Famous songs that weren't hits

While hearing “Once in a Lifetime” by Talking Heads for the millionth time yesterday, it reminded me of the fact it missed the Top 40 of the American singles charts when it came out first. Largely due to the memorable video, it would still end up as one of the eighties’ most defining songs.
I also remembered “Oh Yeah” by Yello. You couldn’t watch a movie or commercial in the 80s without hearing it. Yet it never got above 51 on the singles charts.
What other songs are well known while not technically being hit records?

I was looking for the chic chigga chiga song from Ferris Bueller’s Day off…nevermind.

The first thing that comes to mind for me is several Grateful Dead Songs (Sugar Magnolia, Casey Jones, Truckin, maybe even Box Of Rain). Of course the only reason I mention this is becuase I think it’s a fairly well known piece of trivia that Touch Of Grey was their only hit song.

Stairway to Heaven!

Lots of Ramones tunes- I Wanna Be Sedated, Blitzkrieg Bop, Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School…

“Solsbury Hill” by Peter Gabriel (at least in the US, where it only reached #70). Now you hear it everywhere.

“The Weight” by the Band only reached #63.

“The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” – about the only song by Traffic you hear on the radio these days – was never released as a single.

Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” only made it to #44.

Jimi Hendrix had only one top 40 hit in the US (“All Along the Watchtower”). Everything else you know qualifies.

What I Like About You by The Romantics only reached #48 on the US charts.

Should I Stay or Should I Go? by The Clash never made it higher than #45 in the US. (It was a hit in the UK.)

Yaz was never a hit in the U.S. They charted in the double digits in America and hit the top of the pops in England. I think most people would recognize Don’t Go, regardless. And I’m sure some people have heard of Alison Moyet.

Proportionally, I think they had a bigger influence on the pop sound of today than Bon Jovi.

The Beatles have a few in this category–songs that everyone knows by virtue of owning the album and radio airplay, but that were never actually even released as singles (or were released years after the band broke up). Anything on the White Album, for example: “Back in the USSR,” “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” (hit #49 in 1976, one of those “years later” singles), “Helter Skelter,” “Blackbird,” “Mother Nature’s Son,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Birthday.”

While the band was still together, a number of songs that charted lower than #40 in the U.S. that even my mom would recognize: “From Me To You” (41), “All My Loving” (45), “You Can’t Do That” (48), “I Should Have Known Better” (53), " If I Fell" (53), “I Am The Walrus” (56)

Most of the Iggy Pop catalogue. Which astonishes me

Spanish Harlem - Ben E King, never made the UK charts but there will not be a briton that deosn’t know it.

Well-known songs in the UK that didn’t make the Top 40:

Bryan Adams - ‘Summer Of 69’. Reached #42
Sir Mix-A-Lot - ‘Baby Got Back’. Reached #56
Sultans Of Ping FC - ‘Where’s Me Jumper’. Reached #67

Yeah, totally, along with the early Human League. Upstairs at Eric’s is an essential album, easier to find if searching for Yazoo rather than Yaz.

Actually, if anyone fancies mining a similar vein, then Orchestral Maneouvres in the Dark’s Architecture and Morality is worth a download if you can find it.

Interesting - I looked them up on iTunes to hear samples and I didn’t recognize Don’t Go but I did recognize Situation.

Modern English’s “Melt with you” apparently only ever reached #76 on the US charts, The Romantics “What I like about you” only got to #49.

I’m having trouble finding information on Billy Idol’s “Dancing with myself” but I don’t think that one got very high in the US either.

Shot all the way up to #102.

We’re restricting this to songs released as singles, right? So Stairway to Heaven and Beatles album tracks don’t count.

Ever been to a sporting event in the past ten years? “Get Ready for this” by 2 Unlimited wasn’t much of a chart hit, but the song is probably played every single day somewhere in the United States.


Just saw the post above. Get Ready for this was released as a single and the song was quite popular in dance clubs. Only made it to #38 on the top 40, though.

Buffalo Springfield had only one charting song, “For What It’s Worth.”

All the other songs that are staples of classic rock radio, “Bluebird,” "Rock and Roll Woman, “On the Way Home,” never made the Top 40.

Oddly, none of CSN’s singles from the first two albums were big hits either, even though the albums went to #1.

“Marrakesh Express” 28
“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” 21
“Our House” 30
“Teach Your Children” 16
“Woodstock” 11

OK, but nothing special for the biggest group in the country. They had top ten single from two later albums, which may be even more odd.