SHOWN UP BY THE RUNNER-UP

By request, a list of well-known #2 singles, many of them stopped by crappy, forgettable #1s.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the agonizing sight of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” the undisputed best single of 2006, getting stuck at #2 on the Billboard charts thanks to the dreadful Fergie smash “London Bridge.”

In passing, I mentioned that Gnarls getting stuck in the runner-up slot was maddening but not shameful (quoting myself): “a #2 peak puts ‘Crazy’ in good company. Someday I’ll have to do a blog post about the long list of classic #2 singles – ‘Like a Rolling Stone,’ ‘Dancing in the Dark,’ ‘Since U Been Gone’ – many of which were foiled by forgettable #1s.”

That someday is today, as one of my loyal readers instantly requested such a post. I should confess straight away, the research for this was easy – I mean too easy; junior-high-term-paper easy – because there’s a single source: The Billboard Book of No. 2 Singles. Yup, they actually publish such a thing; it’s meant as a companion volume to Fred Bronson’s beloved Billboard Book of Number One Hits. The No. 2 Singles book not only tells a little story about each hit-that-didn’t-quite-make-it, there’s also data about which song(s) prevented the #2 hit in question from going all the way. What I aim to provide here is some critical judgment about the songs that wuz robbed.

Thing is, in that sentence I wrote two weeks ago, I didn’t pick good examples. Two of those three amazing #2 singles – Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” – were kept from #1 by songs of equal stature. Dylan was held back by the Beatles’ “Help!” (maybe a hair less great than “Like a Rolling Stone,” but marginally), and Bruce was prevented from scoring the only #1 hit of his career by Prince’s even greater song “When Doves Cry.” Dylan and Springsteen probably leapt to my mind because they’re arguably the two biggest artists never to score a #1 hit. But at least they can go to their graves knowing they got thwarted by the likes of the Beatles and Prince.

That third single, however – there’s a fine example: Kelly Clarkson’s superlative “Since U Been Gone” was kept out of the #1 slot on Billboard’s Hot 100 by the lamest of 50 Cent’s hits, “Candy Shop.” I mean, if Clarkson had fallen prey to Fitty’s “In Da Club” or “21 Questions,” okay; but “Candy Shop”?! The best single of 2005, kept from #1 by a half-assed club track that’s barely an entendre and a half – that’s just a crime.

“Since U Been Gone” and “Crazy” are the two most recent examples of superior #2 hits that leap to mind. But let’s dig into the Billboard Book of No. 2 Singles and run down a few more. Hell, a slew more. I’ll start with the minor injustices and work my way up to the crimes against humanity:

SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE AT #2, TOTAL SCHLOCK AT #1

#2: Elvis Presley, “Can’t Help Falling in Love” (1962)
Stopped by #1: Joey Dee and the Starlighters, “Peppermint Twist”

When you consider all the mediocre Elvis songs that went to #1 – “A Big Hunk O’ Love,” “Good Luck Charm” – the fact that this deathless classic stalled at #2 is pretty unforgiveable. And by the way, that’s not Chubby Checker’s classic “Twist” that kept it out of #1.

#2: The Zombies, “She’s Not There” (1964)
Stopped by #1: Bobby Vinton, “Mr. Lonely”

“She’s Not There” isn’t the best Zombies hit (that would be “Time of the Season”), but it surely deserved to go to #1 more than “Mr. Lonely.” Weirdly, “Mr. Lonely” has more modern-day relevance now thanks to last year’s R&B hit by Akon that samples and speeds it up, Kanye-style.

#2: Elvis Presley, “Burning Love” (1972)
Stopped by #1: Chuck Berry, “My Ding-a-Ling”

This must be some kind of harmonic convergence, a how-have-the-mighty-fallen moment in pop history: the two greatest rock stars of the ’50s, embarrassing themselves in the ’70s, and back-to-back on the charts. Except it’s far less embarrassing for Elvis – “Burning Love” is the best of his latter-day hits, a total cheese classic (a hunk-a-hunk-a burnin’ cheese). Meanwhile, Berry’s “Ding-a-Ling” is rightfully considered one of the worst songs in rock history and has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

#2: Elton John, “Daniel” (1973)
Stopped by #1: Paul McCartney & Wings, “My Love”

More ’70s harmonic convergence, this time of the soft-rock variety. Except Elton’s song, about a guy returning home from the Vietnam War, is smarter than it seems, while Paul’s is, whoa-wa-whoa-whoa, total crud.

#2: Wings, “Live and Let Die” (1973)
Stopped by #1s: Maureen McGovern, “The Morning After”; Diana Ross, “Touch Me in the Morning”; Stories, “Brother Louie”

Payback for Paul after the “My Love” debacle: the best hit single of his post-Beatles career got stuck at #2 behind three different songs, all of which have been forgotten. Well, the McGovern song would’ve been forgotten, if it hadn’t been for that awesome South Park episode that rips on it.

#2: The Spinners, “The Rubberband Man” (1976)
Stopped by #1: Rod Stewart, “Tonight’s the Night (Gonna Be Alright)”

The Spinners song is great fun and a pop-funk semi-classic. But mostly I hate the Rodmeister’s song, which features one of the nastiest lines in pop history, “Spread your wings and let me come inside.” Ick.

#2: KC and the Sunshine Band, “Keep It Comin’ Love”; Carly Simon, “Nobody Does It Better”; Heatwave, “Boogie Nights”; Crystal Gayle, “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” (1977)
Stopped by #1: Debby Boone, “You Light Up My Life”

None of these four #2 hits are stone classics (I have a soft spot for the KC and Gayle songs), but they’re all way, way better than the atrocity that is “You Light Up My Life,” which sat at #1 for three friggin’ months.

#2: Joey Scarbury, “Theme from ‘The Greatest American Hero’ (Believe It or Not)” (1981)
Stopped by #1: Diana Ross and Lionel Richie, “Endless Love”

#2: Laura Branigan, “Gloria” (1982)
Stopped by #1: Lionel Richie, “Truly”

Damn you, Lionel Richie! Halting the progress of two cheese classics in consecutive years! I know, they’re all schlocky songs, but I don’t see George Costanza singing “Endless Love” into his answering machine.

#2: The Bangles, “A Hazy Shade of Winter” (1988)
Stopped by #1: Tiffany, “Could’ve Been”

The Bangles’ best single and one of the best covers of all time (completely reinventing and improving on its source material), stopped by the Tiffany hit no one even remembers now.

#2: Def Leppard, “Pour Some Sugar on Me” (1988)
Stopped by #1: Richard Marx, “Hold on to the Nights”

The only #1 hit in Def Leppard’s career is “Love Bites,” which isn’t as horrible a statistic as the fact that Chuck Berry’s only #1 is “My Ding-a-Ling,” but it’s still annoying. “Sugar,” from the same album as “Bites,” obviously should’ve been the chart-topper. And it got stopped by Richard “Hair Helmet” Marx! Five big-haired guys should be able to take down one big-haired Marx, even if one of the five guys has only one arm.

#2: Madonna, “Express Yourself” (1989)
Stopped by #1: Martika, “Toy Soldiers”

It’s not like Madonna needs more #1 hits, but “Express Yourself” is one of her classics, and the Martika song isn’t fit to lick its codpiece. For the record, Madonna was also held back for one week by Simply Red’s “If You Don’t Know Me by Now,” which isn’t so awful but still isn’t one-fifth as good as “Express Yourself.”

#2: Technotronic, “Pump Up the Jam” (1990)
Stopped by #1: Michael Bolton, “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You”

In this corner: German Eurotrash faux-house. In this corner: the mullet. Winner: the Germans, by decision.

#2: Jesus Jones, “Right Here, Right Now”; Lenny Kravitz, “It Ain’t Over ’til It’s Over” (1991)
Stopped by #1: Bryan Adams, “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You”

Man, fuck Bryan Adams! That bloody Robin Hood hit stopped five different songs from reaching #1; a couple of them were crap (um…Amy Grant’s “Every Heartbeat”? Rythm Syndicate’s “P.A.S.S.I.O.N.”? anyone?!), but these two songs by Jesus Jones and Kravitz still sound good on Jack-FM; the Adams song still makes me homicidal.

#2: Boyz II Men, “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” (1991)
Stopped by #1: Michael Jackson, “Black or White”

The Boyz song is cheesy but beautiful. The Jacko song is not the worst in his canon (that would be “You Are Not Alone,” or maybe “Dirty Diana”), but when was the last time you felt like listening to it?

#2: Sheryl Crow, “All I Wanna Do” (1994)
Stopped by #1: Boyz II Men, “I’ll Make Love to You”

Boyz take their Michael Jackson revenge out on his former backup singer. Kind of unfair, no? All she wants to do is have a little fun before she dies.

#2: Warren G featuring Nate Dogg, “Regulate” (1994)
Stopped by #1: All-4-One, “I Swear”

I wonder if Dr. Dre sought retribution on behalf of his cousin Warren by popping a cap in All-4-One.

#1 ISN’T SO TERRIBLE, BUT #2 TOTALLY OUTCLASSES IT

#2: Sam and Dave, “Soul Man” (1967)
Stopped by #1: Lulu, “To Sir with Love”

“To Sir with Love” is cute and pretty inoffensive until you consider that it stopped “Soul Man.” Dude, “Soul Man”!

#2: Steppenwolf, “Born to Be Wild” (1968)
Stopped by #1: The Rascals, “People Got to Be Free”

I’ve got nothing against the Rascals per se, but “People Got to Be Free” is pseudo-hippie bullshit, and “Born to Be Wild” is “Born to Be Friggin’ Wild.”

#2: Steve Miller Band, “Fly Like an Eagle” (1976)
Stopped by #1: Barbra Streisand, “Love Theme from A Star Is Born (Evergreen)”

Among Baw-bra’s schlock classics, I actually find “Evergreen” pretty tolerable (minimal histrionics), but “Fly Like an Eagle” was much cooler.

#2: Gerry Rafferty, “Baker Street” (1978)
Stopped by #1: Andy Gibb, “Shadow Dancing”

Two cheese-a-thons, but I’ll take “Baker Street” over “Shadow Dancing,” which hasn’t aged all that well. “Baker Street,” meanwhile, inspired the sax on Beck’s “The New Pollution” and got covered by the Foo Fighters.

#2: Nena, “99 Luftballons”; Cyndi Lauper, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (1984)
Stopped by #1: Van Halen, “Jump”

This is just a personal-preference thing. I know “Jump” is supposed to be a Van Halen classic and all (personally, I prefer “Hot for Teacher” and “I’ll Wait”), but it seems anticimactic next to “99 Luftballons” and dull as dirt next to Cyndi.

#2: Prince and the Revolution, “Raspberry Beret” (1985)
Stopped by #1: Duran Duran, “A View to a Kill”

“A View to a Kill” is a fun James Bond song but a mediocre Duran Duran song. “Raspberry Beret” is by a demigod at the height of his powers.

#2: Georgia Satellites, “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” (1987)
Stopped by #1: Bon Jovi, “Livin’ on a Prayer”

I know I’m fighting a losing battle here, but I’ll take the one-hit-wonder over this hair-metal “classic” any day. Plus, you want blue-collar anthems? The Georgia Satellites actually looked like they might “work on the docks.”

#2: Crowded House, “Don’t Dream It’s Over” (1987)
Stopped by #1: Aretha Franklin and George Michael, “I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me)”

The Aretha/George duet is totally respectable and fun, but it stopped a song that’s basically now regarded as an ’80s classic and a radio standard.

#2: The Cure, “Love Song” (1989)
Stopped by #1: Janet Jackson, “Miss You Much”

Just the idea that the Cure came so close to having a #1 hit makes the Janet song seem five times lamer than it is.

#2: Queen, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” En Vogue, “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It),” Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Under the Bridge” (1992)
Stopped by #1: Kris Kross, “Jump”

I kind of like “Jump.” It was amusing and catchy, and it launched Jermaine Dupri’s career, so it has some small hip-hop historical signficance. But “Jump” smells way shittier when you look at the list of pop classics it held back. I mean…Freddie Mercury and Flea, taking orders from 13-year-olds with backward jeans? Shameful.

MOST ROBBED ARTIST

Creedence Clearwater Revival: five #2 hits, zero #1 hits
Even people who don’t know much about the charts have heard this statistic: stuck in second place five times in just two years (1969 and 1970), John Fogerty and his band are the most robbed act of all time. The songs that stopped Creedence are a mixed bag, some more offensive than others. CCR’s all-time classic, “Proud Mary,” was halted by one great song, Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People,” and one awful one, Tommy Roe’s “Dizzy.” About a year later, “Travelin’ Band” got stuck behind Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which you can’t argue with, really. Then there’s the underrated “Green River” (possibly my favorite Creedence track); it was halted by the Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar,” which I actually like, but not that much. “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” was stopped by a semi-classic, Diana Ross’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – a good cover of a song Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell did better. But probably the most egregious #2 beat-down in the Creedence catalog is “Bad Moon Rising,” kept out of #1 by Henry Mancini’s “Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet – my parents’ wedding song. I love my parents, but sheez: I really hope that Henry Mancini song inspired them to conceive me or something, because it’s got a lot to answer for.

And without further ado…

THE MOST EGREGIOUSLY ROBBED #2 HITS OF ALL TIME
No need for commentary – these speak for themselves. Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” will join this list soon enough.

#2: The Ronettes, “Be My Baby” (1963)
Stopped by #1: Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs, “Sugar Shack”

#2: The Kingsmen, “Louie, Louie” (1963)
Stopped by #1s: The Singing Nun, “Dominique”; Bobby Vinton, “There! I’ve Said It Again”

#2: Aretha Franklin, “Chain of Fools” (1968)
Stopped by #1: John Fred and His Playboy Band, “Judy in Disguise (with Glasses)”

#2: The Allman Brothers Band, “Ramblin’ Man” (1973)
Stopped by #1: Cher, “Half-Breed”

#2: The Rolling Stones, “Start Me Up” (1981)
Stopped by #1: Christopher Cross, “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)”

#2: Prince and the Revolution, “Purple Rain” (1984)
Stopped by #1: Wham!, “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”

#2: Madonna, “Material Girl” (1985)
Stopped by #1s: REO Speedwagon, “Can’t Fight This Feeling”; Phil Collins, “One More Night”

#2: Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg, “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” (1993)
Stopped by #1: Snow, “Informer”

#2: Everything But the Girl, “Missing” (1996)
Stopped by #1: Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men, “One Sweet Day”

#2: Green Day, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”; Kelly Clarkson, “Since U Been Gone” (2005)
Stopped by #1: 50 Cent, “Candy Shop”

6 Comments »

  1. Emily Said,

    August 23, 2006 @ 10:32 am

    Sample comment. Let’s see how the spam filter on this thing works. For many of the pairs on this list, I only recognize one of the two songs, so they aren’t that meaningful. But the last one? Two songs that I both like, totally different from each other, beaten out by “Candy Shop”? Ugh.

  2. online_stalker Said,

    August 23, 2006 @ 10:42 am

    wait a minute - “my ding-a-ling” is an actual song? i thought that was just something hilarious that the writers of “the simpsons” dreamed up for that episode with the talent show. man, that is TOO FUNNY. i’m gonna have to find this song and download it now.

    also, i’m going to pretend i didn’t read that bit about you bashing lionel richie. he will be the key to peace in iraq!

    anyway, thanks for posting this very interesting and informative piece.

  3. Chris Said,

    August 23, 2006 @ 11:18 am

    also, i’m going to pretend i didn’t read that bit about you bashing lionel richie

    Lionel “Hello” Richie, that’s my man. The Lionel of “You Are” and “All Night Long,” awesome. Outrageous, even.

    But come on, “Truly” is total shit, and it’s not in the same league as “Gloria,” which is an ’80s-cheese masterpiece.

    I will confess to a soft spot for Lionel’s and Diana’s “Endless Love” – my cousin used to sing it at family gatherings, and I have a videotape to prove it – but I have an even softer spot for the theme from The Greatest American Hero. Doesn’t everybody?

  4. Jamie Said,

    August 23, 2006 @ 1:41 pm

    Comment from a real outsider, to see if it goes…

    Some notes:

    1) “But mostly I hate the Rodmeister’s song, which features one of the nastiest lines in pop history, “Spread your wings and let me come inside.” Ick.”

    But Rod’s Rod, and he never was one to leave much to the imagination about the applications of his rod.

    2) The pro-Prince bias is perhaps a bit too evident in this ranking. “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” has not gone gently into that good night. “Purple Rain” is certainly immortal and deserved to achieve #1 status, but both songs are on the required playlist at any Safety Dance. A mismatch, sure, but not in the same league the rest in that category.

    3) Redneck revisited: I love that Georgia Satellites song, so you’ve got at least one vote with you. And I’m glad you mentioned Gerry Rafferty sas someone else who probably deserved to make it. I totally agree with your assessment, though I would add that I think the Foo Fighters’ cover also rocks.

    -je

  5. Chris Said,

    August 23, 2006 @ 4:50 pm

    2) The pro-Prince bias is perhaps a bit too evident in this ranking.

    Pro-Prince bias? Moi?

    For what it’s worth, I did exhibit some restraint not listing Prince’s third #2 hit, “U Got the Look,” another first-rate single that got stuck behind Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam’s “Lost in Emotion.” I think “U Got the Look” is 10 times the single “Lost” is, but I didn’t want this to turn into an all-Prince list. So there.

    “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” has not gone gently into that good night. “Purple Rain” is certainly immortal and deserved to achieve #1 status, but both songs are on the required playlist at any Safety Dance. A mismatch, sure, but not in the same league the rest in that category.

    You know, truthfully, you’re right. This one is hard to call.

    A confession: as a 13-year-old in the fall of 1984, I liked “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” It’s only in retrospect that the song has become embarrassing (especially that video, which…OMG, we could’ve saved George Michael 20 years of living in the closet if we’d all had better gaydar back then).

    Also, as great as “Purple Rain,” the song, indisputably is, it’s not like Prince, or the Purple Rain album, was egregiously “robbed” in 1984. By then, he’d scored two back-to-back #1 hits in “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy,” and with “Purple Rain” he was going for the trifecta. Basically, 1984 was an embarrassment of riches all around for Mr. Rogers-Nelson, and so it’s hard to claim he had been thwarted terribly by the neon smiles of Mr. Michael and his sidekick Mr. Ridgeley.

    In short, I provisionally remove “Purple Rain” from the final list, and place it in the “#1 ISN’T SO TERRIBLE, BUT #2 TOTALLY OUTCLASSES IT” list, where it probably belongs. Good call.

  6. ph_carnivore Said,

    August 23, 2006 @ 8:32 pm

    I’ve got to agree with jamie about Wham!’s Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go. I still like that song at least as much as Purple Rain (which is also awesome, to be sure).

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