20 Songs That Peaked at No. 2

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For each smash hit, for each classic that becomes a part of music history, there is a song it defeated and left in its wake, sometimes forgotten.

But that doesn’t mean that the songs that peaked at No. 2 weren’t good. They may have been released at the wrong time, sitting patiently behind one of those smash hits, never to get their chance. Some even waited their turn only to be overtaken by another classic. They’re the Buffalo Bills of music hits — never a winner, always a runner-up.

Here are 20 of the most well-known instances of songs that peaked at No. 2 on Billboard‘s Hot 100.

#1 – ‘Rock-In Robin’ – Bobby Day (1958)

Weeks at No. 2: 2 
Denied by: “It’s All in the Game” – Tommy Edwards

“Rock-In Robin” was Bobby Day’s only Top 40 hit as a solo artist, reaching No. 2 in August 1958. It might have been relegated to bubblegum novelty forever, but 13-year-old Michael Jackson recorded it in 1972, calling it “Rockin’ Robin,” and it zoomed up the chart, all the way to . . . No. 2.

#2 – ‘Crying’ – Roy Orbison (1961)

Weeks at No. 2: 1
Denied by: “Hit the Road Jack” – Ray Charles

Roy Orbison had bigger hits — he had two No. 1 hits during his 30-year career. But “Crying” ranks among the greatest songs of all time. It won a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2002 and was 69th in Rolling Stone‘s 500 greatest songs of all time. It deserved better, but at least it sat behind another classic — none other than Ray Charles.

#3 – Be My Baby – The Ronettes (1963)

Weeks at No. 2: 3
Denied by: “Sugar Shack” – Jimmy Gilmer & the Fireballs

In one of the biggest farces in Hot 100 history, the legendary “Be My Baby” — which Beach Boy Brian Wilson says he’s heard over 1,000 times — was denied the No. 1 position by a song that proclaimed the virtues of a coffeehouse that serves “expresso.” It’s our sugar shack yeah, yeah, yeah, ah, Sugar Shack, woah baby ah. Meanwhile, “Be My Baby” has been called the record of the century and the greatest pop record ever made. It was named to the National Recording Registry in 2006. “Sugar Shack” was not.

#4 – “Louie Louie” – The Kingsmen (1963)

Weeks at No. 2: 6
Denied by: “Dominique” – The Singing Nun (Soeur Sourire) (2 weeks), “There! I’ve Said It Again” – Bobby Vinton (4 weeks)
One of several bad-luck songs that peaked at No. 2 only to be denied No. 1 by two different songs, “Louie Louie,” the song with unintelligible lyrics, first reached No. 2 but had to wait for “Dominique” to fall out of the way. “Louie Louie” fell to No. 3, then experienced a resurgence and went back to No. 2 only to find “There! I’ve Said It Again” by Bobby Vinton atop the charts. Both No. 1’s are pretty much forgotten, but many still sing “Louie Louie” in a drunken stupor. It’s really the only way to sing it.

#5 – “Dancing In The Street” – Martha & the Vandellas (1964)

Weeks at No. 2: 2
Denied by: “Do Wah Diddy” – Manfred Mann

A classic Motown single, “Dancing in the Street” was covered many times by groups such as the Kinks, the Mamas & the Papas and even the Grateful Dead. The most famous covers were by Van Halen, who reached No. 38 with it in 1982, and David Bowie and Mick Jagger, whose version cracked the Top 10 at No. 7 in 1985.

#6 – ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ – Bob Dylan (1965)

Weeks at No. 2: 2
Denied by: “Help!” – The Beatles

The accolades for “Like a Rolling Stone” are endless. Rolling Stone ranked it No. 1 on their 2004 and 2010 versions of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It was one of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But it met up with the Beatles, whose song “Help!” is also one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Hard to argue with that.

#7 – ‘Born To Be Wild’ – Steppenwolf (1968)

Weeks at No. 2: 3
Denied by: “People Got To Be Free” – The Rascals

Another classic that has made all the Greatest Song lists, this biker anthem has been covered by such artists as Etta James, Slade, The Cult, INXS, Ozzy Osbourne, Bruce Springsteen, Slayer, Blue Öyster Cult and Status Quo. The same can’t be said for “People Got to Be Free.”

#8 – ‘What’s Going On’ – Marvin Gaye (1971)

Weeks at No. 2: 3
Denied by: “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” – The Temptations (1 week), “Joy to the World” – Three Dog Night (2 weeks)

“What’s Going On” sold over 2 million copies and was No. 4 on Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Songs of all Time in 2004 and 2011. How it didn’t make it to No. 1 is either a testament to the two songs that kept it from the top (“Just My Imagination,” yes; “Joy to the World,” debatable) or Americans’ bad taste.

#9 – ‘Live And Let Die’ – Wings (1973)

Weeks at No. 2: 3
Denied by: “The Morning After” – Maureen McGovern (1 week), “Touch Me In the Morning” – Diana Ross (1 week), “Brother Louie” – Stories (1 week)

Paul McCartney and Wings have the unlucky distinction of having three different songs block it from being No. 1. To rub salt in the wound, “The Morning After” won an Oscar in 1973, while McCartney could only muster a nomination the next year. The greatest Bond theme ever deserved better.

#10 – ‘Nobody Does It Better’ – Carly Simon (1977)

Weeks at No. 2: 3
Denied by: “You Light Up My Life” – Debby Boone

Another Bond theme denied! This song, penned by Marvin Hamlisch, met up with the syrupy, melodramatic ballad “You Light Up My Life,” which managed to deny several songs the No. 1 title during its 10-week reign at the top of the charts. To make matters worse, it also stole the Best Song Oscar from Hamlisch.

#11 – ‘Y.M.C.A.’ – The Village People (1978)

Weeks at No. 2: 3
Denied by: “Le Freak” – Chic (1 week), “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” – Rod Stewart (2 weeks)

It’s hard to believe such a staple of sporting events and karaoke bars didn’t make it to No. 1, but it mercifully didn’t make it to No. 1 thanks to Nile Rodgers and Chic along with Rod Stewart. “Le Freak” lives on as well as a disco anthem perfectly preserved; “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?”, fortunately, has been forgotten.

#12 – ‘We Are Family’ – Sister Sledge (1979)

Weeks at No. 2: 2
Denied by: “Hot Stuff” – Donna Summer

Another disco classic, “We Are Family” is part of the National Recording Registry as well. It was written by Chic’s Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers and was also used by the Pittsburgh Pirates during their unlikely World Series comeback that year. A little too late, as it peaked at No. 2 in early summer.

#13 – ‘Waiting For A Girl Like You’ – Foreigner (1981)

Weeks at No. 2: 10
Denied by: “Physical” – Olivia Newton-John (9 weeks), “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” – Daryl Hall & John Oates

A subpar song, Foreigner still deserved to be No. 1 after remaining a bridesmaid for 10 straight weeks. Nine of those were behind “Physical” whose grip over America in 1981 has gone unexplained. A deal with the devil? Aliens? I’m open to any theory at this point.

#14 – ‘Open Arms’ – Journey (1982)

Weeks at No. 2: 6
Denied by: “Centerfold” – J. Geils Band (3 weeks), “I Love Rock n’ Roll” – Joan Jett & the Blackhearts (3 weeks)

One of the most popular power ballads ever, “Open Arms” was Journey’s highest-ranking single. VH1 named it the greatest power ballad of all time, and the song was certified Gold by the recording industry. Unfortunately for Journey, it got caught behind the No. 3 and No. 5 songs of 1982.

#15 – ‘Dancing In The Dark’ – Bruce Springsteen (1984)

Weeks at No. 2: 4
Denied by: “The Reflex” – Duran Duran (1 week), “When Doves Cry” – Prince & the Revolution (3 weeks)

Like Journey, Springsteen has never had a No. 1 hit. “Dancing in the Dark,” the first single from his blockbuster album Born in the U.S.A., is the closest he has gotten, and again, like “Open Arms,” it ran into two huge-selling singles.

#16 – ‘Purple Rain’ – Prince & The Revolution (1984)

Weeks at No. 2: 2
Denied by: “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” – Wham!

Prince couldn’t manage three No. 1 singles in a row. After “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy” hit the top of the charts, what may be his best-known song couldn’t make it. Still, “Purple Rain” was ranked No. 18 among Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

#17 – ‘Right Here, Right Now’ –  Jesus Jones (1991)

Weeks at No. 2: 1
Denied by: “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” – Bryan Adams

You couldn’t turn on the radio in 1991 without hearing this song by the band Jesus Jones. It was everywhere, which makes it even more unbelievable that “Right Here, Right Now” never made it to No. 1. Blame it on Bryan Adams and that god-awful ballad from that god-awful movie about Robin Hood. Of course, I blame everything on Bryan Adams.

#18 – ‘I Love You Always Forever’ – Donna Lewis (1996)

Weeks at No. 2: 9
Denied by: “Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)” – Los Del Rio

Probably the least-known song on this list, Donna Lewis’ single was her only Top 20 hit. Who knows what would have happened if the one-chord, droning monotony of The Macarena hadn’t invaded weddings nationwide in 1996?

#19 – ‘You’re Still The One’ – Shania Twain (1998)

Weeks at No. 2: 9
Denied by: “Too Close” – Next (1 week), “The Boy Is Mine” – Brandy & Monica (8 weeks)

“You’re Still the One” deserves some kind of award for determination. It took 12 weeks for it to climb up the Hot 100 to No. 2, where it stayed for one week before crawling down to No. 4. It steadied itself, and seven weeks later, clawed its way back up to No. 2. It stayed in the Hot 100 for 42 weeks.

#20 – ‘Crazy’ – Gnarls Barkley (2006)

Weeks at No. 2: 7
Denied by: “Promiscuous” – Nelly Furtado Featuring Timbaland (4 weeks), “London Bridge” – Fergie (3 weeks)

Poor Cee-Lo. He arguably had two of the greatest hits of the 2000s in “Crazy” and “Forget You.” First, his collaboration with Danger Mouse, “Crazy” was stopped at No. 2 by two songs I’ve never even heard of. Then, four years later, his solo effort, “Forget You,” stalled at No. 2 for four weeks behind Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” Now that’s tough luck.

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