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A hit single is a recorded track or single that has become very popular. Although it is sometimes used to describe any widely-played or big-selling song, the term "hit" is usually reserved for a single that has appeared in an official music chart through repeated radio airplay and/or significant commercial sales.

Chart hits

-**In the United Statesmarker and the United Kingdommarker, a single is usually considered to be a hit when it has reached the official Billboard Magazine’s Hot 100 or the Top 75 of the 'UK Singles Chart' and stayed there for at least one week (the definition used by the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles since the 1970s).

A hit single may be described as a "number one hit", a "top 10 hit", a "top 20 hit" or a "top 40 hit", depending on its peak position. In the UK, (where radio play is not included in the official charts) this ranking may not completely reflect the song's overall popularity, as the weekly chart position is solely based on a direct comparison with the sales of other singles released at around the same time. It is therefore not uncommon for a single to fail to chart, but to have actually sold more copies than other singles which are regarded as "hits" purely from their higher chart placement during a period of generally low sales.

Sales figures

In the UK the number of sales required to achieve a hit single steadily declined in line with a general decline in single sales until the early 2000s, but have recovered strongly with the growth in official digital downloads; 2009 was a record year for UK singles sales. Actual figures vary considerably depending on the time of year. In 2006 a number one single usually sold around 30,000 copies per week; sales of around 13,000 were often sufficient to reach the top ten, and a single selling over 2,500 copies could make the top forty.

Hit singles worldwide

Whether or not a single becomes a hit can depend on geographical location. Musical taste varies considerably and singles which are not hits in their country of origin sometimes become chart topping hits in other parts of the world. For example "Blind To The Groove", released in 1998 by UK band Ultra did not chart in the UK but became a top ten hit in Spain. Most established artists usually release their singles in several different countries in the hope of achieving a worldwide hit.

Re-released hit singles

Some singles which were not popular at the time of their initial release have become hits at a later date when other circumstances have changed: for example "High" by James Blunt. This was first released in 2004 and did not even reach the top 75 in the United Kingdom singles chart. Following the success of Blunt's single "You're Beautiful", "High" was re-released in 2005, and became a top twenty hit worldwide, charting at number three in Italy and at number sixteen in the UK. English singer Corinne Bailey Rae re-released her hit single Like A Star, which earned her a Grammy Nomination for Best Song.

Singles that were hits in the past are often re-released and become hits for a second time several years later. In 2005 twenty one of Elvis Presley's hit singles were re-issued in the UK, and they all became top ten hits. "Imagine", a UK top ten hit for John Lennon in 1975, became a hit for the second time when it reached number one in the UK charts after his death in 1980.

In 1964, The Animals had an international number one hit with "House of the Rising Sun". The single was re-released in 1972 and 1982. Both times it reached the UK charts again.

In 1967, Cream's single "Sunshine of Your Love" only hit #37 on the U.S. charts. Re-released in 1968, the song hit #5, and became Atlantic Records' best selling single.

In 1975, Queen's single "Bohemian Rhapsody was released. It hit number one that year and stayed there for nine weeks. Then, in 1991, the single was re-released as a double A-side with "These Are the Days of Our Lives". It hit number one again and stayed there for five more weeks, thus making "Bohemian Rhapsody" the only single ever released to reach number one twice.

In 2006 P!nk's "Who Knew" was released to radio where it eventually flopped there and in sales. The same time period the next year (2007) "Who Knew" is rereleased after being used as the song for ABC show "October Road" and the increased downloads put it in the Top 100 and eventually Top 10 and it went #1 at radio.

Circumstances for Hit singles

While the general belief is that a top forty song would equal to a hit single, there are many cases where a song that peaked inside the top 40 has been labeled a flop because it did not live up to the standards and expectations of the artist. An example of this would be the 2003 collaboration between Britney Spears and Madonna on "Me Against the Music" which served as the first single for Spears' album "In the Zone." The song peaked at #35 on the Billboard Hot 100. While many would consider a song that peaked at that position a hit, the song was labelled a flop because it was expected to perform better with two A-list singers on the bill. Whereas, with a small indie band playing mostly 1,000 capacity venues, the single would be considered a minor hit. Again, it comes to semantics, where although Billboard Magazine considers anything in the Hot 100 a hit, conventional wisdom reserves this definition for the top forty.

There are also cases where a single can miss the top 40 and still be considered a hit for the artist for other reasons. An example of this would be Christina Aguilera's 2002 single "Dirrty." As a song, it performed poorly for an artist of her popularity, only peaking at #48. However, today Dirrty is considered by many to be her signature song, as the media had given her so much attention for the image she portrayed in the song's video. Thus, despite the song's poor chart performance, its popularity has led some to regard it one of her hit singles.

Hit singles created by TV advertising

Many singles have become hits solely due to their use in television advertising. In 2006 a cover of The Knife's "Heartbeats" became a top 10 hit in the UK for José González after it was used in a popular Sony BRAVIA TV commercial featuring 250,000 coloured bouncing balls in San Franciscomarker.

An earlier unintended breakthrough was achieved with the jingle "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)" which first appeared in an advertisement for Coca-Cola. Produced by Billy Davis and sung by the Hillside Singers, it first appeared on television in North America in 1971.

Albums of hit singles

Collections of hit singles by various artists are often released as compilation albums, such as the Now That's What I Call Music! series. Well known bands and artists also frequently release collections of their most popular singles as Greatest hits albums.

See also


  • Daniela Caraman Fotea and Cristian Nicolau (1999). Rock, Pop, Folk Dictionary, Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest. ISBN 973-28-0910-8
  1. Caraman Fotea, p. 229
  2. 2009 Is Record Year For UK Singles Sales - BPI
  3. Frequently Asked Questions -

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