(May 13, 2019). Everyone who knows anything about the Beatles knows that they hold the record for having the most No. 1 songs in American chart history with 20.
Their most ardent fans – or Billboard chart geeks in general – can cite each and every one of those twenty Hot 100 No. 1 songs, maybe even in chronological order.
But few people talk about or even recall the unfortunate artists and songs the Beatles prevented from hitting No. 1 during their phenomenal chart run, the tunes that forever languished as runners-up because they couldn’t overcome hits by the biggest band of all time.
Heck, before now, you probably never even cared. But now that I’ve put the thought in your head, you’re gonna want to read on to see just who and what those luckless artists and songs were.
To be accurate, not every No. 2 on a chart where the Beatles were No. 1 was so unfortunate. Some of them eventually made it to the top – or had been No. 1 already before the Beatles took over. That nuance explains why there are only 14 songs that earned the dubious distinction of being prevented from hitting the pinnacle while the Beatles racked up 20 No. 1 singles during their six-and-a-half year chart reign.
Djrobblog pays tribute to all 14 of those songs in this first article in a series focusing on the No. 2 position. These 14 hits span the Beatles’ entire chart-topping period, from their first No. 1 “I Want To Hold Your Hand” in 1964 to their last “The Long And Winding Road” in 1970.
The No. 2 songs are listed in chronological order, with the Beatles song that prevented them from reaching the top in parentheses for each entry. There are even a couple of Beatles “twists” to this story, which you’ll see as you continue reading.
The first artist to be stung by the Beatles was American singer Lesley Gore, whose “You Don’t Own Me” has been a symbol of feminism, emancipation and self-assertiveness for more than 55 years.
The Beatles were virtually impenetrable in those early months, but Lesley’s ascension to No. 2 was noteworthy for the fact that she was still only 17 when the song was a hit, plus she had already been No. 1 the year before with the pre-Beatles era “It’s My Party.” Were it not for the Fab Four’s “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” Gore’s second-biggest hit would have been her second No. 1, but as fate would have it, the song never got past runner-up.
“You Don’t Own Me” was the last top ten single of Gore’s career, but it’s attained iconic status through various remakes and features in movies and commercials.
Gore died of lung cancer in 2015. Her original version of “You Don’t Own Me” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame a year later.
The Beatles were so popular during their initial invasion of the U.S. that they even at one point stopped themselves from reaching No. 1.
In April 1964, after various record labels had capitalized on the band’s success by purchasing the U.S. rights to their earlier British releases, John, Paul, George and Ringo were racking up chart hits left and right. They famously occupied the entire top five positions on the Hot 100 during the first week in April, with “Twist and Shout” - their remake of the old Isley Brothers hit - sitting firmly in the No. 2 slot for four weeks behind their third straight No. 1, “Can’t Buy Me Love.”
“Twist” (released on the Tollie label) became the first of three No. 2 hits for the Fab Four, with all three being on different labels and the other two having interesting stories of their own (we’ll get to those later). And do we feel sorry for the Beatles with “Twist” being relegated to runner-up status?
How does it feel...to be stuck behind the Beatles?
Bob Dylan became the second act - aside from the Beatles themselves - to know that feeling when “Like A Rolling Stone” gathered no moss as it rolled up the charts 91-76-44-26-16-6-2-2... getting stuck behind the Beatles’ “Help” in September 1965 before falling to No. 3 and eventually off the chart.
Not many artists could piece together a six-minute opus in the mid-1960s (one that rhymed words like “kiddin’ you” and “didn’t you”) and get a major hit record from it. Pop radio programmers, who preferred songs with less than half the duration of “Rolling Stone,” likely didn’t play the song as much as they would have a much shorter version. Still that didn’t stop it from becoming a No. 2 smash (including No. 1 in regional markets like Los Angeles and Miami, as Billboard reported back then) or from being the classic it is today.
Okay, I’m gonna start the debate now: Is “Like A Rolling Stone” the one No. 2 song that is actually more iconic than the Beatles hit that kept it from the top? Keep reading and then provide comments with your opinion.
Three weeks after the Beatles were No. 1 with “Help,” they were back at the top again with the follow-up, “Yesterday.” Left in that fast-rising ballad’s wake were two soulful No. 2s.
First up was “blue-eyed soul” artist Roy Head and his group the Traits with “Treat Her Right,” a song that was originally an ode to... cattle.
That’s right, the farm animal. Initially titled “Talkin’ ‘Bout A Cow,” the song underwent title and lyric changes centered on giving advice to men about how to get lovin’ from their women. This decision probably saved it and made “Treat Her Right” the crossover smash it eventually became.
The funky, brass-heavy song also peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard R&B chart (behind Joe Tex’s “I Want To (Do Everything For You)”), with Roy Head being one of several white artists featured in a special Billboard article that October on the emerging trend of blue-eyed soul acts.
Interestingly, the Beatles (specifically Paul McCartney’s “soulful” rendering of “Yesterday”) were mentioned in that same article. Hmmm...
The second soulful pop single that “Yesterday” held from the top was by a black female trio from Jamaica, New York - The Toys. Their “A Lover’s Concerto” (also a top-5 R&B hit) probably has the most unorthodox set of credentials of any song on this list.
First, the song’s melody is based on Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Minuet In G Minor” from his “Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach” (the wife with whom he had 13 children), with the minuet later discovered as being written by German composer Christian Petzold, not Bach.
Secondly, in the Toys’ hit, the classic melody was set to a Motown-esque beat (its instrumental intro even liberally borrowing a musical bar or two from the Supremes’ earlier 1965 No. 1 smash, “Stop In The Name Of Love”). ”Concerto” has four key modulations throughout its 2:38 length, similar to the Supremes’ later 1965 No. 1 hit, “I Hear A Symphony.” The Toys were not on the Motown label and they were likely inspired by the Supremes’ huge success. Not to be outdone, the Supremes even recorded their own version of “A Lover’s Concerto” later that year, although it was (thankfully) never released as a single.
And in the biggest twist of all, The Toys were among the many acts that helped “Yesterday” become one of the most covered songs in pop history when they recorded their own version of the very hit that prevented theirs from reaching No. 1. Not to be outdone (again), the Supremes also recorded their own version of “Yesterday,” (and, again, Motown spared us a single release).
And finally, The Toys had a chance to hit No. 1 after the Beatles’ “Yesterday” ran its course, but they were leapfrogged by that other legendary British band, the Rolling Stones (“Get Off My Cloud”), making The Toys the only act with the dubious distinction of having the same song blocked from the top by (arguably) the two greatest rock bands ever. Whew!
The legendary Beach Boys, who were the Beatles’ Capitol Records label mates at the time, released three studio albums in 1965, which gives you an indication of just how prolific they were in those days.
The third of the LPs was ‘Beach Boys Party!,’ an album the band kinda threw together at the label’s request after having released their previous album just four months earlier. ‘Party!’ contained mostly remakes of songs by other groups (including the Beatles), and included a remake of a 1961 hit by The Regents called “Barbara Ann.” The label released the Beach Boys’ version as a single in November 1965 (after several radio stations pushed the issue) and it flew up the charts, peaking at No. 2 behind the Fab Four’s “We Can Work It Out” in January 1966.
The Beach Boys, who’d hit No. 1 before with “I Get Around” and “Help Me, Rhonda,” would eventually reach No. 1 again with “Good Vibrations,” which came after the critical success of yet another album released just months after ‘Party!’ - the landmark LP ‘Pet Sounds.’ The Beach Boys, who during the recording of ‘Pet Sounds’ stated that they were inspired by the Beatles’ evolving sound, achieved something the Beatles didn’t after their 1970 breakup: a No. 1 tune in the ‘80s (1988’s “Kokomo”), giving the good-time American group a total of four No. 1s to go with their lone No. 2 hit.
As the story goes, the American pop/rock group The Cyrkle got its name from Beatle John Lennon. Their biggest hit, “Red Rubber Ball,” was co-written by Paul Simon.
So when “Red Rubber Ball” climbed to No. 2 behind the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” in June 1966, it was the fifth week during that year in which songs written by Simon and Lennon/McCartney occupied the No. 1 and No. 2 positions simultaneously on the Hot 100. Earlier in the year, the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out” (see “Barbara Ann” in previous entry) alternated the No. 1 and 2 positions with Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence.”
The Cyrkle’s connection to the Beatles went beyond being named by John Lennon or being relegated to runner-up status behind one of the Fab Four’s hits. The band was managed by Beatles manager Brian Epstein and even opened for the Liverpool Lads on 14 dates of their 1966 US tour.
Fast fact: the Cyrkle’s guitarist Tom Dawes later wrote the “plop-plop-fizz-fizz, oh what a relief it is” jingle for Alka Seltzer, something that was probably in short supply when his band suffered their No. 2 chart fate at the hands of the group who was somewhat responsible for The Cyrkle’s success.
Not many people remember that Gladys Knight & the Pips recorded “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” BEFORE Marvin Gaye did - by a whole year. And while Marvin Gaye’s No. 1 pop chart version is still considered the most iconic one some 50 years later, the only thing that prevented Ms. Knight & Co. from getting to No. 1 with their original was the Beatles’ “Hello Goodbye” at the end of 1967.
Ironically, Knight’s version of “Grapevine” is the only Motown single on this list. Conversely, five Beatles No. 1 songs were displaced from the top by Motown hits, including “I Feel Fine,” “Eight Days A Week,” “Hey Jude,” “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road.” The first three were knocked out by the Supremes while the latter two were dealt by the Jackson 5.
Gladys and the Pips would eventually get to the pinnacle six years later (three years after the Beatles broke up) with their “Midnight Train To Georgia,” but they’d left Motown by then and ironically were in a much better place - musically speaking - with Buddah Records, where they racked up most of their biggest hits.
Gladys - without the Pips - would hit No. 1 again in 1986 as part of Dionne & Friends on “That’s What Friends Are For.”
“I am the god of hellfire, and I bring you fire!”
That’s the opening proclamation of Arthur Brown’s weird, semi-psychedelic “Fire,” the song that was the first of three No. 2 casualties to the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” in October and November 1968.
Interestingly, “Fire” got its jump-start in popularity when rock god Jimi Hendrix took it to some US R&B stations and said “Play this!” without telling them that Brown was white. It ultimately got picked up on pop stations and, boom, a No. 2 Hot 100 hit was born!
Not surprisingly, the organ-driven tune’s popularity was enhanced by Arthur Brown’s crazy stage show, where he would perform the song while covered in flames - either through a specially made suit or a burning helmet, improvised to keep the singer himself from being scorched. Ironically, while Arthur Brown’s “Fire” was charting, a totally different song called “Fire” - written by Hendrix and recorded by a rock group named Five By Five - hit the charts... an uncanny coincidence indeed.
Just one week after “Fire” tried to unseat the Beatles from No. 1, Arthur Brown relinquished the runner-up position to the next song on this list.
Three different versions of “Little Green Apples” reached the Hot 100 in 1968, a feat that was not that uncommon in the cover-happy 1960s. The biggest of them was O.C. Smith’s, which in October became the second of the three songs held at bay by the Beatles’ iconic “Hey Jude.”
O. C. Smith’s “Little Green Apples” was preceded by Roger “King of the Road” Miller and the 1950s’ biggest female artist, Patti Page’s versions. The three collectively reached the top ten on all four of Billboard’s major singles charts (pop, soul, country and adult contemporary). It was no surprise then that “Apples” and its songwriter Bobby Russell won Grammys (for Song of the Year and Best Country Song).
O. C. Smith’s more soulful “Little Green Apples” also peaked at No. 2 on the R&B chart, stuck behind James Brown’s “Say It Loud - I’m Black and I’m Proud.”
And no, the irony is not lost on me that “Little Green Apples” was relegated to No. 2 on the pop chart by one of the first singles released on the Beatles’ own new label, Apple Records, which prominently featured an image of a big green apple on the imprint.
Ahh, it’s trivia like that that makes me love doing this stuff!
Eleven different No. 1 Beatles songs held 14 other tunes to a No. 2 Hot 100 peak, but the Fab Four hit that proved to be the biggest blocker, not surprisingly, was “Hey Jude,” with three different runners-up to its credit.
The last of those was, ironically, a recording by newcomer Mary Hopkin, which was inspired by a Russian folk song and produced by Beatle Paul McCartney himself, and one that was recorded on the Beatles’ new label Apple Records.
“Those Were The Days” was released around the same time as “Hey Jude” in 1968, but by the time “Days” entered the chart at No. 70, “Jude” was already No. 1. When “Days” finally caught up to attain its No. 2 peak, “Hey Jude” was in its sixth, seventh and eighth weeks at the top.
After “Days,” the next No. 2 song the Beatles faced was the Supremes’ “Love Child,” but unlike its three predecessors, the Motown classic had no problem knocking the nearly three-month-old “Hey Jude” from No. 1 the following week.
When all was said and done, Mary Hopkin’s “Those Were The Days” ended up as yet another song with significant Beatles connections that ran up against the group when it mattered most, but couldn’t overcome their juggernaut.
Hmmm, Mercy. What an appropriate name for a band that became another casualty of a merciless Beatles No. 1 in May and June 1969.
And equally as fitting was the title of the Beatles song that provided the dagger: “Get Back,” featuring unofficial “5th Beatle” and keyboard wizard Billy Preston.
“Get Back” is exactly what happened to Mercy’s “Love (Can Make You Happy)” when it began its pursuit of the chart’s top spot, only to be denied by the Fab Four’s third-biggest No. 1 single (based on number of weeks at the top).
The slow and dreamy “Love” had an interesting history, first being recorded on the fledgling Sundi record label by the song’s writer Jack Sigler, Jr. and some band mates he had recruited, before being re-recorded and picked up for national distribution by Warner Bros. Records as the song grew in popularity. “Love” was also included on the soundtrack to the 1969 film, Fireball Jungle, a cult favorite about a stock-car racer seeking revenge on the gangster that killed his brother and who began wreaking havoc on racetracks across the southern US.
The film’s cheesy plot seemed oxymoronic to the tune’s more love-and-happiness focused theme, but then “Love (Can Make You Happy)” wasn’t exactly the fun-sounding, happy-go-lucky song its title might imply.
As with ten of the other acts on this list, Mercy would never come this close to No. 1 again.
Two bands racked up three No. 2 songs each in 1969: Creedence Clearwater Revival and Blood, Sweat & Tears, neither group ever achieving No. 1 status.
But only one of the six songs involved was stopped by the Beatles.
Interestingly, it was the last No. 2 single of the 1960s - Blood Sweat & Tears’ “And When I Die.” That tune was held out of No. 1 by the Beatles’ last No. 1 single of the ‘60s, “Come Together”/“Something” - a double-sided hit that itself might not have hit No. 1 had it not been for a convenient change in Billboard’s policy that combined points for both sides of a 45 and made them a single chart entry.
Both “Come Together” and “Something” were plateauing in the weeks leading up to the policy change, with each having apparently reached their peaks in the top ten. Then Billboard combined them and boom, the Beatles had their 18th No. 1 “single.”
The biggest casualty? “BS&T’s “And When I Die.”
If it’s any consolation, BS&T did top the pop chart in Cashbox Magazine, which at the time was an equal competitor to Billboard. It knocked “Come Together” from the top spot of that publication’s Top 100 singles list on December 13, 1969.
The last No. 2 peaking song to a Beatles No. 1 happened to be the tune that was stopped by the Fab Four’s 20th and last No. 1 hit, “The Long And Winding Road.”
The Poppy Family, which consisted of husband-and-wife team Terry and Susan Jacks and two other members, had the unfortunate fate of going against the sentimental “farewell” tune by the Beatles in 1970 with their “Which Way You Goin’, Billy?,” itself a poignant tune about a drifter who could have been traveling on his own long and winding road.
As it was, Terry Jacks would have No. 1 success as a solo artist with a hit single four years later, the ubiquitous “Seasons In The Sun,” yet another goodbye tune that has reportedly sold 14 million copies worldwide since its release.
Interestingly, neither Terry nor the Beatles would ever hit No. 1 again, but the Canadian singer still holds the distinction - along with his band Poppy Family - of having the last No. 2 single to be stopped from reaching the top by the Fab Four.
Dubious, yes. But it’s not a bad distinction to have in one’s career.
And that’s it music fans – djrobblog’s tribute to the No. 2 hits that had the misfortune of going against the most popular band of all time.
But that’s not the end of the story involving The Beatles and No. 2.
The Beatles weren’t always the victor in two-song battles for the top spot. In a case of turnabout being fair play, twice their songs were relegated to No. 2 peaks by other artists (in addition to the time they held themselves at bay in 1964 when “Twist and Shout” was blocked by “Can’t Buy Me Love.”). That rare second-place status was dealt to them by two acts who factor pretty heavily in the Beatles-era history:
- “Do You Want To Know A Secret” (blocked by Louis Armstrong’s “Hello Dolly”). As Beatles fans know, it was Louis Armstrong’s “Hello Dolly” that finally ended the Beatles’ 14-week reign atop the Hot 100 in May 1964. During its reign, “Dolly” held the Beatles’ “Do You Want To Know A Secret” to the runner-up slot, making it the second such Beatles record after “Twist and Shout” a few weeks earlier.
- “Yellow Submarine” (blocked by the Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love”). While the Beatles were making their record-breaking 20 No. 1 hits, the Supremes were the group with the second-most Hot 100 chart-toppers with twelve. One of them, 1966’s “You Can’t Hurry Love,” got the better of the Beatles when it held their “Yellow Submarine.” The Beatles and the Supremes clashed several times at the top of the charts, but this was the only instance in which one of the act’s singles held the other to a No. 2 peak.
You can hear all fourteen of the No. 2 songs blocked by the Beatles in this special Spotify playlist.
DJRob is a freelance blogger who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.
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