There's a saying in the music business that the worst places to peak on the Hot 100 are #2, #11 and #41. The reason, of course, is that an artist came so close to #1, or the top 10 or the top 40, and just missed. The artist won't get the headlines, congratulatory messages and (most important) credit for the greater hit in posterity. Maroon 5 knows what I'm talking about. "Payphone" (which features Wiz Khalifa) spent six weeks at #2, but wasn't able to overtake Carly Rae Jepsen's smash "Call Me Maybe" and become the group's third #1. This week, "Payphone" slips to #3. Barring a miracle, it won't follow the group's "Makes Me Wonder" or "Moves Like Jagger" (featuring Christina Aguilera) to #1.
This got me thinking: What records spent the most weeks at these and other "unlucky" positions without moving up that last crucial notch? Here are the records since 1955 that came the closest to #1, the top five, the top 10, the top 20, the top 40 and the Hot 100 without getting there.
Longest runs at #2
Foreigner's 1981 hit "Waiting For A Girl Like You" and Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott's 2002 hit "Work It" both spent 10 weeks at #2 without reaching #1. Foreigner's tender ballad spent nine weeks at #2 stuck behind Olivia Newton-John's "Physical." When that trendy hit finally fell, "Waiting…" spent a 10th week at #2 behind Daryl Hall & John Oates' blue-eyed soul smash "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)." Group members Lou Gramm and Mick Jones co-wrote "Waiting…," which was featured on the band's fourth album 4. In 1985, Foreigner finally landed a #1 hit with another ballad, the gospel-edged "I Want To Know What Love Is."
Elliott's song spent all 10 weeks at #2 behind the same monster hit: Eminem's "Lose Yourself." Elliott co-wrote the song with Tim Mosley, better known as Timbaland. The sassy hip-hop smash, which remains her biggest hit, was featured on her fourth album, Under Construction. In 2004, Elliott had another long run at #2 as a featured artist on Ciara's "1,2 Step." That song spent seven weeks in the runner-up spot without reaching the top. While Elliott has yet to reach #1 as an artist, she did reach #1 as a co-producer of the all-star 2001 remake of "Lady Marmalade."
Donna Lewis' 1996 hit "I Love You Always Forever" and Shania Twain's 1998 hit "You're Still The One" are runners-up. Each spent nine weeks at #2 without reaching #1.
Here are the hits from earlier decades that had the most weeks at #2 without reaching #1: 1950s: The Diamonds' "Little Darlin'" (eight weeks in 1957); 1960s: The Kingsmen's "Louie Louie (six weeks in 1963-1964); 1970s: Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" (six weeks in 1978).
Longest run at #6
Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way" spent eight weeks at #6 in 1999, the record for a song that didn't crack the top five. Swedish pop pros Andreas Carlsson and Max Martin co-wrote the silky pop song, which was featured on the Boys' second U.S. album, Millennium. The single wound up with a Grammy nomination for Record of the Year. Backstreet Boys' five previous hits had all reached the top five on the Hot 100 or Hot 100 Airplay charts. The boy band went on to have another fairly long run at #6 in 2000 with "Show Me The Meaning Of Being Lonely." That song spent three weeks at #6.
Two songs spent five weeks at #6 without cracking the top five: Jagged Edge's 2003 hit "Walked Outta Heaven" and Twista's 2004 hit "Overnight Celebrity."
Longest runs at #11
The Chambers Brothers' 1968 hit "Time Has Come Today" and Sister Hazel's 1997 hit "All For You" both spent five weeks at #11 without reaching the top 10. "Time Has Come Today" is a classic of the psychedelic era. Two of the brothers, Joe and Willie Chambers, co-wrote the song, which was featured on the group's third album, The Time Has Come. The song has since been featured in numerous movies, including Coming Home, The Doors and Crooklyn. It has also been covered by such acts as the Ramones and Joan Jett.
These were the biggest hits for both acts. The Chambers Brothers cracked the top 40 with its follow-up, "I Can't Turn You Loose," but Sister Hazel, a rock band from Florida, has yet to return to the top 40.
Four records are runners-up, with four weeks at #11 without cracking the top 10: Martha & the Vandellas' 1967 hit "Honey Chile," Supertramp's 1982 hit "It's Raining Again," Semisonic's 1998 hit "Closing Time" (on the Hot 100 Airplay chart) and *NSYNC's 2001 hit "Gone."
Longest run at #21
Rick Springfield's 1982 hit "What Kind Of Fool Am I" spent six weeks at #21 without cracking the top 20. That had to be a disappointment: Springfield's four previous songs had all made the top 20. Springfield wrote "What Kind Of Fool Am I," which was featured on his sixth album Success Hasn't Spoiled Me Yet. The soap opera star turned pop sensation went on to have four more top 20 hits in 1983-1984.
Three records are runners-up, with three weeks at #21 without cracking the top 20: the Moody Blues' 1970 hit "Question," Robert Miles' 1996 instrumental hit "Children" and Westside Connection's 1996 hit "Bow Down."
Longest run at #41
Gladys Knight & the Pips' 1968 remake of the Temptations' "I Wish It Would Rain" spent five weeks at #41 without cracking the top 40. Gladys & the Pips had amassed seven top 40 hits before this and would have another 18, but this one didn't fly. It was probably released too soon after the Temps' version of the song, which spent 11 weeks in the top 40 earlier in 1968. Knight's single was featured on the group's fifth album Silk N' Soul.
Nine records are tied for the second longest-run at #41 (three weeks) without cracking the top 40: Al Greene & the Soul Mate's "Back Up Train" (1968), Cheech & Chong's "Framed" (1976), Chilliwack's "Whatcha Gonna Do" (1982), A Taste Of Honey's "I'll Try Something New" (1982), Glenn Frey's "All Those Lies" (1983), PC Quest's "After The Summer's Gone" (1991), The Wonders' "That Thing You Do!" (1996), Lila McCann's "With You" (1999) and American Hi-Fi's "Flavor Of The Week" (2001).
(Yes, that's the way soul legend Al Green's name was spelled on that record.)
Longest run at #101
Vanity 6's 1982 recording of Prince's "Nasty Girl" spent seven weeks at #101 without ever cracking the Hot 100. The song was featured on the group's first and only album, Vanity 6. Vanity, the group's lead singer, finally hit the big chart in 1984 with "Pretty Mess." She returned to the chart in 1986 with "Under The Influence."
Four records are runners-up, with six weeks at #101 without making the Hot 100: the Memphis Horns' "Just For Your Love" (1977), Michael Henderson's "Be My Girl" (1977), Al Hudson & the Partners' "You Can Do It" (1979) and Grace Jones' "Pull Up To The Bumper" (1981).
Here's a little bonus for you, continuing in the same general theme.
Most #2 hits without a #1 hit
Creedence Clearwater Revival had five #2 hits without ever reaching #1. That's more #2 hits without a #1 than any other act in pop history. CCR reached the runner-up spot in 1969-1970 with "Proud Mary," "Bad Moon Rising," "Green River," "Travelin' Band" and "Lookin' Out My Back Door."
Runners-up are Blood, Sweat & Tears, which notched three #2 hits in 1969, and En Vogue, which amassed three #2 hits from 1990 to 1997. BS&T hit #2 with its first three Hot 100 hits, "You've Made Me So Very Happy," "Spinning Wheel" and "And When I Die." En Vogue reached the runner-up spot with "Hold On," "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)" and "Don't Let Go (Love)."
Hat tips: Tom Noonan, who was Billboard's chart director from 1954 to 1965 and again from 1983 to 1990, was the first person to suggest this idea to me—that these were the "unluckiest" positions to peak at. "Tommy," as everybody called him, died in 2006. I miss his unflagging good spirits. Also, this piece would have been impossible to do without Joel Whitburn's Pop Annual 1955-2011, which lists every Hot 100 single in that vast, 57-year period by peak position. Check out Joel's site at www.recordresearch.com.