8 Must-Listen-to-Again (and Again) Classics of Pop

Pop is a loose way to characterize an accessible style of music that emerged in the late ‘50s. Initially entwined with rock ‘n’ roll, it tends to be centered on the same traditional song structures of that genre. But as time has gone by, pop has become more distinct. Cutting-edge instrumentation, pristine production, and memorable vocal hooks are trademark trappings of the pop sound.

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Pop hits have generally been measured by their success on Billboard charts, and it’s impossible to round up all the undeniable hits that have chewed up said charts over the course of the last seven decades. But here goes nothin’, anyway: from Rhianna to Daft Punk to the bona fide King of Pop, these eight pop classics are not to be ignored.

1. “Beat It” by Michael Jackson

This 1982 single from, yes, the undisputed King of Pop, initially baffled audiences before it came to be regarded as one of the greatest pop songs of all time. It features feisty fretwork from metal shredder Edward Van Halen, which led to heated debate over whether the song was hard rock or pop. At the end of the day, genre classification didn’t matter—”Beat It” won a Grammy for Record of the Year, and went on to sell more than 11 million copies. It’s accompanied by a timeless video, in which Jackson uses dance to put an end to crime.

2. “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston’s 1992 single “I Will Always Love You” is the quintessential slow jam. It was originally recorded by Dolly Parton; she wrote it in response to ending her professional relationship with longtime musical partner and mentor Porter Wagoner in order to launch her solo career. But Houston’s soulful, epic re-imagination allowed the song to soar to new heights, breaking records as it peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 weeks. It eventually became the best-selling single of all time by a female solo artist.

3. “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk

Teaming up with musician/designer Pharrell and Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers, “Get Lucky” found influential French electronic dance and house music duo Daft Punk branching into overtly radio-friendly terrain. The 2013 single appeared on the album Random Access Memories, and is carried by mildly salacious lyrics about a late night out on the town. It won Record of the Year at the Grammys, and has lived on as one of the most recognizable disco-influenced songs ever.

4. “When Doves Cry” by Prince

“When Doves Cry” is the quintessential ‘80s pop hit. The Purple Rain single—which, uniquely, features a full band lineup sans bass—blurs the lines between R&B and glam. It features vulnerable lyrics about the end of a romance and Prince’s fear of becoming too much like his parents. Prince passed away in 2016, but songs like “When Doves Cry” allow him to be remembered as one of the most fearless and eclectic pop singers ever.

[RELATED: Behind the Song: Prince, “Sign O’ the Times”]

5. “Halo” by Beyoncé

It wouldn’t be a roundup of influential pop songs without the inclusion of a Beyoncé hit. The Houston, Texas-born artist released her beautiful single “Halo” in 2009. It features a blissful instrumental, which supports empowering lyrics about natural human beauty. Written in tandem with Ryan Tedder and Evan Bogart, this defining hit from Beyoncé’s career helped her become one of the most successfully-charting singers of the 2000s.

6. “Umbrella” by Rihanna

Rihanna’s “Umbrella” is an absolute banger. The 2007 hit from the Barbadian singer features a guest verse from Jay-Z, and the way the duo trade swaggering verses infuses the song with a cathartic quality. Now that it’s raining more than ever / Know that we’ll still have each other / You can stand under my umbrella, Rihanna sings on the soaring chorus. Press play, and it immediately becomes apparent why the song lingered at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for seven consecutive weeks.

7. “Sorry” by Justin Bieber

When producer Scooter Braun signed Canadian singer Justin Bieber—transforming him into a teen idol practically overnight—he became the brunt of countless cruel jokes about his high voice and bowl cut. As his career went on, Bieber went off the rails a bit, at one point even having his pet monkey taken away. Eventually, he converted to Christianity and now seems to be a well-adjusted adult…or at least as much of a well-adjusted adult while still being Justin Bieber.

Bieber’s turbulent story often overshadows his music, but he’s released some legitimately good songs as he’s entered adulthood. 2015’s “Sorry” appeared on his fourth album, Purpose. It features a Dominican dembow-influenced dance groove, and lyrics in which Bieber pleads for the forgiveness of ex-lover Selena Gomez.

8. “Material Girl” by Madonna

Madonna is the epitome of an ‘80s star diva. The 1985 Like a Virgin single “Material Girl” is one of her biggest hits. It puts a commercial spin on the tropes of dance and New Wave, and was produced by Nile Rodgers. It became Madonna’s third Top 5 single on the Billboard Hot 100 after it peaked at No. 2.

Photo by John Shearer/WireImage

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