well, with the Manic Street Preachers, or at the least Nicky Wire of the Manics, making it clear that they want to sell lots and lots of records with their imminent new single and album, i thought it would be a good time to cast our minds back to when actual record sales counted for something.
sometimes the tales of records that were "nearly" hits can be just as interesting as massive sellers and huge flops. here, then, are nine singles which sold well enough to get to number two in the charts (well, number three in the case of one), but not quite well enough to be at the top of the chart. not even for a week. some of the titles may very well surprise you, and i promise i will explain why there are 9 instead of a traditional "top ten" at the end.
Oasis - Wonderwall. Ok, let's start this off with a biggie. the biggest selling single in the history of the band Oasis didn't make it to number one, whereas others by them (Don't Look Back In Anger, Some Might Say) did. how so? lots and lots of people bought it, but not in the same week as each other. the single stayed in the top 40 for something close to 6 (six!) months, but never got higher than the number two spot. a combination of "spread buying" and people buying the album, Morning Glory, instead of just the single, meant that it could never claim to be number one, although it did wonders for the bank accounts of Liam and Noel.
what kept it from the top spot?
something called I Believe by some chaps called Robson & Jerome. i think they were in some sort of TV show about firemen or something like that. i can't say that i have ever heard this song, and quite frankly i would suspect i am better off not hearing it. the cover screams "buy this for your Mum / Aunt / Gran", doesn't it? whoever they were, they must have been rather popular for a brief time to hold on to the top spot in the face of the Oasis juggernaught at the time.
Oasis were once upon a time denied a number one by Blur, so in the interests of being fair, it's interesting to note that Song #2 by Blur was also denied a number one position, stalling at the second spot. a shameless rip off of a number of Nirvana guitar rifts it may very well be, Song #2 has developed into an anthem for going absolutely mental, as well as frequently used in adverts, sports reports and what have you. instantly recognizable ("wooo hoooo" and all that), utter gibberish lyrically, but music lovers everywhere tend to think of it as a great single.
who denied a chant of wooo hoo number one?
erm, I Believe I Can Fly by R Kelly. an unapologetic, mushy middle of the road quasi-balance that was recorded for the less than spectacular mixed animated & live action film Space Jam. the film, as i recall, was about some sort of intergalactic basketball match between animated cartoon characters and people. a jazzed up Bedknobs & Broomsticks, if you will. very few people remember the film; a very good many recall the song. it's not an awful a song as, say, Everything I Do or My Heart Will Go On, but it's still an eye opener that more record buying people at the time bought this over the Blur single.
Radio Ga Ga by Queen stands up as one of the all time great songs. it featured lyrics celebrating the joys of radio, and thus DJs played it relentlessly, and everyone who heard the infectious beat of the song, not to mention some of Freddie's finest ever vocals, took a shine to it immediately. at a time when Queen needed a serious career boost (this was before their celebrated Live Aid performance and after the calls to boycott the band due to them playing in Apartheid-era South Africa), this was the absolute best song to deliver. and let us not forget the dazzling video, featuring one of the greatest "clap alongs" of all time. amazing, then, that it was kept from the number one spot by a song you couldn't hear on the radio which had a video you couldn't see....
who stopped Queen from doing it all the way to number one?
Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood ensured that Queen did not score a number one with this song. you won't get me saying a word against Frankie, of course. Relax reamins one of the most controversial singles of all time. legend has it that it was banned by the BBC on air, although no one has a recording of a DJ (supposedly Mike Read) pulling the record. the infamous video rarely saw TV time back in the 80s, and it's a wonder that it gets screened today, quite frankly. as brilliant as the Queen single was, there is no beating the publicity generated by a blanket ban of a record, which saw Frankie just keep on selling and selling. the fact that Relax is such a great song helps, of course!
Frankie themselves got blocked from a record breaking 4th straight number one when their fourth single, Welcome To The Pleasuredome, stalled at number two. quite honestly, it's a wonder it got that high. it's not that it isn't a great song (for it is), it's just that by the time this single was released, some 4,000,000 (four million) copies of the album which features the song had been sold in the UK, according to estimates. there was also some dubious reporting about the band at the time, due to their non-involvement with Band Aid and the fact that they were about to scarper for a year as tax exiles, something the tabloids love to nail people for. still, enough people wanted to hear more and more Frankie to see it get almost to the top.
and just what record could have stopped Frankie?
erm, Easy Lover. the hardly fondly remembered duet between Phillip Bailey and Phil Collins prevented Frankie from the incredible feat of having their first four singles all make it to the top of the chart. a good deal of my argument that the 80s was the best decade for music ever is undermined by the fact that Phil Collins sold several billion records during the decade. in fairness, this is one of his better offerings, but still, the record buying public of the time chose this over making history with Frankie? i bought three copies of Welcome To The Pleasuredome at the time - lads, i did my bit and my best for you!
perhaps the most infamous single never to make number one was the double-A side single of Strawberry Fields Forever / Penny Lane by The Beatles. at the time, the band had locked themselves in their studio and spent weeks, months even slaving away over the album that would be Sgt Pepper. under immense pressure to get a product out from the record label, producer George Martin pulled these two songs from the album and agreed to let the label release them as a single instead. George Martin has since described this as being "the worst decision [I] ever made". two very much loved and cherished songs that, alas, had to be excluded from The Beatles' Number One compilation album.
and which release blocked The Beatles?
Please Release Me by the fascinatingly named Engelbert Humperdink. people of the 60s, just what were you thinking? in the midst of the flower power, psychedelic revolution of the late 60s, the record buying public somehow contrived to buy more copies of a 50s crooner throwback record than a mindblowing, life altering record by the fab four! in fairness, it's not all that bad a song, but better than Penny Lane? not really, no. and if you ever tried to compare it to Strawberry Fields Forever, i doubt you would get to finish the sentence before you were informed as to which was the better song.
Love Spreads by The Stone Roses isn't a particularly spectacular single (and this is from a loyal Roses fan), but the circumstances around the single make it rather odd that it didn't claim the top spot. the band had never had any particularly big chart success with their amazing debut album, by the mythology and legend around the band just grew and grew in their absence. their return single was effectively hyped by the music press, the NME in particular, for close to five years. their odd, quasi-Led Zeppelin sounding tune with classic Ian Brown vocals was expected to smash into the charts in the top spot, but didn't.
and just what stopped The Stone Roses from having a number one?
it was someone or quite possibly a band called Baby D with something called Let Me Be Your Fantasy. i have never heard it, or of the artist responsible for it. it did in effect destory the greatest, most anticipated "comebacks" since the return of Frankie Goes To Hollywood in 1986, though. as i said, i am not sure who or what Baby D are, but their legacy would seem to be the act that started the beginning of the end of The Stone Roses. it's acceptable to dislike them, then.
this is a bit of a cheat for this list, as Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush only got as far as number three in the charts. it seems to be the case that, perhaps because she takes so long between records, every time Kate Bush releases a record it is hailed as a "comeback". as her singles go, this is one of the greatest, possibly the one to rival her much celebrated Wuthering Heights as her best of all. still, despite generous airplay and broadcasts of the video on TV at the time, and the fact that later on the hugely popular TV show E.R. would adpot it as its theme, it just didn't sell well enough to even be a number two.
so what stopped Kate's run on the charts?
whereas Madonna's Into The Groove held on to the number two spot, it was I Got You Babe by UB40 and Chrissie Hynde that stood at the top of the chart hill for Ms Bush. for reasons beyond me, the whiny, nasal vocals and tinny, honky reggae sound of UB40 always managed to sell well; throwing in a very popular vocalist as a sort of duet meant massive sales were inevitable i guess. i would like to think that Kate Bush's single is the one most fondly remembered, but i dare say there are a few reading this (possibly my sister included) that balk at my dismissal of UB40!
showing that a controversial, banned or edited video doesn't always do what it did for Frankie Goes To Hollywood, China Girl by David Bowie is another great 80s single which just missed out on the top spot. when Bowie set out to record the Let's Dance album, the mandate he gave producer Nile Rodgers was "I want hits, lots and lots of hits". Thus the album and the lead single of the same name were recorded so, and both the single & album of the name sold really, really well. the follow up singles, however (this one and Modern Love) both stalled at number two. China Girl is highlighted here mostly due to the controversy around the video (in which you could see Bowie's bottom!) leading many to believe it was a sure fire number one.
and who made a mess of it for Bowie, leaving him stumbling into number two?
step forward possibly one of the most misunderstood singles of all time, Every Breath You Take by The Police. thanks to a brooding, soothing backing piece of music the world at large took this one to be a love song, despite the sinister, evil sounding "stalking" nature of the lyrics. as a consequence, it sold by the bucket load, giving The Police their biggest, if not quite their best, hit. as Sting didn't get his bottom out on the video (instead he looked all broody in black and white), David Bowie can i suppose feel well and truly hard done by for missing out here.
finally, since it is they who sort of inspired this post, we have the Manic Street Preachers with A Design For Life. comebacks have been a bit of a common theme here, but few could rival the one made by the Manics. after the disappearance of their celebrated lyricist and guitarist Richey Edwards, no one had a clue what they would do next, with more than one question being asked about if they could even carry on. the answer was impressive - first a contribution to a charity album with a cover of Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head, then the release of this awesome record. an anthem for a generation and a song to fill stadiums with, this had huge number one single written all over it.
so what stopped the Manics designs on the number one spot?
Return Of The Mack by Mark Morrison has the distinction of being one of the worst records of all time, and thus is guilty of being the second worst number one blocker after The Beatles incident. if i remember the single correctly, it features an unimaginative, uninspired sampled monotonous beat with Mr Morrison just more or less mumbling "you're lying" over it, for either no given reason or reason you couldn't care less for. why exactly anyone would buy this record, let alone buy so many copies of it to push it to the number one spot, is quite the mystery. the Manics have had a number of number two singles since this, but this is one one they can feel truly hard done by in regards of missing out on the top spot.
so, why only 9 instead of 10? because, frankly, there are so many great and important singles that failed to make it to the top spot trying to pass off a "top ten" is impossible. these nine stand out for being songs that should have got to the top spot, i leave it to you to think of a tenth if you are so inclined to.
for your consideration, though, here are some (in)famous number two singles. Kayleigh by Marillion, an amazing looking back lamenting love song, didn't quite make the top spot. My Generation by The Who, a single which arguably gave birth to hard rock and heavy metal in terms of attitude and sound, was also bought only in volumes enough to get it to the second spot. Pulp's Common People, as much of an anthem for the mid-90's as the Manics Design was, also only made number two. finally, and perhaps most surprisingly of all, Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana, a song many people would argue set the tone and indeed defined the decade that was the 90s, only made it as far as number 7 (seven) in the chart.
i guess all of this proves that whilst the quality of a song shouldn't be measured by the number of sales alone, the days where you rushed off to buy a single and then listened out to see where it got in the charts were immense fun and created a whole range of talking points. apologies for sounding like an old moaner again, but in this day and age when you simply download music and listen to it on your own an awful lot of fun has gone out of it all.
if i've missed any obvious classics, feel very free to post a comment!
be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11