When Artists Hit No. 1 with the Wrong Songs (Kelly Clarkson Did It — Twice!)
In 1994, I interviewed Harry Connick Jr., who shared some interesting advice that Frank Sinatra once had given him. It went something like this: “Pray that your signature song is one you love because you’ll be singing it for the rest of your life.” I remembered Connick’s/Sinatra’s words when I read a comment on my recent Taylor Swift’s Still-Impossible Dream… post. The reader mentioned artists who have gone to No. 1 on Billboard‘s Hot 100, but not with their signature songs, citing such excellent examples as Fleetwood Mac and Duran Duran.
While I was writing the previous post, this very topic crossed my mind, but the reader’s comment brought a flood of ideas, which I’ve decided to share in a second post. I’ll try to refrain from making this all about personal taste — otherwise, I could do an entire post on Gloria Gaynor, an artist who deserves to be best known for “Never Can Say Goodbye” (a cover of the Jackson 5′s 1971 No. 2 that went to No. 9 in 1974) rather than the over-rated, over-played “I Will Survive” (No. 1, 1979).
Instead I’ll focus on general consensus, starting with Fleetwood Mac, a group perhaps best known for “Don’t Stop,” which stopped at No. 3 in 1977 and later became President Bill Clinton’s first campaign theme, and not “Dreams,” their only No. 1 hit, from the same year (and the same multi-platinum album, Rumors). In this case, I think “Dreams,” which was turned into U.K. dance hit in 2005 by Deep Dish featuring Stevie Nicks, is a highly regarded song that’s probably thought of more as one of Stevie Nicks’s greatest hits than one of Fleetwood Mac’s.
Speaking of highly regarded songs, not one of Dionne Warwick’s classic Burt Bacharach/Hal David-composed singles from the 1960s went to No. 1. Not “Walk on By” (No. 6, 1964), not “Message to Michael” (No. 8, 1966), not “I Say a Little Prayer” (No. 4, 1967). She’d have to wait until 1974 to go to No. 1 with “Then Came You,” a duet with the Spinners that few probably think of when they think of Warwick. She’d make a return trip to the top 12 years later, joined by Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and Elton John, with “That’s What Friends Are For.”
Like Warwick, John Lennon’s first No 1 single (as a solo artist) is far from signature. Before his death in 1980 helped send “(Just Like) Starting Over” to No. 1, his only chart-topper was “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night” (also featuring Elton John), from 1974, and not his best known song, 1971′s “Imagine,” which reached No. 3. (He was the last former Beatle to make it to No. 1.) Another 1970s curiosity was Paul Simon. His lone solo No. 1, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” was massive in its day (1976), but who thinks of it now when they think of Simon? Astonishingly, one of the songs that’s most associated with solo Simon, 1976′s “Still Crazy After All These Years,” only made it to No. 40.
Sometimes the momentum created by early hits sends unlikely later ones to the top. This happened in the late ’80s with Taylor Dayne, whose only No. 1 was “Love Will Lead You Back” in 1990 and not “Tell It to My Heart” (No. 7, 1987) or “I’ll Always Love You” (No. 3, 1988), and Exposé, who went all the way with 1988′s “Season’s Change,” following three better-known Top 10s from Exposure, their debut album (“Come Go With Me,” “Point of No Return,” “Let Me Be the One”). Then there is Sisqó, who hit No. 1 with “Incomplete” in 2000 and not “Thong Song,” one of the most popular songs of the year, which went to No. 3.
Duran Duran might be the most egregious example of an act who went to the top with the wrong songs. Few diehard fans would consider “The Reflex” (No. 1, 1984) or “A View to a Kill” (No. 1, 1985) to be the band’s most memorable songs, and what is arguably the signature Duran Duran song, 1982′s “Rio,” didn’t even make the Top 10, stalling at No. 14.
The most recent example of an act whose highest-charting and best-known hits aren’t the same songs must be Kelly Clarkson. Though she went to No. 1 with “A Moment Like This” in 2002 and “My Life Would Suck Without You” in 2009, her song most likely to inspire a concert audience to lose it would certainly be “Since You’ve Been Gone” (No. 2, 2004), while “Because of You” (No. 7, 2005) is probably No. 2 in terms of popularity. The good news for Clarkson is that her career is still hot enough to make a third No. 1 a distinct possibility, and if she were to skip “A Moment Like This” in concert, I seriously doubt that many people would miss it.
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