Nailing down sales figures for singles is a bit of a treasure hunt because different sources calculate sales in a variety of ways. The Recording Industry Association of America certifies gold, platinum and multi-platinum sales -- but only for a fee. Active since 1940, "Billboard" magazine first listed sales and airplay separately, before combining the two in 1958 in its Hot 100 singles chart. While generally regarded as a key indicator, the Hot 100's lifespan excludes one of the biggest sellers.
"White Christmas" -- Bing Crosby
Looking to Billboard's Hot 100 won't show "White Christmas," though the seasonal favorite did appear annually in the magazine's charts between its 1942 release and 1963, when it finally left the Hot 100. Record sales for the Irving Berlin-penned song are estimated around 50 million copies worldwide. A figure of 125 million is frequently quoted, but this is likely for all recorded versions, not just Crosby's original.
"Candle In the Wind 97" -- Elton John
Performed at the funeral of Britain's Princess Diana and recorded later by Beatles' producer Sir George Martin, this is a reworking of John's 1973 song from the "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" album. Proceeds from the single were directed to the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. The only near-challenger to "White Christmas," worldwide sales are estimated at 33 million copies. Some accounts place it ahead of the Crosby carol, but the nature of estimated sales make it difficult to confirm.
"I Gotta Feelin'" -- The Black Eyed Peas
Digital single sales account for the bulk of sales of the Black Eyed Peas hit. At 8,517,000 downloads, the Peas were the first group to cross the 7 million digital sales milestone. The song scored a rare Hot 100 occurrence when it replaced "Boom Boom Pow" in the No, 1 spot, making the Black Eyed Peas only the ninth act to succeed itself.
"Rolling in the Deep" -- Adele
Adele also topped 8 million in digital singles sales with her breakup song, written in three hours the day after the event. Though she was leaning toward an introspective ballad approach, her producer nudged her toward the edgy, angry song that was ultimately released. The song was part of Adele's "21" album, which was the first album to lead the sales charts in two consecutive years since Neilsen Soundscan began tracking sales in 1991.
"We Are the World" -- USA for Africa
Certified four times platinum by the RIAA, this charity single followed Bob Geldof's Band Aid effort with the song, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" Sales for the star-studded effort are estimated near the 8 million mark through physical single sales since the 1985 song pre-dated the digital era. The song was recorded on the night of the American Music Awards to catch the high-profile artists in a single place.
- Recording Industry Association of America: How to Certify
- Billboard Magazine: Hot 100 55th Anniversary -- The All-Time Top 100 Songs
- The Guardian: Cash Tills in the Snow
- Songfacts: Candle in the Wind
- The Telegraph: 60th Anniversary of the Charts -- 30 Best-Selling Singles
- Yahoo Music: Chart Watch -- John Legend Wins a Squeaker
- Songfacts: I Gotta Feelin'
- Songfacts: Rolling in the Deep
- In the 80s: Performers From USA for Africa's "We Are the World"
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