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Top 135 Best R&B Songs of All Time

Ever since the 1930 and 40s, Rhythm and Blues music, or R&B, has grown in popularity and stature. R&B has maintained a presence in the charts of world music for decades and probably will for decades to come.

Formerly described as “Race Music” by labels and radio stations, R&B music was the amalgamation of Jump Blues, Big Band Swing, Gospel, Boogie, Southern Blues, and Gospel.

It is a wide genre…

In the more standard form of R&B music, we find artists like Usher, The Temptations, and Timberlake. Among the R&B-influenced and innovative styles are Sheeran, Michael Jackson, and Gaga. 

Whatever form it takes, R&B has planted a flag in our consciousness, and it’s here to stay. So, let’s take a look at some of the best R&B songs of all time. These tracks are from across the decades and are in no particular order or ranking. 

Best R&B Songs of All Time


Top 135 Best R&B Songs of All Time

1 Adorn by Miguel

Album: Kaleidoscope Dream

Inspired by his girlfriend and a series of dreams that he had, Miguel penned the opening track from his debut album. Musically, the track doesn’t use traditional R&B sounds and samples. But this shows a healthy hunger for experimentation and the need to make something that sounds original.  

Amidst the obscure-soundings synths, funny echoes, and ominous howls, a sub-bass kick gives it structure. Inside the dark and open space of the backtrack, Miguel sings about love and sex and many of the things in between. 

“Adorn” earned three Grammy nominations and ended up winning Best R&B song. It remains his most successful single to date.

2 Killing Me Softly With His Song by The Fugees

Album: The Score

The Fugees’ cover of this 1970s Roberta Flack tune became so popular that their label decided to “delete” it from the catalog so retailers could no longer stock it. This was done to draw attention to their next single. 

“Killing Me Softly” is one of the most influential R&B songs in history, and its place amongst the greats was solidified almost immediately after its release. If anyone’s doing any killing, it’s these lovely ladies with their voices. 

The track became a #1 hit in over twenty countries and was the most popular single of the year in the United Kingdom. It remains one of the best-selling singles ever in the UK. The single has been certified platinum in both the US and the UK. 

3 Never Leave You (Uh Ooh, Uh Ooh) by Lumidee 

Album: Almost Famous

The breakout single for Lumidee was praised for its unique use of the Diwali Riddim, which was becoming very prominent in Pop tunes at the time. It has since become one of the most used rhythms of the 20th century. 

Elegant simplicity at its best, with nothing but that Marsden beat and that beautiful vocal. The track was later remixed to include contributions by Busta Rhymes and Fabolous. 

“Never Leave You” peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also became a chart-topper in many other countries outside the US. The single was featured in the 2004 film “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen” starring Lindsay Lohan.

4 At Last by Etta James 

Album: At Last!

Etta’s interpretation of Mark Gordon and Harry Warren’s 1941 tune became her signature song. It etched her name into the halls of musical history forever. The track was originally written for the musical film, “Sun Valley Serenade.” 

“At Last” is one of the most requested songs at weddings and has been inducted into the Library of Congress National Recording Industry. The track was Etta’s second #2 on the R&B charts. And it eventually reached #47 on The Billboard Hot 100. 

Following the singer’s passing in 2012, the song once again managed to get onto the charts and even went all the way to the Top 40. As a result, it remains one of the most popular R&B songs ever.

5 The Bottle by Gill Scott Heron and Brian Jackson 

Album: Winter In America

classic R&B song from the 70s, if ever there was one. This wonderfully danceable tune is a harsh look at the realities of alcohol abuse, incarceration, and drug addiction. The song was inspired by seeing people line up outside of a liquor store to make their daily purchases. 

“The Bottle” features a gorgeous flute solo by Brian Jackson, which helped it to become the stand-out track on the album. The song became an underground hit for the duo. It reached #15 on the R&B charts and helped them to secure a future recording contract. 

6 (No One Knows Me) Like The Piano by Sampha

Album: Process

This bare and emotional piano ballad comes straight from the heart. Sampha sings about an old piano that his father bought for him when he was three. The piano quickly became his favorite thing in the world.

Sampha returned to his childhood home in 2014 to take care of his mother, who was suffering from cancer. She passed away a few months after this, and he sings about her death in the second verse. This is simple and powerful, like many of the best R&B songs of all time. 

7 My Boo by Ghost Town DJs

Album: My Boo

As far as sleeper hits go, “My Boo” will rank as one of the most remarkable in history. Originally, this drum machine-driven serenade was released as a single in 1996. While the original performance wasn’t bad, the peak was #31 on the Hot 100.

The song features early vocal sounds from Virgo Williams and sounds like the decade it’s from. Despite this, it received new life in 2016 thanks to the “running man challenge.” It re-entered the Billboard Hot 100 and attained a new peak of #27. And it went to #3 in New Zealand. 

8 Bump ‘n Grind by R. Kelly

Album: 12 Play 

The second single from Kelly’s debut album will go down as one of his best. The mix is simple slow bedroom beats with a synth as sexy as can be. And Kelly’s satin voice singing those unapologetic lyrics. It’s sleazy as hell, but you know you like it. 

“Bump ‘n Grind” spent twelve weeks at the top of the R&B Singles chart. It also peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Kelly’s third #1 R&B song. 

It was the longest-running #1 in 1994 and was at the time the longest-running #1 ever. The single has been certified platinum in the UK and US. 

9 You’re Makin’ Me High by Toni Braxton

Album: Secrets

Braxton’s platinum-selling single from her second album is a wonderous mix of sonic ingredients. Crisp drum beats with subtle but thick bass for the low end. Sprinkled over this are some gorgeous acoustic guitar licks and a hypnotic hook-line from a Moog. 

Simply add Braxton’s exquisite vocal, and you’ve got a great R&B song. The track was written and produced by Grammy Award-winning Babyface and Bryce Wilson.

“You’re Makin’ Me High” was Toni’s first #1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts. The track also landed the singer her third Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Performance. 

10 Climax by Usher

Album: Looking 4 Myself

That Usher should appear multiple times on a list of the best R&B songs of all time shouldn’t surprise you. What might baffle you, though, is why of all his great songs, I chose “Climax.” 

“Climax” represents a creative shot in the dark. This was musical ground that the singer had not explored before, and it paid off. The minimalist production was unusual for the co-writer and producer of the track, Diplo. The climax features a gorgeous string arrangement by Nico Muhly.

“Climax” became Usher’s twelfth #1 on the Hot R&B Tracks chart and went on to peak at #17 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also earned him a Grammy for Best R&B Performance. 

11 Untitled (How Does It Feel) by D’Angelo

Album: Voodoo

A strung-together collection of sultry come-ons, “Untitled” manages to cross the “Trying Too Hard” border into the realm of an R&B classic. 

Originally, the track was a tribute to the legendary Prince. It retained some of this original flavor in the production, which does sound a lot like the early Prince records. 

Thanks to the saucy music video, “Untitled” helped expose D’Angelo to a world of new fans. The single peaked at #2 on the Hot R&B Songs chart and earned the singer a Grammy for Best Male R&B Performance.

12 Cranes in the Sky by Solange

Album: A Seat At The Table

Written by Solange and producer Raphael Saadiq, “Cranes in the Sky” expresses the inability to address the elephant in the room. 

The track was inspired by all the cranes that dominated the skyline in a quiet American town. “All this excessive building” was not “really dealing with what was in front of us.”

“Cranes In The Sky” earned a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance. 

13 Waterfalls by TLC

Album: CrazySexyCool

The million-dollar music video for “Waterfalls” helped make TLC the first African-American group to win the MTV Video of The Year Award. 

The song addresses the harsh realities of the drug trade, social inequality, and, most notably, the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The track’s blatant acknowledgment of these issues was, for many, the first dose of hard reality they’d had in a while. 

“Waterfalls” is the group’s biggest single to date. It became a chart-topper in many countries and was TLC’s second #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, where it stayed for seven weeks. 

14 What’s My Name by Rihanna (feat. Drake)

Album: Loud

What else can you expect from two A-Listers teaming up but one hell of an R&B Tune? This electronic-influenced R&B track is nothing but layers of sexy piled on top of one another. The result was a track so infectious you can’t help but answer when Rihana asks, “Oh Na Na What’s My Name?” 

The second single from Rihana’s Loud album topped the US Billboard Hot 100, becoming her eight-track to do so. The single earned a Grammy Nomination for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.

15 Freak Like Me by Adina Howard

Album: Do You Wanna Ride?

Adina’s breakthrough single is carried along on a classic G-Funk beat. And don’t we just love it? Sure, she’s tried her hand at out-sexing herself on other releases, but nothing will ever come close to “Freak Like Me.” 

The platinum-selling single topped the US Rhythmic chart and made it to #2 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts. The track has been covered by multiple artists. Most notably, Sugarbabes, who had a #1 hit with their cover of “Freak Like Me.” 

16 Never Too Much by Luther Vandross

Album: Never Too Much

Yes, it’s from the 80s, and it sounds like it’s from the 80s. And yes, it will continue to be played at every single wedding hosted by R&B fans around the world forever. 

The debut single from Vandross is one of the most enduring R&B songs in history. Written, arranged, and produced by the artist, “Never Too Much” is a track that can’t help but make you feel a bit better on a down day. 

Vandross earned two Grammy nominations and two #1’s with “Never Too Much.” Since its release, it has not left the global music conscience. 

17 Midnight Train To Georgia by Gladys Knight and The Pips

Album: Imagination

Originally written and recorded by Mississippi Quarterback turned songwriter Jim Weatherly, this classic track blew Gladis and the Pips into the minds of fans everywhere in the 70s. 

The single became the group’s first #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. And it won a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance By a Duo, Group, or Chorus.

It has since become synonymous with Knight and the R&B genre. Consequently, it will forever have a place on R&B playlists around the world. 

18 Love TKO by Teddy Pendergrass

Album: TP: Extended Edition

Some say that nothing is more painful than loving someone who doesn’t love you back. Teddy’s reworking of David Oliver’s 1980s Soul track is one of the best expressions of this very feeling. 

The lyrics to this song will inspire pain in any heart when sung by Pendergrass. Likewise, the lyrics hit home and hit home hard. Proof of this can be seen in the #2 spot that the track attained on the R&B charts. 

19 Milkshake by Kelis 

Album: Tasty

A metaphoric R&B anthem about “something that makes women special.” But let’s not beat about the bush regarding semantics. What we know is that when this track dropped, it dominated the airwaves. 

“Milkshake” is a platinum-seller and remains Kelis’ highest charting single to date, peaking at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was also a Top 10 hit in about ten other countries and was nominated for a Grammy. 

20 This is How We Do It by Montell Jordan

Album: This Is How We Do It

Something interesting about this R&B classic is that it is the first official single to be issued by Def Jam Recordings. 

This could not be more perfect, as this track can be viewed as the definitive Hip-Hop song of its era. When the first bars of this well known R&B song come over the speakers, you are immediately transported to the mid-90s. 

The single reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It displaced megastar Madonna’s “Take A Bow” while simultaneously making R&B and Hip-Hop history. 

21 Any Time Any Place by Janet Jackson

Album: Janet

The influence in both the lyrics and musical style of this hit from Janet’s fifth studio album speaks of a love for performers like Marvin Gaye and Barry White. 

This soulful R&B song will make you want to be held, even if it is by a fat guy that works at the supermarket. There’s some beautiful saxophone mingled with simple finger claps for a backdrop that perfectly suits the lyrics. 

The single reached the top of the R&B chart and peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It has remained a staple of her tours ever since its release.

22 All Night by Beyonce 

Album: Lemonade

How many songs about dealing with infidelity can you do right? Then again, she’s so damn good at almost everything she gets her hands on that there’s no faulting her work. Especially not this monster hit from her second visual album. 

If you haven’t watched the accompanying short film, stop reading this and do yourself a favor. “All Night” has been certified platinum in the US.

23 Poison by Bell Biv Davoe

Album: Poison

The group’s first and most successful single to date came to fame when featured in the hit 2001 comedy film, “Pootie Tang.” The song’s writer and producer, “Dr. Freeze,” wrote the lyrics as a love letter to a girlfriend. But he ended up giving it to Bel Biv Davoe. 

Poison peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks straight. The track’s music video became a summer staple on MTV and became one of the most-played songs of the year. “Poison” has been certified platinum in the US.

24 Bootylicious by Destiny’s Child

Album: Survivor

Of course, the first use of the term “bootylicious” by a big name should probably go to Snoop in “Dre Day.” But, the second single from the now disbanded trio’s third album is what ended up getting the word into the Oxford English Dictionary. 

“Bootylicious” became the group’s third #1 in the US. It also made it into the Top 5 in several other countries. It has been certified platinum in Australia, the US, and the UK.

25 The Boy Is Mine by Brandy and Monica

Album: Never Say Never

Any publicity is good publicity. And that’s something that these wonderful singers are fully aware of. Using Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney’s 1982 hit “The Girl Is Mine” as inspiration, the two singers created this brilliant track. 

This was while there was widespread media fire about a “rivalry” between the two performers. No doubt that helped fuel the success of the song. It ended up becoming the best-selling single of the year, with more than 2.5 million units sold. 

“The Boy is Mine” earned the two performers a Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group.

26 Emotions by Mariah Carey 

Album: Emotions

Few songs illustrate Mariah’s powerful voice better than the title track from her second studio album. The track carries a heavy Gospel influence which is something Mariah never shied away from in her music. 

“Emotions” topped the Billboard Hot 100 for three consecutive weeks, becoming Carey’s fifth #1 in a row. She remains the first and only artist to top the chart with their first five singles consecutively. The track earned a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. 

27 Fantasy Bad Boy Remix by Mariah Carey (feat. ODB)

Album: Fantasy EP

As one of the biggest R&B stars in history, she’s going to have more than one entry on a list of the best R&B songs of all time. So, why not put them back to back?

The original version of this monster hit from the fifth album is a great track. However, the remix version also holds importance.

It is often credited with beginning the trend of R&B and Rap collaboration which has now become a staple of chart-topping hits. Not only a hitmaker but a trendsetter. 

28 Doo Wop (That Thing) by Lauryn Hill

Album: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

“Doo Wop” is the tenth song in history to debut at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Hill wrote, produced, and performed this mega-hit, and it paid off big time. 

The singer not only got two Grammy’s for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song but also earned four MTV music awards, including Best Video. 

This multi-platinum track will forever hold a special place in the hearts of fans, albeit the only big hit she ever made. 

29 I’ll Take You There by The Staple Singers

Album: Be Altitude: Respect Yourself

If you want a “call and response” tune with plenty of power and soul, look no further than this fantastic feel-good track. While it is not credited to the original single, the track made use of the 1969 reggae hit “The Liquidator.” 

Considering that such a massive R&B hit song contains nothing more than two chords, it makes you wonder at the talent of the performers that much more. The single topped the R&B Singles and the Billboard Hot 100 charts. 

30 How Will I Know by Whitney Houston

Album: Whitney Houston 

After Janet Jackson passed on this ballad, it was chosen for Whitney’s eponymous debut album. I’m quite sure that a pang of regret hit Jackson’s spine the moment she heard the recording, even if it was just for a few moments. 

The single became Houston’s second #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, where it stayed for two straight weeks. It was also a Top 10 hit in Australia, Sweden, Ireland, Norway, and the United Kingdom. 

31 Can’t Feel My Face by The Weeknd

Album: Beauty Behind The Madness

“Can’t Feel My Face” is a synthesizer-drenched, upbeat nu-disco R&B track. With so much “Pow,” you’re almost taken aback when you hear it on headphones for the first time. 

Fans of Michael Jackson will know about The Weeknd. And they will probably agree that this song brings up memories of the late great King of Pop’s 80s hits. 

The track became #1 in both the US and Canada, and The Weeknd picked up two Grammy nominations for Record of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance. It was also #1 in Mexico, New Zealand, Denmark, Ireland, and South Africa.

32 Candy by Cameo

Album: Word Up!

I’m pretty sure that someone, somewhere, is doing the “candy dance” in an R&B club right now. Whether alcohol is involved is as not as certain.

Say what you like about the 80’s production and that poppy-sounding drum machine; this track inspires flashmobs of dancers to this very day. And we haven’t even gotten to the crazy sax solo by Michael Brecker yet. 

Candy was a #1 hit on the R&B Tracks chart and peaked at #21 on the US Billboard Hot 100. It even managed to make a dent in the UK, reaching #27 on the Top 40. 

33 I Can’t Write Left Handed by Bill Withers

Album: Live At Carnegie Hall

Having served in the US Navy, Withers was no stranger to the hardships and struggles. He used that as inspiration for this simple but touching composition which has now become as famous as the voice that sang it. 

Listening to Bill spell out the tragic tale of a soldier whose hand was lost in duty, makes you think of all the challenges you have endured and will perhaps have to face one day. At least there are tracks like this to give one courage. 

34 Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone by The Temptations

Album: All Directions

Never mind just the world of R&B, “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” is one of the greatest compositions ever. If there’s a song to be credited with being the first extended R&B ballad, it’s got to be this monster of a tune. 

From the extended instrumental intro to the ominous nature of the vocals, this track is full of hooks that won’t let you go once they’ve got you. 

The platinum-selling single has an almost holy status in the world of R&B. It topped the US Billboard Hot 100 and won the group three Grammys. 

35 Heart Attack by Trey Songz

36 Thinkin Bout You by Frank Ocean

37 If I Ain’t Got You by Alicia Keys

38 Touchin’, Lovin’ by Trey Songz (feat. Nicki Minaj)

39 Freek’n You by Jodeci

40 No Scrubs by TLC

41 We Belong Together by Mariah Carey

42 Brown Sugar by D’Angelo

43 Adore You by Harry Styles

44 Say My Name by Destiny’s Child

45 Dilemma by Nelly (feat. Kelly Rowland)

46 This Woman’s Work by Maxwell

47 Pretty Wings by Maxwell

48 Sweet Love by Anita Baker

49 Can’t Help but Wait by Trey Songz

50 Let’s Get It On by Marvin Gaye

More 85 Best R&B Songs of All Time

    1. What You Want by Mase (feat. Total)
    2. 1 Thing by Amerie
    3. Sweetest Taboo by Sade
    4. Dance with My Father by Luther Vandross
    5. End of the Road by Boyz II Men
    6. I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near) by Michael McDonald
    7. Slow Jamz by Twista (feat. Kanye West and Jamie Foxx)
    8. Let Me Love You by Mario
    9. Before I Let Go by Maze (feat. Frankie Beverly)
    10. Superstar by Usher
    11. Touch the Sky by Kanye West (feat. Lupe Fiasco)
    12. I Want You by Marvin Gaye
    13. I Feel It Coming by The Weeknd (feat. Daft Punk)
    14. No Diggity by Blackstreet (feat. Dr. Dre and Queen Pen)
    15. Love on Top by Beyoncé
    16. Get You by Daniel Caesar (feat. Kali Uchis)
    17. That’s What I Like by Bruno Mars
    18. Knock You Down by Keri Hilson (feat. Kanye West and Ne-Yo)
    19. Boo’d Up by Ella Mai
    20. All My Life by K-Ci & JoJo
    21. U Know What’s Up by Donell Jones (feat. Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes)
    22. When I See You by Fantasia
    23. My Love by Justin Timberlake (feat. T.I.)
    24. Slow Down by Bobby Valentino
    25. Caught Up by Usher
    26. I Need a Girl (Part Two) by P. Diddy (feat. Usher and Loon)
    27. U Remind Me by Usher
    28. I’m Yours by Alessia Cara
    29. Distance by Emily King
    30. So Gone by Monica
    31. I Wanna Know by Joe
    32. You by Jesse Powell
    33. Be Without You by Mary J. Blige
    34. Can’t Be Friends by Trey Songz
    35. Miss Independent by Ne-Yo
    36. Breathe Again by Toni Braxton
    37. Promise by Ciara
    38. Love by Kendrick Lamar (feat. Zacari)
    39. Rock With You by Michael Jackson
    40. Just Friends (Sunny) by Musiq Soulchild
    41. The Sweetest Taboo by Sade
    42. Love Galore by SZA (feat. Travis Scott)
    43. Diary by Alicia Keys (feat. Tony! Toni! Toné!)
    44. On & On by Erykah Badu
    45. Best Part by H.E.R. (feat. Daniel Caesar)
    46. Pillowtalk by Zayn
    47. Drowning by Mario
    48. Focus by H.E.R.
    49. Blinding Lights by The Weeknd
    50. Summertime Magic by Childish Gambino
    51. Too Good at Goodbyes by Sam Smith
    52. Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson (feat. Bruno Mars)
    53. I’m the One by DJ Khaled (feat. Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper, and Lil Wayne)
    54. Happy by Pharrell Williams
    55. Slide by Calvin Harris (feat. Frank Ocean and Migos)
    56. The Way I Are (Dance with Somebody) by Bebe Rexha (feat. Lil Wayne)
    57. Sorry Not Sorry by Demi Lovato
    58. Love Lies by Khalid and Normani
    59. You’re the One by SWV
    60. In Common by Alicia Keys
    61. You Make Me Wanna… by Usher
    62. Good Kisser by Usher
    63. Trading Places by Usher
    64. Love In This Club by Usher (feat. Young Jeezy)
    65. Dive by Usher
    66. I’m Your Baby Tonight by Whitney Houston
    67. Heartbreak Hotel by Whitney Houston (feat. Faith Evans and Kelly Price)
    68. I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston
    69. Rock Your Body by Justin Timberlake
    70. Suit & Tie by Justin Timberlake (feat. Jay-Z)
    71. Pusher Love Girl by Justin Timberlake
    72. I Want You Back by *NSYNC
    73. Tearin’ Up My Heart by *NSYNC
    74. Crush by Yuna (feat. Usher)
    75. U Got It Bad by Usher
    76. So Sick by Ne-Yo
    77. Sexy Love by Ne-Yo
    78. Because of You by Ne-Yo
    79. In My Feelings by Kehlani
    80. Not My Ex by Jessie J
    81. Booty by Jennifer Lopez (feat. Iggy Azalea)
    82. Bills, Bills, Bills by Destiny’s Child
    83. Say It by Tory Lanez
    84. Finesse by Bruno Mars (feat. Cardi B)
    85. Don’t by Bryson Tiller

Looking for More Great Songs?

Well, take a look at our detailed articles on the Best 2000s R&B Songs, the Best Songs Of All Time, the Best Gospel Songs, the Best Songs by The Commodores, and the Best Songs By Al Green for more great song selections.

Of course, you need to hear those tunes. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Headphones for Music, the Best Sound Quality Earbuds, the Most Comfortable Headphones, the Best Bass Earbuds, and the Best iPhone Earbuds you can buy in 2023.

Best R&B Songs of All Time – Final Thoughts

R&B has produced some great tunes since its inception in the 40s. No doubt that the genre will continue to grow and reinvent itself. If you need some soul, some rhythm, and some dam good singing, try some of these hits a go. 

Until next time, happy listening.

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About Corey Hoffman

Corey is a multi-instrumentalist who has played in numerous bands over the years, some good, some not so good. He has also written countless songs and recorded five albums in professional studios across America. Today he is a hobby musician but still loves the guitar after over 15 years of playing.

He considers his writing as a way to share what he has learned over the decades with younger generations ad always can't wait to get his hands on the latest gear.

He lives just outside New York with his wife Barbara and their two German Shepherds, Ziggy and Iggy.

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