Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hit Parade

I believe that the most lasting and well-known songs by a majority of pop music acts tend to be their best songs. Over time, quality will assert itself. But an act's biggest hit is a completely different matter. The pop chart can be a fickle mistress - a fickle mistress with poor taste, at that.

For a lot of acts, their biggest chart hit is not the song that people remember them for. You ask ten random people what Billy Squier's biggest hit was, and nine of them will say "The Stroke." Well, six of them will say "Who's Billy Squier?," but you get what I mean.

With that in mind, I present the biggest chart hits for artists who are generally remembered for other songs:

Johnny Cash, "A Boy Named Sue," went to Number Two in 1969

Cheap Trick, "The Flame," went to Number One in 1988

Jimmy Cliff, "I Can See Clearly Now," went to Number 18 in 1994

Elvis Costello, "Veronica," went to Number 19 in 1989

Bo Diddley, "Say Man," went to Number 20 in 1959

Duane Eddy, "Because They're Young," went to Number Four in 1960

Donna Fargo, "Funny Face," went to Number Five in 1973

Jimi Hendrix, "All Along the Watchtower," went to Number 20 in 1968

Donnie Iris, "My Girl," went to Number 25 in 1982

Rick James, "You and I," went to Number 13 in 1978

M.C. Hammer, "Pray," went to Number Two in 1990

Alanis Morissette, "Head Over Feet," went to Number Three in 1996

Gene Pitney, "Only Love Can Break a Heart," went to Number Two in 1962

Scorpions, "Wind of Change," went to Number Four in 1991

Bob Seger, "Shakedown," went to Number One in 1987

Bobby Sherman, "Little Woman," went to Number Three in 1969

The Smithereens, "Too Much Passion," went to Number 37 in 1992

Billy Squier, "Rock Me Tonite," went to Number 15 in 1984

Al Stewart, "Time Passages," went to Number Seven in 1978

Ritchie Valens, "Donna," went to Number Two in 1959

Jackie Wilson, "Night," went to Number Four in 1960

Tammy Wynette, "Justified and Ancient," went to Number 11 in 1992


MJN said...

Isn't "Touch of Gray" the highest charting Grateful Dead song?

And who's Donna Fargo?

Scraps said...

Donna Fargo was a popular country singer and songwriter in the 1970s, probably best known for "The Happiest Girl in the Whole USA". She was popular enough to have her own TV show at one time, which in the 1970s was more of an accomplishment than it is now.

This is a great list, Tom, and made for quibbling. My main quibble being that "All Along the Watchtower" is one of Hendrix's most famous songs, and I think it would probably come in a strong second if you asked rock fans to name a Hendrix song. (I love "You and I" and know it well, but I guess most people would say "Super Freak" for James.)

Biggest omission: Chuck Berry, "My Ding-a-Ling".

T. Nawrocki said...

Donna Fargo is the happiest girl in the whole USA.

I thought about including Chuck Berry, but wondered if it was too well known that "My Ding-a-Ling" fluked its way into becoming his biggest hit.

Gavin said...

I agree that "All Along the Watchtower" doesn't feel egregious like some of the others--Hendrix has about five monster hits of roughly equivalent fame, of which "Watchtower" is one.

Also: Nine Inch Nails, "The Day the World Went Away," #17 in 1999.

Scraps said...

And off course time takes a while to sort these things out. I already think I hear "Barracuda" and "Crazy on You" (but not, strangely, "Magic Man") more than I hear Heart's awful eighties hits, but I suppose there's a generation that still remembers the later, bigger hits better. And I hope that when people think of the Bangles they think of "Manic Monday" and "Walk Like and Egyptian" before they think of "Eternal Flame".

Scraps said...

"Off course time" almost makes sense.

Scraps said...

Boston - "Amanda"

And their second-biggest hit is "Don't Look Back".

T. Nawrocki said...

I think most people would assume that "Purple Haze" or maybe "Foxy Lady" was Hendrix' biggest hit. Heart and Boston I probably should have included.

I wasn't even aware that Nine Inch Nails had a hit.

Scraps said...

The Kinks, a tie between "Tired of Waiting for You" and "Come Dancing".

(The Kinks never had a top 5 hit in the US.)

Scraps said...

Chicago have three number ones, and I don't think any of them are a song that a fan of the band would name first: "If You Leave Me Now", "Hard to Say I'm Sorry", and "Look Away".

I wonder how many examples of this kind of thing are bands that had a huge hit with a ballad or adult-contemporary song that is not representative of the sound preferred by fans of the band, or likely to be played by outlets that keep music alive. "If You Leave Me Now" probably gets played on Soft Hits of Yesterday and Today stations, but in my experience most people who listen to stations like that don't track so much on who the musicians are. People who know Chicago well enough to have an opinion would be more inclined to cite "Saturday in the Park" or "25 or 6 to 4" or "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is".

Chicago might not be the bext example, I guess, inasmuch as they changed their focus when Peter Cetera effectively became the main creative force in the band, and had a longer and more successful run in that incarnation than the earlier somewhat more rock incarnation.

Scraps said...

How about "Heaven" by Bryan Adams?

I think it's time to go home now.