Twenty Immortal Top 40 Radio Hits… (That Totally Missed Hitting the Top 40)

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If you’re reading this, then I’ll just bet:

Since you were about, let’s say, three years old, or so…

… you remember the magic of hearing music come out of the magic little box called “the radio.”

And if you are one of those weird and wonderful ones who subsequently morphed from casual listener to certified chart geek? Then you have earned the right to tell the world: you have great ears.

Go ahead. Brag. Take out an ad. You know your stuff. All these these years later, you can cite, within a reasonable margin of error, exactly how your faves did on the charts.

Until the day that you get fooled. Tricked. Owned.

Hoodwinked, even.

It’s true for even the most knowledgeable of listeners: Sometimes, you’ll be bopping along to a favorite, and try to recall its top chart position. Lessee… that was a Top 10? Top 5? Hmm… Did it sputter at a soul-crushing #2?

Because you strive for accuracy, you do your research.

And then you learn that your beloved tune didn’t make it anywhere near the Top Twenty – in fact, it never saw the light of day on the Top 40.

And remember:
Keep your feet on the ground, and…
..oh, forget it.

I don’t know if it’s my rapidly aging brain, or some other unexplainable anomaly. But I have to admit it: I have been shocked, shocked, over the past couple of years on several occasions. Records that I could have sworn were bigger hits than our friends at Billboard had tabulated as such, are – while great pieces of music – chart floppers.

I should be an expert at this by now. The only consolation – maybe – is that misery loves company?

Let’s have a look at twenty tortuous examples of this phenomenon, ranked by increasing incredulity.

Is anyone else surprised at the numbers below?


1979: #86
Don’t Stop Me Now
Queen

If you remember this as a top 10, then you were a UK radio fan. Like many songs from the Queen discography, TV and movie placement have made this recognizable in the States – but it wasn’t a hit like it was across the pond.


1986: #81
Graceland
Paul Simon

An 80’s standout by Paul Simon. It may not have been a true hit, but the Grammys thought otherwise, and named it Record Of The Year. But purely as a single, it came up short, running out of gas in the lower 20% of the Hot 100.


1992: #79:
Jeremy
Pearl Jam

Even though the typical Pearl Jam fan was likely an album buyer, you’d still think that this classic would have done better on the singles charts.


1983: #78, 1990: #76
I Melt With You
Modern English

For goodness sakes. A song that was:
– a mainstay during the MTV imperial phase
– popular on radio, and in dance clubs
– featured in the movie Valley Girl
stalled at #78? It seems impossible. Even when Modern English re-recorded the record in 1990, it still never cracked the Top 40.


1977: #68, 1983: #84
Solsbury Hill
Peter Gabriel

Released as a single from his debut solo album, it managed to get all the way up to #13 – but only in the UK. The live version released a few years later fared even worse.


1983: #66
Freak-A-Zoid
Midnight Star

OK, we admit that this one was not as big a record as No Parking On The Dance Floor, but… this one was everywhere in 1983. A #66 peak seems weirdly inaccurate.


1982: #65
Goodbye To You
Scandal Featuring Patty Smyth

Maybe it’s because I liked The Warrior so much, that I remembered this to be a stronger follow-up song than it was. In any event, Goodbye To You feels at least 40 positions in the wrong direction.


1982: #62
I Want Candy
Bow Wow Wow

Top 10 in London, but engine failure in the States. And why? Bow Wow Wow had the look, the sound, and that snappy little guitar hook. This record deserved more than #62.


1983: #56
Sharp Dressed Man
ZZ Top

#56? Impossible. Sure, Legs was the bigger hit for the band, but not even cracking the Top 40 seems way off. Especially considering that this song was the followup to the perhaps lesser Gimme All Your Lovin’. Go figure.


1983: #53
New Year’s Day
U2

Well, now, it’s getting personal. I know; they were just beginning to break in the US. But with the best dank-and-bleak piano sound of all time, New Year’s Day is just about my favorite U2 record. I humbly request a recount.


1989: #52
Closer To Fine
Indigo Girls

I was shocked enough to see that this one goes all the way back to 1989. Good grief. And then – to see that this beautiful and unique anthem only made it to #52? It defies logic; it’s one of the best guitar-duo records of the past 40 years.


1982: #45 – 1983: #50
Should I Stay or Should I Go
The Clash

When this record failed to make Top 40, the record company decided to try again a year later. It still failed, actually doing a bit worse. Oddly, it sort of hit #1 in the UK eight years later, as the flip side to Big Audio Dynamite’s Rush. A victory of sorts, albeit on a technicality.


1991: #49
There She Goes
The La’s

So catchy, with just the right amount of circa-1965-throwback, Beatlesque guitar work. But apparently, it wasn’t enough to make it it a big hit. But you can’t keep a good song down: Eight years later, a version by Sixpence None The Richer made it to #14.


1981: #49
Tempted
Squeeze

Seriously? Who doesn’t know this record? Another crazy-good songwriting example of many by Difford and Tilbrook. And Paul Carrack is singing lead? How could this not be a Top 10 record? Maybe we can blame the inexperienced producer. Oh, sorry – that would be Elvis Costello. Yikes!


1979: #47
Highway to Hell
AC/DC

Here’s how obvious a hit this record is: Springsteen has covered it in concert. And probably Paul Anka, too.The next time we see folks nodding their heads and singing along. we’ll not mention that it stopped moving at #47.


1984: #46
Rebel Yell
Billy Idol

Another sorta silly – but ubiquitous MTV staple. For the “more, more, mores” alone, this should have fared better on the charts.


1990: #45
Handle with Care
Traveling Wilburys

One of the biggest supergroups ever assembled had a terrific hit single from their first album. They likely didn’t care, but it seems a little unfair that this one wasn’t at least a Top 20 record.


1985: #44
Centerfield
John Fogerty

For the joyous Americana feel and the fun handclaps alone, this had to be a Top 10 record, anyway. Right? Nope. Yer out. And for what many would say was one of Fogerty’s career best, it’s a surprise at #45.


1975: #41
Changes
David Bowie

You learn something new all the time. Prior to last month, I had been living my life not knowing that David Bowie’s Changes was not a top 5 record. Can’t be right. (I’ll still show off and casually tell folks that his real name is David Jones. I need to keep up some appearance of knowingness.)


1996: #41
That Thing You Do!

The Wonders

I don’t care if The Wonders weren’t a real band – this is a great record that deserved to be in the Top 10 (preferably landing at Number 7, for you fans of the film.) Mike Viola’s vocal and the late Adam Schlesinger’s perfect-pop songwriting make this “fake” record better than many “real” records of 1996.


OK, any surprises? What sure-fire big hits do you know of that failed to dent the Top 40?


6

mt58

Your grateful host. Good on you all.

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cstolliver
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October 18, 2022 5:40 am

Great list, mt. (One geek correction: Graceland had to be later in the ‘80s, since it was the parent album for “You Can Call Me Al.”) On the subject of Scandal, they could warrant their own post — in addition to Goodbye to You, they had three other near-hits that missed AT40, Hands Tied, Love’s Got a Line on You, and Beat of a Heart. They were up there with Cheap Trick when it came to a string of great non-hits. Not one of these songs did Casey count down: If You Want My Love, Stop This Game, Tonight It’s You, Everything Works If You Let It. Wow. And one last one: The Waitresses’ I Know What Boys Like.

Phylum of Alexandria
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October 18, 2022 7:19 am

It does blow me away that “I Melt With You” fared so poorly. It’s one of the stunning winners of 80s pop singles…at least in my head.

“Jeremy” is emblematic of the larger chart injustice towards rock singles in the 90’s. I know that some of us commenters must really come off as grumpy fuddy-duddies to the diehard pop and R&B fans on the mothership as we gripe about the lack of rock selections.

I’m not a rockist, I swear (some of my best friends are pop songs!). At the very least, wouldn’t some variety be nice, rather than R&B dance jam after R&B slow jam? But also, there’s the fact that the 90s had some of the most exciting rock music getting popular since the 70s…and a lot of the singles were cheated out of chart placement due to a technicality!

#PhylumSpokeInClassToday

Aaron3000
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October 18, 2022 9:34 am

I know the charts weren’t 100% accurate before Soundscan/BDS showed what folks were really purchasing and hearing on the radio, but in what kind of bizarro world does Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” only manage to hit #71? Can’t even blame Wardlow for that one!

And don’t even get me started on “What I Like About You” by the Romantics…

Last edited 3 months ago by Aaron3000
reggie
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October 18, 2022 6:16 pm
Reply to  Aaron3000

Oops, missed that you had already mentioned this one. Great minds and all that…. 😉

Phylum of Alexandria
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October 18, 2022 10:20 am

I think I’ve been reading the Bible too much lately, because I first saw this title as “20 Immoral Top 40 Radio Hits.”  😅 

Maybe an idea for a sequel?

lovethisconcept
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October 18, 2022 10:40 am

It would be hard narrowing it down to 20!

lovethisconcept
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October 18, 2022 11:27 am
Reply to  mt58

Me and Mrs. Jones – 1972

Phylum of Alexandria
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October 18, 2022 11:34 am

Cream – 1991

LinkCrawford
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October 18, 2022 12:28 pm

Torn Between Two Lovers – 1977

cstolliver
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October 18, 2022 7:03 pm
Reply to  mt58

1981: The Police’s Don’t Stand So Close to Me (a song I like but try not to think about)

Ozmoe
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October 19, 2022 1:57 pm
Reply to  mt58

1976: Love to Love You Baby

Virgindog
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October 18, 2022 10:32 am

I didn’t expect to actually be shocked, but I am. Sharp Dressed Man? I Melt With You? Tempted? None of those made the Top 40? Impossible.

The only explanation is I was listening to FM rock stations, not the honest to goodness Top 40 stations. My experience was a little skewed away from the chart.

It still is. I just looked up the current #1, Bad Habit by Steve Lacy. I’ve never heard it. However, in the video he’s wearing the Dead Kennedys’ dollar sign shirt and tie. I bet his fans think he came up with it. We all have different points of reference.

Phylum of Alexandria
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October 18, 2022 10:48 am
Reply to  Virgindog

Just checked that song out. It’s pretty good, though rather modest for a #1 single. I guess the best-case scenario for the shirt is a neat easter egg that will point some fans to the music of DK (provided it’s mentioned on Wikipedia or some other source). Not exactly the same vibe as Steve Lacy (like, at all), but who knows? Maybe some people will get into it.

Last edited 3 months ago by Phylum of Alexandria
thegue
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October 19, 2022 12:40 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

Exactly what I was going to say, V.

I’ve also noticed regional airplay played a difference as well. Someone gave me a secondhand K-Tel cassette with some early 80s songs which they thought I could use when I was making another “Back in the Day” mixed tape for a party, and I noticed a song I’d never heard of: “Whirly Girl” by Oxo.

Imagine my surprise when I learned it reached the Top 30! It was never played in Philly.

The 90s misses had everything to do with the games record companies were playing.

I also have no idea who Steve Lacy is, though if it came on the radio I’m sure my daughter would tell me to LEAVE THIS SONG ON.

JJ Live At Leeds
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October 18, 2022 10:55 am

Its noticeable from my perspective that most of these, including the American acts charted higher here in Britain. Even The Wonders made it to #22 here.

Nice to see The La’s here, a great lost band. One album and out leaving a big what if they’d done more. Due to a mix of Lee Mavers perfectionism and disillusionment with the record industry they never got further than the debut album.

Point of order on Should I Stay Or Should I Go. It was paired with Rush but it was The Clash song that was the A-side. It was used in a Levi’s commercial which from the mid 80s to mid 90s was a sure fire way of sending an oldie but goldie to the upper reaches of the charts. Mick Jones used the re-release to put Rush on the B-side to promote Big Audio Dynamite who hadn’t had a UK top 40 hit since 1986.

Last edited 3 months ago by JJ Live At Leeds
JJ Live At Leeds
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October 18, 2022 1:17 pm
Reply to  mt58

I think you’re onto something. Aside from the Levi’s affect there’s a wealth of others this side of the pond. If you’d like a take on the good, the bad and the wholly unexpected tie ins from over here I’d be happy to oblige.

cappiethedog
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October 18, 2022 2:08 pm

If Mick Jones sang “I Turned Out A Punk” with a little more enthusiasm, I think it would have done better.

Tighten Up Volume 88 is underrated.

lovethisconcept
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October 18, 2022 11:13 am

I am indeed shocked by some (most) of these. Between obsessive MTV watching in the early to mid-80’s and, with Virgindog, listening to more rock-leaning radio stations, my view of the actual top 40 was apparently very skewed.

LinkCrawford
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October 18, 2022 12:30 pm

mt58, you’ve been successful. I didn’t think that I would be surprised by much here, but “Centerfield”??? “Handle with Care”??? “Freak-a-Zoid”??? These genuinely surprised me as well as plenty of others.

cappiethedog
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October 18, 2022 2:01 pm

I don’t think there is a Squeeze fan alive who has “853-5937” as one of their ten-to-twenty favorite songs, but it reached #32. “Hourglass”(#15) is better. It’s no “Tempted”, though. Radio seemed to be afraid of new wave. “Another Nail in My Heart” didn’t even chart.

I know “Goodbye to You” as well as “The Warrior”. #65 is a genuine surprise. #7 is also a surprise.

America was ready for Burundi drums. “Stand and Deliver” missed the chart altogether, but the insanely catchy “Goody Two Shoes” just missed the top ten. “I Want Candy” deserved better. Age may have been a factor. “The Age of Consent” was used in the trailer for Marie Antoinette, but not the film, which finds room for “I Want Candy”.

How did “Dancing with Myself” not chart? That music video practically screams Martha Quinn. Such a great first-generation music short.

“Don’t Stop Me Now” was the inspiration behind a Google Doodle to celebrate Freddie Mercury’s birthday. That’s telling you something about its low chart position.

Dance Fever
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October 18, 2022 2:22 pm

Fun article, mt58!
Here’s a sextet of songs that are mind-blowing that they didn’t reach the hallowed territory.
“Tiny Dancer” Elton John #41
“All My Loving” Beatles #45
“It’s Raining Men” Weather Girls #46
“Jolene” Dolly Parton #60 (WTH?)
“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” Rolling Stones #42
“Super Trooper” ABBA #45
AH, the mysteries of the music business.

cappiethedog
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October 18, 2022 4:46 pm
Reply to  DanceFever

I remember the original version of Elton John’s Greatest Hits Vol. 1 had “The Border Song”. Almost Famous was the first time I heard “Tiny Dancer”.

My favorite #42 song(thought it was #41) is “Flash’s Theme”.

reggie
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October 18, 2022 6:04 pm

Great article MT. The crimes abound:

The Romantic’s “What I Like About You” – peaking at #49
Tom Petty’s “American Girl” – not making Hot 100
Talking Heads “Once In A Lifetime” – not making Hot 100
Fastballs’ “The Way” – not making Hot 100

cstolliver
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October 18, 2022 7:01 pm
Reply to  reggie

Well, at least in Fastball’s case, it wasn’t released as a single and so was ineligible to chart at the time of BB’s rules. … just by a few months, as “Fire Escape” charted when the “no physical single” rule was dropped.

cappiethedog
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October 19, 2022 2:06 am
Reply to  reggie

We have a $12B(and counting) rail system that doesn’t take you to anywhere relevant. On a more related note, “Road to Nowhere” didn’t chart. Also, “This Must Be the Place(Naive Melody)” is so much more accessible than “Burning Down the House”, but it’s the avant-garde song that sneaks into the top ten. The three Talking Heads songs that charted are so random. Sometimes I forget that “Take Me to the River” was a hit.

Ozmoe
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October 19, 2022 2:20 pm

Love this, mt58, and here are my contributions that I hope aren’t repeating anyone else’s:

  • Babylon by David Gray: A huge hit in the UK and deservedly so, this moving ballad stalled at number 57 on the Hot 100.
  • Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell: The classic tune with the memorable lines “They paved paradise/Put up a parking lot” has appeared in the top 40 in several remakes, but the original by its writer only made it to number 67 in 1970 in the United States while going to the top 15 in the UK and Canada.
  • At Last by Etta James: I bet you’d lose count of the number of weddings where this song was played for the bride and groom during this century alone. Which makes it astounding that this only got to number 47 in 1961.
  • I Got You by Split Enz: Top 20 in their native Australia along with the UK and Canada, yet all it could do in America was get to number 53 in 1980. Given its extensive exposure in the early years of MTV, the song may have been able to crack the top 40 if rereleased later in the 1980s, but as shown in several examples already, that action usually just meant another disappointing chart peak regardless.
cappiethedog
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October 20, 2022 2:24 am
Reply to  Ozmoe

“Better Be Home Soon” mysteriously stalled at #42. What happened? Temple of Low Men was just as tuneful as their self-titled debut. Radio stopped playing them. “Fall at Your Feet” only reached #75. That should have been the lead single from Woodface. It could have righted the ship.

Shocker
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October 23, 2022 1:45 am

Good songs all around, the ones I know, here’s a few I thought of:Highway to Hell – ACDC. #47 in 1979Rock Lobster – The B52s. #56, 1979Money (That’s What I Want) – The Flying Lizards. #50, 1979

Last edited 3 months ago by Shocker
PeiNews
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October 24, 2022 7:50 pm

“That Thing You Do” is a 10.

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