October 22, 2018
We hear them everywhere we go. They’re on the radio, playing over the sound systems of stores and restaurants, and streaming on multiple services and devices. However, many of the most widely known songs of the rock & roll era were not even hits.
Typically a record is considered a hit if it reaches the Billboard Top 40.This means it gets played on the popular radio program American Top 40, originally hosted by Casey Kasem, now presented by Ryan Seacrest. More importantly, it gets played on radio stations that are formatted with songs from that chart.
There are many songs, though, that did not make the Top 40, yet are still played as though they did. Some of these songs even eclipse the artist’s bona fide hits in terms of popularity. Let’s count ‘em down!
10. “Here Comes the Sun,” The Beatles
It could be argued that just about any Beatles song is a hit. However, the George Harrison-penned “Here Comes the Sun,” from the group’s 1969 album Abby Road, was never released as a single.
As of 2017, it is the most streamed Beatles song on Spotify. This is likely due to the fact that people were creating playlists in advance of the solar eclipse that could be seen across much of the U.S. on August 21, 2017. The song didn’t have that far to climb. In 2015, it was the third most streamed Beatles song on Spotify behind “Hey Jude,” at No. 2, and “Come Together” at No. 1. Both of those were released as singles.
9. “I Wanna Be Sedated,” The Ramones
If you know only one Ramones song, chances are this is the one. Formed in 1974, the Ramones were one of the very first punk rock bands, predating The Sex Pistols by two years. They differentiated themselves from their peers in the U.S. and U.K. by writing catchy, short, pop songs, largely influenced by the music of the '60s.
“I Wanna Be Sedated” was released in 1976 as the only single from the album Road to Ruin but didn’t even make it on to Billboard’s Hot 100. Indeed, only 3 Ramones songs have that distinction, “Sheena is a Punk Rocker,” their cover of the Bobby Freeman tune “Do You Wanna Dance,” and “Rockaway Beach.” The latter was the bands highest charting song, making it to No. 66.
8. “Oh, Yeah,” Yello.
This song from 1985 appeared on the soundtrack for the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day-Off and was known by many for years as “The Ferris Bueller Song.”The song was written and performed by the Swiss duo Yello which consists of Deiter Meier and Boris Blank.
Blank is a composer and arranger, while Meier is a millionaire industrialist, gambler, and a former member of the Swiss national golf team. The two began collaborating in 1979 and released several albums and singles in Europe.
“Oh, Yeah” went on to be used in other movies, as well as TV shows and commercials. For all its exposure though, it only reached No. 51 on the Billboard Hot 100.
7. “I Melt with You,” Modern English
It would be tough to find a song that better embodies the romanticism of ‘80s new wave music than this 1982 tune. It gained wide exposure thanks to inclusion on the soundtrack of the hit movie Valley Girl.
Despite its association with the film, and heavy airplay on MTV, the song failed to crack the Hot 100 upon its original release. A re-recorded version was issued in 1990 and that version managed to get No. 76, quite a ways from the Top 40 but still close to the hearts of new wavers everywhere.
6. “What I Like About You,” The Romantics
The Romantics scores two Top 40 hits in their career, including a Top 10 appearance. “What I Like About You,” from 1980, was neither of those. The Top 10 hit was 1983’s “Talking in Your Sleep,” which got all the way to No.3, while its follow up, “One in a Million” got to No.37.
“What I Like About You” is by far the band’s most popular track at least by Spotify streaming standards, holding a nearly 3 to 1 advantage over their biggest actual hit. Not bad for a song that originally only got as far as No.46 on the Hot 100.
5. “My Generation," The Who
Talk about a song that defined an era, this Who track was a proper anthem for young people in the mid-sixties. It remains one of the band’s most popular numbers. The song did very well around the world when it was released in 1966, hitting the Top 10 in many countries.
In the U.S., the song peaked at No.74 on February 12 of that year.[Shockingly, the band managed to crack the U.S. Top 10 only once when in their career. “I Can See for Miles” went to No.9 the following year.
4. “Seven Nation Army," The White Stripes
The duo of Jack and Meg White, better known as The White Stripes, released this track in 2003 as the first single off their fourth album, Elephant. It won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Song that year.
These days its main riff can be heard at sporting events across America as fans chant it to motivate themselves as well as their team. The accolades and adoration weren’t enough to propel this song any higher than No.61 on the Hot 100 though.
3. “Tom Sawyer," Rush
Canada’s answer to the prog rock movement of the 1970s, Rush have sold over 25 million records in the U.S. Popular on radio stations that featured a format called album-oriented rock which played deeper cuts from LPs, Rush did manage one Top 40 hit with a song called “New World Man” which got to No.21 in the fall of 1982.
Their signature song, according to Rolling Stone, is “Tom Sawyer,” but it only got to No. 44, even though many Rush fans consider it to be the trio’s best song.
2. “Changes," David Bowie
Starting his career in the mid-1960s, David Bowie was one of the few artists that was able to successfully move with the times and stay relevant right into the 21st century.
While his greatest commercial success came in the 1980s with the album Let’s Dance, which produced three top 10 hits, some of his most popular and enduring songs failed to chart in the U.S. “Changes,” released in 1972, is one such track and indeed is one of his signature songs. It made the Hot 100 but failed to crack the top 40, just missing out at No.41.
1. “Stairway to Heaven," Led Zeppelin
A staple of classic rock radio, “Stairway to Heaven” failed to chart. There was a good reason for this though, as the song was never released as a single. Only radio stations received the single version, which spurred airplay, but the music-buying public had to purchase the entire album. This kept the song from charting in the U.K. or U.S.
In 2007, the song did become chart eligible after digital downloads and streaming were counted towards the rankings in both countries. In the U.K. that earned it a showing at No.37 on the Official Chart, while in the U.S. it got to No. 12 on the newly created Streaming Chart.
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