It's a crazy world. Always has been. As much as we'd like to apply our own sense of order to things, it simply has a mind of its own. Unless you're Nate Silver, of course. Then everything is just dandy! Chartwise, forgotten albums once held the #1 position, beloved by folks who lost interest in them within a few years, while other albums that continue to inspire or to amuse or to be reissued several times over with bonus tracks, remastering and new liner notes and exclusive photos only made it to #2. And worse.
For our purposes here, we're looking at albums that only made it to #2. So close yet so far. Had you been alive at the time of their release, you likely thought they were #1 albums, since you heard their contents everywhere. Enough of my word-count padding, let's just get to it!
25) The Beach Boys -- Surfin' U.S.A.: Though the album spent 78 weeks on the album charts, it never spent one at #1, settling instead for #2, despite having "USA" in its title. C'mon Americans! No wonder we were so susceptible to the British Invasion!
24) Herman's Hermits -- Introducing…: The only band that matters? OK, maybe not so fast. But their first U.S. album did include Goffin and King's "I'm Into Something Good" and Trevor Peacock's "Mrs. Brown, You've Got A Lovely Daughter" and other songs were written by Leiber and Stoller, Huey "Piano" Smith and Allen Toussaint, and the record's production credit went to Mickie Most, so it isn't like they were uniformly lame. They just weren't made for these times.
23) Peter Frampton -- I'm In You: After the ridiculous, unexpected mega-success of [i]Frampton Comes Alive![/i], Frampton was in the pressure-packed situation to record a studio follow-up that would repeat its success. With cheesecake photo in place, he issued [i]I'm In You[/i], an album that transformed the former rocker into a soft-rock mellowhead! Hey, maybe Billy Squier will let you be in his video?
22) Captain and Tennille -- Love Will Keep Us Together: The title track went to #1, but the album stopped just short. Lots of Beach Boys involvement here, with Bruce Johnston, Dennis Wilson and Brian Wilson showing up in the songwriting credits. Appropriate since Daryl Dragon, the Captain with the Foster Grants, had been a keyboardist for the Boys and Toni, the Tennille, would also serve as an additional keyboardist for the Boys.
21) Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers -- Damn The Torpedoes: If you don't want to hit #1 on the charts, hire Tom Petty! He's never had a #1 album. He's never had a #1 single. Unless you count the U.S. Rock Charts, which just means he appeals to people who play rock 'n' roll exclusively. Mainstream folks don't fully embrace this retro-rocker! And never did! Must be that look in his eye!
20) The Police -- Ghost In the Machine: It would take one more album for the Police to hit #1 with Synchronicity. Guitarist Andy Summers was growing disenchanted with the direction of the group since he apparently hated success.
19) Bonnie Raitt -- Luck of the Draw: Despite selling better than Nick of Time and Longing In Their Hearts, Luck of the Draw was the only album of that trio to not go to #1. The UK, hating redheads and (allegedly, says the legal department) women, only let her get to #38.
18) Boz Scaggs -- Silk Degrees: Yacht Rock has limited appeal. Smooth guitar lines and creepy come-ons cause people to become wary. Music this sleek makes you feel dirty. Hey, you wanna come over and listen to some pornography?
17) Paul Simon -- There Goes Rhymin' Simon: Paul Simon had his way with a pop song, able to take the music to unexpected places while writing some of the corniest lines ever contemplated by a "major" artist. It's not just his haircuts that could make you wince.
16) Cat Stevens -- Teaser and the Firecat, Buddha & The Chocolate Box: Catch Bull At Four was his #1 album. These others did worse, despite Teaser having two top ten hits. I'm going to chalk this up to the audience playing catch-up and anticipating that Bull would be as commercially interesting. I think 1978's "Was Dog A Doughnut" might be the pinnacle of his brilliance.
15) Rod Stewart -- Never A Dull Moment, A Night On the Town, Foot Loose and Fancy Free: Don't feel too bad for Rod. He had his #1 albums along the way. It's just that we were a little suspect of his shizzle. That is, until "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" beat down all our defenses and we were forced to say, Yes, Yes, Yes, and then we felt bad about it in the morning.
14) Sting -- The Dream of the Blue Turtles, The Soul Cages, Ten Summoner's Tales: Blame it on Vic Garbarini? He helped assemble the Blue Turtles. Nah, that would be like blaming your failure to be elected on a bunch of lazy, shiftless, idle miscreants who just want stuff instead of blaming the candidate himself. Sorry, Der Stingle! These are all on you!
13) Stray Cats -- Built For Speed: We can thank MTV for this one. Brian Setzer's a great guitar player, but had you told me a rockabilly band were going to make an impact in the 1980s, I'd have thought you crazy. It helped immensely that Stray Cats had a look. Kids understood looks. Had you told them it was a history lesson, they would've piled up on more horrible George Thorogood albums.
12) Survivor -- Eye of the Tiger: Did anyone really expect the album to be as good as the single?
11) James Taylor -- Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon: Jimmy Vernon Taylor got a real kick in the creative loins when he scored his only #1 hit with "You've Got A Friend," written not by him, but by Carole King. Sorry, buddy. "Hey Mister, That's Me Up On The Jukebox" is only half-true.
10) Whitesnake -- Whitesnake: This lovely album would've surely done better if it had come with a Tawny Kitaen poster.
9) Madonna -- The Immaculate Collection: I guess everyone had already bought the singles on here and they sent the new recording of "Justify My Love" to #1, so it wasn't like her fan base completely abandoned her in her time of commercial need. They just didn't all need to buy it all again. Take that, Rolling Stones!
8) John Mellencamp -- Scarecrow: Springsteen, Jr. here nicked Ian Hunter's "When The Daylight Comes" for "Small Town" and "R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A." surely reminded people of the previous year's "Born In The U.S.A." in title. So what was Mr. Mellencamp pulling here? Arguably his best album. Which is to say, you can be derivative as long as you are good.
7) Warren G -- Regulate…G Funk Era: The album went triple platinum and provided proof that hip-hop could be as smooth and mellow as any El Lay rock band from the 1970s. The 'gangsta rap' tag gave it a commercial tagline and a passive-aggression worth studying in your Hip-Hop Studies course. Cursing never sounded so sweet.
6) The Concert For Bangla Desh: Quite a feat, actually. Three records being sold at a suggested retail price of $12.98, which was a lot of money at the time (like four pizzas!) and it still managed to spend six weeks at #2. Some of the sides, however, were a little on the short side, with side six, for example, consisting of less than nine whole minutes of music. Is it quality or quantity that matters here? Aw, heck, it was for charity!
5) The Bangles -- Different Light: Considered to be more "commercial" than their debut album, All Over The Place, Different Light features a Prince tune, "Manic Monday," a Liam Sternberg song, "Walk Like An Egyptian," a Jules Shear cover, "If She Knew What She Wants," and an Alex Chilton-Big Star number, "September Gurls." All smart moves! Who cares who writes what anyway? As long as it sounds good, it is good! Right, Mr. Ellington, sir?
4) Grand Funk Railroad -- We're An American Band: Though they received some pretty nasty reviews in their day and are hardly remembered in the same breath as The Black Sabbaths, The Led Zeppelins or even The Blue Cheers, The Grand Funk Railroads were a seminal hard rock group from the 1970s and the title track to this lovely album deserves to be played in bars where rock 'n' roll is still played. C'mon, America! Don't let Detroit go bankrupt on rock 'n' roll!
3) The Beatles -- Something New, Yellow Submarine, Hey Jude, Live at the Hollywood Bowl: Well, this isn't their A-list. Only Something New was a complete album of new songs and half of them ended up on the soundtrack to A Hard Day's Night, so the Beatles' complete dominance of the 1960s remained intact. No wonder people hate them! They hogged everything.
2) The Rolling Stones -- Aftermath, Between the Buttons, Their Satanic Majesties Request: Aside from Out of Our Heads, the Stones were looking like the Creedence Clearwater Revival of albums. #2 and worse. Starting with Sticky Fingers, the band began a solid run of #1 albums, proving they were America's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band throughout the 1970s.
1) Cheech and Chong -- Big Bambu: Featuring the smash "Sister Mary Elephant" and a very large rolling paper, Big Bambu was a natural hit among the kids in 1972, who thrilled -- or, more likely, passed out -- to the genius of two drug-addled stoned stoners potting up with weeds smoke. Medicinally, of course.
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