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Top 40 Pop Artists of All Time

The Essential Recording Artists to Know


Any serious pop music collection begins here. These are the 40 most essential pop music artists to know. The list is based on commercial success as well as quality and timelessness of the artist's music. Suggested tracks are included to get you started. These performers are the bedrock of popular music.

40. Everly Brothers

Courtesy Warner Bros.

The Everly Brothers, Don and Phil, are one of the most successful duos ever on the pop charts. They demonstrated a connection between country music and rock and roll. Their vocal harmonies had a very strong influence on pop and rock music to come particularly the Beach Boys, Beatles, and Simon and Garfunkel.

Essential Songs

  • "Wake Up Little Susie"
  • "Bye Bye Love"
  • "Cathy's Clown"
  • "All I Have to Do Is Dream"
  • "Bird Dog"

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39. Barry Manilow

Barry Manilow - This One's For You
Courtesy Arista Records

Barry Manilow is perhaps the ultimate pop music showman. It is no surprise that he has now become one of the top Las Vegas entertainers of all time. Those who look for pop music to be high art frequently deride the simple melody and musical drama of Barry Manilow's top hits. However, he has earned a strong, hardcore following of fans and vocal respect from his entertainment peers.

Essential Songs

  • "I Write the Songs"
  • "Weekend in New England"
  • "Mandy"
  • "Copacabana (At the Copa)"
  • "Can't Smile Without You"

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38. Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke - Best of Sam Cooke
Courtesy RCA

Although he died tragically at the age of 33, Sam Cooke left a tremendous legacy from his few years as a top pop and soul performer. Many give credit to Cooke for being a pioneer and founder of what became known as soul music when he moved from the gospel world to a focus on popular music. Sam Cooke was also a pioneer among black performers on the business end of music. He formed his own record label and music publishing company. He also became a music leader in the American civil rights movement lending it one of his most stirring songs, "A Change Is Gonna Come," as an anthem.

Essential Songs

  • "You Send Me"
  • "Wonderful World"
  • "A Change Is Gonna Come"
  • "Chain Gang"
  • "Twistin' the Night Away"

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37. Pet Shop Boys

Pet Shop Boys - Actually
Courtesy Capitol Records

The Pet Shop Boys wrap erudite irony and romance in lush electronic keyboard textures topped by often deadpan vocals to create their own unique corner of the pop music world. They are one of the top five dance-pop artists of all time and are electro-pop pioneers. Vocalist and songwriter Neil Tennant has come out publicly and the Pet Shop Boys' music regularly addresses and celebrates gay culture.

Essential Songs

  • "West End Girls"
  • "Being Boring"
  • "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" with Dusty Springfield
  • "It's a Sin"
  • "Left To My Own Devices"

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36. Beyonce

Beyonce - Dangerously In Love
Courtesy Columbia Records

Beyonce Knowles first made her appearance on the pop music scene as part of the trio Destiny's Child. They landed nine top 3 singles including four that went all the way to #1. Since venturing out on her own as a solo artist Beyonce has landed in the top 3 seven more times including four more #1's. Yet, there is a sense that, at the age of 28, she is really just getting started. Beyonce has established herself firmly as a top level singer, dancer, and actor.

Essential Songs

  • "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)"
  • "Irreplaceable"
  • "Crazy In Love"
  • "If I Were a Boy"
  • "Naughty Girl"

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35. Simon and Garfunkel

Simon and Garfunkel - Bookends
Courtesy RCA

Songwriting, vocal harmonies and the sometimes otherworldly clarity of Art Garfunkel's upper registers are hallmarks of one of the top pop duos of all time. There is a sense that pop folk reaches its epitome in the lyrically complex songs Simon and Garfunkel recorded in the late 60's. It seemed that personal difficulties pulled this duo apart far too early, but the recorded legacy is a rich one.

Essential Songs

  • "The Sounds of Silence"
  • "Mrs. Robinson"
  • "Bridge Over Troubled Water"
  • "The Boxer"
  • "I Am a Rock"

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34. Dusty Springfield

Dusty Springfield - Dusty in Memphis
Courtesy Atlantic Records

Dusty Springfield is arguably the greatest blue-eyed soul singer of all time. She brought the sounds of American R&B to the UK and influenced a generation of singers there. Her album Dusty in Memphis is legendary. Dusty Springfield died in 1999 at the age of 59 from breast cancer.

Essential Songs

  • "Son-of-a Preacher Man"
  • "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me"
  • "I Only Want to Be With You"
  • "Wishin' and Hopin'"
  • "Silver Threads and Golden Needles"

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33. The Carpenters

The Carpenters - Close to You
Courtesy A&M

The Carpenters bucked the popularity of rock, heavy metal, and glam in the early 1970's to present a seemingly light, gentle style of pop music that became exceedingly popular. Listening to these songs again Karen Carpenter's voice stands out as one of the more unique instruments in the history of pop music. There is an undercurrent of melancholy present even in the happiest of songs. Karen Carpenter passed away as a victim of anorexia nervosa in 1983 at the age of 32.

Essential Songs

  • "(They Long To Be) Close to You"
  • "We've Only Just Begun"
  • "Superstar"
  • "Top of the World"
  • "For All We Know"

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32. Donna Summer

Donna Summer - Live and More
Courtesy Casablanca

Donna Summer earned the title of undisputed queen of disco when disco was at its dizzying peak on the pop charts. Partnering with Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, she also created some of the most forward looking dance music in classics like "I Feel Love" and "Hot Stuff." Her classic hits remain highly influential to this day. Although her impact on the pop music charts has faded, Donna Summer most recently hit #1 on the dance chart in 2008.

Essential Songs

  • "Hot Stuff"
  • "I Feel Love"
  • "Love to Love You Baby"
  • "MacArthur Park"
  • "Last Dance"

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31. Robbie Williams

Robbie Williams - Sing When You're Winning
Courtesy EMI

Robbie Williams is perhaps the most successful international pop superstar to never reach the pop top 40 in the US. As a member of the boy band Take That he took part in recording 12 top 10 UK pop singles including seven #1's. As a solo artist Robbie Williams has gone back to the top 10 an astounding 26 more times including six more #1's. At the 2005 Brit Awards his song "Angels" was named as the top song in British music over the past 25 years.

Essential Songs

  • "Angels"
  • "Millenium"
  • "Feel"
  • "Rock DJ"
  • "Let Me Entertain You"

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