Hitting All, Or Most Of, The Heights

by Kevin Burton

   What do “Ramblin Man” by The Allman Brothers Band, “Material Girl” by Madonna and “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge have in common? 

   Yes, huge hits that were all over the radio in their day, but what else do they have in common?

    Give up?   OK, here’s something helpful (not). Let’s throw in “Purple Rain” by Prince.  What do those four songs have in common?

   You are a true student of rock and roll history, (and probably way too much of one) if you knew that these four songs all peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100.  None of them made it to number one.

   This is the stuff of bar bet glory. You’re welcome kids!

   This information is from the book “The Billboard Book of Number 2 Singles” by Christopher G. Feldman. It’s a great reference book for the likes of me.

   Thanks to Feldman’s book we know that just as “Rock Around The Clock” by Bill Haley and His Comets is generally considered the first number one song of the rock and roll era, the first near miss is “Melody of Love” by Billy Vaughn and his Orchestra.

   I got the book years ago, I think because my main musical influence, Gerry Rafferty, saw his biggest hit “Baker Street” peak at number two. It stayed there for six weeks.  I thought that had to be a record, but it isn’t.

   Two songs, “Waiting For A Girl Like You” by Foreigner and “Work It” by Missy Elliott both were at number two for ten weeks. 

   But the king of number two hits is the band Credence Clearwater Revival. Credence holds the record for most number two hits without ever reaching the top.

Between March of 1969 and October of 1970, Credence had seven top five hits.  Five of them reached number two, then stalled. 

   The Carpenters had five number two hits and Madonna had six. But those artists also had their number ones. Credence, never.

   What American band has ever been hotter than Credence in 1969 and 1970? But how did the band feel about coming so close, so often but never reaching the top?

   Turns out lead singer John Fogerty hasn’t talked about it much.

   Chris Molanphy on his “Hit Parade” podcast on slate.com, called Credence “the sound of American pop at the twilight of the sixties.” On this podcast was this quote, the only one I know of.   

   “In the back of my mind I knew the game is to try to be number one and try to be as popular as you can be,” Fogerty said.

   Popular yes, Credence was all of that. Some sources said they outsold the Beatles in 1969, according to Molanphy.

   Billboard ranks songs based on sales, radio play and online streaming. Rolling Stone magazine compiled a list of the 500 greatest songs of all time according to its quite subjective criteria.

   “Like A Rolling Stone,” by Bob Dylan tops their list.  But in Sept. of 1965 the American public thought “Help” by the Beatles was a touch better.  Help was number one, Dylan’s hit only rolled up to number two.

   Cue Maxwell Smart, “Missed it by that much.”

   “Reaching number one is a week-by-week game dependent on timing, competition and luck,” Molanphy said.

   This is illustrated by the range of songs that blocked Credence from being number one. Among them, you had some transcendent tunes such as “Bridge Over Troubled Water” but you also had “Sugar, Sugar,” the ultimate bubble gum song by The Archies.

   One last tidbit for almost chart toppers. The song “That Thing You Do,” from the 1996 Tom Hanks movie of the same name, reached number two on the fictional Billboard chart. But the song actually charted in the real world, peaking at number 41.

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