15 vintage songs that topped the charts again over a decade later

Published 8:04 pm Monday, July 11, 2022

ZIK Images/United Archives via Getty Images

15 vintage songs that topped the charts again over a decade later

Music trends over the last several years have one thing in common: a tendency towards nostalgia and an undeniably retro bent, both in music currently being created, as well as through older songs that have been given new life decades later. Throwback sounds have dominated music awards and Billboard charts alike—from Dua Lipa’s record-shattering 2020 track “Levitating” (from her aptly-named album “Future Nostalgia”), to Bruno Mars’ and Anderson .Paak’s duo Silk Sonic’s 2022 Grammy’s sweep.

Songs from the past have also recently returned to the charts, due in large part to the influence of Tik Tok virality. Some in the industry have called Tik Tok “the new MTV,” amplifying the reach of older hits and setting trends using both audio and visual media—so much so that labels have become hyperfocused on marketing their music to the social media giant.

But older songs getting a second (or even third) life on the charts is not exactly a new phenomenon. Besides Tik Tok, other factors, like the death of a musician or the use of a song in a popular film or television show, have renewed attention to hits of the past. David Bowie’s death in 2016, for instance, increased streams of his music on Spotify by 2,822% globally, while Michael Jackson’s posthumous career has included over 16.1 million albums sold and billions of streams. Meanwhile, the meteoric ascent of Kate Bush’s 1985 song “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” after being featured in the fourth season of “Stranger Things” is only the most recent example of a song being catapulted back onto the charts from movies and TV.

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In order to commemorate times when hits from the past became contemporary favorites, Stacker dove into Billboard charts and found 15 songs that cracked the top 50 on the Hot 100 when they were originally released, and resurfaced on one of several major Billboard charts at least a decade later. One exception was made for a song that didn’t originally top Billboard charts but hit #1 on the U.K. singles chart.

Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley perform at microphone

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‘Unchained Melody’ by The Righteous Brothers

– Original release year: 1965
– Comeback year: 1990

Originally written for a small-budget 1955 prison film “Unchained,” three versions of “Unchained Melody” by three different artists landed in the Top 10 songs of ’55. When The Righteous Brothers recorded their authoritative version of the song in 1965, it returned to the top of the charts, reaching #4 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 list.

Over two decades later, “Unchained Melody” reached new prominence when it was featured in the iconic pottery wheel scene of the Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore film “Ghost.” In 1990, the year of the film’s release, the song again found itself on the Billboard Hot 100—the original Righteous Brothers’ recording charting at #13, and the version rerecorded for the film at #19. Other versions of the song have been recorded by artists including Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, She & Him, and Lena Horne.

Ben E. King performs at the Apollo Theater

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‘Stand By Me’ by Ben E. King

– Original release year: 1961
– Comeback year: 1986

Ben E. King’s iconic song was inspired by the spiritual “Stand By Me Father,” written by Sam Cooke and J.W. Alexander. “Stand By Me” rose to the top of the charts upon its release in 1961, claiming the #4 spot on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 list.

Over 20 years later, the song resurfaced on the charts after the Rob Reiner-directed film “Stand By Me” came out in 1986. The film featured Ben E. King’s song on its soundtrack, and borrowed its name—originally, the movie was going to be called “The Body,” the title of the Stephen King story it was based on. After the release of the film, “Stand By Me” hit #9 on the Hot 100.

Studio portrait of The Contours

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‘Do You Love Me’ by The Contours

– Original release year: 1962
– Comeback year: 1987

“Do You Love Me” was written and produced by Motown founder Berry Gordy, but was originally intended for The Temptations. After the group couldn’t be located, the song was recorded by The Contours and became a smash hit. “Do You Love Me” reached #3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 1962.

The song, which references popular dances of the early ’60s like the Mashed Potato and the Twist, was featured decades later in the 1987 film “Dirty Dancing”—it plays as Baby walks into the staff quarters carrying a watermelon and sees everyone dancing. The popularity of the film sent “Do You Love Me” to #11 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The Beatles perform onstage

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‘Twist and Shout’ by The Beatles

– Original release year: 1963
– Comeback year: 1986

Though “Twist and Shout” was not originally written by The Beatles—it was penned by Phil Medley and Bert Berns, and initially recorded by The Top Notes—the Fab Four’s version quickly took the world by storm.

“Twist and Shout” peaked at #2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 1964, but came back in 1986 after being featured in two films that year: the iconic parade scene in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” and Rodney Dangerfield’s comedy “Back to School.” That year, the song returned to the Billboard Hot 100 at #23.

Louis Armstrong with microphone

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‘What a Wonderful World’ by Louis Armstrong

– Original release year: 1967
– Comeback year: 1988

The now-ubiquitous Louis Armstrong classic “What a Wonderful World” didn’t originally get much airplay in the U.S.—Larry Newton, the owner of ABC Records, tried to intervene in its recording and refused to promote it when it was released. In other countries, however, the song was a great success, reaching #1 in the U.K. and parts of Europe.

In 1988, “What a Wonderful World” finally reached American audiences when it was featured in the Robin Williams film “Good Morning, Vietnam.” It peaked at #32 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 that year.

Freddie Mercury and Queen perform live

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‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen

– Original release year: 1975
– Comeback years: 1992, 2018

Queen’s six-minute epic “Bohemian Rhapsody” subverted expectations about what a hit single looked like: a simple three-minute song with a catchy chorus. Radio DJs in the U.K. and the U.S. played the song continuously, which contributed to its popularity. The song reached #9 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and topped the charts in the U.K. in 1975.

In 1992, the opening scene of the Mike Myers film “Wayne’s World” featured a full three minutes of the song—a scene that reportedly had Freddie Mercury’s approval. Coinciding with Freddie Mercury’s death in 1991, the song reentered the U.S. charts and blew past its previous record, peaking at #2. In 2018, “Bohemian Rhapsody” charted for a third time with the release of the award-winning Freddie Mercury biopic of the same name.

Stevie Nicks performing on stage with Fleetwood Mac

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‘Dreams’ by Fleetwood Mac

– Original release year: 1977
– Comeback year: 2020

“Dreams” was written by Stevie Nicks during an infamously tumultuous time for Fleetwood Mac, and was released as a single from their acclaimed 1977 album “Rumours.” The song was an instant hit, reaching #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.

Forty-three years later, the song unexpectedly rose to the top of the charts again after being featured in a viral TikTok. The video showed a man named Nathan Apodaca skateboarding down a highway while drinking cranberry juice and has been viewed 86.3 million times, as of July 2022. The viral video boosted streams of “Dreams” by 88.7% within two days of being posted.

David Bowie performing live

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‘Under Pressure’ by Queen and David Bowie

– Original release year: 1981
– Comeback years: 2018, 2019

Queen and David Bowie joined forces to co-create “Under Pressure” while working on separate projects in the Swiss Alps. Their joint hit song was made using much improvisation, as well as Bowie and Mercury recording separate vocal tracks of how they thought the melody should sound.

“Under Pressure” reached #29 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1981, and remained on the chart for 16 weeks. The song initially returned to the charts in 2016 after Bowie’s death, and for a third time in 2018 after the “Bohemian Rhapsody” film soundtrack bolstered Queen’s greatest hits to the top of the charts.

Michael Jackson performs in concert

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‘Billie Jean’ by Michael Jackson

– Original release year: 1983
– Comeback year: 2009

“Billie Jean” rose to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 after its release in 1983 and helped boost Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album to the top of the charts. The song’s music video was also influential; the appearance of “Billie Jean” on MTV was one of the first times a Black act was featured on the network.

The song reentered the charts in 2009 after Jackson’s death, appearing fourth on the U.S. Billboard Hot Digital Songs chart. It surfaced a third time in 2014, after a viral video of a high schooler dancing to the song brought the song to #14 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Prince performing live

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‘Purple Rain’ by Prince and The Revolution

– Original release year: 1984
– Comeback year: 2016

Originally intended as a country tune for Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac, Prince eventually recorded the iconic “Purple Rain” himself live with his band during a concert in Minneapolis. The song topped the charts at #2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 after its release in 1984. The same year, Prince released his legendary musical film “Purple Rain,” in which he starred. After his unexpected death in 2016, “Purple Rain” again rose to the top of the charts, with his “Purple Rain” soundtrack album claiming the #2 spot on the Billboard Hot 200 Albums chart.

Kennedy William Gordy portrait

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‘Somebody’s Watching Me’ by Rockwell

– Original release year: 1984
– Comeback year: 2021

“Somebody’s Watching Me” featured Rockwell’s family friends Michael and Jermaine Jackson on backup vocals. Rockwell, also known as Kennedy Gordy, was the son of Motown-founder Berry Gordy, but didn’t receive help recording the song from his father, who reportedly wasn’t impressed by the demo. “Somebody’s Watching Me” reached #2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 1984, and #42 in 2021 after a Halloween-themed Tik Tok trend made use of the song.

Michael Jackson performs on stage

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‘Thriller’ by Michael Jackson

– Original release year: 1984
– Comeback years: 2009, 2021

Thanks to its creepy sound effects, zombie-themed music video, and voiceover work from horror film icon Vincent Price, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” has become a Halloween classic and has consistently entered the Billboard Hot 100 in the fall for many years. But when it was first released, the song was one of seven singles from the “Thriller” album to break into the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #4. The album has also become the biggest seller of all time, according to Billboard.

After Jackson’s death in 2009, “Thriller” rose to second place on Billboard’s Digital Song Sales chart. The song reached its highest placement on the Billboard Hot 100 since its original release in 2021, thanks to a Halloween Tik Tok trend that combined “Thriller” with Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me.”

Kate Bush performing ‘Running up that Hill’

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‘Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)’ by Kate Bush

– Original release year: 1985
– Comeback year: 2022

Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” made headlines in June 2022 after its inclusion in the fourth season of the Netflix series “Stranger Things” led to its record-breaking resurgence in the charts.

The synth-pop song peaked at #30 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 when it was originally released on her 1985 “Hounds of Love” album. Thirty-seven years later, the song beat its previous record, coming in at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on Billboard’s Global 200, surprising Bush herself with the level of enthusiasm from both older and younger generations.

Whitney Houston performing live

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‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ by Whitney Houston

– Original release year: 1987
– Comeback year: 2012

Whitney Houston’s iconic dance-pop anthem spent two weeks at the top spot of the Billboard Hot 100 after its release in 1987. The song followed three consecutive hit #1 Billboard Hot 100 singles from her debut album. Following Houston’s death in February 2012, the song returned to the charts, peaking at #25 on the Billboard Hot 100, along with a couple of other former chart-toppers: “I Will Always Love You” and “Greatest Love of All.”

Aly and A.J. perform

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‘Potential Breakup Song’ by Aly & AJ

– Original release year: 2007
– Comeback year: 2020

The Disney-famous sisters Aly & AJ made a name for themselves both acting in film and television, as well as through their music. “Potential Breakup Song” was released in 2007 on their third album “Insomniatic” and peaked at #17 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.

The song, originally released for a Disney-preteen audience, was repopularized in 2020 after going viral on Tik Tok. The sisters released an explicit edit of the song in late 2020, replacing some of the Disney-appropriate language for more mature content, prompting nostalgic and delighted reactions from (now-adult) fans. The song reached #8 on Billboard’s Digital Song Sales chart in 2020.