It's hard to feel sorry for Lady Gaga, who has stormed pop charts around the world for the past 18 months, selling millions of albums and tens of millions of song downloads. But for all her success, one signal accomplishment has eluded her: hitting the #1 spot on The Billboard 200. Her debut album, The Fame, has been listed in the top 10 for 40 weeks, but has yet to climb higher than #2.
The Fame is one of only 10 albums to log 37 or more weeks in the top 10 without hitting #1 since August 1963, when Billboard combined its separate mono and stereo charts into one comprehensive listing. All of these albums, it goes without saying, were smash hits. They just never quite made it to the top spot. In some cases, they had the misfortune of going up against long-running #1 hits like Susan Boyle's I Dreamed A Dream (the album that blocked The Fame), Michael Jackson's Thriller and M.C. Hammer's Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em.
The "unluckiest" of these 10 albums was probably Whitesnake's 1987 smash Whitesnake, which spent time at #2 behind three different blockbusters: U2's The Joshua Tree, Whitney Houston's Whitney and Michael Jackson's Bad. That is what you call serious competition. Those three albums logged a combined total of 26 weeks at #1 and spawned 11 #1 hits on the Hot 100.
Two of the albums on this list got stuck at #2 behind albums that wound up selling fewer copies in the long run. The more dramatic example of this is Shania Twain's Come On Over, which spent two weeks at #2 behind two different albums, Mase's Harlem World and Barbra Streisand's Higher Ground. Come On Over has sold 15,489,000 copies, more than five times as many as Higher Ground (3,015,000) and nearly five times as many as Harlem World (3,264,000).
Four of these 10 albums are debut releases. This makes sense because debut albums don't generally have the first-week sales peaks which help to produce #1 rankings.
I'm pretty sure it's just a coincidence, but hard-rock accounts for three of these 10 albums: Iron Butterfly's In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, Def Leppard's Pyromania and Whitesnake.
The Fame sold 1,658,000 copies before the release of an expanded edition, The Fame Monster, in November. The two editions of the album, combined, have since sold an additional 1,442,000 copies, for a grand total of 3,100,000 copies to date. This doesn't count sales of The Fame Monster EP, which has sold 928,000 copies. (All of these tallies are for the U.S. only.)
The Fame could still reach #1, of course, though the odds seem to be against it after all this time. The album drops from #5 to #8 on this week's chart.
Here's a list of all albums that have logged 37 or more weeks in the top 10 since August 1963 that didn't reach #1. The number after the artist and title is the total number of weeks that the album remained in the top 10.
1. Shania Twain, Come On Over, 53. This country/pop blockbuster spent two weeks at #2 in November 1997. It spawned three top 10 hits: "You're Still The One," "From This Moment On" and "That Don't Impress Me Much."
2. Wilson Phillips, Wilson Phillips, 52. The female harmony trio's debut album logged 10 weeks at #2 from August to October 1990. (It got stuck behind Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em.) The album spawned four top 10 hits: "Hold On," "Release Me," "Impulsive" and "You're In Love."
3. Iron Butterfly, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, 49. This classic of the psychedelic era peaked at #4 in August 1969. It had a longer run in the top 10 than any other album from the '60s or '70s that failed to reach #1. The title track, which runs 17 minutes, was edited down to 2:52 for single release. The song went top 30.
4. Backstreet Boys, Backstreet Boys, 45. The boy band's debut album spent two weeks at #4 in January and April 1998. It spawned three top 10 hits: "Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)," "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" and "All I Have To Give" (plus two more top 10 airplay hits).
6. Lady Gaga, The Fame Monster, 40 (and counting). Gaga's debut album peaked at #2 in January. It has spawned six top 10 hits: "Just Dance" (featuring Colby O'Donis), "Poker Face," "Lovegame," "Paparazzi," "Bad Romance" and "Telephone" (featuring Beyonce).
8. Tina Turner, Private Dancer, 39. This album logged 11 weeks at #3 from September to December 1984, marking one of the most convincing comebacks in pop history. The album spawned three top 10 hits: "What's Love Got To Do With It," "Better Be Good To Me" and "Private Dancer." (The album originally had a different cover.)
9. Def Leppard, Pyromania, 38. This album spent two weeks at #2 in May 1983. (No one at that point could get past Thriller.) The album spawned a pair of top 20 hits, "Photograph" and "Rock Of Ages." (The cover image seems much more haunting in the wake of 9/11.)
10. Avril Lavigne, Let Go, 37. Lavigne's debut album spent two weeks at #2 in September 2002 and February 2003 behind two different albums, Dixie Chicks' Home (which it ultimately outsold) and Norah Jones' Come Away With Me. The album spawned three top 10 hits: "Complicated," "I'm With You" and "Sk8er Boi."