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Lyrics From the Most Popular Songs of Each Decade

Whether it’s a tender 1950s love song, a freewheeling ‘70s jam, or a thumping 2010s club hit, music can define a decade. Certain songs have the power to shape or echo the culture of the era, becoming the soundtracks of our youth or having a major impact on moments in our adult lives. “Music does a lot of things for a lot of people,” Aretha Franklin once said. “It's transporting, for sure. It can take you right back, years back, to the very moment certain things happened in your life.”

Songs can act as time capsules for generations, with their lyrics providing glimpses into the ideas and feelings that comforted or motivated people at the time. Since 1946, Billboard has published an annual list of the most popular songs of the year, based on sales and airplay, and today it serves as a perfect record of musical nostalgia. Here are some memorable lyrics from the most popular songs of each decade, from the 1940s to today.

1940s

Alone from night to night you'll find me / Too weak to break the chains that bind me / I need no shackles to remind me / I'm just a prisoner of love
– Perry Como, “Prisoner of Love,” 1946 (written by Russ Columbo, Clarence Gaskill, and Leo Robin)

1950s

Another love before my time made your heart sad and blue / And so my heart is paying now for things I didn't do
– Hank Williams, “Cold, Cold Heart,” 1951 (written by Hank Williams)

Call me at six on the dot / A line a day when you're far away / Little things mean a lot
– Kitty Kallen, “Little Things Mean a Lot,” 1954 (written by Carl Stutz and Edith Lindeman)

1960s

This flame in my heart is like an eternal fire / For every day it burns hotter and every day it burns higher / And I haven't been able to put out one little flicker / Not even with all of these tears
— Bill Anderson, “Still,” 1963 (written by Bill Anderson)

People in the cemetery, them are all alone / Some turn to dust, and some have bone / I'd rather be dead, six feet in my grave / Than to live lonely, each and every day
— Little Johnny Taylor, “Part Time Lover,” 1963 (written by Clay Hammond)

1970s

I'm a high night flier / And a rainbow rider / And a straight-shooting son of a gun
— Three Dog Night, “Joy to the World,” 1971 (written by Hoyt Axton)

Well, I really don't mind the rain / And a smile can hide all the pain / But you're down when you're ridin' the train that's takin' the long way
— Glen Campbell, “Rhinestone Cowboy,” 1975 (written by Larry Weiss)

Sometimes I wonder why I spend / The lonely nights dreaming of a song / The melody haunts my reverie / And I am once again with you / When our love was new / And each kiss an inspiration
— Willie Nelson, “Stardust,” 1976 (written by Mitchell Parish and Hoagy Carmichael)

1980s

Keep smiling, keep shining / Knowing you can always count on me for sure / That's what friends are for
— Dionne Warwick, “That’s What Friends Are For,” 1986 (written by Carole Bayer Sager and Burt Bacharach)

Every day's another way of feeling more the same / Looks like I'll run out of highway before I outrun the rain
— Earl Thomas Conley, “Fire and Smoke,” 1988 (written by Earl Thomas Conley and Nelson Larkin)

1990s

Fool, death ain't nothin' but a heartbeat away / I'm livin' life do or die, what can I say?
— Coolio, “Gangsta’s Paradise,” 1995 (written by Doug Rasheed, Stevie Wonder, L.V. of South Central Cartel, and Coolio)

When all is said and done / I'd never count the cost / It's worth all that's lost / Just to see you smile
— Tim McGraw, “Just to See You Smile,” 1998 (written by Tony Martin and Mark Nesler)

Well, I know that I'll get through this / 'Cause I know that I am strong / I don't need you anymore
— Cher, “Believe,” 1999 (written by Tim Powell, Stuart McLennen, Matt Gray, Steve Torch, Paul Barry, and Brian Higgins)

2000s

All my thoughts just seem to settle on the breeze / When I'm lying wrapped up in your arms
— Faith Hill, “Breathe,” 2000 (written by Holly Lamar and Stephanie Bentley)

You're a dime, plus 99, and it's a shame / Don't even know what you're worth
— Mario, “Let Me Love You,” 2005 (written by Scott Storch and Ne-Yo)

2010s

Wake up in the morning feelin' like P. Diddy / Grab my glasses, I'm out the door, I'm gonna hit this city
— Kesha, “Tik Tok,” 2010 (written by ​benny blanco, Dr. Luke, and Kesha)

2020s


They say nothing lasts forever / But they ain't seen us together
— Luke Combs, “Forever After All,” 2021 (written by Robert Williford, Luke Combs, and Drew Parker)

Photo credit: gigxels/ Unsplash

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About the Author
Sean Neumann
Sean Neumann is a writer and reporter based in Chicago, Illinois.
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