25 Best Catchy Songs of All Time: Pop Hooks That Won't Let Go
A memorable hook only needs a few seconds to worm its way into your head.
When Team Billboard sat down to discuss our personal picks for great, catchy pop hooks, by necessity a lot remained on the cutting room floor. What emerged, however, is 25 hooks that we can't stop humming, and we feel confident we won't be able to for many, many years to come.
25. "Bad Romance," Lady Gaga
"Bad Romance" is special because -- like many great songs -- one could make a case for a few different parts of the song technically being the hook. We're sticking with the ultra-catchy chorus here-- between the thumping drum line and can't-get-out-of-your-head "Oh oh ohs" this is one recent tune that deserves to be in the conversation as much as classics from decades ago.
24. "MmmBop," Hanson
For Hanson, going nonsensical when it came to the lyrics of their breakout single “MmmBop” made sense: they were young, carefree and didn’t really have much of a message to impart. And it’s why the resulting chorus became classic --not only did they score a hit altogether without a message, but they had the world singing in gibberish.
23. "Hey Ya," Outkast
Whether it’s the rampant handclaps or splotchy synths, the chorus for “Hey Ya!” provides a satiating break from the breathless verses that bookend each side. Consider it the perfect singalong section from Outkast’s catalog.
22. "Like A Prayer," Madonna
Madonna has given fans plenty of hit singles over the years, but her catchiest hook may be the chorus of "Prayer," which practically demands you stand up and clap along.
21. "Call Me Maybe," Carly Rae Jepsen
“Call Me Maybe” came out of nowhere, all thanks to a Justin Bieber co-sign and instant virality. But it’s because there hasn’t been a pop hook in the past five years that hits all the right notes: uplifting string instrumentation, zippy percussion, airtight melodies and lyrics that feel just millennial enough to appeal across demographics.
20. "Don't You Want Me," The Human League
The tune is a karaoke mainstay for a reason -- it inspires everyone to sing along. The 1981 hit's chorus -- as with many tunes on this list -- is lyrically simple, but those sliding ohhhh-ohs, backed by an array of instruments, are destined to never be forgotten.
19. "Happy," Pharrell
In hindsight, it was so easy. The tune may have been originally written for a kids' movie (2013's Despicable Me 2), but the uptempo, pulsating beats quickly got stuck in the heads of everyone who listened -- parent or child.
18. "Sweet Caroline," Neil Diamond
Its hook may be short, but sing just one note and whomever you're with is practically compelled to "bah bah bah" the phrase out with you. Proof? Just check out any game at Fenway Park.
17. "Believe," Cher
Long before T-Pain and Future co-opted Auto-Tune, Cher was the first pop artist to employ the filter on her smash single “Believe.” Without the effect, the hook is strong, but there’s something about computerizing her vocals that adds a dimension to the chorus that still feels futuristic, years after its release.
16. "I Will Survive," Gloria Gaynor
Gloria Gaynor ruled the discotheque with her breakup comedown “I Will Survive,” perhaps one of the grooviest pick-me-ups after the demise of a relationship. The song is essentially all chorus, but it’s when the hook actually comes in that it reaches peak earworm.
15. "Since U Been Gone," Kelly Clarkson
For her first notable hit post-American Idol, Kelly Clarkson linked with Max Martin and Dr. Luke for the hyper-anthemic “Since U Been Gone.” While the verses bop along with a thumping backbeat and sparse guitar lines, it’s the chorus where Clarkson drives this home, singing with an empowering sense of complacency in the wake of a breakup.
14. "YMCA," The Village People
Four notes/four syllables are all you need to invoke one of the most popular songs of all time.
13. "Hound Dog," Elvis Presley
Elvis made dozens of classic songs in his career, but when it comes to pure catchy hook heaven, the repeated line "You ain't nothin' but a hound dog, cryin' all the time" is inescapable. You hear the title and you instantly hear the song's recurring melody -- there's no real chorus here, since all the verses follow the same structure -- and that hound dog line.
12. "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)," Beyonce
A couple of arguments could be made for the hook here: Is it "All the single ladies, all the single ladies"? Or is it "If you liked it then you should've put a ring on it"? The real question: Why decide? They're both instantly recognizable and instantly iconic -- and tailor-made for the bouquet toss at your next wedding.
11. "Good Vibrations," The Beach Boys
As far as pop songs go, this one is pretty strange. It's meandering and can't quite decide its tempo or style. But we all know the "Good, good, good! Good vibrations" hook, which successfully ties all the seemingly disparate pieces into an ultimately peppy package.
10. "Under Pressure," Queen and David Bowie
This hook even made Vanilla Ice a star! We kid, but in all seriousness, 99 percent of this hook -- along with the repeated "Under Pressure" refrain -- is that dum-dum-dum-di-di-dum-dum beat borrowed by "Ice Ice Baby" 10 years later. There's a reason this beat works across genres and decades.
9. "Stayin' Alive," Bee Gees
This song is iconic for a number of reasons (it perfectly encapsulates the disco era, it immediately recalls John Travolta's Saturday Night Fever dance moves) and the main reason behind its, well, staying power is that grabby hook. "Ah ah ah ah, stayin' alive, stayin' alive" -- you're already dancing, aren't you?
8. "Respect," Aretha Franklin
Never has spelling been so badass. While Otis Redding wrote and recorded "Respect" first, the major departure in Franklin's version -- when she spells out R-E-S-P-E-C-T -- is both the most memorable piece of the song and the moment that really drives home her request for respect.
7.“The Twist,” Chubby Checker
There’s a reason “The Twist” still sits atop Billboard’s all-time Hot 100 chart: Chubby Checker’s signature hit, which topped the Hot 100 in 1960 AND in 1962, features a refrain that’s as timeless as it is influential.
6. “She Loves You,” The Beatles
Is it possible to sing the three words “She loves you” and not follow them with a hearty “yeah, yeah, yeah”? Lennon and McCartney placed an indelible hook in the middle of a story about someone trying to help reconnect estranged lovers, and history was made.
5. “Stop! In the Name of Love,” The Supremes
A full 40 years before Panic! At The Disco, the Supremes used the mid-sentence exclamation point to masterful effect. “Stop! In The Name of Love” has inspired countless covers, but Diana Ross and co. will always deliver the signature hook with the most heartbreaking vibrancy.
4.“ABC,” The Jackson 5
Sometimes, the most astonishing pleasures in popular music are the simplest ones. The Jackson 5’s “ABC” contains a hook that any kindergartner could understand, and it’s for precisely that reason that the single remains one of pop’s most innocently exuberant singles ever.
3. “Dancing Queen,” ABBA
In a modern era of pop music in which the Swedes so clearly understand what the people want (thanks, Max Martin!), it’s easy to see where they get their inspiration. ABBA created a monumental hook with “Dancing Queen,” a chorus that resonated far beyond the group’s native country and is now beloved around the world.
2. “Beat It,” Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson understood how to fashion, bend and deliver a hook better than nearly anyone in the history of modern music; “Beat It,” more than any of his other smashes, is his hook-stuffed opus. The fiery chant of the chorus is not just a battle cry, but a challenge for the music world at large to top him. We’re still waiting for someone to come close.
1.“I Want to Hold Your Hand,” The Beatles
Imagine being in your early 20’s and writing the perfect pop hook. That’s exactly what John Lennon and Paul McCartney did with “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” the 1963 single that became The Beatles’ first No. 1 hit in America and the beginning of the most storied run in musical history. Out of all the legendary tunes the group released over the following years, none came close to the sheer wonder of the “I Want to Hold Your Hand” hook, which towers above the other hooks on this list and over popular music in general.