A crowd-pleaser, a rare miss by a superstar, and my favorite song of all time round out the list of 100 songs that didn’t make the Top 40.
“Handle with Care” – Traveling Wilburys – #45 (1990). Curious: Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 reached #3 on the Billboard album chart, but the supergroup’s debut single, a wonderfully upbeat song that recalled George Harrison at his best, could only manage #45. Their follow-up, the inferior “End of the Line,” stalled at #63. Five rock legends deserved better than this.
“Centerfield” – John Fogerty – #44 (1985). You can’t get through nine innings at a baseball game without hearing at least the clapping part of this song. It’s as ubiquitous as “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” But no one liked it when it was released in 1985. Maybe music listeners were still pissed about the 1981 baseball strike. I know I am.
“Blood on the Dance Floor” – Michael Jackson– #42 (1997). This shows how far Michael Jackson had fallen by 1997. His album of remixes of the same name reached only #24, even though it contained five new songs. He would have only one more Top 10 hit before his death in 2009.
“Better Be Home Soon” – Crowded House – #42 (1988). We’ve seen Crowded House on this list before, but I’m surprised that this acoustic ballad reached as high as #42, even though it’s Neil Finn at his best. It just doesn’t sound like something the U.S. record-buying public would find appetizing, especially in the age of Hair Bands.
“Play The Game” – Queen – #42 (1980). Any momentum gained from The Game‘s first single, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” was gone when Queen released the album five months after the song hit #1. (They didn’t release it because they were still recording it.) During that time, the sensational “Save Me” didn’t reach the Hot 100, and “Play the Game” stalled at #42. But along came “Another One Bites the Dust” a month after the album was released, and Queen had their first #1 album. Thanks, John Deacon!
“Changes” – David Bowie – #41 (1975). Bowie first released this song, now one of his best known tunes, in 1971, when he was still relatively unknown in the United States, and it topped out at #66. He tried again in 1975, just before he reached superstardom with the #1 hit “Fame.” It just missed the Top 40. If only he had released it after “Fame”… D’oh!
“Tiny Dancer” – Elton John – #41 (1972). “Tiny Dancer” became known among Gen-Xers in the movie “Almost Famous” and has since been the subject of one of the best misheard lyrics ever (“Hold me closer, Tony Danza…”). The song was released early in his career; Elton John mania had not set in yet. That would occur with his next single, “Rocket Man,” which shot up to #6 and went 3x platinum.
“The Word Is Out” – Jermaine Stewart – #41 (1985). Once again, north Georgia was ahead of the curve. “The Word Is Out,” with its pounding electronic drums, was a hit at our high school dances a full year before Stewart hit the Top 5 with “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off.” That song was a hit at our dances, too. (Thumbs nose at the rest of the U.S.)
“Pretty in Pink” – Psychedelic Furs – #41 (1986). You’d think that the title track to a hit John Hughes movie would chart higher than #41. Granted, it wasn’t the best the Psychedelic Furs single ever released, but Pretty In Pink wasn’t the best John Hughes movie, either.
“That Thing You Do!” – The Wonders – #41 (1996). This incident may have been the moment when I gave up on Top 40 music. The perfect pop song from a moderately successful Tom Hanks movie, with fantastic vocals by Mike Viola, couldn’t even become one of the Top 40 songs in America. What could? “No Diggity,” which was the best-selling single in the land. “Missing You” (From “Set It Off”), after peaking at #25, kept the Wonders out of the Top 40. Grrrr…