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.

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Philip King


Great tunes in this list, I know every single one of them with my all time fave acts Toyah and Adam and the Ants in there. Good days and good memories. :)
I remember at #1...great track...though I wanted Prince Charming to be #1 but it entered at #2. However it got to #1 the following Week. :D
Waiting for the charts was the highlight of the Week I was glued to the radio back in these days lol.


David Oppedisano


It is widely known that "Don't You Want Me" outranks "" when the latter's January/February 1982 sales are taken into consideration, but there is no way that it generated as much in sales in its initial four-week December 1981 chart run as did "" in its 16 weeks (Aug–Nov '81), regardless of "the very latest Official Charts Company sales information now available".

I do prefer a year-end chart that takes into consideration complete chart runs (going forward into the next year and backward into the previous year), but there's no drama in a year-end Top 100 that emerges in February or March, two or three months after New Year.

If you do include late-1980 and early-1982 statistics for singles that spent most of their chart run in 1981, you get the following Top Ten, with Adam and the Ants placing three in the top six. A 1981-calendar-year chart denies the huge 1981 hit "Ant Music" its four-plus December 1980 chart weeks (including two in the Top Ten), thus relegating it to a relatively unsexy year-end position of 30:

1. Don't You Want Me
3. Stand and Deliver
4. Imagine
5. Ant Music
6. Prince Charming
7. This Ole House
8. Vienna
9. One Day in Your Life
10. Making Your Mind Up

Also of interest would be a chart that takes into consideration album sales which are (near-undoubtedly) generated by a single whose chart run coincides with its parent album's chart run. "In the Air Tonight", "Vienna" and certain Ants singles possibly all would improve their positions.




I always thought, was the biggest seller OF 1981, while Don't You Want Me was the biggest seller released IN 1981. Both million sellers.
I think this chart is now the a "best selling records that hit in 1981" chart rather than OF 1981, which would have been available at the time.


ian moore


incorrect year for my previous coment


Lee Moore


Are the sales for 1981 or for singles that were released in 1981




Shaky with 3 in the top 20, Adam Ant with 4 in the top 50 and 2 of the top 5. John Lennon just misses out of 2 in the top 20.


Richard M White


And yet Abba's One Of Us, number 3 at Christmas 1981, which reportedly sold around 400,000 copies, and is in the year end Top 40 of other lists I've seen is nowhere to be found. Can you explain the discrepancy?


Mark Wislen


'One Of Us' ended up with a UK Gold Disk, for 500,000+ Sales. it is surprising that it is not in The OCC's Top 50 of 1981. Most of its UK Sales were in that Year, and the rest in 1982.


Richard M White


It should be for reasons I've listed above


Edward D


It looks like most of the Christmas '81 hits performed poorly - with the exception of "Don't You Want Me". Cliff spent 4 weeks at no.2 in Dec but "Daddy's Home" is only no.25 and Julio's Nov no.1 is only no.19 for the year. Given a normal Christmas "push", you might have expected both to finish in the year-end Top 10.
The gold disc indicates "One Of Us" shipped 500,000 but may not have sold that many.
Still, we can only guess as to how and why OCC came up with this. If they don't respond directly we'll never be sure. It would be great to hear about some of the sources OCC have used to "revise" these charts.