Never Went to No. 1

Some music artists, like Bobby McFerrin, M, and Zager & Evans, reach the ultimate One-Hit Wonder status in terms of the Hot 100 chart.  For these artists, their only song ever to appear on Billboard‘s Hot 100 went to No. 1.  (Of course, in cases like Bobby McFerrin, it should be noted that this just means pop music status; he’s had a long career of making music that hasn’t hit the pop scene.)

On the opposite side of the fence are musicians who have enjoyed long careers of popular music success but never reached No. 1 on the Hot 100 chart.  Acts like Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen have paraded a long list of songs onto the Hot 100, but never made it it to the top.  (In the case of the three I’ve just mentioned, each made it to Number 2.)

I wonder, then, who might be seen as the greatest pop music act never to hit No. 1 on the Hot 100.  In wondering this, I’m thinking about these artists only in terms of their pop music success.  So, for instance, Johnny Cash has had a lot of success outside of the pop charts, but if we take that into account, then the criteria would change, and given that Cash hit No. 1 on the country chart a number of times, he’d no longer be eligible for the conversation.  Meanwhile, Bob Dylan has had a lot of success in terms of influence and album sales, and he has experienced appeal in a number of musical genres, but his actual pop music success has always been a bit limited.  To add one more example, while Nirvana can certainly claim influence and significance, the band only charted with 6 songs, and only half of them hit the Top 40.  So, the pop music success of acts like Nirvana is limited in scope as well.

When all is said and done, I tend to think Bruce Springsteen is the biggest pop music act never to hit Number 1 … just over Johnny Cash.  Springsteen’s highest-charting hit was “Dancing in the Dark,” which hit no. 2 in the summer of 1984.  He’s also had a string of other Top 10 and Top 40 hits, mostly between 1980’s “Hungry Heart” and 1994’s “Streets of Philadelphia.”  Given this body of work, he’d be my nomination, but I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise.  Who would you nominate?

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1 Response

  1. Marc says:

    Led Zeppelin seems to the be at the top of the list of artists that never reached number 1. Stairway to Heaven never even charted and it’s most played song on classic rock.

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