Many musicians claim they never look at the pop charts. It's easy to see why. Even if you succeed in getting your music heard and into the hands of fans, there's never any guarantee that alleged payola makes it into the alleged right hands. If things are on the up and up and you have a decent-sized hit, there's still a chance that some other -- less good -- song will block it from being the #1 song in the land. Just ask Creedence Clearwater Revival, who had a string of #2 hits without ever hitting #1.
This is the first part of a two-part series that lists popular songs that never made it to #1 on the Billboard Pop Charts. Some made it to #1 at Adult-Contemporary or Modern Rock or Songs My Mother Likes, but they just missed the top prize. So, essentially, none of these songs is no "We Built This City"!
25) Theme From "Greatest American Hero" (Believe It Or Not) -- Joey Scarbury: Usually a TV theme song has a leg up. You hear it every week as your favorite show begins. George Constanza even made an altered version his outgoing phone message. But the song never made it to the coveted #1 position. Even I mistakenly thought it was by Andrew Gold, who gave us the theme from the Golden Girls with "Thank You For Being A Friend," which did even worse! That came in at #25.
24) Tears In Heaven -- Eric Clapton: Considering how this song was everywhere in the 1990s and how everyone knew the tragic story of his son falling out of a window, you'd think this was a sureshot #. It captivated the hearts and minds of a generation! Or not! Maybe listeners were too busy crying to buy it!
23) Fergalicious -- Fergie: "London Bridge" and "Glamorous" went to #1, but this sucker stalled! Which surprises me, since I was sure it was in her contract that every song must go to #1 or else someone gets fired! Maybe Fergie's to blame for high unemployment.
22) You Belong To The City -- Glenn Frey: Can you believe his bandmate Don Henley only reached #5 with the ubiquitous "The Boys of Summer"? Frey made it further with both "The Heat Is On" and this track. Both stalled at #2. Anyone think Frey kinda looks like Maury Povich?
21) It's All About The Benjamins -- Puff Daddy and the Family featuring everyone he's ever known: There was a time when anything Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, Sean "Puffy" Combs, turned to multi-platinum. I think I have a pair of his shoes somewhere. You'd think a song that tells you it's all about money and status would have to be #1 to be artistically valid! #2? This song is a loser! Kick it out of the car, Mr. Combs!
20) The Sweet Escape -- Gwen Stefani feat. Akon: Both Ms. Stefani and Akon had #1 hits without each other, so mathematically speaking you'd expect a record with both of them on it to go double #1. But instead the math worked the other way and they ended up with a #2 hit that I like to think they blamed on each other.
19) Open Arms -- Journey: You mean to tell me this prom anthem never went to #1? In fact, Journey never had a #1 hit? "Don't Stop Believin'" did worse? It's as if everything I ever learned in childhood is wrong. You mean you're not my real father? What about that lady over there? Who's she?
18) Electric Avenue -- Eddy Grant: Five weeks at #2 in 1983. The song was everywhere, even on the rock stations who interrupted their steady flow of the usual suspects to play it. All the hard rock fans cursed it out. Which seemed fair at the time. I couldn't imagine Foreigner fans really digging this, any more than I could imagine Eddy Grant fans caring one whiff about the Doors. It's a shame, but it is what it is.
17) With You -- Chris Brown: Frequent readers of this blog know I'm not really up on what the kids are listening to. I'm into "heritage rock." But I read the internets just like everyone else and I read a lot of controversial stuff about this Chris Brown guy. He's apparently a shoo-in for one of those Real Housewives shows. Next hit: "Bravo Calling"?
16) Nights In White Satin -- The Moody Blues: Originally the song charted to #103, so coming in at #2 is a distinct improvement. The melody is such an age-old classic that I have trouble believing people didn't naturally gravitate towards it. It's like finding out Pizza came in at #2 behind Stromboli among favorite school lunches!
15) Complicated -- Avril Lavigne: OK, it's narcissistic of me to think if I remember a pop song that the entire world must be remembering it, too. But as a casual radio listener, it takes a little something extra to make me notice a song and I assume there are many other casual radio listeners who need that something extra to connect. Fact is, I can still sing the chorus without having to think twice. You too?
14) Ramblin' Man -- The Allman Brothers Band: Classic Rock radio is filled with songs that never did very well on the pop charts. Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" was that band's only top 10 hit and it only made it to #4! So, pop charts often worked against serious rock musicians. However, if I'm a record label executive these days, I just drop them all!
13) Girls Just Want To Have Fun -- Cyndi Lauper: OK, maybe it was because this was her first hit single and people needed to get warmed up. Maybe radio folks didn't know what to do with her yet. "Time After Time" went to #1, after all. Who understands why some songs have "broad appeal" and others do not. "Money Changes Everything" never even came close to the top ten and it's often cited as a favorite among fans.
12) Under The Bridge -- Red Hot Chili Peppers: The group's biggest hit really bugged their hardcore fans -- well, the ones I met anyhow. It didn't sound like their usual stuff. But that was the way for "alternative" bands for years. For most rock bands, really, throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s. Since I never was "emotionally invested" in these boys, I liked the hit just fine. I guess I'm the lemming they were after.
11) We Are Family -- Sister Sledge: All I can think of when I hear this song is the Pittsburgh Pirates in their yellow and black bumblebee uniforms winning the World Series in 1979. (Nobody break it to the team's fans, but Sister Sledge were from Philadelphia!)
10) Bohemian Rhapsody -- Queen: The first time the song hit the charts, it went to #9. Then Wayne's World rescued it again and it went to #2. I'm counting on someone re-releasing it a third time in about ten years and then it will reach #1. Third time's a charm!
9) Hot Fun In the Summertime -- Sly and the Family Stone: Sly and the Family Stone nailed some pretty unusual pop songs to the top of the charts. But this one -- a natural for July! -- hit the charts at the end of August! So, was the song intended to be nostalgic?
8) Rainy Days and Mondays -- The Carpenters: The Carpenters nailed the top spot with "Close To You," but then went on a tear of #2 and #3 hits and worse, before "Top of the World" put them back on top of the world. Why was everyone so damn mellow in the early 1970s?
7) Born To Be Wild -- Steppenwolf: I guess enough people weren't born to be wild. Had the song been called Born To Live In The Suburbs and Be Domesticated, the song might have been more relatable and been a #1 hit.
6) Party All The Time -- Eddie Murphy: His movies went to #1, so why shouldn't the alluring, dulcet tones of his natural singing voice also send Mr. Murphy to the top of the charts? The video was on MTV constantly. I should know, since I didn't even have MTV at my house and I saw the video all the time. The next single, "Put Your Mouth On Me" only went to #27.
5) Dancing In the Dark -- Bruce Springsteen: "Jessie's Girl" by Rick Springfield was a bigger hit than anything in the Bruce Springsteen catalog, which explains why…Rick consistently outsells Bruce on the concert circuit? Even "Blinded By The Light" was a #1 for Manfred Mann, after they altered the song. Sorry Bruce, the people have spoken. It was a nice ride while it lasted, but you might want to see if they've reopened the textile mill in Freehold.
4) Start Me Up -- The Rolling Stones: While I'm giving career advice, I suggest the Rolling Stones drop this dud from their live sets. Stick to the #1 hits, which means "the people" want to hear the following: "Satisfaction," "Get Off Of My Cloud," "Paint It, Black," 'Ruby Tuesday," "Honky Tonk Women," "Brown Sugar," "Angie" and "Miss You" in a medley. Then clear the stage for those Black Eyed Peas!
3) Material Girl -- Madonna: Sonic Youth made her cool on the underground level back in the 1980s, so it wouldn't even be hipster cool now to ironically or non-ironically be into her. She's transcended all levels of acceptance to the point where she's just there, that's all. Like a can opener.
2) Proud Mary -- Creedence Clearwater Revival: What was it about Creedence that prevented them from ever reaching #1? Was it that the band name sounded like an environmental commission? Whatever the case, "Proud Mary" began a string of singles that reached #2, including "Bad Moon Rising," "Green River," "Travelin' Band" and "Lookin' Out My Back Door." On the bright side, had these guys formed today, they likely wouldn't have any hits at all!
1) Y.M.C.A. -- Village People: Even if you didn't live through the times when the Village People were known everywhere and their songs were being piped through supermarkets, drug stores, athletic events and car dealership sales drives, you surely can hear just how catchy this tune right here is. But in the end the Village People never had a #1 hit. You could say, like many of the artists on this list, "They Were No Milli Vanilli."