The 10 Most Streamed Songs of the 20th Century

Queen made a truly impressive showing.
Queen is king.
Queen is king. / Keystone/Getty Images

Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” was a massive hit when it was released in 1975. After spending nine weeks at the top of the UK charts (it only broke the top 10 in the U.S.), it went on to become the third-bestselling UK single of all time. Even as the way people listen to music has changed in the decades that have followed, the popularity of Freddie Mercury and company’s mock opera hasn’t really wavered. In 2018, “Bohemian Rhapsody” was officially named the most streamed song recorded in the 20th century.

Queen’s song has been streamed by listeners more than 1.5 billion times. It’s a pretty staggering number that puts the tune ahead of classic tracks like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses, and “Don't Stop Believin’” by Journey.

But when looking at overall streaming numbers, contemporary tracks still dominate. Combined, the original version of Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito” and its remix garnered a whopping 4.6 billion plays in just six months when it was originally released in 2017.

This accolade for "Bohemian Rhapsody" is even more satisfying when you know a bit more about the song’s backstory, and the lack of faith those around the band had in its potential to be a hit. The long play time and unconventional, operatic style made some music industry insiders—including the band’s manager and friend Elton John—skeptical of its marketability. When the song debuted on the radio, listeners immediately began calling in to demand to hear it again, and quickly, proving the naysayers wrong.

In more recent years, the track got yet another boost in popularity with help from the Oscar-winning Freddie Mercury biopic that shares its name. Bohemian Rhapsody, starring Rami Malek, hit theaters on November 2, 2018, and quickly became the highest grossing musical biopic of all time, just ahead of 2015’s Straight Outta Compton.

But Bohemian Rhapsody was not the first time a hit movie led to renewed interest in the iconic song: the tune saw a similar spike in sales—and reentered the charts and hit No. 2—when it played an integral part in the hit 1992 comedy Wayne’s World, based on the popular Saturday Night Live sketch.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” is far from Queen’s only showing on the list of most streamed songs of the 20th century; the band occupies four of the top 10 spots (one of them shared with David Bowie). Here are the 10 most streamed songs of the 20th century:

1. “Bohemian Rhapsody” // Queen

Downloads: 1,587,856,824

2. “Wonderwall” // Oasis

Downloads: 1,219,309,375

3. “Don’t Stop Me Now” // Queen

Downloads: 1,135,371,550

4. “Don't Stop Believin'” // Journey

Downloads: 1,124,255,045

5. “Another One Bites The Dust” // Queen

Downloads: 1,093,847,818

6. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” // Nirvana

Downloads: 1,060,541,401

7. “Africa” // Toto

Downloads: 1,056,934,875

8. “Sweet Child O' Mine” // Guns N’ Roses

Downloads: 1,016,139,764

9. “Every Breath You Take” // The Police

Downloads: 968,787,362

10. “Under Pressure” // Queen and David Bowie

Downloads: 967,323,424

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A version of this story ran in 2018; it has been updated for 2024.