If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. This list features two songs that tried twice to make the Top 40 – and failed both times.
“Sail On Sailor” – The Beach Boys – #79 (1973), #49 (1975). Written by Van Dyke Parks and Brian Wilson, when he was in a bad way, “Sail On Sailor” was a rock song disguised as an R&B tune. Dennis Wilson first tried to sing it, then Carl, and finally temporary Beach Boy Blondie Chaplin. It peaked at #79 in 1973; for some reason they re-released it two years later, where it came a little closer to cracking the Top 40. But not quite.
“High and Dry” – Radiohead – #78 (1996). For all their critical acclaim and album success, Radiohead has never had a Top 20 hit. Even the ubiquitous “Creep” only managed to hit #34. “High and Dry” is an intense ballad, with soothing acoustic guitars giving way to heart-wrenching electric guitars. This even had “Planet Telex” as a B-side and still didn’t make it big. Hmph.
“Radio Free Europe” – R.E.M. – #78 (1983). Seriously. This isn’t bad for a college rock band from Athens, Ga. who had just released their first album. Today it’s considered a classic among alt-rockers, but at the time, I would have taken a top 80 single.
“I Melt With You” – Modern English – #78 (1983), #76 (1990). This is unexplainable. The song was a mainstay on college radio, MTV and dance clubs, and was featured in the movie Valley Girl. The group even received a lifetime achievement award at the BMI Awards in 2017 due to 3 million plays of the song. Modern English re-recorded the song in 1990, hoping that people would remember what made it one of the most popular songs of the 1980s, and it managed only two spots higher.
“Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)” – Billy Joel – #77 (1994). Possibly one of Billy Joel’s most beautiful ballads, “Lullabye” was written for his daughter, Alexa Ray Joel. It was unfortunately released at the twilight of his career; after this song, he had only one other song hit the Hot 100.
“Can You Feel It” – The Jacksons – #77 (1981). Looking at their chart history, I’ve discovered that once the Jackson 5 became the Jacksons, they stunk. They managed only 3 top 10 hits from 1976 to 1989 and 7 Top 40 singles. The rest, like “Can You Feel It,” were just an interruption in Michael Jackson’s career. You still hear this song every once in a while, though.
“Fall At Your Feet” – Crowded House – #75 (1991). Thank God for “Something So Strong”; otherwise Crowded House would have been known as a one-hit wonder for “Don’t Dream (It’s Over).” But they continued putting out quality albums with songs so heartachingly sweet that it brought to mind the four lads from Liverpool. This is one of those songs, which didn’t manage to sway too many people.
“Talkin’ About a Revolution” – Tracy Chapman – #75 (1988). Chapman had only two top 10 hits, and this was not one of them. The singer of “Fast Car” followed up her success with the opening track to her self-titled debut. While it’s a good acoustic rocker, it, like the Beatles’ “Revolution,” may have been a little too subversive for the pop music crowd.
“I Don’t Like Mondays” – The Boomtown Rats – #73 (1979). Not bad for quasi-classical piano song by a post-punk band from Ireland. This was before Bob Geldof became known for Band Aid, Live Aid and became a knight; at the time, he and his band were unknown in the U.S. It managed to hit #1 in the UK, though.
“Mama” – Genesis – #73. I’ve already described this song in a post a few weeks ago. “Mama” managed to hit #4 in the UK but didn’t catch on overseas. Suffice to say, the group stuck with bubblegum after failing with this song – as referenced in my “Jumping the Musical Shark” entry.