The Billboard Hot 100 has been home to some of the best songs released in the United States, for over six decades. Almost all of the songs featured on the list are English, but on certain memorable occasions, a foreign language song does make its way to the top of the chart. In this article, we share our pick of the best non-English songs that have topped the Billboard Hot 100.
“Sukiyaki” – Kyu Sakamoto (Japanese – June 15, 1963, for Three Weeks)
Sukiyaki is the only song on this list that was written in a non-European language. The song originally titled “Ue o Muite Arukō,” literally translates to I look up as I walk. It was a massive hit in Japan. A weird thing about the song is its name Sukiyaki, which refers to a Japanese beef dish and doesn’t relate to the song in any way.
The handsome Kyu Sakamoto sang the misleadingly-upbeat song (especially if you understand the lyrics) with some panache. The song was meant to paint a sad image of the Japanese protests against the US military occupancy in the 1950s.
“Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)” – Los del Río (English/Spanish – August 3, 1996, For Fourteen Weeks)
Macarena, mixed by the Bayside Boys, topped the Billboard Hot 100 for a good 14 weeks. The original version of the song also made it to the Billboard Hot 100, but its stay was short-lived compared to the mixed version.
The Bayside Boys swapped the Spanish verses with English ones to reach a broader set of audience. Los Del Rio, the duo behind the original song, wrote the song after being inspired by Diana Patricia Cubillán Herrera, the flamenco dancer from Venezuela. However, it isn’t likely that she was performing the same dance at the time, for which the song is now famous.
“Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare)” – Domenico Modugno (Italian – August 18, 1958, For Five Non-Consecutive Weeks)
The Domenico Modugno hit song Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu was a sensation during the late 1950s. Surprisingly, the Italian song reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 during its year of inception. Also known as Volare, the song was the first Italian track to make it into Eurovision, a hugely popular music competition at the time.
In addition to making rounds in Italy and the US, the song also became immensely popular all over the world. It even went on to win the inaugural Grammy for Song of the Year, and to date, remains the only song to do so.
“Dominique” – The Singing Nun (French – December 7, 1963, For Four Weeks)
Dominique was a massive success in 1963, a few months after Sukiyaki. Jeannine Deckers, the Belgian nun with fantastic French, sung the song about Saint Dominic, the founder of the Dominican order, of which she was a part.
A lot of people claim that the song only became a massive hit because radio DJs wanted to play something with pleasing music after President John F. Kennedy got assassinated. After owning a lot of taxes to the Belgian Government, and after going broke, Jeannine tried to release a disco version of the song, which was as big a failure as the original one was a success.
“Rock Me Amadeus” – Falco (English/German – March 29, 1986, For Three Weeks)
Falco’s Rock Me Amadeus was the first song to make it to the Billboard Hot 100 after 23 years. It topped the list for three weeks during 1986. As the name indicates, the song is about the famous composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The singer was trained as classical music during his youth, but he forewent his upbringing to pursue music as a Rockstar. Apart from the Rock Me part, the song is pretty much in the German language. Despite trying hard, Falco was never able to release another song, quite as good as Rock Me Amadeus.
“Despacito” – Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber (English/Spanish – May 27, 2017, For Sixteen Weeks)
After Falco’s song about his rejection of classical music, we had to wait another 21 years to see a foreign language song at the top of the Billboard Hot 100. The wait ended when Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, and Justin Bieber collaborated to make Despacito. The song may have only topped the list for 16 weeks, but it remained a pop sensation throughout the year and the next.
The Puerto Rican version of the song didn’t involve Justin Bieber and hence, was only in Spanish. Daddy Yankee’s Rompe and Gasolina also gained a lot of fame during the time they were released, but they never reached the top spot.
“La Bamba” – Los Lobos (Spanish – August 29, 1987, For Three Weeks)
The song La Bamba dates back a lot further than the 1987 rendition by Los Lobos. Before a chart-topping version was released, it used to be a folk song in Mexico. The first known release of the song dates back to 1938.
Ritchie Valens, 17 years old at the time, turned the song into a rock-and-roll sensation in 1958. It went on to become the first ever Mexican song to hit the US music industry like a wave. However, La Bamba still hadn’t made it to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. It was only in 1987 when Los Lobos released a cover of the original song that La Bamba sat pretty at the top of the list, and held its own for three weeks.