This is the first in a series of posts that show what a crock of bull Billboard’s Top 40 can be. Granted, since my self-imposed exile from the Hot 100 in the 2000s, I can’t really comment on the accuracy of the charts now – although seeing that songs like Fastball’s “Lou-ee, Lou-ee,” Paul McCartney’s “New” and Teenage Fanclub’s “I’m in Love” didn’t even chart makes me believe that things have only gotten worse.
During the 70s, 80s and 90s, there were a number of great and memorable songs that not only failed to hit the top 10, they couldn’t even crack the Casey Kasem’s hallowed Top 40. I’ve assembled 100 – yes, 100! – of these songs, and you’ll be surprised by the ones that weren’t embraced by the general public. Of course, most of the music I like isn’t embraced by the general public…
NOTE: Since I’m a child of the 80s, a majority of the songs on this list come from that decade. My apologies for not knowing Alice Cooper or Missy Elliott’s back catalog.
“Fat” – Weird Al Yankovic – #99 (1988). Ok, I’m not starting out with anything good. But given all the publicity this song got – especially the video – I’m surprised that it peaked only at #99, much less hit the top 40.
“In Between Days” – The Cure – #99 (1985). Blasphemy! The Cure were known as the second coming of the Beatles in the U.K., and this was their first pop-sounding hit. Where was the support, Fiction Records? Where was Curemania? Prime-time performances? Anyone?
“Cum on Feel the Noize” – Slade – #98 (1973). Quiet Riot turned this into a top 10 hit, and Kevin DuBrow did a spot-on Noddy Holder imitation in recreating this song. Unfortunately, the U.S. wasn’t ready for glam rock, and Slade’s version flopped.
“Lead Me On” – Amy Grant – #96 (1988). Grant’s first attempt at a somewhat secular sound was a departure from her gospel roots, and given the crossover success of 1985’s Unguarded, you’d think she would have been ripe for a smash hit. But the buying public said no. Grant would have to wait a few years for Top 40 success.
“Sometimes Always” – Jesus and Mary Chain – #96 (1994). This one’s a mystery. In the middle of the emergence of alt-rock, with every band with a funny name hitting the charts, this veteran post-punk band never caught on in the U.S. I blame Creed.
“Fall On Me” – R.E.M. – #94 (1986). One of R.E.M.’s greatest anthems from one of their greatest albums, “Fall On Me” just couldn’t find that niche. In the middle of R&B, heavy metal and the dying vestiges of New Wave, Top 40 just wasn’t ready for college rock. Yet.
“That’s Just What You Are” – Aimee Mann – #93 (1995). Aimee Mann found success with “Voices Carry” when she was with ’til tuesday, and her first two solo albums are near perfection. Sadly, nothing from her first solo album hit the Hot 100, and this jewel of a song, featuring Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze, couldn’t manage to crack the top 90.
“Nick of Time” – Bonnie Raitt – #92 (1990). Surprise! The song that earned Raitt the 1990 Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, from the Grammy Award-winning album of the same name, could only manage #92 in Billboard’s survey. This is about the time that Grammy started thinking outside the box.
“Border Song” – Elton John – #92 (1970). Yes, there was a time, early in Sir John’s career, where he didn’t find chart success. “Border Song” is a beautiful ballad that deserves a higher chart position than #92. But don’t worry: His next single? “Your Song,” which went to #8.
“Once In A Lifetime” – Talking Heads – #91 (1986). One of several Talking Heads songs that didn’t make the Top 40, this is perhaps one of their best. They hit #92 with “Psycho Killer” back in 1978. Thank God for “Burning Down the House,” or history might have forgotten this group.