this band. Shortly after releasing this record, they’d change their name to Goblin and provide the soundtrack to the original Suspiria, Dawn of the Dead, and Deep Red. Their first release is extremely rare — an original pressing will get you up to $3,500.
They broke out after changing their name and recording the soundtrack to Proffondo Rosso (Deep Red), the debut film by legendary Italian director Dario Argento. The film’s main theme became an unexpected huge success. They went on to do several more successful collaborations with Argento and some of the most iconic soundtracks in horror cinema.
31. David Bowie, Diamond Dogs (1974)
It’s unlikely that Guy Peellaert, the album cover artist for Diamond Dogs, knew what part of his painting would eventually make the record nearly priceless.
This particular version of Bowie’s release on RCA records wasn’t meant to see the light of day.
The label reportedly got nervous upon noticing the back album cover depicted the bottom half of a dog — genitals and all, so they had the offending parts airbrushed before release.
A few enterprising employees made off with some originals. A copy once sold on eBay for $3,550 in 2003. With Bowie’s recent passing, copies of the rare record featuring the exposed dog will undoubtedly fetch an even higher price.
30. The Beatles — Abbey Road (1969)
A particularly rare version of this Beatles classic can sell for up to $4,000. You can tell if you have the rare UK export by checking for the yellow and black Parlophone Records label. The catalog number is PPCS 7088. Bonus points if it has the gold sticker on the back.
Abbey Road was the 11th studio album released by the legendary quartet from Liverpool. Though it originally received mixed reviews upon its release, it’s since been celebrated as one of the greatest rock records ever made. Rolling Stone magazine puts it 14th on their list of the “500 Greatest Records of All Time.”
29. Elvis Presley, That’s All Right (1954)
This album was recorded by “the King” during the studio session for another song. Presley was taking a break from recording when he started jamming Arthur Crudup’s song “That’s All Right, Mama” with bassist Bill Black. Scotty Moore soon joined in on guitar.
This caught the ear of producer Sam Phillips, who quickly pressed record. They laid down the album’s B-side “Blue Moon of Kentucky” the next day, and the rest is history. Many historians consider this to be the first true rock-n-roll record ever made (though this is the subject of heated debate). Regardless, a mint condition version of the record is worth around $4,000.
28. The Thirteenth Floor Elevators — Reverbaration (Doubt) (1966)
This early recording of four Thirteenth Floor Elevators songs will make you up to $4,000 if you find the right buyer. The record features the songs “Reveraration (Doubt),” “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” “Fire Engine,” and “Tried to Hide.” The Thirteenth Floor Elevators were hugely influential, in essence inventing the psychedelic rock genre.
Despite their incredible influence, the discography of the band is quite short–they only recorded four full-length studio albums. Roky Erickson, the legendary guitarist of the band suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, which caused his career to take many twists and turns. Eventually he was able to get effective treatment and the band was able to reunite in 2015. Erickson passed away on May 31, 2019.
27. The Beatles, Please Please Me (1963)
The Beatles famously recorded this album in a rush. They had only four songs recorded by the time the deadline was nearing and had to record seven songs in one day — a process that took nine hours and 45 minutes. John Lennon had a bad cold on the day of recording, which made for the iconic raspy vocal recording of “Twist and Shout”.
The rarest of the rare copies of The Beatles’ debut full-length album have sold for around $4,200. These are the very first pressings, which feature the band’s name in gold lettering on a black label. Both mono and stereo versions are rare and valuable, but the stereo version fetches the highest price.
26. Depeche Mode, Music for the Masses
It’s the cover that makes this particular record ultra-valuable. The original UK version of the album featured a graphic of a white speaker with soundwaves emanating from it, set on a bright orange background. The cover design was scrapped, replaced by the photograph of a loudspeaker in the middle of a desert that new wave fans are familiar with, but not before a few were printed with the old design.
In the ‘90s, the label decided to re-release the album and accidentally shipped out a few of the old records to some stores by mistake. It goes without saying that these copies are extremely rare. Former Depeche Mode keyboardist Alan Wilder sold a copy for $4,600 in 2011.
25. Misfits, Legacy of Brutality (1985)
There were only 16 copies of the second pressing of this compilation album. Legacy of Brutality was produced, overdubbed, and pressed by Misfits’ singer Glen Danzig after he had quit the band; he overdubbed the instrumental parts of the band’s old recordings so he wouldn’t have to pay royalties to his old band-mates.
As you might expect, this led to a tense legal battle that lasted several months.
If you managed to get ahold of one of the second pressings, which featured a pink platter, you could be sitting on as much as $5,000 if it’s kept in mint condition.
24. Elvis Presley — Speedway (1968)
By the time Elvis Presley made Speedway, he was nearing the end of his acting career. The film was not well received by critics or at the box office. Despite the film’s failings, copies of the soundtrack are extremely valuable. Rumor has it that only 300 copies were printed.
In Speedway, Presley plays a race car driver who’s generosity gets him in trouble with the Internal Revenue Service. The agent assigned his case is played by none other than the beautiful starlet Nancy Sinatra, and the pair quickly fall for each other. Whatever you may think of the plot, you have to admit “The King” pulls off some pretty cool jackets. If you had the foresight not to take the record out of its packaging and left the red sticker on the shrink wrap, you could have $5,000 on your hands.
23. Brute Force — King of Fuh (1969)
Printed by The Beatles’ label Apple Recordings, this single almost never saw the light of day — all because it featured an obscenity in the lyrics. When it became clear that Capitol and EMI wanted no part of the record, which featured an overdub of philharmonic strings done by George Harrison himself, the Beatles decided to put it out themselves.
The record was later given a proper release in 2010, nearly half a century after it was recorded. However, it’s the records from the original run of 1,000 copies that will get you a good sum of cash. They can go for up to 5 grand.
22. Elton John — I’ve Been Loving You (1968)
This is the debut record by the “Rocketman” himself. Bernie Taupin, who collaborated with John on many of his biggest hits was credited for penning the lyrics, though Elton John would later admit that John had written the song by himself. He gave Bernie the credit to help him get his first publishing royalties.
The single itself is rare, but if you have the ultra-rare copy that was released only in Portugal, you’ve got yourself a small fortune. This version includes the songs “Thank You for All Your Loving” and “Angel Tree.” Find the right collector and it’ll sell for $5,000.
21. Bruce Springsteen, Spirit in the Night (1973)
An original pressing of “the Boss’” first single on Columbia records is extremely hard to come across. Promotional copies will sell for hundreds, but an original pressing of the commercial release is rumored to fetch $5,000. If you think you may have a copy lying around somewhere, now would be the time to start digging.
Springsteen recorded “Spirit in the Night” for his debut full-length Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. Though met with critical acclaim, neither the single or the LP sold particularly well at first. It was not until his third album Born to Run that he’d find commercial success. Despite this, “Spirit in the Night” is a crowd favorite — Springsteen frequently plays it at live shows to rapturous applause.
20. Century Symphony Orchestra, Waltzes by Johann Strauss, Jr. (1956)
Did you think classical music would be left off of this list?
Record companies would often enlist the help of relatively unknown artists to provide the album art for their classical and jazz releases. This particular album cover was drawn by a certain starving artist that was destined for stardom. His name? Andy Warhol.
There are only seven known copies of this record in existence. One is on display at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, while the other sold for $5,500 in 2012. It’s unlikely you’ve got one of the other four, but at that selling price, it’s worth a look.
19. Max Steiner, The Caine Mutiny
Half soundtrack, half dialogue recording, this record was scrapped when Herman Wouk, writer of the novel on which the critically-acclaimed film was based, threatened to never allow the studio to use his work ever again if they released the album.
Wouk was furious at what he saw as blatant theft of his intellectual property, since the B-side of the record was a recording of the climactic courtroom scene, lifted verbatim from his novel. Columbia agreed to halt the release of the album and destroy all copies.
A few employees filched some copies before they were demolished — there are rumored to be close to a dozen that survived. One copy sold in 2007 for $6,700.
18. Sex Pistols, God Save the Queen (1977)
There were 25,000 copies of this single pressed. It’s estimated that only 10 survived after A&M ordered them all destroyed. In a story that since become punk legend, the Sex Pistols terrorized their label so badly that they were dropped six days after signing the record contract in a publicized ceremony in front of Buckingham Palace.
Singer Johnny Rotten allegedly threatened executives and cursed them out, and Sid Vicious demolished the toilet at A&M headquarters. This all proved to be too much of a headache for A&M, who promptly dropped the punk band and destroyed (almost) all copies of the single.
A few people were smart enough to pinch a few copies on their way to destruction — copies of God Save the Queen with the A&M label printed on the center label have sold for over $8,600.
17. U2, Pride (In the name of love) (1984)
The very limited Australian edition on translucent vinyl is said to only have 50 of its kind — though only a small handful have surfaced over the years. Despite the fact that the song ranks 388th on Rolling Stone’s list of the greatest songs ever made, Bono says he’s unsatisfied with how the song turned out.
The song references the assassination of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, but Bono says he could have better fleshed out the lyrics. According to him, the Edge and producer Brian Eno convinced him that keeping the lyrics vague would allow the song to resonate deeper with non-English speakers.
Whether you agree with the singer or not, one of these particular 12-inch singles will sell for up to $9,000.
16. Olivia Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra (ELO), Xanadu (1980)
The title Xanadu frequently appears on another type of list — it’s been called one of the worst movies ever made. That doesn’t mean the promotional picture disc that featured the movie’s theme song isn’t one of the most sought-after records of all time.
Rumor has it that Olivia Newton-John hated the way she looked in the picture printed on the front of the disc so much that she had the record company stop the pressing. Between 20 and 30 records survived. If you managed to sneak a copy away from Olivia Newton-John, you may be able to cash it in for $9,100.
15. Hank Mobley, Blue Note 1568 (1957)
Jazz fans rejoice! There were between 300 and 1,000 copies of this record printed in 1957, but a small variation in printing makes one particular version especially valuable. The story goes that famed jazz record label Blue Note ran out of labels when printing the record.
Some records featured the standard label, that had the label’s address listed as “47 West 63rd NYC,” while others said “47 West 63rd New York 23.” Both versions are incredibly valuable — one with the standard label sold for about $11,162 on eBay in 2015. In theory, the other version should be worth even more.
14. Robert Johnson, Me and the Devil Blues (1938)
This 78 RPM platter features “Me and the Devil Blues” on side A, and “Little Queen of Spades” on side B. If you’ve got an original pressing in good condition, it could be worth up to $12,000.
“Me and the Devil Blues” tells the story of the singer who wakes up to Satan knocking at his door.
According to blues legend, Johnson met with the devil at the crossroads between Highway 1 and 8 in Mississippi. There, Johnson traded his soul for the ability to master the guitar.
Whether you believe the tale or not, listening to “Me and the Devil Blues,” you can easily hear the profound influence Johnson had on the genre.
13. The White Stripes, Lafayette Blues (1998)
There were only 15 copies of this record pressed, and the cover of each was hand-painted by Dave Buick, founder of Italy records. The album, which features the song “Lafayette Blues” on side A, and “Sugar Never Tasted So Good” on side B.
The copies were made for a Detroit record release show for the band in 1998, as the fledgling band was on the incline, destined for stardom. If you attended this gig and had the foresight to purchase one of the records for $6, you may have $12,700 filed away in a milk-crate. Hopefully, you kept it safe.
12. Stonewall, Stonewall (1976)
If you’ve never heard of this 1970s psychedelic hard rock act, don’t worry. They’re an extremely obscure band who were never signed to a record label. Stonewall’s only release was pressed without the band’s knowledge. The record label that handled the release, Tiger Lily, was a tax scam operated by the mob.
The scam worked like this — a large portion of records would be pressed and later written off as unsold. This helped to keep the parent label “Roulette” afloat. A few of these records made it into the right hands and achieved cult status. At the top of the list is Stonewall’s eponymous LP, which the right buyer will spend $14,000 on. It’s Psychedelic Baby Magazine tracked down the obscure band’s drummer, Anthony Assalti for an interview in 2017.
11. Röyksopp, Melody A.M. (2001)
The Norwegian electronic duo’s debut record was a critical and commercial success, selling over 1 million copies. The group gained prominence in the United States when the song “Remind Me” was featured in a popular Geico commercial.
The pressing of the record that is particularly valuable, however, is one that features a stencil rendition of the front jacket painted by none other than notoriously elusive street-artist Banksy.
There were only 100 of these limited edition hand-spray painted versions made, with several different color variants. If you were lucky enough to score one of these, it’s time to cash it in — they’re listed as high as $14,204 on Discogs.
10. The Beatles, Yesterday and Today (1966)
The original cover of this record featured a photo of John, Paul, George, and Ringo dressed in butcher’s attire, holding headless baby dolls with raw meat strewn across their laps. In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine what they were thinking, though who are we to question one of the best-selling and most influential bands of all time?
Safe to say, the cover wasn’t well received. So much so in fact, that Capitol Records spent $250,000 buying back the 750,000 records that had been printed and shipped to stores.
They weren’t able to get their hands on them all — if you kept a copy, you could be sitting on around $15,300.
9. The Rolling Stones, Street Fighting Man (1968)
Here’s another album made more valuable by a controversial cover that was self-censored by the record label. The original artwork for Street Fighting Man featured a black and white photo of seemingly unconcerned police officers standing over an injured protester, with the single’s title and band name printed in large block letters above and below.
Just before the album’s release, there was the infamous 1968 riot at the Democratic National Convention. The record label decided to be cautious in the wake of the controversy and political turmoil and ordered the records destroyed. About 18 records were saved somehow — one was auctioned off for $17,000 in 2011.
8. The Five Sharps, Stormy Weather (1952)
You may remember this record from an episode of Pawn Stars. One collector tried to sell Rick the coveted 78 RPM disc for $25,000. The price was deemed too steep for the vinyl, which was not in the best shape. However, this record is extremely rare (only three known copies exist) and highly sought after — copies have sold for as high as $20,000.
Ironically, the original album sales were so poor that members of the group had to purchase their own copies, even though they weren’t paid to record the album (unless you count hot dogs and soda as payment).
If there’s a chance you ended up with a copy, it is time to start thumbing through your collection.
7. The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)
First pressings of The Velvet Underground’s debut record in mono are listed on Discogs for up to $2,799.
While most historians say that punk rock started in the ’70s, this record is frequently mentioned as being enormously influential on the genre, despite the fact it was banned at nearly all radio stations and sold only 30,000 copies. But as Brian Eno once said, “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.”
One lucky Canadian record collector picked up a copy sans the Warhol artwork-adorned sleeve for 75 cents at a flea market, but this was no ordinary re-pressing. The acetate record ended up being a test pressing that featured early versions of many of the songs — there are only two in existence, and one belongs to former Velvet Underground drummer Moe Tucker. The collector put his copy up on eBay and ended up scoring $25,200.
6. Frank Wilson, Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)
Shortly after recording “Do I Love You” and “Sweeter As the Days Go By,” Motown producer/songwriter Frank Wilson reluctantly agreed with Motown founder Berry Gordy that he’d be better suited to work behind the scenes, crafting hits for artists like the Supremes and Temptations.
Gordy ordered the pressings destroyed. Only two copies are said to have survived, one of which was kept in Motown’s vault for a decade before it was discovered by vinyl dealer Simon Soussan. Soussan unscrupulously bootlegged the record and released it by crediting Eddie Foster as the musician. The record was a smash hit.
One of the two surviving original records was sold in a 2009 auction for close to $34,000.
5. Bob Dylan, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963)
Sometimes a small mistake or imperfection is enough to drive up the price of a collector’s item considerably. Such is the case with this already valuable record. A few tracks were meant to be replaced before the release, but someone at the pressing plant missed the memo, and a few copies featuring the wrong songs were pressed.
If your copy has a serial number that ends in -1A, and includes these four songs (you’ll have to listen to confirm, the tracks will be mislabeled): “Rocks and Gravel, “Let Me Die In My Footsteps,” “Gamblin’ Willie’s Dead Man’s Hand,” and “Talkin’ John Birch Blues,” the record could be worth $35,000 or more. There are said to be less than 20 mono copies of the record and only two stereo copies.
4. Tommy Johnson, Alcohol And Jake Blues (1930)
In a stroke of luck, the North Carolina seller of this extremely rare 78 RPM slab came into possession of the record at an estate sale. He threw the record up on eBay and watched a bidding frenzy take place. The final bid came in at $37,100.
There are believed to be only copies of the record in existence — both belong to the winning bidder, John Tefteller.
Legendary Delta blues singer and guitarist Tommy Johnson was rumored to have sold his soul to the devil to acquire his virtuosic guitar skills (no, he wasn’t related to Robert Johnson) — this tale serves as the inspiration for the character of the same name in the Coen Brothers’ film O Brother, Where Art Thou?
3. Prince, The Black Album
After recording The Black Album aka “The Funk Bible,” and pressing 500,000 copies, Prince decided to halt the release and paid the label to recall all the records. The reason? The singer had a substance-fueled epiphany that his record was “evil.”
However, by that time promotional copies had already made it to circulation. The record was widely bootlegged and got considerable radio play, despite Prince’s protestations. Evidently, the singer changed his mind about the record, releasing a CD version in 1994.
An original, unopened American vinyl pressing sold in 2018 for $42,300, while an unsealed Canadian version sold for $27,500.
2. Aphex Twin aka Caustic Window, Caustic Window
Reclusive and eccentric techno/drum and bass producer Richard D. James, aka Aphex Twin, recorded this eponymous album under the alias “Caustic Window,” but decided to abandon the project after pressing only five copies. At least one copy managed to escape out into the world. It appeared in 2014 on Discogs with an asking price of $13,500.
In response, Rephlex Records, James, and Doctors Without Borders bought the album and began a kickstarter campaign to release a digital copy, which raised $47,000. The money was split between James and Doctors Without Borders. The vinyl copy was sold on eBay to “Minecraft” creator Markus Persson for $46,300.
1. The Beatles, The Beatles (aka “The White Album”) (1968)
An undisputed classic tops the list. But this particular album is one of a kind — it’s the very first pressing of the beloved ninth album by “the fab four,” marked with the serial number “A0000001” to prove it. For years, it was rumored that the first copy went to the late John Lennon, but really it went to Ringo Starr.
Kept in a bank vault for three-and-a-half decades, this expensive piece of Polyvinyl chloride was sold during a charity auction for a whopping $790,000. Starr put the money toward his own Lotus Foundation — a charity that provides support for victims of domestic violence, cancer research, the homeless, and other noble causes.
Even if you aren’t in possession of this original vinyl, copies with low serial numbers will still fetch a high price — A0000023 sold for $13,750 in 2012.
NEXT: The highest selling singles of all time!
The highest selling singles of all time…
30. Paul Anka: “Diana”
In 1957, Paul Anka was a baby faced teen idol, and his single “Diana” was hanging out at the top of the charts. 14 year old Anka wrote “Diana” about an older girl at his church, and his hopeless crush ended up paying off, at least monetarily. Anka’s lovelorn tune ended up selling 10 million copies.
Later in his career, Anka was also known for writing songs for other artists, including Frank Sinatra and Buddy Holly. In fact, shortly after he wrote Holly’s hit “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” Buddy tragically died in a plane crash. To help Holly’s family, Anka signed his songwriter’s rights over to Buddy’s widow.
NEXT: One of country music’s first superstars raked in the cash with this crazy train.
29. Roy Acuff: “Wabash Cannonball”
You may have heard a bluegrass version of this tune or the fine Johnny Cash cover, but Roy Acuff’s 1938 recording of “Wabash Cannonball” brought in the big bucks. Acuff’s version of this well-loved song moved 10 million copies off the shelves.
A version of “Wabash Cannonball” existed as early as 1882, but it wasn’t until 1904 that it became the tune we know today. There are many rumors about the song’s origins and meanings. In one version, Paul Bunyan’s brother built a railroad, and he did such a mighty job that trains would arrive an hour before they ever departed. Can I get on that for my commute?
NEXT: There was something in the air when this song took over the charts.
28. ABBA: “Fernando”
Mamma Mia, here we go again! For their first non-album single, ABBA released “Fernando” in 1976, selling millions of copies worldwide. You don’t have to be a dancing queen to know that this single sold a cool 10 million copies for ABBA.
However, you might not know how drastically different the lyrics to this song are from the English version to the Swedish. In English, “Fernando” tells a victorious tale about fighting in the Mexican revolution, but the Swedish version is all about heartbreak and sorrow. The song was eventually also released in Spanish on ABBA’s album Gracias Por La Musica in a translation that mirrors the English version we know and love.
NEXT: We’re still not done saying “farewell” to this ‘70s folk song.
27. Roger Whittaker: “The Last Farewell”
Although Roger Whittaker released his song “The Last Farewell” on his 1971 album New World in the Morning, it would take four more years for the tune to top the charts. Thanks to a lucky twist of fate, a popular radio producer’s wife heard the song while traveling in Canada and begged her husband to play it on the air.
The rest was history. Once Whittaker’s tune started getting the airplay it deserved, it was a smash hit. Whittaker ultimately sold 11 million copies of “The Last Farewell.” He would later go on to establish himself as a country music artist, but “The Last Farewell” remains his signature song.
NEXT: This single held on to the top spot for 12 weeks back in 1944.
26. The Mills Brothers: “Paper Doll”
Though “Paper Doll” has been covered by Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Pat Boone, it owes its original success to The Mills Brothers. The Mills Brothers specialized in dreamy four-part harmonies that made hits like “Paper Doll” perfect for a slow dance with your sweetie.
Although The Mills Brothers weren’t in love with the song when they recorded it, it struck a chord with audiences. “Paper Doll” sold 11 million copies for the siblings. It would later be inducted into the Grammy’s Hall of Fame and named one of the Songs of the Century. If only our siblings were this talented!
NEXT: Disco dance your way to number 25.
25. George McCrae: “Rock Your Baby”
Written and produced by members of KC and the Sunshine Band, George McCrae’s 1974 hit “Rock Your Baby” has an irresistibly danceable disco groove. “Rock Your Baby” was originally written for KC and the Sunshine Band, but their lead singer couldn’t quite hit the high notes the tune requires.
Enter George McCrae. With his smooth vocals and great range, McCrae sang “Rock Your Baby to perfection, and music fans worldwide were converted to disco fever. The single sold 11 million copies and Rolling Stone named it the top song of the year. It even inspired sound-alikes: John Lennon’s “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” and ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.”
NEXT: This single moved off the shelves “fast as lightning.”
24. Carl Douglas: “Kung Fu Fighting”
Believe it or not, “Kung Fu Fighting” was never meant to be a hit. Singer Carl Douglas recorded the iconic tune in just two quick takes to serve as a B-side to his intended single “I Want to Give You My Everything.” However, when the record company bigwigs gave “Kung Fu Fighting” a spin, they knew right away they had an A-side hit on their hands.
Cashing in on the contemporary karate movie craze, “Kung Fu Fighting” sold 11 million copies worldwide. It also established Carl Douglas as the first Jamaican singer to reach the top of the US charts.
NEXT: Do you “believe” in life after autotune?
23. Cher: “Believe”
It’s official, we’re in love with Cher and we’ll never “snap out of it.” Her 1998 comeback single “Believe” brought this tough diva to a new generation and introduced the world to autotune — for better or worse. Cher sold 11 million copies of this dance-pop single worldwide and became the oldest female artist to ever enjoy that kind of chart-topping success.
Her use of autotune was inspired by another artist, Andrew Roachford, and the similar effects he was able to achieve using a vocoder. Cher said that when her producer played her the autotuned track for the first time, “We high-fived. It was like some stupid Rocky film.”
NEXT: This single sold millions of copies for a good cause.
22. Band Aid: “Do They Know It’s Christmas”
Band Aid was a supergroup of English and Irish musicians who joined their talents in 1984. Featuring members of U2, Duran Duran, Culture Club, and more, Band Aid recorded their first single “Do They Know It’s Christmas” to benefit people suffering from the famine in Ethiopia. The single went on to sell 11.7 million copies.
Over the years, Band Aid has reformed with different lineups to release music to benefit other humanitarian causes. Most recently, they got together in 2014 as Band Aid 30. This incarnation featured Bono, Ed Sheeran, Sinead O’Connor, and Rita Ora, and their proceeds went toward stopping the spread of the Ebola virus.
NEXT: It’s fun to stay at number 21.
21. Village People: “YMCA”
What do a cop, a leather-loving biker, a construction worker, and a Native American have in common? If you guessed that they sold 12 million copies of a single about the YMCA, you’d get 100% on the quiz. In 1978, Village People scored a genuine hit with “YMCA” and carved out an unexpected place in pop culture.
Not everyone was happy about the song’s success. At the time, the actual YMCA threatened Village People with a lawsuit. It seems the Young Men’s Christian Association didn’t love getting a shout out in this gay disco anthem. Luckily for Village People, they were able to resolve the issue out of court and keep on dancing.
NEXT: This romantic duet was everywhere in 1996.
20. Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman: “Time to Say Goodbye”
Andrea Bocelli already had a hit on his hands with his Italian single “Con te partirò”. When he added soprano Sarah Brightman to the English version, “Time to Say Goodbye” became a worldwide sensation. The single ended up selling 12 million copies and has made cameos in everything from The Simpsons to an Arby’s commercial.
Oddly enough, “Time to Say Goodbye” was also used as a boxer’s theme song. Then light-heavyweight champion Henry Maske was set to fight his final match in 1996, and Bocelli and Brightman sang their duet live at the beginning of the event. Talk about an amazing send-off!
NEXT: The Fab Four want to “hold” down the next spot.
19. The Beatles: “I Want to Hold Your Hand”
What would pop music be today if it weren’t for The Beatles? The mop-topped rockers exploded onto the American scene in 1964 with their single “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” After the group played their ditty live on The Ed Sullivan Show, the single flew off record store shelves, selling 12 million copies.
The Beatles began what’s known as the British invasion, an influx of English bands making it big in the states. They also would later push the boundaries of pop and rock and roll, creating conceptual albums and inspiring artists from The Beach Boys and Bob Dylan to the stars of today.
NEXT: This artist made big money thanks to a famous reindeer.
18. Gene Autry: “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”
Any music industry insider will tell you that Christmas albums practically sell themselves, and singles are no different. Singing cowboy Gene Autry learned from experience that a Christmas single is a great way to line your pockets. His 1949 version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” eventually sold 12.5 million copies.
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” has been covered many times by other artists ranging from The Temptations to Destiny’s Child. If you add up the sales of all versions of the song, it’s sold over 150 million copies in total. Bet all of the other reindeers’ faces are pretty red now!
NEXT: A Volkswagen commercial really put this single on the map.
17. Trio: “Da Da Da”
This 1982 single embodies the weird minimalism of German New Wave, and it was a hit in Europe long before reaching the States. Thanks to a boost from a 1997 Volkswagen commercial, Trio’s single “Da Da Da (I Don’t Love You You Don’t Love Me”) sold 13 million copies.
Relying on simple sounds and stripped down instrumentation, Trio carved out a space for their quirky aesthetic in music history. Often, their songs were so simple that drummer Peter Behrens was able to play his part with just one hand while eating an apple with the other. Though they were part of the German New Wave movement, Trio prefered the genre label “New German Cheerfulness.” They really do make you smile.
NEXT: This Japanese song dominated the world in the summer of 1963.
16. Kyu Sakamoto: “Sukiyaki”
Kyu Sakamoto was only 21 years old when his performance of “Ue O Muite Aruko,” known in America by the non sequitur “Sukiyaki,” took the world by storm. The single sold 13 million copies worldwide and came to symbolize Japan’s return to the world stage following the devastation of World War II.
The song’s opening lines roughly translate to, “I look up when I walk so tears won’t fall.” It tells of disappointment following failed protests against the ongoing American military presence in the country. The song’s narrator also looks ahead to better days to come, and the song’s smashing success helped to reenergize the island nation of Japan.
NEXT: From big hair to big hits, this band had it all.
15. Scorpions: “Wind of Change”
Scorpions 1990 power ballad “Wind of Change” has long been tied in our memories with the end of the Soviet Union. However, the songs lyrics about brotherhood and change to come were actually inspired by Scorpions’ experience performing at the Moscow Music Peace Festival, a rare hard rocking fest in the former Soviet Union.
Moscow Music Peace Festival was notable for its lineup which combined Soviet bands like Gorky Park with Americans like Bon Jovi and Ozzy Osbourne. Awed by the bands that had come together for the event, Scorpions wrote “Wind of Change,” which sold 14 million copies around the world.
NEXT: This single is a major contender for the most karaoked song of all time.
14. Gloria Gaynor: “I Will Survive”
In 1978, Gloria Gaynor’s career was waning, and she was desperate for a big single to put her back on top. In a stroke of terrific luck, “I Will Survive” was presented to her by her producers, and the song resonated with people all over the world. To make it a real success, Gaynor even campaigned herself, flagging down DJs who worked at Studio 54 and begging them to play the song.
Advocating for herself paid off for Gaynor, and the single sold 14 million copies. It has been covered by artists from Diana Ross to Cake, and drunkenly karaoked by yours truly.
NEXT: Tell me more, tell me more, what song’s at number 13?
13. John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John: “You’re the One That I Want”
We’ve got chills, and they’re multiplying! One of two songs added to the movie version of the musical Grease, “You’re the One That I Want” perfectly showcases Olivia Newton-John’s voice and her chemistry with co-star John Travolta. As a single, “You’re the One That I Want” was the one that consumers wanted. It sold 15 million copies worldwide.
Interestingly, this track was the one that Grease director Randal Kleiser initially did not want. Kleiser felt that it didn’t sound like the rest of the ‘50s inspired soundtrack. Songwriter John Farrar put his foot down, it stayed in the picture, and the rest is history.
NEXT: Here comes another single that was written for the silver screen.
12. Bryan Adams: “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”
Written in 1990 for the movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” is so iconic that it’s probably stuck in your head after just reading the title. The song became Adams’ biggest hit, selling 15 million copies, and established him as a ballad crooner in addition to a rock and roller.
Adams says he and his writing partner producer Mutt Lange wrote the song in about 45 minutes. “We knocked it out, then sat back to listen to it for the first time, and we looked up at one another and grinned. Straight away, we knew that we’d written something beautiful, but I had no idea of the impact it would have.”
NEXT: This Christmas song from 1994 is still breaking records in 2018.
11. Mariah Carey: “All I Want For Christmas Is You”
How did we even have Christmas before Mariah Carey blessed us with this megahit? Released in 1994, Carey’s Christmas single was an instant classic and her most successful song yet. “All I Want For Christmas Is You” has sold 16 million copies, and its popularity surges each year during the holiday season.
In fact, in 2018 “All I Want For Christmas Is You” broke a record over at Spotify. It replaced “SAD!” by XXXTentacion as the song with the most streams in a single day on December 24, 2018. With 10.8 million streams on that one day alone, it’s clear that Mariah’s Christmas tune isn’t going anywhere.
NEXT: This soundtrack single was a Titanic hit.
10. Celine Dion: “My Heart Will Go On”
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably cried at least once while listening to the greatest singer on Earth, Celine Dion, belt out “My Heart Will Go On.” Recorded for the Titanic soundtrack, this single became a hit as big as the gigantic ship and sold 18 million copies.
However, the iconic track almost didn’t make it in the picture. For one thing, Dion didn’t want to sing it. Plus, James Cameron didn’t think his historical drama would benefit from the addition of a pop song. Luckily the movie studio pushed the song through production and into the credits. In 1998, the song would win an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and a Grammy.
NEXT: These two Spanish ladies had the whole disco boogying.
9. Baccara: “Yes Sir I Can Boogie”
Relying on disco beats and breathy vocals, Baccara had a sound that drove European club kids wild back in 1977. Spanish dancers Mayte Mateos and Maria Mendiola made up the dynamic duo of Baccara, and their single “Yes Sir I Can Boogie” sold 18 million copies.
Though disco’s popularity faded, both members of Baccara continued to work on other musical projects. Eventually, each wanted to reform the group without the other, so there were two concurrent Baccara lineups, one called Baccara and one called New Baccara. In the ‘90s, New Baccara changed their name back to Baccara, so there are now two different groups with the same name.
NEXT: This 1939 song is in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
8. The Ink Spots: “If I Didn’t Care”
Though modern audiences might know it best from its appearance in the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption, in 1939 “If I Didn’t Care” was one of the biggest songs in the world. Sung by doo-wop group The Ink Spots, “If I Didn’t Care” made a splash on the music scene and sold 19 million copies.
“If I Didn’t Care” has been covered by Connie Francis, The Platters, and Bryan Ferry. In 1936, The Ink Spots were the first black performers ever on television. They were also the first black people to perform on Ed Sullivan’s show over a decade later in 1948.
NEXT: Another charity single sells solid numbers.
7. USA for Africa: “We Are the World”
Shortly after Band Aid’s big 1984 hit “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” American artists got into the charitable spirit. Led by Harry Belafonte and Quincy Jones, USA for Africa assembled an impressive array of stars including Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, and more. Also benefiting famine relief, “We Are the World” sold 20 million copies.
“We Are the World” was written in 1985 by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, and recording began the next day, January 21. That year, the single would win four Grammys, two VMAs, and a People’s Choice Award. Besides raking in accolades, the single was also able to do a lot to send aid to Africa and raise awareness of the famine.
NEXT: Can you guess the King of Rock’s biggest single?
6. Elvis Presley: “It’s Now Or Never”
Success wasn’t a matter of now or never for this Elvis hit. “It’s Now Or Never” actually hit number one on the UK charts twice, once when it was first released in 1960 and again when it was reissued in 2005. All told, the single sold 20 million copies.
While stationed in Germany, Presley heard Tony Martin’s “There’s No Tomorrow,” a ballad set to the melody of the traditional Italian song “O Sole Mio.” He fell in love with the song and asked to have a version written for him. His version far surpassed Martin’s, in large part thanks to Presley’s incredible vocal performance, making it one of the biggest singles of all time.
NEXT: This song is the highest-selling single performed by a woman.
5. Whitney Houston: “I Will Always Love You”
Though Dolly Parton made this song hit number one twice in 1973 and 1982, Whitney Houston’s version turned the track into an unstoppable force. Released in 1992 on the soundtrack to the movie The Bodyguard, Houston’s rendition spent 14 weeks at number one and sold 20 million copies.
Dolly Parton recalls being taken by surprise when she first heard Houston’s cover. “They started out with it a cappella, and I thought, ‘That sounds familiar.… And it didn’t hit me. And then all the sudden, when she started singing ‘I will always love you,’ I just about wrecked the car.”
NEXT: This single proved to the world that rock and roll was here to stay.
4. Bill Haley & His Comets: “Rock Around the Clock”
Though it wasn’t the first big rock single, Bill Haley & His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” made rock and roll mainstream and served as an anthem for rebellious teens in the ‘50s. The single sold around the clock, too. “Rock Around the Clock” sold 25 million copies.
The 1955 movie Blackboard Jungle helped propel “Rock Around the Clock” to megahit status. Actor Glenn Ford’s son Peter was obsessed with the song, so Ford suggested it to the director for the opening credits. The song got a bump in popularity again when Haley recorded a shortened version that served as the theme song to the first couple seasons of Happy Days.
NEXT: This classic Summertime jam is the third best selling single ever.
3. Mungo Jerry: “In the Summertime”
You might not know their name, but you’ve definitely heard one hit wonder Mungo Jerry’s 1970 single blaring from speakers everywhere in the summer. “In the Summertime” is all about taking advantage of the sunny season to hang out and hook up, so naturally it’s the quintessential summer song, with 30 million copies sold to prove it.
Singer Ray Dorset reportedly wrote the song in less than ten minutes. Dorset would later sue his former manager in 2012, claiming 2 million pounds in unpaid royalties were owed to him from the use of “In the Summertime” in film and television.
NEXT: This sunglasses-sporting singer actually released this single twice.
2. Elton John: “Candle in the Wind”
Originally dedicated to Marilyn Monroe in 1974, Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” made an unbelievable resurgence in 1997. Following the tragic death of his friend Princess Diana, Elton John recorded a new version dedicated to the Princess of Wales. John’s 1997 version of the single sold 33 million copies.
“Candle in the Wind” is one of the most enduring and best-loved songs in popular culture. It has been covered by artists like Billy Joel and Ed Sheeran and referenced on TV shows like South Park and Parks and Recreation. John himself was knighted by the royal family shortly after the single was released. He has not performed the 1997 version live since Princess Diana’s funeral.
NEXT: The top-selling single of all time might take you by surprise.
1. Bing Crosby “White Christmas”
In “White Christmas,” Bing Crosby had a guaranteed formula for a chart-topping single. Combining the marketing power of a major motion picture with the commercial appeal of a great holiday tune, “White Christmas” has held the top spot on the list for over 50 years. It’s reported that “White Christmas” has sold over 50 million copies.
Written by Irving Berlin, Crosby first released “White Christmas” in 1942 as part of the soundtrack to his film Holiday Inn. Though it wasn’t initially a hit, “White Christmas” appealed to Americans feeling the wartime blues and longing for simpler times. Eventually, the song’s popularity would lead to a movie of the same name in 1954.