A little over a year ago, I wrote a piece about classic singles, among them “Louie Louie,” “Be My Baby,” and “Born to Be Wild,” that climbed way up the Billboard Hot 100 but stalled at #2 — never making it to that elusive top spot.
What’s more frustrating for an artist than having a single come so close before descending? For one, never hitting #1 with any other record, making that one that stopped at #2 feel like a bitter pill. But what’s even more frustrating than even that? When two (or more) of that artist’s records fall victim to the same fate.
Below are six artists who never rode a single to the very top of the charts — but landed in that infuriating second slot at least twice.
1) The Cowsills
When the Cowsills broke nationally, they broke big with their first national hit, the irresistible “The Rain, the Park and Other Things” going way, way, way up to the uppermost section of the charts in December 1967. But, unfortunately, It never got all the way there. Now, what could have possibly kept such a pleasant, catchy, and bouncy song by teen-magazine favorites from top honors?
Another pleasant, catchy, and bouncy song by teen-magazine favorites: the Monkees’ “Daydream Believer.” For two subsequent weeks, “Daydream Believer” continued its reign over “The Rain…,” which then did what rain does — it came down.
About a year and a half later, the Cowsills once again seemed on a surefire ride to the top of the charts, this time with their fabulous rendition of the title song from the biggest Broadway show of the time, Hair. Things seemed more in their favor this time: those blasted Monkees who spoiled their first chance at #1 hadn’t come anywhere near the top spot in about a year, so they were out of the way. In the spring of 1969, what could possibly keep an enjoyable interpretation of a song from Hair from #1?
An enjoyable interpretation of two songs from Hair, that’s what. Yes, on May 10, 1969, the Fifth Dimension enjoyed their fifth week in first place with their smash medley of “Aquarius”/”Let the Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)” while the Cowsills could only milk out a second placing. Both records would remain in those positions the following week, after which the Beatles would “get back” to the top spot, and the Cowsills’ “Hair” would stop growing.
2) Bob Dylan
In the aforementioned article of classic important singles that stalled at #2, I referred to Bob Dylan as the most important artist who never scored a top-spot single. Album-wise, he’s gotten on top a few times, some of them even in this century, but on the singles chart, he missed his chance at #1 twice.
For all the influence, importance, and just plain awesomeness of his super-groundbreaking “Like a Rolling Stone,” it was “help”-less in reaching the #1 position. On September 4, 1965, the Beatles once again exercised their right to keep anything with the words “Rolling Stone” in second place. Dylan remained deadlocked at #2 for a second week before beginning his direction home.
But that single would not feel so all alone. The following Spring, Dylan declared, “Everybody must get stoned.” While “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35” climbed higher than 35 and even higher than 12, his rainy day wasn’t a reigny day over “Monday Monday” by the Mamas and Papas who kept Dylan one notch from the peak of the pile on May 21, 1966.
After this, Dylan would only ever see one more single of his in the Top 10 — “Lay Lady Lay” at #7.
3) Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs
“Uno…dos…” That’s Sam the Sham counting how many times he and his Pharaohs ended up landing one spot shy of #1. The Texas tunesmiths had one of the great party hits of 1965, nay, all time, with “Wooly Bully.” It never made it all the way to the top, however, with the Beach Boys’ “Help Me Rhonda” sitting in command on June 5, 1965. A week later, the Boys dropped down two spots, but Sam the Sham’s record remained unmovable at #2, while the Supremes were back at the top again with “Back in My Arms Again.”
Well, Sam and his pals were only just getting started on the hit parade, so it may have seemed like they still had time to land the golden spot with a future release. After a few moderately charting follow-ups, the Pharaohs struck gold again, this time with the slower, more sinister “Little Red Riding Hood.” With its wolf-like yells, the record was certainly a wild thing, but, as Sam learned on August 6, 1966, not wild enough to dislodge another “Wild Thing” out of #1, while Sam cried wolf at #2.
The following week, that “Thing” slid down the charts, but no matter what a big response “Little Red Riding Hood” had, it remained stuck in place. Just like the year before, the Pharaohs’ record played second best to two different singles; this time, it was the Lovin’ Spoonful’s classic “Summer in the City.”
So poor Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs never had a #1 single… or did they? Despite “Wooly Bully” never reaching #1 on the weekly charts, Billboard magazine did name it the #1 song of 1965, in large part because of its long (for its time) chart life. Hey, that counts (in Spanish or English) for something, right?
4) Gary Puckett and the Union Gap
Gary Puckett and the Union Gap had four hit songs between late 1967 and late 1968… or, as some believe, they really only had one song that simply got served four slightly different ways and the public ate up all four. Well, maybe they only had one song, but they never had a #1 song.
Their second single, “Young Girl,” however, did the second-best thing by placing second best for three weeks in a row, beginning April 6, 1968 under “The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding for a week. Then, it played second fiddle to “Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro for two weeks in a row.
Later that summer, Puckett once again came as close to the top spot as he’d ever find himself. On July 20, 1968, his “Lady Willpower” began a two-week run behind Hugh Masakela’s “Grazin’ in the Grass.” It’s not known for sure if Puckett commented at the time “I guess there’s just no getting over Hugh.” What is known is that with his subsequent singles, Puckett’s distances from #1 became bigger gaps.
5) Blood, Sweat & Tears
It’s rather well known that Creedence Clearwater Revival has the all-time record for most #2 singles without a #1. So who comes in second place for second placing? It would appear that this honor goes to Blood, Sweat & Tears. In 1969 alone, the band got to the just-missed position three times, all with songs from the same album (which did get to #1, as did the follow-up LP, so at least the bandmembers, all 90 of them, knew what having a top-selling record of some kind was like).
For three weeks in a row beginning April 12, 1969, the Fifth Dimension made Blood, Sweat & Tears so very frustrated by keeping the brass band out of #1 by way of “Aquarius”/”Let the Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)” and thereby making Blood, Sweat & Tears the second act on this list to have a potential #1 thwarted by that single.
But BST took another spin toward the top that summer, when “Spinning Wheel” rolled up the charts, stopping at #2 on July 5 behind “Love Theme From ‘Romeo and Juliet'” by Henry Mancini. Charting was such sweet sorrow.
A week later, “Romeo and Juliet” had slipped down, but before “Spinning Wheel” could move up a position, “In the Year 2525” by Zager and Evans took the torch. “Spinning Wheel” spent a total of three weeks at #2. After that, well, what goes up must come down.
That fall, BST had one more single shoot up the charts: their last ever in the shadow of the top spot. This time, it was “And When I Die.” Once again, it only got to #2, but this time, it was a short stay there — one week (November 29, 1969) behind the double threat of “Come Together” and “Something” by the Beatles.
6) Creedence Clearwater Revival
Last but not least, the all-time champs of “so close!” with an unparalleled five-time stay at #2. I documented their sad story of collapsing just short of the finish line in my “Stuck in Second Place” article, but here’s a brief summation:
“Proud Mary” failed to keep on burning past #2 on March 8, 1969, while Sly and the Family Stone held court with “Everyday People.”
Three months later, on June 28, 1969, “Bad Moon Risin'” stopped rising, settling at #2 while there was a Bard moon risin’ by way of Henry Mancini’s “Love Theme from ‘Romeo and Juliet.’”
Their “Green River” didn’t rise any higher, and on September 27, 1969, the band who had succeeded with their Woodstock appearance were being outdone by a group that didn’t appear anywhere, at least not in the human dimension: the Archies with “Sugar, Sugar.”
For two weeks beginning on March 7, 1970, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” kept “Travelin’ Band” from traveling any higher than #2.
Their final time in the shadow of the top spot came on October 3 when “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” couldn’t get over Diana Ross’s solo version of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”