The Billboard Hot 100 chart is a funny thing. The United States charts that measure a number one song have historically used a fluctuating system of combining the sales of a single and its airplay on the radio. Additionally, certain genres have been isolated to select stations, country, rock, R&B, etc, which can affect their overall airplay and popularity. The end result of this mess has been that a surprising number of popular artists that you would’ve swore hit number one, never actually did. Today we’re going to look at ten of them.
1 Number 10: Alanis Morissette
“Jagged Little Pill” will forever be remembered as one of the biggest career reinventions of all-time, while also being a milestone in terms of feminist rock. Alanis Morissette spoke to an entire generation of young women, but apparently that wasn’t enough to top the charts. None of her singles past this album hit the top 10 and the highest she ever got was the cut, “Ironic” off the aforementioned record, topping out at number 4. In her native Canada though, she would rack up six chart toppers, which isn’t ironic at all.
2 Number 9: Tom Petty
Whether it was solo, with The Heartbreakers or even The Travelling Wilburys, the late, great, Tom Petty would never score a number one hit on the top 100. The Billboard Rock Charts told a different story with several songs topping that one, but on the main charts he only ever charted twice in the top ten. “Don’t Do Me Like That” scraped the very bottom of it while “Free Fallin'” was his biggest hit at number 7.
3 Number 8: LL Cool J
Like fellow rapper turned actor, Will Smith, LL Cool J is more focused on film and television roles as opposed to making albums. At the time of this writing LL Cool J hasn’t released a record in nine years. Before that though he was tearing up the charts, something which we will not, “call it a comeback.” Though he appeared on the Jennifer Lopez number one hit, “All I Have,” he would only peak at number 3 under his own name with 1995’s “Hey Lover” featuring Boyz II Men.
4 Number 7: Led Zeppelin
Oft considered the greatest rock band of all time, you wouldn’t think that of Led Zeppelin if you just based that off their singles. This can be attributed though in the failings of the popular music industry not catering towards songs that aren’t made for the singles market. “Stairway to Heaven” isn’t exactly a “radio friendly” track given its length and complexity. Instead, the mighty Zep would earn their only top 10 hit with “Whole Lotta Love” when it landed at number 4 back in 1969.
5 Number 6: Sheryl Crow
In a case of “so close yet so far” Sheryl Crow nearly hit the top with her signature song, “All I Wanna Do,” but it fell just short at number 2. Many of her subsequent singles would get substantial airplay but never work their way as high as her breakthrough hit did. And despite how ubiquitous the 2002 duet with Kid Rock, “Picture” was, that would only reach number 4. We’ll be damned though if that thing didn’t feel like it was played enough to be a number one.
6 Number 5: R.E.M.
This is a baffling one considering the substantial amount of radio play this Athens, Georgia based alt-rock band gets to this day. R.E.M. was arguably the face of alternative rock music through the ’80s and ’90s. This is easily reflected in the Billboard Mainstream and Alternative Rock charts. Though they had a considerable amount of crossover success the biggest hit they’d have, “Losing My Religion” would stall out at number 4.
7 Number 4: Bob Dylan
Being rock royalty does not guarantee you a number-one hit, as seen by none other than Bob Dylan. Despite the brobdingnagian catalog of work he’s recorded, the hits for Bob dried up back in 1979 when hit the top 40 for the last time. Even then it had been about 13 years since his biggest hit when “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” went to number 2. He had equaled this success in 1965 when “Like A Rolling Stone” previously went to number 2 as well.
8 Number 3: Electric Light Orchestra
There are few popular bands who have retroactively become so beloved as Jeff Lynne‘s Electric Light Orchestra has. Some credit has to be given to Doctor Who, Megamind, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 for breathing new life into “Mr. Blue Sky.” Even then, that song only charted at number 35 in the states. Despite all their numerous, memorable hits, their biggest single, “Don’t Bring Me Down” would only rise as high as number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.
9 Number 2: Creedence Clearwater Revival
This is almost ridiculous to the point where it seems like a cosmic joke being played on this legendary rock band. CCR holds the record for the most songs to chart at number 2, and the most songs to chart in the top 10 without any of them hitting number 1. In total, the John Fogerty fronted band charted nine songs inside the top 10 with five of them falling just short. On top of that, two of them were double sided singles, meaning that technically, they had seven songs at number 2, “Proud Mary,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Green River,” “Travellin’ Band,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” and “Long as I Can See the Light.”
10 Number 1: Bruce Springsteen
Even though the aforementioned CCR had more hits at number 2 than Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen did, CCR was only around for about four years before calling it quits. Bruce on the other hand has been around for over four decades without scoring a number one hit. While his earlier albums weren’t exactly commercial friendly, 1984’s Born in the U.S.A. was a monster of a record, spawning seven top 10 singles. That said, the highest any of them climbed was to number 2, that one being “Dancing in the Dark.” However, at least Bruce can claim he wrote a number one hit, as Manfred Mann’s Earth Band would cover “Blinded by the Light” in a radically different arrangement and top the charts with it.