Just when you thought it would hit No. 1…the story of the most frustrating No. 2 peaks of the 1970s (“YMCA,” “I’m Not In Love,” What’s Going On,” others)

(February 5, 2022).  Just when you thought it would hit No. 1…suddenly, it didn’t. 

This is the story of those frustrating near-misses, those runners-up on the premier Billboard singles chart—the Hot 100…songs that climbed all the way to No. 2, only to get stuck behind not just one No. 1, but another No. 1 hit that jumped over it just as it was poised to take that final step to the top. 

Last week, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of one of the most famous such occurrences, I published the 1980s version of this phenomenon.  During that decade there were 94 No. 2 hits (i.e., those that never made it to No. 1), twenty-seven of which experienced what djrobblog calls a chart eclipse, that scenario where a No. 2 song is poised to hit the top, only to be blocked by another song coming up from the rear and never see the chart’s pinnacle!

During the 1970s, there were 80 total No. 2-peaking songs, twenty-one of which experienced this dubious double-blocked chart fate.  Thus, the “me decade” had fewer examples than the Big ‘80s, but the ‘70s stories are no less compelling, made so by their unique chart situations and by the classic songs involved.

You’ll be surprised at some of the big No. 2 hits of the ‘70s that, all this time, you might have thought were No. 1s but, alas, never were.  Several make up this list of double-bridesmaids!

And, in an even rarer set of circumstances, two of the runners-up of the 1970s experienced this eclipse twice—ultimately being held at No. 2 by three different No. 1 tunes!

So without any further buildup, here are the stories of each of these 21 cases during the 1970s.  I’m sure you’ll remember many of these songs that are now considered classics—some arguably even more so than the songs that prevented them from reaching the top.

The Poppy Family (right) we’re blocked from No. 1 by Ray Stevens and The Beatles

“Which Way You Goin’ Billy” – Poppy Family (2 weeks, June 1970).  There already had been four other songs that peaked at No. 2 by May 1970, but the Poppy Family’s “Which Way You Goin’ Billy” (featuring Susan Jacks on vocals) was the first of the ‘70s to be blocked by two No. 1 songs.  First, it placed behind Ray Stevens’ first No. 1, “Everything Is Beautiful,” before being eclipsed the following week by the Beatles’ last No. 1, “The Long and Winding Road,” which made a spectacular leap from No. 10 the previous week.  The Poppy Family were partially redeemed a few years later when Susan’s husband and groupmate, Terry Jacks, hit No. 1 in ‘74 with the smash “Seasons In The Sun.”

The Carpenters (right) were kept from No. 1 by two other “family” acts.
The Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun”

“We’ve Only Just Begun” – Carpenters (4 weeks, Oct. – Nov. 1970).  The Jackson 5’s record-setting fourth No. 1 single (of their first four releases) was, ironically, the only one that blocked a song from eventually reaching the top.  The first three (“I Want You Back,” “ABC,” and “The Love You Save”) all presided over No. 2 songs that had either already been or would eventually be No. 1 hits. (If you’re curious, those were Shocking Blue’s “Venus,” the Beatles’ “Let It Be,” and Three Dog Night’s “Mama Told Me (Not to Come)”.)  So, when the Carpenters’ second hit was poised to become their second No. 1 after waiting in the wings behind the J-5’s “I’ll Be There” for 3 frustrating weeks, Billboard chart watchers—and likely the brother-sister duo themselves—were surprised when yet another “family” act, the Partridge Family, overtook them to land at No. 1 with “I Think I Love You.”  “We’ve Only Just Begun” thus spent its fourth and final week at the runner-up spot before beginning its inevitable fall.

One of the most iconic No. 2 songs by Marvin Gaye (right) was blocked by The Temptations and Three Dog Night
Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”

“What’s Going On” – Marvin Gaye (3 weeks, Apr. 1971).  Marvin Gaye had three No. 1 songs on the Billboard pop chart: “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” “Let’s Get It On” and “Got To Give It Up.”  But many people, if asked, would probably have guessed that his social commentary classic “What’s Going On” also topped the list.  Not so.  It was first blocked out by fellow Motown legends The Temptations and their “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me),” only to be eclipsed the following week by Three Dog Night’s “Joy To The World,” which wound up being the biggest hit of 1971.  While all three songs are indisputable classics, it’s arguable that “What’s Going On” is the most celebrated of them today.

Rock Hall of Famer Bill Withers (right) was blocked by two fellow RRHOF inductees, Michael Jackson and Chuck Berry
Bill Withers’ “Use Me”

“Use Me” – Bill Withers (2 weeks, Oct. 1972).  Black soul and rock artists were dominating the Billboard Hot 100 in 1972, so much so that at one point, three Black solo males became the only such triumvirate of the 1970s where two combined to keep the third out of the top spot. The stage was set when Bill Withers’ “Use Me,” the followup to his earlier 1972 No. 1 smash “Lean On Me,” climbed from No. 6 to No. 2 behind Michael Jackson’s first No. 1 solo hit, “Ben.”  The following week, “Ben” fell to No. 6 and, out of nowhere (actually from No. 7), Chuck Berry’s “My Ding-a-Ling” sprinted to the top, giving him a career-first No. 1 after two decades in the biz.  Withers’ “Use Me” was thus relegated to a permanent runner-up legacy.  Interesting facts: In some countries, the flip side of “Ben” was a cover of Bill Withers’ previous hit “Ain’t No Sunshine.”  Also, this is the only case in either the 1970s or ‘80’s where all three artists involved in the scenario were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Gilbert O’Sullivan (right) was double-teamed by Billy Paul and Carly Simon
“Clair” by Gilbert O’Sullivan

“Clair” – Gilbert O’Sullivan (2 weeks, Dec. 1972 – Jan. ‘73).  Irishman Gilbert O’Sullivan is the first of three consecutive European acts to be the victim of a double blockout during the 1970s.  He is also the third artist on this list to follow their first No. 1 single with a No. 2 peak (after the Carpenters and Bill Withers).  In O’Sullivan’s case, he’d topped the chart earlier in 1972 with “Alone Again (Naturally).”  His No. 2 followup in America was “Clair,” an ode to his manager’s daughter of the same name whom he had babysat.  “Clair” had the misfortune of bad timing against Billy Paul’s classic “Me and Mrs. Jones” and Carly Simon’s iconic “You’re So Vain,” both of which prevented Gilbert from getting a second-consecutive No. 1 stateside.

Ex-Beatle Paul McCartney and his Wings (right) proved to be No match for the triple-team of Maureen McGovern, Diana Ross and The Stories
Wings’ “Live and Let Die”

“Live and Let Die” – Wings (3 weeks, August 1973).  Here’s the first of two songs during the 1970s to be locked out by three different No. 1 songs during its time at No. 2.  When Paul McCartney & Wings’ James Bond theme “Live and Let Die” blasted from 21-3 in the first week of August 1973, everyone probably guessed it would become the former Beatle’s band’s next No. 1 single.  The following week it inched up to No. 2 behind Maureen McGovern’s Poseidon Adventure tune, “The Morning After.”  Then, the next week, Diana Ross’s “Touch Me In The Morning” hopped over both “Live and Let Die” at No. 2 AND “Brother Louie” by the Stories at No. 3 to get her second No. 1 solo hit.  When Ross fell to No. 3 the following week, it was the Stories—not Wings—who bunny-hopped to No. 1, leaving McCartney’s Bond theme waiting in…the wings.  It began its chart descent the following week, ending its chances to become the first James Bond theme to reach No. 1 (something that happened 12 years later with Duran Duran’s “A View To A Kill”).

Elton John (right) was held out of No. 1 by the Carpenters and Charlie Rich
Elton’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”

“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” – Elton John (3 weeks, Dec. 1973).  Elton John has had four No. 2 hits in his career, with “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” being the only one to suffer at the hands of two different No. 1s.  The first song it lagged behind was the Carpenter’s “Top Of The World,” followed by Charlie Rich’s country-to-pop crossover smash “The Most Beautiful Girl.”  Elton’s fans wouldn’t have to wait long for his return to the top, though.  Followup single “Bennie & the Jets” become the first of seven No. 1 singles he would score in the next three years alone, five as the principal artist and two as a contributing musician (on songs by John Lennon and Neil Sedaka, both of which are part of stories below).

B.T. Express (right) went up against John Lennon (with Elton John) and Billy Swan
BT Express’ “Do It (‘Til You’re Satisfied)”

“Do It (‘Til You’re Satisfied)” – B.T. Express (2 weeks, Nov. 1974).  The eighth song on this list is the first by an act who didn’t achieve a No. 1 at some other point in their career (excluding the Poppy Family whose Terry Jacks had a solo No. 1).  B.T. Express’s funk classic served time behind, first, John Lennon’s collaboration with an uncredited Elton John “Whatever Gets You Through The Night” and, second, Billy Swan’s lone No. 1 hit, “I Can Help.”  This was the highest the Express ever climbed on the Hot 100.  Followup hit, “Express,” peaked at No. 4 the following year.

10cc (right) were triple-teamed by Van McCoy, Eagles, and The Bee Gees
The three weeks 10cc spent knocking on the door to No. 1 in 1975
10cc’s “I’m Not In Love”

“I’m Not In Love” – 10cc (3 weeks, July – Aug. 1975).  British band 10cc became the second act to have their No. 2 single blocked out of the top spot by three different No. 1 hits.  And, like its Paul McCartney & Wings predecessor, “I’m Not In Love” looked like a sure-fire No. 1 when it leapt from No. 10 to No. 3 in late July 1975.  The following week, Van McCoy’s “The Hustle” inched up to No. 1 (displacing another Wings hit), with 10cc’s song about relationship denial right behind it at No. 2.  The next week, Eagles’ “One of These Nights” denied 10cc by landing their second No. 1 that year, and a week after that, the Bee Gees scored their second No. 1 (and first of the disco variety) when “Jive Talkin’” made a 3-1 move, while 10cc remained at No. 2 for its third and final week. The song plummeted to No. 11 on the next chart, ending any hope that this classic would become a No. 1 hit.

John Denver (right) couldn’t return to the top after his label made “Calypso” the A-side (stopped by Neil Sedaka and Elton John)
John Denver’s “Calypso”

“Calypso” – John Denver (4 weeks, Oct. – Nov. 1975).  This entry requires an asterisk. “Calypso,” John Denver’s ode to French explorer and conservationist Jacques Cousteau, was first issued as the B-side to his fourth No. 1 hit in 18 months, “I’m Sorry.”  Then, radio interest in the B-side caused the RCA label to flip the record and make “Calypso” the A-side.  By that time, however, “I’m Sorry”/“Calypso,” or vice-versa, had fallen to No. 2.  When Billboard started crediting “Calypso” on the charts as the A-side, the double-sided hit was in its second week at No. 2, while Neil Sedaka’s “Bad Blood” (with an uncredited Elton John on backing and harmony vocals) leapt from No. 8 to No. 1.  “Calypso”/“I’m Sorry” then spent three more weeks at No. 2, the last of those behind Elton John himself, whose “Island Girl” also charged from No. 8 to No. 1 (with “Bad Blood” switching places at No. 8).  Whew!  Lots of strange coincidences there and some might debate the outcome, but chart followers will likely agree that—of the two biggest Johns of the mid-1970s—Elton got the better end of this deal, and Denver’s “Calypso” is forever remembered as a beautiful No. 2 song with an asterisk.

Eric Carmen’s trademark pout was justified after he was blocked from No. 1 by the Miracles and Four Seasons
“All By Myself” by Eric Carmen

“All By Myself” – Eric Carmen (3 weeks, March 1976).  Eric Carmen, formerly of the group Raspberries, came this 🤏 close to getting a No. 1 song with “All By Myself,” a powerful ballad that was locked out by two disco-ey hits from classic bands that started in the 1950s and were popular in the ‘60s: the Four Seasons and the Miracles.  First the Miracles, who formed in 1955, got their first No. 1 sans Smokey Robinson with “Love Machine.”  Then, the Four Seasons, who formed as the Four Lovers in 1956, replaced the Miracles at No. 1 with their timeless nugget, “December 1963 (Oh What a Night).”  All of this occurred while “All By Myself” languished at No. 2 for three weeks before losing momentum and beginning its descent down and off the Hot 100.  I guess there’s no shame in playing second fiddle to two of the greatest bands of the early rock-and-roll era, right?

Gary Wright (right) was overtaken by the Four Seasons and Johnnie Taylor
Gary Wright and “Dream Weaver”

“Dream Weaver” – Gary Wright (3 weeks, March – April 1976).  Jersey Boys The Four Seasons were still at No. 1 when newcomer and fellow Jersey boy Gary Wright’s “Dream Weaver” replaced Eric Carmen’s in the runner-up spot, positioning Wright to get his first No. 1 single.  His hopes were dashed, however, when another disco-oriented smash by another chart veteran of the 1950s and ‘60s, Johnnie Taylor, leapfrogged “Dream Weaver” to prevent Wright from getting to the top.  Taylor’s song was the first ever to be certified platinum (for two million copies shipped) when the award was introduced by the RIAA in 1976.  Wright, on the other hand, would get another chance at No. 1 just a few months later (see “Love Is Alive” below).

Maxine Nightengale (right) lost her best chance to have a No. 1 hit, thanks to the Bellamy Brothers and John Sebastian
Maxine Nightengale’s “Right Back Where We Started From”

“Right Back Where We Started From” – Maxine Nightengale (2 weeks, May 1976).  Another chart newcomer had her No. 1 hopes dashed when she was blocked from the top by two even bigger hits.  Maxine Nightengale’s “Right Back Where We Started From” was all over the radio and looking like a future No. 1 when it climbed to No. 2 behind the Bellamy Brothers’ country crossover hit, “Let Your Love Flow.”  But then the popular theme song from Welcome Back Kotter, a TV sitcom about a group of ne’er-do-wells known as the Sweathogs, jumped over Nightengale’s hit.  “Welcome Back,” the third TV or movie theme song to reach No. 1 in the first half of 1976 alone, was the first solo No. 1 for singer John Sebastian, who’d scored previously with the Lovin’ Spoonful (1966’s “Summer in the City”).

Gary Wright (right) was stifled again in 1976 by the Manhattans and Elton John & Kiki Dee
Gary Wright’s “Love Is Alive”

“Love Is Alive” – Gary Wright (2 weeks, July – Aug. 1976).  Just as he had done only four months earlier, singer Gary Wright made a spirited climb towards the top of the Hot 100 with his second top-40 single, the grittier “Love Is Alive.”  It was even more of a sleeper than its predecessor, however, making the following chart moves while in the top 20: 18-15-13-11-10-8-6-5-2.  That first week at No. 2 was spent behind the Manhattans’ No. 1 pop and soul smash “Kiss and Say Goodbye,” the second single ever (after “Disco Lady”) to achieve an official platinum certification.  Then, in a flash, the omnipresent Elton John and his duet partner Kiki Dee zoomed past Wright with “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.”  “Love Is Alive” won the longevity battle, however, spending 27 total weeks on the Hot 100 and outperforming both “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” (20 weeks) and “Kiss And Say Goodbye” (26).

Soul crooner Lou Rawls (right) suffered at the hands of The Bee Gees and KC & the Sunshine Band
Lou Rawls performing “You’ll Never Find” on Soul Train

“You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” – Lou Rawls (2 weeks, Sept. 1976).  If it seems like a lot of these songs came from 1976, that’s because they did.  Of the year’s ten No. 2-peaking hits, five of them were blocked by more than No. 1 single.  To put this in perspective, there were three other years during the 1970s where there were only five or fewer No. 2 songs total (1975, ‘78 and ‘79).  The last of the double-blocked silver medalists of 1976 was Lou Rawls’ Philly Soul classic “You’ll Never Find (Another Love Like Mine),” which was victimized by two more disco hits: the Bee Gees’ “You Should Be Dancing” and KC & the Sunshine Band’s “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty.”  Both groups were scoring their third chart-toppers of the decade, while the legendary Rawls found himself standing outside the glittery, disco-balled penthouse looking in, never to achieve that No. 1.

Both Andy Gibb and the Emotions made return trips to No. 1 at the expense of the Floaters (right).
The Floaters’ “Float On”

“Float On” – Floaters (2 weeks,  Sept. 1977).  At the time this unlikely smash and huge No. 1 soul chart hit was peaking at No. 2 on the pop chart, its runner-up circumstances didn’t seem that spectacular.  In retrospect, however, they were downright heartbreaking.  Not only did the Detroit group’s ode to astrological signs and invitation to women everywhere sit behind two different No. 1 songs, but it had the indignity of being runner-up to two songs that were making return engagements at the top after having been displaced from No. 1 earlier in the summer.  In the Floaters’ first frame at No. 2, Andy Gibb’s “I Just Want To Be Your Everything” had returned to No. 1 after having been knocked out four weeks prior.  Then, the next week with the Floaters holding at No. 2, the Emotions’ former No. 1 smash “Best of My Love” returned to the top, itself having been there two weeks prior.  The following week, “Float On” did a deep chart dive from the runner-up spot all the way down to No. 19, making it clear that pop radio was pretty much done with the Floaters.  The Detroit-based band, however, had the last laugh on the soul chart.  “Float” was named Billboard’s top soul single for 1977 in its year-end recap that December.

KC & the Sunshine Band (right) battled movie themes by Meco Menardo and Debby Boone
“Keep It Comin’ Love” by KC & the Sunshine Band

“Keep It Comin’ Love” – KC & the Sunshine Band (3 weeks, Oct. 1977).  Like Wings, the Carpenters and Elton John before them, KC & the Sunshine Band were on both the giving and receiving ends of these two-No. 1 lockout scenarios.  Their “Shake Your Booty” had helped the Bee Gees eclipse Lou Rawls a year earlier.  And then in fall 1977, their bid for a fifth No. 1 in just over two years was thwarted when two movie themes combined to hold “Keep It Comin’ Love” at bay while they took turns at the top.  First up was the discofied instrumental smash “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band” by Meco.  Then Debby Boone’s lone top-40 hit, “You Light Up My Life,” shot to No. 1 and stayed there for ten weeks, making it not only the longest-running No. 1 hit of 1977, but for the entire decade.  KC and Co. didn’t stand a chance against that one-two platinum punch.

Randy Newman (right) had the unfortunate timing of having to compete with the RSO record label
Randy Newman’s “Short People”

“Short People” – Randy Newman (3 weeks, Jan. – Feb. 1978).  There were only four No. 2 hits during 1978, the fewest of the entire decade.  That’s because many of the songs that spent time at the runner-up spot that year were ultimately No. 1 hits.  The year’s first two No. 2-peaking songs were of the double-blocked variety, beginning with Randy Newman’s partially tongue-in-cheek, wholly controversial “Short People.”  Newman’s own stature on the Hot 100 was short compared to two of RSO Records’ biggest hits that year: first Player’s “Baby Come Back” and then the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” (from Saturday Night Fever).  Both those songs were part of a record-setting 21-week streak in which six RSO singles dominated the No. 1 spot on the Hot 100, a single-label streak that ended during the No. 2 run of the next song below.

Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway were kept out of No. 1 by Yvonne Elliman and Wings
“The Closer I Get To You” by Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway

“The Closer I Get To You” – Roberta Flack w/ Donny Hathaway (2 weeks, May 1978).  When Roberta Flack moved from No. 4 to No. 2 behind Yvonne Elliman’s Saturday Night Fever smash “If I Can’t Have You,” it appeared that Flack and her duet partner Donny Hathaway would become the first non-RSO artists in five months to top the Hot 100 the following week.  It was never to be.  Instead, it was Paul McCartney and Wings’ “With a Little Luck” that slayed the RSO beast and leapfrogged Flack/Hathaway to take the chart crown.  (By the way, I mentioned earlier there were four No. 2 songs in all of 1978.  The other two, in addition to Newman’s and Flack’s above, were Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” and Foreigner’s “Double Vision.”)

Robbed from No. 1: The controversial story of “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty.

Triple disco: The Village People (right) couldn’t out-boogie Chic and Rod Stewart on the chart in 1979
Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.”

“Y.M.C.A.” – Village People (3 weeks, Feb. 1979).  With all the disco saturation of the late 1970s, this represents the only scenario involving all disco songs (unless you count Lou Rawls’ No. 2 “You’ll Never Find” as part of the genre).  In early 1979, the Village People’s campy “Y.M.C.A.” edged its way to No. 2 behind Chic’s “Le Freak,” a juggernaut that was in its sixth and final week at the top after having zigzagged in and out of the No. 1 spot three times (a chart first, by the way).  But another disco smash was looming at No. 3–the faster-rising “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” by Rod Stewart—and it hopped over “Y.M.C.A.” the following week, leaving the Kings of Camp to wonder what might have been.  None of these classics are slouches, however, and it’s arguable that “Y.M.C.A.” is more popular today than either “Le Freak” or “Sexy.” Arguable, Chic fans.

1979’s hottest act, Donna Summer (right) had cooled somewhat against the Eagles and Commodores

“Dim All The Lights” – Donna Summer (2 weeks, Nov. 1979).  The last No. 2 song of the 1970s to be blocked out of No. 1 by multiple songs is also the last No. 2 song of the decade, period.  It was “Dim All The Lights,” Donna Summer’s third single from her Bad Girls opus.  “Lights” got off to a much slower start than the album’s first two singles (“Hot Stuff,” “Bad Girls”), but when it moved to No. 2 behind Eagles’ “Heartache Tonight” in November 1979, there was a glimmer of hope that it would join its two predecessors in Summer’s No. 1 pantheon.  That hope flamed out the next week when “Lights” was extinguished by the Commodores’ ballad, “Still.”

Donna Summer’s “Dim All The Lights”

In an interesting footnote, sitting behind Summer’s No. 2 hit that final week was her duet with Barbra Streisand at No. 3, “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough),” another fast-climbing disco number that made Summer the first artist since the Beatles to simultaneously place two completely different pairs of songs in the top three simultaneously on two different occasions (“Hot” and “Bad” had done it earlier that year).  With seven top-five hits over a 15-month span, one would be justified in believing that Summer’s omnipresence on the charts contributed to “Lights” not going all the way.

What did she mean: Donna Summer’s “Turn my brown body white” lyric has sparked speculation over the years.

But, like so many other artists on this list, Donna Summer had the last laugh as “No More Tears” rose to No. 1 the following week, giving her a fourth No. 1 in just over a year and making her the biggest Hot 100 singles act of 1979. 

And that footnote is a perfect way to end this recap of those frustrating examples of No. 2 tunes that couldn’t get past not one, but multiple No. 1 hits on the Hot 100 during the 1970s.  How many memories did these vignettes bring back?

Please feel free to comment in the section below or in any of the social media feeds where this article is posted.  And check out the 1980s version of this special recap as well!

DJRob

DJRob

DJRob (he/him) is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.

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