Taylor Swift’s Still-Impossible Dream: No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. She’s in good company!
Some pop stars make it look so easy. They rack up No. 1 singles seemingly without barely lifting a finger. In the ’50s, that was Elvis Presley. In the ’60s, the Beatles and the Supremes. In the ’70s, Elton John and Bee Gees. In the ’80s, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson. In the ’90s, Mariah Carey. At various points in this millenium, Usher, Christina Aguilera, Beyoncé and Rihanna.
Others have to toil harder for their chart-toppers. For all her fame, fortune, and Top 10 hits (seven to date), Lady Gaga hasn’t had a No. 1 single since “Poker Face.” And when Britney Spears went to No. 1 with “Womanizer” in 2008, it was only her first time on top since her debut single, “…Baby One More Time,” in 1999. (She’s since returned with “3.”) Meanwhile, Taylor Swift, who can outsell any female pop star on the U.S. album chart, has yet to go there at all. “Mine,” the first single from her forthcoming third album, Speak Now (due October 25), debuted and apparently peaked at No. 3 two weeks ago. It still could rebound and go all the way, but even if it doesn’t, Swift, who had two previous close calls (“You Belong With Me” and “Today Was a Fairytale” both hit No. 2), will undoubtedly have plenty of other chances to reach the top.
Other major acts won’t be so lucky. Led Zeppelin, the Who, Joni Mitchell, Sade — none of them ever have scored a No. 1 single and most likely, none of them ever will. But they would fall into the category of album artists as opposed to singles artists, so it isn’t too surprising that they never managed to scale Billboard‘s Hot 100. But what about chart stars who regularly entered the pop Top 10 without ever making it past No. 2? Here are five of the biggest and most deserving of those who have had at least five Top 10 pop hits but never went all the way to the top. (Note the exclusion of Bob Dylan, who, astonishingly, only has four career Top 10s, and Tom Petty, who has been featured on a mere three. Perhaps that’s a subject for a another post.) Hope you’re sitting down. Some of them might surprise you.
Bruce Springsteen The artist most shamefully and inexplicably excluded from the No. 1 club. “Dancing in the Dark” came close in 1984, making it to No. 2. In fact, the Born in the USA album produced seven Top 10 singles. He even won an Oscar for “Streets of Philadelphia,” his 1994 final Top 10 single. But he’s yet to spend a single week at No. 1, and considering that he’s past 60, I don’t see it happening. On the bright side, he’s still got a good shot at finally scoring that Album of the Year Grammy Award that also has eluded him his entire career.
James Brown He was already coronated as the Godfather of Soul, so perhaps the keeper of the keys to crossover pop success thought that was honor enough. What other explanation could there be for the fact that one of the greatest, most popular entertainers of all time — whose influence runs all the way from Michael Jackson to Usher — only made nine trips to the pop Top 10? And he never made it to No. 1 on the Hot 100 with immortal classics like “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” and “I Got You (I Feel Good).” The latter, which went to No. 3 in 1965, making it his top single, is probably on the soundtrack of a romantic comedy now playing in a theater near you.
Electric Light Orchestra Meet the band with the most Top 40 hits (20) without ever scoring a home run. The closest they came was when “Don’t Bring Me Down,” which reached No. 4 in 1979, cleared second base but stalled as it was crossing third. Their greatest hits are probably neither quite as classic nor as timeless as Springsteen’s and Brown’s, but to these ears, “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” “Telephone Line” and “Evil Woman,” all radio staples in the ’70s, were far more worthy of a No. 1 ranking than Starland Vocal Band, who landed on top with “Afternoon Delight” the same year (1976) that ELO’s “Strange Magic” and “Livin’ Thing” didn’t even reach the Top 10.
The Pointer Sisters They came close a few times. “Fire” (written by their fellow No. 1 shutout, Bruce Springsteen) made it to No. 2 in 1978. “He’s So Shy” to No. 3 in 1980. And “Jump (For My Love)” went to No. 3 in 1984. Not even “I’m so Excited,” arguably their most enduring hit, which sounds like a No. 1 single if ever I’ve heard one, only went as high as No. 9 in two Hot 100 runs. The latter two came from their multi-platinum 1983 album, Break Out, the biggest release of the group’s career and one that managed the rare and difficult chart hat trick (plus a spare) of spawning four Top 10 singles. That and their 1975 Grammy for Best Country (!) Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal for “Fairytale” must be some consolation.
Credence Clearwater Revival In lieu of a No. 1 single, CCR has the honor (or dishonor, depending on whether you are a glass half full or half empty type) of having the most No. 2 hits — five of them, including “Proud Mary,” “Down on the Corner,” and my personal favorite, “Green River” — without ever once being on top. (En Vogue and Blood, Sweat & Tears share the distinction of reaching the runner-up spot three times but never rising above it.) It’s beyond ridiculous, especially considering that we probably still will be singing the best of CCR long after everyone’s forgotten every No. 1 hit of 2010 (and yes, that includes “California Gurls”!).
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