Today we feature several gods in rock and pop music who didn’t chart. It shows you that even the great can fail, given the right circumstances.
“Girls on Film” – Duran Duran (1981). This song even had a racy video to go along with it to generate controversy, but it still couldn’t crack the Hot 100, and neither could their follow-up, “Planet Earth.” For all practical purposes, Duran Duran flopped on their first venture overseas. Then came 1983 and Duran Duran reloaded with “Hungry Like the Wolf.” And all hell broke loose among teeny-boppers.
“Sunday Girl” – Blondie (1978). Pick any song from Blondie in the late 1970s, besides “Heart of Glass.” Most of them missed the Hot 100 – “X Offender” and “Denis”, “(I’m Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear,” and “Hangin’ on the Telephone” (all three of which hit the Top 10 in the UK). Then came “Heart of Glass” – a #1 smash in all countries, followed by “Sunday Girl,” which continued Blondie’s domination on the chart worldwide – except in the U.S., where for some reason, it was never released. No worries: “One Way or Another” would return Blondie to the Top 40, if only to #24.
“Don’t Speak” – No Doubt (1995). You couldn’t throw up without spewing on a radio station playing ska band No Doubt’s non-ska ballad “Don’t Speak” in 1996. It hit #1 on the Hot 100 Airplay Chart, but since they didn’t officially release it as a single, it didn’t hit the Hot 100. That didn’t stop it from being released in other countries, where it shot to #1.
“Girlfriend” – Matthew Sweet (1991). You’ll be pressed to find someone who works as hard as Matthew Sweet. With 15 albums, one EP, and a few compilations to his credit, he deserves better than one Hot 100 hit (“Sick of Myself,” which hit #58 in 1995). “Girlfriend,” one of the anthems of indie rock in the 1990s, hit #10 in the Mainstream Rock Chart but failed to hit the Hot 100. What was the buying public listening to at the time? According to Billboard, it was Mariah Carey’s “Emotions.” God.
“Save Me” – Aimee Mann (1999). Mann didn’t have much chart success after her group ’til tuesday hit it big with “Voices Carry.” But you’d think “Save Me”‘s Oscar nomination from “Magnolia” would have gotten enough attention to lift it into the Hot 100. But “Save Me” lost to Phil Collins’ “You’ll Be In My Heart” (from “Tarzan”!), and Aimee sunk back into the underground pop scene, never to emerge again. Her music has never been the same.
“Bright as Yellow” – The Innocence Mission (1995). I was a rabid Innocence Mission fan. Their first two albums enthralled me, and their third release, Glow, promised even more. I faithfully called my Top 40 station requesting the first single, “Bright as Yellow” (which admittedly wasn’t the strongest song on the album), bought the CD single even though I had the album, played it for my friends, and it did absolutely no good. The song barely registered a blip on Billboard, with the single reaching #117.
“If I Could Talk I’d Tell You” – The Lemonheads (1996). Another example of “Half of the 90s will be in your blog.” The Lemonheads were alterna-darlings during the grunge movement, with lead singer Evan Dando making girls swoon, and their melodic grunge-light music pleasing everyone but selling nothing. Their biggest single, “Into Your Arms,” peaked at #67. This one, which featured a clever key change in the chorus, didn’t turn a plaid-shirt-wearing soul’s head.
“Hymn to Her” – Pretenders (1986). A slow, melodic song by the punk/New Wave rockers? No, I didn’t think it would work either.
“Close to Me” – The Cure (1985). A jazzy, melodic song by the kings of Goth and Post Punk? No, I didn’t think it would work either.
“Blinded by the Light”- Bruce Springsteen (1973). I was floored, several years after Manfred Mann‘s success with this song, to learn that Springsteen wrote it. His version is a completely different song than Mann’s – less hummable but also less dated (as only he can do). Ironically, Springsteen wrote this song in response to then-Columbia president Clive Davis’ complaint that Springsteen’s debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., lacked a single. So much for that.