Welcome to the second installment of an ongoing series celebrating songs that fell excruciatingly short of ascending to the top of Billboardâ€™s pop singles chart. In the course of compiling and monitoring responses to the seriesâ€™ first column a couple weeks ago, I learned a number of things, the most important of which were:
1. Unbeknownst to me as I wrote about the #2 hits of the â€™50s â€“ and in the process wrote the snappy sentence, â€œYou donâ€™t see Fred Bronson compiling five editions of The Billboard Book of #2 Hits, do you?â€ â€“ it turns out that a Billboard Book of Number 2 Hits was indeed published in 2000. I have chosen to invoke the Pelosi defense: I was misled by the bookâ€™s obscurity into thinking it didnâ€™t exist. My case is bolstered by the facts that Bronson had nothing to do with it (some fella named Christopher Feldman wrote it), and that the book went out of print without ever reaching a second edition. So, ha! You may read much of it on Google Books or buy a copy at Amazon Marketplace, or you may purchase a digital copy for the Amazon Kindle. (Donâ€™t everybody run out all at once to blow $359 on a Kindle.) Needless to say, I didnâ€™t use Feldmanâ€™s book as a reference in the first column; I make no such promises from here on out.
2. As I slog through six decadesâ€™ worth of fodder for future editions of this column, Iâ€™m going to have to dig deep for euphemisms that put some pizzazz behind the idea of a song being kept out of the #1 slot by another song. I believe that my low point in the last column came in the teaser for this one, when I left the distinct impression that Smokey Robinson might once have been â€œcock-blockedâ€ by Lawrence Welk (see #4 below). Whoever the object of Smokeyâ€™s thwarted affections might have been in such a scenario, I am now convinced that at no time was Welk ever involved in blocking Smokeyâ€™s cock, and I apologize for the inference.
As a reminder, weâ€™re giving extra weight to hits by artists who never reached #1, to songs that were far superior to the rivals that overtook them on the charts, and to plain old great songs that deserved the extra glory that the top of the Hot 100 brings. Iâ€™ll follow my choices with a list of other #2 hits of the decade, and we can debate their merits in the comments section. Now, on with the countdown!
11. â€œSheâ€™s Not There,â€ the Zombies. Keyboardist/songwriter Rod Argent made the Top 10 four times between 1964 and â€™72 â€“ three as leader of the Zombies, before he got greedy and named his next band after himself. Colin Blumstone sang lead for the Zombies, and just as his vocals offered more nuance than most of his early-British Invasion counterparts, â€œSheâ€™s Not Thereâ€ was an awfully sophisticated single for an era when even the Beatles were still cranking out â€œI Feel Fineâ€ and â€œEight Days a Week.â€ Sadly, â€œSheâ€™s Not Thereâ€ was left knocking on #1â€™s door while Bobby Vinton came through the window with â€œMr. Lonely.â€ Even more annoying, Vintonâ€™s hit version used the exact same backing track as Buddy Grecoâ€™s #64 smash of two years before! Thatâ€™s just not right.
10. â€œCrystal Blue Persuasion,â€ Tommy James & the Shondells. James got his moments in the chart-topping sun, with the thudding â€œHanky Pankyâ€ and the psychedelic â€œCrimson and Clover,â€ but for my money â€œCrystal Blue Persuasionâ€ is the Shondellsâ€™ finest moment. Out-Rascalling the Rascals, the Shondells broke out the bongos, the Spanish guitar and some awesome harmonies to build an effervescent soundtrack for the first summer of the Nixon administration. But ainâ€™t it always the way: Instead of rewarding James for an actual artistic achievement, radio listeners and record buyers preferred one of The Most Ridiculous Singles Ever â€“ Zager and Evansâ€™ futuristic bummer “In the Year 2525,â€ which logged eight weeks at #1. (OK, I admit it, Iâ€™m a fan â€“ whatâ€™s not to love about a song that imagines a world in which â€œYou wonâ€™t need your teeth, wonâ€™t need your eyes/You wonâ€™t find a thing to chew, nobodyâ€™s gonna look at youâ€?) Zager and Evans, according to Wikipedia, have the honor of being the only act in history to be a one-hit wonder in both the U.S. and U.K.! Take a listen below Z&Eâ€™s follow-up single, â€œMr. Turnkey,â€ about a guy who rapes a girl in Wichita Falls, then punishes himself by nailing his own wrist to the wall. (Canâ€™t you hear that songwriting session now? â€œWhat rhymes with â€˜Wichita Fallsâ€™?â€ â€œUm, how about â€˜I nailed my right wrist to your wallâ€™?â€ â€œYeah, letâ€™s go with that.â€) How could this song not chart?!?
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/XUQuXwNKMkU" width="425" height="344" allowfullscreen="true" fvars="fs=1" /]
9. â€œTell It Like It Is,â€ Aaron Neville. The Neville Brothersâ€™ long and rambling chart history begins here â€“ and if it had ended here as well, â€œTell It Like It Isâ€ would still be remembered as one of the greatest of all soul hits. FoN (Friend of the Nevilles) George Davis co-wrote the song with King Records bandleader Lee Diamond; unbelievably, a number of record labels in New Orleans and New York rejected Aaronâ€™s rendition before Davis started his own Par-Lo label and printed 2,000 singles. One hopes Davis made a tidy pile of cash as â€œTell It Like It Isâ€ climbed to #2 on the Hot 100 behind the Monkeesâ€™ â€œIâ€™m a Believer.â€ (Neville topped the R&B chart as well.) Heartâ€™s version of this song is OK â€“ though Don Johnsonâ€™s is not â€“ but few artists can stop a show the way Neville does when he hits the bridge and pleads, â€œDonâ€™t play with my heart â€“ it makes me furious/But if you want me to love you, baby I will.â€
8. â€œCanâ€™t Help Falling in Love,â€ Elvis Presley. Considering all the dreck Elvis took to the top of the charts during the late â€™50s, itâ€™s astounding that one of his very best ballads got stuck at #2 behind Joey Dee and the frickinâ€™ Starlightersâ€™ dance-craze-bandwagon-jumping â€œPeppermint Twist.â€ One of several early-â€™60s hits by Big E to be based on European melodies, â€œCanâ€™t Help Falling in Loveâ€ was adapted by George Weiss and RCA stable ponies Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore from the French tune â€œPlasir dâ€™Amour.â€ Weiss later wrote â€œWhat a Wonderful World,â€ which tanked completely in the U.S. when Louis Armstrong first released it in 1968 (though it was a huge hit in England). Largely forgotten here for two decades, it didnâ€™t earn its â€œclassicâ€ status until it was used in Good Morning, Vietnam. Weiss is now president of the Songwriters Guild of America — and if you donâ€™t believe the conspiracy theorists, Elvis is still dead. The last song he sang at his last concert? “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”
7. â€œSoul Man,â€ Sam & Dave. I feel sorry for anyone who first heard our last song in the form of UB40â€™s faux-reggae wimp-out. On the other hand, I donâ€™t mind so much that I first heard â€œSoul Manâ€ performed by Belushi & Aykroyd on Saturday Night Live. (That Blues Brothers movie was another matter entirely.) At least Jake and Elwood had the good sense to bring in onetime Stax Records house band members Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn, who had played on the original version of this song along with the rest of Booker T.â€™s MGs. (How many guitarists got to hear a shout-out like â€œPlay it, Steve!â€ directed at them on two hit versions of the same song?) â€œSoul Manâ€ was Sam & Daveâ€™s biggest hit, stopped only by the U.K.â€™s reigning It Girl, Lulu, and her soundtrack smash â€œTo Sir with Love.â€ Youâ€™ll never hear me say a discouraging word about â€œTo Sir with Loveâ€ â€“ either the song or the film. However, if I wasnâ€™t so eager to move on you might hear me say quite a few discouraging words about the film Soul Man from 1986 â€“ an idea so bad (say it ainâ€™t so, Ponyboy!) that it even engendered a horrifying remake (and video) of the song by Sam Moore and Lou Reed that everyone involved probably regrets to this day.
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/QGKL4NA5qJk" width="425" height="344" allowfullscreen="true" fvars="fs=1" /]
6. â€œLouie Louie,â€ the Kingsmen. One of the benefits of making it all the way to #1 is that a single becomes anchored historically to its peak moment. (For example, Iâ€™ve known for half my life that â€œThe Sounds of Silenceâ€ was #1 the week I was born, but until I just looked it up I had no idea that â€œI Got You (I Feel Good)â€ peaked at #3 the same week.) So, quick â€“ when was â€œLouie Louieâ€ a hit? If youâ€™re under the age of, say, 50, you probably think it was around (or before) the fall of 1962 â€“ and the reason you think that is probably because thatâ€™s when National Lampoonâ€™s Animal House is set, and the song is sung (drunkenly) by the Deltas on Pledge Night. However, the Kingsmen didnâ€™t actually slur their way through â€œLouie Louieâ€ until the spring of â€™63, in a studio in Portland, Oregon. And while the song had been kicking around the West Coast since songwriter Richard Berry first had a regional hit with it in 1957, itâ€™s unlikely that the Deltas, in 1962 Pennsylvania, would have had it on their frat-house jukebox â€“ particularly as theyâ€™re clearly singing along to the Kingsmenâ€™s version, which didnâ€™t yet exist.
With my treatise on historical inaccuracies in Animal House officially concluded, I can now get to my real point, which is that â€œLouie Louieâ€ peaked at #2 in January 1964, behind Bobby Vintonâ€™s â€œThere! Iâ€™ve Said It Againâ€ â€“ the very last #1 single before Beatlemania overtook the U.S. the next month. Would we look at rock history the same way if the last chart topper before â€œI Want to Hold Your Handâ€ had been â€œLouie Louie,â€ instead of an icky Bobby Vinton ballad that represented everything the British Invasion came to overthrow? Weâ€™re probably better off the way things were â€¦ partly because one of the benefits of not making it to #1 is that a song isnâ€™t anchored historically to its peak moment, and â€œLouie Louieâ€ is timeless.
5. â€œLike a Rolling Stone,â€ Bob Dylan. What is there to say here? This is one of the seminal songs in rock history, but itâ€™s hard to imagine how Dylanâ€™s first big hit must have sounded on tinny AM radios during the summer of â€™65, surrounded by Hermanâ€™s Hermits, Gary Lewis & the Playboys, and Sonny & Cher. (To be fair, it was also the summer of â€œSatisfaction,â€ and the song that kept â€œLike a Rolling Stoneâ€ from #1 was â€œHelp!â€) Hereâ€™s a good example of how silly pop listeners can be: Dylan hung out behind â€œHelp!â€ for two weeks, but the song that supplanted the Beatles may as well have been titled â€œDylan for Dummiesâ€ â€“ Barry McGuireâ€™s â€œEve of Destruction.â€ Hey, look â€“ Patricia Arquette on LSD!
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/gjbopmt11lw" width="425" height="344" allowfullscreen="true" fvars="fs=1" /]
4. â€œShop Around,â€ the Miracles. This wasnâ€™t quite the first big Motown hit â€“ that distinction goes to Barrett Strongâ€™s â€œMoney (Thatâ€™s What I Want),â€ which made it to #2 on the R&B chart during the labelâ€™s first year. However, â€œShop Aroundâ€ was the companyâ€™s first R&B #1 and first Top 10 single on the pop chart. Wouldnâ€™t it have been a great story if Smokey Robinsonâ€™s first hit had been a chart topper? Wouldnâ€™t it have been great, generally speaking, if Smokey and his mates hadnâ€™t had to wait 10 long years before finally getting to #1 (with â€œThe Tears of a Clownâ€ in 1970)? But something kept â€œShop Aroundâ€ from the top â€“ something â€¦ bubbly. Lawrence Welk and his â€œchampagne music,â€ to be specific. Welkâ€™s orchestra recorded a German tune that had gone through several titles already, beginning with â€œTivoli Melodyâ€; with the name changed to â€œCalcutta,â€ and some incredibly cloying â€œla la la la la la laâ€s added, the song became the biggest hit of Welkâ€™s wunnerful, wunnerful career. There are a number of adorable clips of the song from Welkâ€™s TV show, but hereâ€™s one that features the bandleaderâ€™s distinctive voice. Check out the sponsor toward the end:
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/2Fcjc9TCEjw" width="425" height="344" allowfullscreen="true" fvars="fs=1" /]
3. Creedence Clearwater Revivalâ€™s greatest hits. What was up with CCRâ€™s inability to clear the last hurdle on the way to Hot 100 glory? The band scored no fewer than five #2 hits over an 18-month period between March â€™69 and October â€™70 without ever reaching #1: â€œProud Mary,â€ â€œBad Moon Rising,â€ â€œGreen River,â€ â€œTravelinâ€™ Band,â€ and â€œLookinâ€™ Out My Back Door.â€ (â€œDown on the Cornerâ€ and â€œUp Around the Bendâ€ also made the Top 5.) Just for the record, the songs that blocked them â€“ in order â€“ were Sly & the Family Stoneâ€™s â€œEveryday People,â€ Tommy Roeâ€™s â€œDizzy,â€ Henry Manciniâ€™s â€œLove Theme from Romeo & Juliet,â€ the Archiesâ€™ â€œSugar Sugar,â€ Simon & Garfunkelâ€™s â€œBridge Over Troubled Water,â€ and Diana Rossâ€™ â€œAinâ€™t No Mountain High Enough.â€ Could it be that Fantasy Records honcho (and future John Fogerty nemesis) Saul Zaentz didnâ€™t supply program directors with enough cocaine to push CCR over the top? Or was the bandâ€™s string of #2s a karmic punishment for having once called themselves the Golliwogs? Whichever is the case, CCR holds the record for most #2 hits by an act that never made it to #1. Right behind them are fusion pioneers Blood, Sweat & Tears, whose first three singles â€“ â€œYouâ€™ve Made Me So Very Happy,â€ â€œSpinning Wheel,â€ and â€œAnd When I Dieâ€ â€“ all peaked at #2 during those same months in 1969. Freaky.
2. â€œChain of Fools,â€ Aretha Franklin. Lady Soulâ€™s incredible string of hits in â€™67 and â€™68 included three that wound up on our Popdose 100 last fall â€“ topped by this classic, which came in at #19. Songwriter Don Covay initially cooked up â€œChain of Foolsâ€ as a blues stomp about a prison chain gang, before tailoring the lyrics to Ree Reeâ€™s needs. Innumerable covers by American Idolettes have replicated the backing-vocal arrangment, but you rarely hear a version that even attempts to copy Joe Southâ€™s gritty guitar work. Now, there are a lot of great songs on this list, but â€œChain of Foolsâ€ sits at the top not only because itâ€™s a stone-cold classic, but because of the gaping disparity between it and the song that stopped it from reaching the top of the chart: â€œJudy in Disguise (With Glasses),â€ by John Fred and His Playboy Band. Itâ€™s bad enough that such a cheesy song was based on Fredâ€™s mishearing of â€œLucy in the Sky with Diamonds,â€ but for it to hit the tape ahead of â€œChain of Foolsâ€? Radio listeners in January 1968, what were you thinking? (Then again, there must have been something in the water that winter, with all the dippy chart toppers â€“ â€œIncense and Peppermints,â€ â€œHello Goodbye,â€ â€œGreen Tambourine.â€ Were these songs what Americans in the heartland thought an LSD trip sounded like?)
Those are my 10 picks, but the conversation should hardly end there. Hereâ€™s a (non-exhaustive) list of other great #2â€™s from the â€™60s â€“ feel free to berate me in the comments section for failing to make a bigger deal of them:
â€œHeâ€™ll Have to Go,â€ Jim Reeves, and â€œHandy Man,â€ Jimmy Jones (both blocked by Percy Faithâ€™s â€œTheme from a Summer Placeâ€); â€œOnly the Lonely,â€ Roy Orbison (Brenda Leeâ€™s â€œIâ€™m Sorryâ€); â€œChain Gang,â€ Sam Cooke (Connie Francisâ€™ â€œMy Heart Has a Mind of Its Ownâ€); â€œCrying,â€ Roy Orbison (Ray Charlesâ€™ â€œHit the Road Jackâ€); â€œThe Wanderer,â€ Dion (Gene Chandlerâ€™s â€œDuke of Earlâ€); â€œBlowinâ€™ in the Wind,â€ Peter, Paul & Mary (Stevie Wonderâ€™s â€œFingertips â€“ Part 2â€); and â€œTwist and Shout,â€ the Beatles (the same bandâ€™s â€œCanâ€™t Buy Me Loveâ€).
Also, â€œWooly Bully,â€ Sam the Sham & the Pharoahs (the Beach Boysâ€™ â€œHelp Me Rhondaâ€ and the Supremesâ€™ â€œBack in My Arms Againâ€); â€œ19th Nervous Breakdown,â€ the Rolling Stones (SSgt. Barry Sadlerâ€™s â€œBallad of the Green Beretsâ€); â€œYellow Submarine,â€ the Beatles (the Supremesâ€™ â€œYou Canâ€™t Hurry Loveâ€); â€œSweet Soul Music,â€ Arthur Conley (the Supremesâ€™ â€œThe Happeningâ€); â€œCanâ€™t Take My Eyes Off of You,â€ Frankie Valli (the Associationâ€™s â€œWindyâ€); â€œBorn to Be Wild,â€ Steppenwolf (the Rascalsâ€™ â€œPeople Got to Be Freeâ€); and â€œItâ€™s Your Thing,â€ the Isley Brothers (the 5th Dimensionâ€™s â€œAquarius/Let the Sunshine Inâ€).
Next time, the â€™70s â€“ and a classic song that sat in the runner-up slot while three songs leapfrogged it on the way to #1. But don’t fret for 10CC â€¦ after all, big girls donâ€™t cry.