Chart Beat

Ask Billboard: Ed Sheeran's Biggest Albums & Songs, From 'Perfect' to 'Thinking Out Loud' & More

Ed Sheeran
Emmi Korhonen/Shutterstock

Ed Sheeran

Plus, Radio Hall of Famer Kid Kelly on differences between '80s and '90s hits.

Submit questions about Billboard charts, as well as general music musings, to askbb@billboard.com. Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S.

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Let's open the latest mailbag.

As he continues his (good) habits of hitting the Billboard Hot 100's top 10, thanks to the No. 5 start of his latest, let's update Ed Sheeran's career U.S. album sales, most-streamed songs, most-heard hits on radio and best-selling tracks, according to MRC Data (with all data current through June 25).

Album Sales
2.4 million, X
1.6 million, ÷ (Divide)
1.3 million, +
199,000, No.6 Collaborations Project
28,000, Don't (EP)
26,000, 5

Most-Streamed Songs (on-demand audio & video combined)
2.026 billion, "Perfect"
2.023 billion, "Shape of You"
1.55 billion, "Thinking Out Loud"
905 million, "Photograph"
693 million, "I Don't Care" (with Justin Bieber)
605 million, "Castle on the Hill"
524 million, "Beautiful People" (feat. Khalid)
500 million, "Happier"
443 million, "The A Team"
325 million, "I See Fire"

Most-Heard Songs on Radio (all-genre audience impressions)
9.5 billion, "Shape of You"
6.8 billion, "Perfect"
6.6 billion, "Thinking Out Loud"
4.6 billion, "I Don't Care" (with Justin Bieber)
3.9 billion, "Photograph"
3 billion, "Don't"
2.3 billion, "The A Team"
2.1 billion, "Beautiful People" (feat. Khalid)
2 billion, "Castle on the Hill"
1.1 billion, "Sing"

Most-Downloaded Songs
6,020,000, "Thinking Out Loud"
3,048,000, "Perfect"
2,955,000, "Shape of You"
2,676,000, "The A Team"
2,146,000, "Don't"
1,964,000, "Photograph"
1,164,000, "Everything Has Changed" (Taylor Swift feat. Ed Sheeran)
1,556,000, "Sing"
1,394,000, "Lego House"
1,113,000, "Castle on the Hill"

"Perfect" ranks as Sheeran's most-streamed song in the U.S., although it seems pretty clear that status wasn't expected by at least one early listener: Matt, his brother.

"We were in the car and he was playing me new songs," Matt told Billboard in 2018. "'Perfect' was the least produced one … sort of out-of-tune guitar, very rough recording. All the other ones were more produced. I really didn't take any notice of it, to be honest.

"Then he came back later … 'Do you remember that song 'Perfect'?' I was like, 'Yeah' … and actually I didn't," Matt admitted with a laugh.

Matt eventually took much notice of the ballad, contributing string orchestration to its "Perfect Symphony" version, featuring vocals by classical crossover legend Andrea Bocelli. That mix has drawn 26.7 million on-demand U.S. streams to-date.

"I remember, when he first started out, there was one song he played me, and I told him I didn't like it," Matt mused of Ed. "He [later] said he never played it again. I don't know if that was some lost masterpiece … Generally, I like his stuff."

'AGAIN' AND AGAIN

Hi Gary,

Two classics, one each from the '80s and '90s, are back thanks to new hits.

Doja Cat's "Kiss Me More," featuring SZA, rises to No. 3 on the Hot 100, and No. 1 on the Pop Airplay chart. It interpolates only the biggest single of the '80s: Olivia Newton-John's "Physical."

Plus, Dua Lipa's "Love Again" debuts at No. 38 on Pop Airplay. It revives the instrumental hook of White Town's No. 5-peaking 1997 Pop Airplay (and Alternative Airplay) hit "Your Woman."

We actually need to keep time-traveling: Both "Love Again" and "Your Woman" borrow the signature section of Lew Stone & His Monseigneur Band and Al Bowlly's "My Woman," which was released in 1933 and co-written by Bing Crosby.

Pablo Nelson
Oakland, California

Thanks Pablo.

Great music is timeless, as reinforced by Crosby, who was born in 1903, contributing to a new chart entry in 2021.

Plus, Steve Kipner, who co-wrote "Physical," adds another leader thanks to "Kiss Me More." Among his writing credits are six prior top five Hot 100 hits: Newton-John's "Twist of Fate" (No. 5, 1984); Chicago's "Hard Habit to Break" (No. 3, 1984); Wilson Phillips' "Impulsive" (No. 4, 1990); 98 Degrees' "The Hardest Thing" (No. 5, 1999); Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle" (No. 1, five weeks, 1999); and Dream's "He Loves U Not" (No. 2, 2000).

Your note follows recent Ask Billboards in which we looked at the most enduring hits of the '80s and '90s. Last month, Journey's "Don't Stop Believin' " topped the '80s tally, after Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" led the '90s recap in March.

Notably per those findings, only four of the top 25 hits from the '90s were former Hot 100 No. 1s, whereas 16 of the top 25 songs from the '80s had led the weekly list. Per Sean Ross, author of the Ross on Radio newsletter, "There was less of a shared pop experience in the '90s." As hit music fragmented to country, grunge and hip-hop, pop radio "barely existed for five years" circa 1992-96, Ross noted, leading to many '90s hits seemingly better known to fans of specific styles.

Kid Kelly, a 2018 inductee into the Radio Hall of Fame and host of the long-running '80s/'90s-focused Backtrax USA, echoes Ross' view that '90s hits never basked in the same spotlight as those a decade earlier.

"In the '80s, both the artists and the media that aired them were unapologetically authentic," he says. "That includes the outlet that gave the era a musical rebirth and a visual birth: MTV. The hits of the '80s were ubiquitous and presented fearlessly with pride in ownership.

"In the '90s," Kelly theorizes, "pop stations began to splinter musically; you could not hear many of the same hit songs in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago on pop radio at the same time. And MTV started pushing away from music to longform programs, which also reduced songs' reach. There was no real musical center."

Plus, Kelly recalls, between songs, many DJs shifted to sounding more casual. "It was the let's-be-real era, the no-hype era," he says, believing that the trend made songs seem less larger than life (to evoke a song that still became hit in the '90s with that title). "Hits presented in a fun way always beats the no-hype alternate."

The biggest key to mass-appeal '80s hits remaining revered, according to Kelly? "Great-sounding emerging artists were surrounded by iconic stars that were two, three, four albums deep. That made for a much broader reach and much higher passion."