The Official Top 50 best-selling songs of 1981

Featuring classics by The Human League, Soft Cell, Adam & The Ants and Shakin' Stevens.

1981 was a year of change in British pop. Paul McCartney's band Wings split up, Billy Idol left Generation X to launch a solo career, and Genesis drummer Phil Collins unleashed his first solo album. 

The year saw 20 songs reach Number 1 on the Official Singles Chart, starting with the previous year's Christmas Number 1 There's No-one Quite Like Grandma by the St Winifred's School Choir, and ending with The Human League's Don't You Want Me - a five-week chart-topper (including the Christmas Number 1) and also the best-selling song of the year, with an estimated 1.15 million sales.

As revealed on new Channel 5 series Britain's favourite 80s songs, the top selling song of 1981 differs from previously released versions of the chart, which had Soft Cell's Tainted Love at Number 1, now in second with 1.05m sales. The new chart has been compiled using the very latest Official Charts Company sales information now available for the 1980s period.

MORE: The Official Top 50 best-selling songs of 1980

Don't You Want Me was The Human League's first and only UK Number 1, and one of their 17 UK Top 40 singles. The track also reached the summit in the US, where it stayed for three weeks. The track was co-written by frontman Philip Oakey, who was inspired by a story he saw in a teen magazine. 

1981 was a successful year for Adam & The Ants; the London new wave rock band land four entries in the year's Top 50 best-sellers, leading with chart-toppers Stand & Deliver at 3 (975k) and Prince Charming at 4 (750k). The songs spent a combined nine weeks at Number 1 on the Official Singles Chart, while the band's album Prince Charming topped out at Number 2.  

Shakin' Stevens also enjoyed a string of hits in 1981; with This Ole House (5, 740k), You Drive Me Crazy (11) and Green Door (20) all landing in the Top 20 best-sellers of the year.

Elsewhere in the year-end Top 50, Bucks Fizz finish in eighth with their Number 1 debut single and Eurovision-winner Making Your Mind Up, while novelty hit The Birdie Song - a Number 2 hit in October - rounds out the Top 10. 

Official Top 50 best-selling singles of 1981

1 Don’t You Want Me Human League 1
2 Tainted Love Soft Cell 1
3 Stand & Deliver Adam & The Ants 1
4 Prince Charming Adam & The Ants 1
5 This Ole House Shakin' Stevens 1
6 Vienna Ultravox 2
7 One Day In Your Life Michael Jackson 1
8 Making Your Mind Up Bucks Fizz 1
9 Shaddup You Face Joe Dolce Music Theatre 1
10 Birdie Song Tweets 2
11 You Drive Me Crazy Shakin' Stevens 2
12 Ghost Town Specials 1
13 It's My Party Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin 1
14 Being With You Smokey Robinson 1
15 Happy Birthday Altered Images 2
16 Hands Up (Give Me Your Heart) Ottawan 3
17 Woman John Lennon 1
18 Stars On 45 Star Sound 2
19 Begin The Beguine Julio Iglesias 1
20 Green Door Shakin Stevens 1
21 Imagine John Lennon 1
22 Jealous Guy Roxy Music 1
23 Kids In America Kim Wilde 2
24 Japanese Boy Aneka 1
25 Daddy's Home Cliff Richard 2
26 Chi Mai (Lloyd George TV theme) Ennio Morricone 2
27 Hooked On Classics Royal Philharmonic Orchestra 2
28 Souvenir OMD 3
29 Can Can Bad Manners 3
30 Antmusic Adam & The Ants 2
31 Do The Hucklebuck Coast To Coast 5
32 Hold On Tight ELO 4
33 More Than In Love Kate Robbins And Beyond 2
34 Love Action (I Believe In Love) Human League 3
35 Body Talk Imagination 4
36 Stars On 45 (Vol 2) Star Sound 2
37 Lately Stevie Wonder 3
38 In the Air Tonight Phil Collins 2
39 Under Pressure Queen & David Bowie 1
40 Going Back To My Roots Odyssey 4
41 Under Your Thumb Godley & Crème 3
42 Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic Police 1
43 Happy Birthday Stevie Wonder 2
44 Kings Of The Wild Frontier Adam & The Ants 2
45 I Surrender Rainbow 3
46 Pretend Alvin Stardust 4
47 How 'Bout Us Champaign 5
48 Endless Love Diana Ross & Lionel Richie 7
49 Four From Toyah (EP) Toyah 4
50 Let's Groove Earth Wind & Fire 3

©2021 Official Charts Company. All rights reserved.

Please note, this chart may differ from previously published charts as it is compiled using the very latest Official Charts Company sales information now available for the 1980s period. Read more on how the Official Charts were compiled back in the 1980s here.