A Brief History of R&B and the Most Popular R&B Songs of all time

Rhythm and blues (R&B) were a new style of music that emerged in the post WW-II era. With a country looking for something smoother on the ears and more soulful, musicians set out to combine electric blues, rock and roll, and soul music. While the first R&B songs date back to the 1950s, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the genre became fully accepted as a blanket term. Whether you love Ray Charles or Mariah Carey, we’ve got the list of the top-selling R&B songs of all time.

1950 to 1969

From 1950 to 1969, the music world was rocked by the soothing sounds of Joe Morris, Roy Brown, and Dinah Washington. Even though these artists still ring in ours, they weren’t the top sellers of the era.

The top 20 singles, by year, were:

  • 1950 – “Pink Champagne” by Joe Liggins
  • 1951 – “Six Minute Man” by Dominoes
  • 1952 – “Lawdy, Miss Clawdy” by Lloyd Price
  • 1953 – “He Treats Your Daughter Mean” by Ruth Brown
  • 1954 – “Work With Me, Annie” by Midmighters
  • 1955 – “Pledging My Love” by Johnny Ace
  • 1956 – “Honky Tonk” by Bill Doggett
  • 1957 – “Jailhouse Rock” by Elvis Presley
  • 1958 – “What Am I Living For” by Chuck Willis
  • 1959 – “Stagger Lee” by Lloyed Price
  • 1960 – “Kiddio” by Brook Benton
  • 1961 – “Tossin’ and Turnin” by Bobby Lewis
  • 1962 – “Soul Twist” by King Curtis
  • 1963 – “Part Time Love” by Little Johnny Taylor
  • 1964 – No R&B charts published.
  • 1965 – “I Can’t Help Myself” by Four Tops
  • 1966 – “Hold On! I’m Comin’” by Sam & Dave
  • 1967 – “Respect” by Aretha Franklin
  • 1968 – “Say it Loud” by James Brown
  • 1969 – “What Does it Take to Win Your Love” by Jr. Walker & the All Stars

1970 to 1989

By the second phase of R&B, we were introduced to the stylings of The Jackson 5, Diana Ross & the Supremes, and Stevie Wonder. Even today, this era of R&B music is considered one of the greatest.

The top selling singles for these years were:

  • 1970 – “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours” by Stevie Wonder
  • 1971 – “Spanish Harlem” by Aretha Franklin
  • 1972 – “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers
  • 1973 – “If You’re Ready, Come Go With Me” by The Staple Singers
  • 1974 – “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston
  • 1975 – “Happy People” by The Temptations
  • 1976 – “Disco Lady” by Johnnie Taylor
  • 1977 – “Serpentine Fire” by Earth, Wind, & Fire
  • 1978 – “One Nation Under a Groove” by Funkadelic
  • 1979 – “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” – Michael Jackson
  • 1980 – “And the Beat Goes On” by Whispers
  • 1981 – “Celebration” by Cool and the Gang
  • 1982 – “Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye
  • 1983 – “All Night Long” by Lionel Richie
  • 1984 – “When Doves Cry” by Prince
  • 1985 – “Part-Time Lover” by Stevie Wonder
  • 1986 – “Tasty Love” by Freddie Jackson
  • 1987 – “Bad” by Michael Jackson
  • 1988 – “Nice and Slow” by Freddie Jackson
  • 1989 – “Here and Now” by Luther Vandross

1990 to Present

During the 90s and into the present day, R&B has taken on a more hip-hop style. Artists including Toni Braxton, Brandi, and Usher have all be labeled as R&B. Their sounds are different from those of earlier years but are still loved just the same.

The top selling singles for these years were:

  • 1990 – “Giving You the Benefit” by Pebbles
  • 1991 – “Running Back to You” by Vanessa Williams
  • 1992 – “End of the Road” by Boyz II Men
  • 1993 – “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston
  • 1994 – “Bump n’ Grind” by R. Kelly
  • 1995 – “This is How we Do It” by Montell Jordan
  • 1996 – “No Diggity” – Blackstreet Featuring Dr. Dre
  • 1997 – “You Make Me Wanna” by Usher
  • 1998 – “The Boy is Mine” by Brandy and Monica
  • 1999 – “Bills, Bills, Bills” by Destiny’s Child
  • 2000 – “I Wish” by Carl Thomas
  • 2001 – “U Got it Bad” by Usher
  • 2002 – “Foolish” by Ashanti
  • 2003 – “Frontin’” by Pharrell Featuring Jay-Z
  • 2004 – “Drop It Like It’s Hot” by Snoop Dogg Featuring Pharrell
  • 2005 – “Let Me Love You” by Mario
  • 2006 – “Be Without You” by Mary J. Blige
  • 2007 – “Lost Without U” by Robin Thicke
  • 2008 – “Single Ladies” by Beyonce
  • 2009 – “Blame It” by Jamie Foxx Featuring T-Pain
  • 2010 – “Unthinkable” by Alicia Keys
  • 2011 – “Sure Thing” by Miguel
  • 2012 – “Diamonds” by Rihanna
  • 2013 – “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
  • 2014 – “Happy” by Pharrell Williams
  • 2015 – “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa

We don’t know where R&B will evolve next, but one thing is for sure – R&B is the music of a lifetime, and it’s the kind of tunes that appeal to the masses, unlike any other genre.