Hitting the Top 40 is like getting nominated for an Academy Award; no matter if you win, people will always know you as someone who had a Top 40 hit.
Getting into the Hot 100 but not making the Top 40 is like being in the rumor mill for being nominated for an Oscar, but being passed over. The Top 40 (Not the Top 50, for some reason) is that magic point you must cross. After all, people call it Top 40 radio.
Not hitting the Hot 100? You are slung among the trash heap of failed singles.
Finding songs that didn’t hit the Hot 100 is difficult; Joel Whitburn has compiled a list of every song to hit the Hot 100; the trick is finding songs that aren’t on that list. I sought the help of the Facebook group Lost Pop Hits (M.I.A.) to find those lost gems, and along with my catalog of hard-luck artists, I managed to find 70 songs that despite their popularity today, despite the superior quality at the time, didn’t get enough support from their label and therefore didn’t make the Hot 100. This is a sad list, a list of artists who had talent but for some reason weren’t recognized for that talent. Here are the first 10:
“Why Does It Always Rain on Me?” – Travis (1999). This must have been what Travis felt like when they couldn’t get in the Hot 100. Despite releasing The Man Who to critical acclaim in the middle of the BritPop explosion, this single could only manage #35 on the U.S. Alternative Chart. But as one commenter to my Facebook post said, “Half of the 90s will be in your blog.” In other words, they got lots of radio airplay, but not many sales.
“I Love L.A.” – Randy Newman (1983). Randy Newman is at his best when he’s serious, as when he wrote “Dexter’s Tune” for Awakenings and “When She Loved Me” for Toy Story 2. His novelty songs – meh. This is one of them, but unlike “Short People,” which went all the way to #2, “I Love L.A.” didn’t find any love among the buying public, reaching #110. Maybe it was the annoying “We Love It!” shouted throughout the song; I know that did it for me.
“I Know Him So Well” – Elaine Paige & Barbara Dixon (1985). From the musical Chess, “I Know Him So Well” hit #1 in the UK and stayed there for four weeks. Riding on the heels of “One Night in Bangkok,” the single flopped in the U.S. Superstar Whitney Houston released her own version with her mother, Cissy Houston, in 1987. She couldn’t even bring it into the Hot 100.
“That Is Why” – Jellyfish (1990). I’ve harped on the lack of love Jellyfish has received before. In their brief but glorious career, the group had only one Hot 100 hit. This is one of their best tunes, and it failed to chart. I can’t explain it. Listen, and wonder why.
“Show Me Heaven” – Maria McKee (1990). “Show Me Heaven” was not one of Maria McKee’s strongest singles – “I Can’t Make It Alone” was much better – but it made it to #1 in the UK for some strange reason. The love song from the Days of Thunder soundtrack failed to move anyone in the U.S., although it reached #28 on the Adult Contemporary chart. Here’s hoping she still gets fat royalty checks from airplay in the UK.
“Have a Little Faith in Me” – John Hiatt (1987). A tender, poignant song by a tough guy, “Have a Little Faith in Me” has been covered by numerous artists including Joe Cocker, Jon Bon Jovi and Mandy Moore. It has been on no less than seven soundtracks. It’s on my autumn playlist. But none of the versions, including Hiatt’s, cracked the Hot 100, although Moore’s version reached #39 on the Mainstream Top 40.
“I Need Love” – Sam Phillips (1994). I slipped a personal favorite in here. Another hard-luck pop artist, Sam Phillips used to be Leslie Phillips, contemporary Christian artist, before she changed her name to her nickname and went the pop route. It wasn’t successful at first – this song, despite airplay on alternative radio stations, failed to crack the Hot 100. But she won a Grammy that same year, and later became known as the “La la” singer on the TV show “Gilmore Girls.” She still releases light, innocent acoustic songs that you can hum along to.
“Crazy Train” – Ozzy Osbourne (1980). I had never heard “Crazy Train” until Chipper Jones chose it for his favorite song when he came to bat at Atlanta Braves games. I can’t stand Ozzy Osbourne, but this song is not without its merits; according to Wikipedia, it was rated the 9th greatest guitar solo ever by readers of Guitar World magazine. VH1 ranked it 9th among the 40 Greatest Metal Songs. The single reached #49 on the UK singles chart, and hit#9 on the Billboard Top Tracks chart. But no Hot 100. (Mom, don’t listen to this. You’ll hate it.)
“Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl)” – Haircut 100 (1981). The flavor of the month in the UK in 1981, Haircut 100 was a bit ahead of the British Invasion, and so their popularity did not cross over to the U.S. “Favourite Shirts” hit #4 in the UK but just missed the Hot 100 at #101.
“Least Complicated” – Indigo Girls (1994). The Indigo Girls never had much chart success, which is a surprise given their overall popularity among the Generation X crowd. “Closer to Fine” only reached #52, and “Galileo” hit only #89. Their third best song, “Least Complicated,” didn’t make it into the Hot 100 at all and reached only #28 on the U.S. Modern Rock chart.