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The 20 Greatest Final Hot 100 No. 1 Hits of All-Time: Staff Picks

It was 50 years ago this week that the most successful group in Billboard Hot 100 history enjoyed what was essentially their chart swan song. The Beatles, band behind a still-record 20 No. 1 singles on the chart, topped the Hot 100 on June 13, 1970 for what would be the final time, with the Phil Spector-produced megaballad “The Long and Winding Road.”

That inspired some of us here at Billboard to get to thinking about the greatest final No. 1 singles of all-time: the Hot 100 toppers that stand as the final statement in the chart history books from some of our most successful artists ever. Of course, to even have a “final No. 1,” you need to have a number of them to begin with, and it has to have been a while since your last one. We settled at a minimum of four total No. 1s, and at least ten years since the most recent one, to be eligible for this list — though we recognize that we definitely still might not have heard the last from some of these artists in the Hot 100’s top tier just yet.

Until then, here’s the top 20 we came up with: the songs that best capped some of the longest and most winding careers in Billboard Hot 100 history.

20. Hall & Oates, “Out of Touch” (1984)

At the tail end of their imperial early-’80s run, Daryl Hall & John Oates reached the Hot 100’s apex for the sixth and final time with Big Bam Boom‘s “Out of Touch,” a mid-tempo synth-soul jam of Motown-worthy melody and tenderness. Shout out as well to one of the single’s B-sides, the extended instrumental “Dance on Your Knees,” a rare full dance-funk workout for the Philly duo. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

19. TLC, “Unpretty” (1999)

Plenty of pop/R&B acts took a crack at the so-called alt-rock sound in the ’90s, but few managed a detour into Guitar Center so effortlessly and authentically as TLC on “Unpretty.” With producer Dallas Austin helping Tionne Watkins adapt a poem about body insecurities into a candid, empowering acoustic anthem, “Unpretty” gave TLC their fourth and final Hot 100 leader. — JOE LYNCH

18. The Four Seasons, “December, 1963 (Oh What a Night)” (1976)

After a run of four No. 1 singles in the early ’60s, pop vocal quartet The Four Seasons (now in a new lineup) called back to their golden years for this irresistible disco-flavored comeback chart-topper. An enduring wedding and bar mitzvah staple, “December, 1963” is particularly notable within the Four Seasons’ catalog for not featuring the legendary Frankie Valli on lead vocals, with drummer Gerry Polci instead taking the mic to rhapsodize about a life-changing sexual encounter a decade prior. — A.U.

17. Diana Ross, “Endless Love” 

This elegant duet was the last of six No. 1 hits for Ross — and the first under his own name for Lionel Richie, who previously scored two Hot 100-toppers with band the Commodores (“Three Times a Lady,” 1978; “Still,” 1979) and also wrote and produced “Endless Love.” The ultra-romantic ballad, the title song from an otherwise forgettable Brooke Shields movie, was No. 1 for nine weeks, back when that was a very long run. – PAUL GREIN

16. Prince and the New Power Generation, “Cream” (1991)

While it’s hardly surprising that the amiably filthy Prince would name a come-hither bedroom funk tune “Cream,” it’s still pretty remarkable he managed to make this less-than-veiled entendre rise to the top of the Hot 100 in 1991 for his fifth and final No. 1. A far cry from his frenetic chart-toppers such as “Kiss” or “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Cream” is also his most easy-going smash, leaving you thirsty for another drop when it gently peters out after four minutes. — J.L.

15. Destiny’s Child, “Bootylicious” (2001)

From the deliciously badass roll call (“Can you handle this?”) to the chugging riff borrowed from Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen,” Destiny’s Child’s fourth and final No; 1 was so much of a monster that it catapulted the titular word into the Oxford English Dictionary. The world proved not only ready for this jelly, but for more Beyoncé, who would go on to lap her group with seven No. 1s (and counting) on her own. — J.L.

14. The Bee Gees, “Love You Inside Out” (1979)

Closing a ’70s run that saw the brothers Gibb score nine No. 1 singles — including three in ’79 alone — “Love You Inside Out” was a sublimely slinky chart-topper, with a creeping pre-chorus that explodes into one of the decade’s most ecstatic synth riffs and falsetto hooks. The Bee Gees’ Hot 100 fortunes would turn almost immediately upon the turn of the ’80s, with the group only reaching the top ten once more in 1989 (“One,” No. 7). — A.U.

13. Diana Ross & the Supremes, “Someday We’ll Be Together” (1969)

This was the Supremes’ final single with Ross as their lead singer. The song has a warm vibe and reassuring lyric that suited the finality of the occasion. It was only later revealed that two of the Supremes — Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong — weren’t featured on the record. Ross recorded the song with backup singers and Johnny Bristol, the song’s producer and co-writer. — P.G.

12. Stevie Wonder, “Part-Time Lover” (1985)

Wonder hit No. 1 in October 1984 with the warm but old-fashioned “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” A little more than a year later, he returned to the top spot with this frisky smash, which is a more suitable final No. 1 for the R&B legend. It’s as if the fierce challenge of the previous few years from Michael Jackson and Prince motivated Wonder to dig deep and come up with one more classic. — P.G.

11. The Rolling Stones, “Miss You” (1978)

While the popularity of disco forced a lot of classic rock bands into a lane they were visibly uncomfortable performing in, The Rolling Stones showed no fear sliding into the Studio 54 era with the alluring, unshakeable “Miss You.” The band finds the tension in disco’s seductiveness on their final No. 1, using Bill Wyman’s restless bassline and Mick Jagger’s frantic humming to illustrate a racing mind losing its grip following a destabilizing breakup — eerie, unnerving and funky as hell even before the sax comes crashing in. — A.U.

10. Whitney Houston, “Exhale (Shoop, Shoop)” (1995)

The last of eleven (!!) smashes Whitney Houston would send to the top of the Hot 100, the Babyface penned/produced “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” was a worthy terminus, showing off the earthy depths and crystal-clear highs of Houston’s gospel-pop pipes. Fitting that it hails from the Houston-starring movie Waiting to Exhale, because once Whitney starts in with the vocal runs, that’s exactly what you’ll be doing. — J.L.

9. Janet Jackson, “All For You” (2001)

Ms. Janet made it clear pretty early in the ’00s that she would still be a commercial force to be reckoned with into her third decade, first with soundtrack love song “Doesn’t Really Matter” in 2000 and then the rapturous “All For You” the year after. Roller-skating on an inspired sample from early ’80s post-disco band Change, “All For You” breezily updates the jams of Janet’s youth for the 21st century, including a memorably explicit come-on in the intro hook: “Got a nice package, all right/ Guess I’m gonna have to ride it tonight.” Sadly, following the backlash from her wardrobe-malfuctioned Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime performance in 2004, Jackson would never really contend for the Hot 100’s top spot again. — A.U.

8. The Beatles, “The Long and Winding Road” (1970)

If “Let It Be” was the set-closer in the unmatched concert that was the Beatles career, this lovely, wistful Paul McCartney ballad was the encore. This was not only the Beatles’ final (of a still-record 20) No. 1 hits, it was the Beatles’ final single as an active recording act. Does Phil Spector’s production lay on the syrup a little thick? Oh, probably. Now where’s that lighter? — P.G.

7. Blondie, “Rapture” (1981)

Blondie’s fourth and last No. 1 — the seductive, slinky disco-rock bop “Rapture” — was also the first Hot 100 leader to feature some rapping. Sure, it’s telling of our society that hip-hop’s bow at the chart’s top spot came courtesy of a blonde white woman, but let’s be real — at least it was Debbie Harry, an eternal NYC icon whose underground bona fides obliterate those of any 21st century Manhattan influencer. Case in point: Fab Five Freddy and goddamn Basquiat are in the “Rapture” video, which is a wee hours East Village fever dream. — J.L.

6. Madonna, “Music” (2000)

Her Madgesty started off the 2000s still sounding like the absolute future of pop, with the sleek electro-funk of the Mirwais co-produced “Music.” A compulsory floor-filler about the power of music to unite “the bourgeoise and the rebel” — depends on the tone and subject of the music, perhaps — “Music” was one of Madonna’s most successful reinventions yet, and showed that the defining female artist of MTV’s first two decades was still nowhere near losing her touch. — A.U.

5. Jay-Z & Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind” (2009)


For a city as hard-boiled as New York, you might think an ode this earnest would be as successful as planning a road straight through Washington Square Park. But in the hands of Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, two industry titans who call the 5 Boroughs their home, “Empire State of Mind” exhilarates the spirit like a home run hit out of Yankee Stadium or the first glimpse of the Manhattan skyline in a yellow cab coming back from JFK: No matter how many times you experience it, the rush never gets stale. It’s the last No. 1 for both artists to date – but don’t count either out just yet.

4. The Temptations, “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” (1972)

One of the lushest, most ornate productions to ever grace a hit record, “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” feels like an entire soul symphony of piercing horns, soaring strings and lurking bass even before Dennis Edwards enters for the unforgettable opening lines: “It was the third of September/ That day I’ll always remember/ Because that was the day that my daddy died.” A superlative vocal performance from each of the group’s members and an absolute masterwork from producer Norman Whitfield, “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” was a defining moment for the scale, ambition and craft of early-’70s soul. — A.U.

3. Cher, “Believe” (1999)

This was Cher’s first No. 1 hit in 25 years, and gave her the contemporary cred she needed to rise to a new level as a concert draw. The empowered lyric updated her image, but the song’s chief hook was the Auto-Tuned vocals. “Believe” brought Cher a seriously overdue first Grammy Award (for best dance recording). The smash was so perfect for Cher that it has proved a hard act to follow: She hasn’t returned to the top 40 since. — P.G.

2. The Jackson 5, “I’ll Be There” (1970)


Not unlike the Supremes’ “Someday We’ll Be Together” (which was originally considered for Diana Ross’ solo debut), the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” wasn’t intended as a swan song for the group – in fact, the group would record another seven albums. But as their last of their four Hot 100 toppers, this earnest adieu serves as a fitting finale for the frequently fractured family band, with a prepubescent Michael sounding like he’s laying the groundwork for a solo ascent, while assuring his brothers he’s still got their backs. — J.L.

1. Elvis Presley, “Suspicious Minds” (1969)

How fitting that the King of Rock ’n’ Roll’s last No. 1 is one of his very best — you wouldn’t want The King to go out on a dud. Presley recorded this song in Memphis in January 1969, when he was coming off his legendary comeback TV special (which aired the previous month). Elvis was back on top, and it shows in his performance. “Suspicious Minds” is notable for a very long fade — which initially turns out to be a fake ending, guessing correctly that listeners hadn’t gotten enough of the outro just yet. Elvis locks into a killer groove and stays with it for a good two minutes — a very good two minutes. — P.G.