(July 2, 2019). Much has been said about the No. 1 song of 2019 (so far), “Old Town Road” by newcomer Lil Nas X featuring resurrected country star Billy Ray Cyrus.
One of the fascinating stories about “Road,” aside from its genre-busting, out-of-left-field, marathon-like success, has been the number of No. 2 carcasses left in its wake. So far, as of the Hot 100 chart dated July 6, 2019, seven different runner-up tunes have tried and failed to detour “Road” from its No. 1 path, a record for any one chart topper.
In addition, two other No. 2 songs were blocked earlier this year by Ariana Grande’s former No. 1 hit “7 Rings,” which means that there’ve already been nine different No. 2-peaking songs on the Billboard Hot 100 just beyond the year’s halfway point, assuming none of the recent or current silver medalists garner enough strength to overtake “Road” at some point in the near future.
To recap, here are the year’s No. 2-peaking songs so far (with dates and the No. 1 song that blocked it in parentheses):
- “Happier” – Marshmello & Bastille (2/16: “7 Rings” – Ariana Grande)
- “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored” – Ariana Grande (2/23: “7 Rings”)
- “Wow” – Post Malone (4/6: “7 Rings”; 4/27 & 5/4: “Old Town Road” – Lil Nas X)
- “ME!” – Taylor Swift (5/11: “Road”)
- “If I Can’t Have You” – Shawn Mendes (5/18: “Road”)
- “I Don’t Care” – Ed Sheeran & Justin Bieber (5/25 & 6/1: “Road”)
- “Bad Guy” – Billie Eilish (6/8, 6/15, 6/22: “Road”)
- “You Need To Calm Down” – Taylor Swift (6/29: “Road”)
- “Señorita” – Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello (7/6: “Road”)
Doing some quick math and considering the current pace, 2019 could wind up with seventeen (or even eighteen) different No. 2 songs by year’s end, and just having 17 would put it ahead of every other year in the Hot 100’s 61-year history.
That is, every year but one.
Fifty years ago, in 1969, seventeen very unlucky songs peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 – all in the same year!
Yep, that’s seventeen No. 2-peaking records all occurring in 1969, a year that to this day holds the record for having the most runner-up songs that failed to hit No. 1 during a calendar year in Billboard chart history.
Now seventeen may seem like a lot of No. 2’s in one year, and it is when compared to present-day statistics. In recent years, with a much slower turnover at the top of the charts, there have been occasions when as few as two records peaked in the runner-up slot during a calendar year. In fact two years – 2006 and 2017 – hold that distinction.
By contrast, the 1960s saw an unbelievable amount of turnover at the top of the charts. In addition to a high number of No. 1 songs, there were many No. 2-peaking hits.
All of this occurred during a time when it was nothing to see a dozen or more No. 2-peaking hits in a single year. From 1966-69, for instance, there were at least 13 such songs in each year, with 1969 seeing the most at 17. (The count for 1969 includes a holdover from 1968, Stevie Wonder’s “For Once In My Life.”)
This week, to commemorate the record that hasn’t been touched in 50 years, djrobblog pays tribute to all seventeen of those runners-up in chronological order from Stevie Wonder’s “life” in January through Blood Sweat & Tears “dying” that December; from “For Once In My Life” to “And When I Die” and all the No. 2-peaking songs in between.
And nearly all of them are classics!
Here they are, one by one. So scroll through and see how many you remember…
“For Once In My Life” – Stevie Wonder. (No. 1: “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” – Marvin Gaye)
This Motown classic by Stevie featured one of the most memorable harmonica solos of any pop song – before or since. It was also part of a historic period for Motown in which they occupied the top three spots for four straight weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, as well as half of the top ten. In addition to Stevie’s tune were songs by Marvin Gaye (“I Heard It Through The Grapevine”), the Supremes (“Love Child”), The Temptations (“Cloud Nine”), and a “duet” between the Supremes and the Temptations that happens to be the next song on this list.
“I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” – Diana Ross & the Supremes w/ The Temptations. (No. 1: “Grapevine”)
Another Motown classic became the first “new” No. 2 song of 1969 when it displaced Stevie Wonder’s holdover from 1968. It was the first-ever “duet” billing between two established groups and it featured Diana Ross (of course) and Eddie Kendricks (of the Temps) on lead vocals. It would have been the Supremes’ 12th No. 1 had it been able to get past Marvin’s monster smash “Grapevine.” As it turned out, the Supremes would have to wait until the end of the year (“Someday We’ll Be Together”) to achieve that milestone.
“Proud Mary” – Creedence Clearwater Revival. (No. 1: “Everyday People” – Sly & the Family Stone; “Dizzy” – Tommy Roe)
Creedence’s “Proud Mary” set into motion a No. 2 curse for the band that to this day holds the distinction of having the most runners-up without ever hitting No. 1. Three of those would occur consecutively in 1969. Only one of their No. 2 hits would be remade into a top-10 song for a different act. In 1971, Ike & Tina Turner charted with their tempo-variant version of “Proud Mary” and took it to No. 4, sparing CCR the indignity of having to watch one of their runner-up tunes become a chart topper for someone else.
“Traces” – Classics IV. (No. 1: “Dizzy” – Tommy Roe)
The Classics IV had a penchant for one-word titles. Their “Spooky” and “Stormy” had been top-5 hits in 1968, and “Traces” completed the band’s hat trick in ‘69 when it climbed into the top five. “Traces,” featuring Dennis Yost on vocals, wound up being their biggest, reaching No. 2 behind Tommy Roe’s “Dizzy” in March. Little known fact: Classics IV recorded a song called “Soul Train” in 1968, two years before Don Cornelius started the famous TV show of the same name. “Soul Train” peaked at No. 90 on the Hot 100.
“You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” – Blood, Sweat & Tears. (No. 1: “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” – 5th Dimension)
It wasn’t until I researched for this article that I learned the song “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” was co-written by Motown’s Berry Gordy and had originally been a top-40 hit for his label by Brenda Holloway (#39 peak). So David Clayton-Thomas and the boys from BS&T actually charted with a remake. Still, their version is the best known and it set them on a path in 1969 to get three straight No. 2 singles from their breakthrough self-titled album. Unlike the singles from it, however, the LP did reach No. 1, and wound up being ranked as the third-biggest album of 1969, behind Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida and the Hair Soundtrack by the Original Cast.
“It’s Your Thing” – The Isley Brothers. (No. 1: “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” – 5th Dimension)
A lot of people think of the Isley Brothers as a ‘70s (or later) group given their long list of platinum albums and hit singles from that decade and beyond. But they actually started in the 1950s and achieved their biggest pop hit in the 1960s with “Its Your Thing,” their first major recording for their own T-Neck label after a brief stint with Motown (and previously other labels). “It’s Your Thing” was recorded when the group was still billed as a trio, but was the first single to include younger brother Ernie on bass. He would later officially join the band, along with another brother and brother-in-law, making The Isleys a group of six. Today, Ernie and lead singer Ron Isley are the only members still performing from that classic lineup.
“Hair” – Cowsills. (No. 1: “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” – 5th Dimension)
At the end of 1967, the Cowsills scored their first No. 2 hit with the psychedelic pop song “The Rain, The Park and Other Things.” Less than 18 months later, the family act were back there again with “Hair,” their version of the title song from the rock musical. As fate would have it, the song blocking theirs from No. 1 was another tune from Hair by The 5th Dimension, “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In.” But unlike 5D, who would get a second No. 1 single later in ‘69, the Cowsills became the inspiration for a TV sitcom about a family musical act starring actress Shirley Jones as their mom. Not wanting their own mom to be second-fiddle to Shirley, the band opted out of starring in the show that ultimately became “The Partridge Family.”
“Love (Can Make You Happy)” – Mercy. (No. 1: “Get Back” – Beatles)
This one-hit wonder had the misfortune of battling the Beatles for chart supremacy in the spring of ‘69 with their soft, easy listener “Love (Can Make You Happy).” The merciless Goliath that held them at bay was “Get Back,” a song whose title Mercy heeded for two weeks while settling for second-place. Still “Happy,” which had been recorded for a movie called Fireball Jungle, sold a million copies and made Mercy stars…at least for a brief moment. Their lone chart follow-up, “Forever,” peaked at #79 later in ‘69.
“Bad Moon Rising” – Creedence Clearwater Revival. (No. 1: “Love Theme From ‘Romeo & Juliet’” – Henry Mancini & His Orchestra)
My favorite CCR tune is “Down On The Corner,” a No. 3 song from late 1969 that broke the band’s streak of hitting No. 2 on the Hot 100. But the streak was kept alive earlier in the year by the song that is regarded as one of their greatest classics, “Bad Moon Rising.” As testimony, the song has more than 210 million streams registered on Spotify (behind only “Have You Ever Seen The Rain” and “Fortunate Son”). Fogerty has been invited to the 50th anniversary of Woodstock this August, commemorating his band’s appearance at the first one in August 1969, where he performed “Bad Moon” just after it had fallen from the charts.
“Spinning Wheel” – Blood, Sweat & Tears. (No. 1: “Love Theme From ‘Romeo & Juliet’” – Henry Mancini & His Orchestra; “In the Year 2525” – Zager & Evans
Indeed, what goes up must come down. And when you don’t make it all the way up, then your fall is just that much shorter. Such was the case for BS&T’s second No. 2 single “Spinning Wheel,” which spent three frustrating weeks as runner-up to songs by Henry Mancini and Zager & Evans. Still, it took the band out of one-hit wonder status and even made the R&B chart. “Wheel” also sat well with jazz critics and wound up with Grammy noms for both Record and Song of the year, which it lost to 5D and Joe South, respectively.
“Crystal Blue Persuasion” – Tommy James & the Shondells. (No. 1: “In the Year 2525” – Zager & Evans)
“Crystal Blue Persuasion” just missed becoming Tommy James and the Shondells third No. 1 single after “Hanky Panky” and “Crimson & Clover.” It got stuck for three long weeks behind that futuristic 26th-century tale by Zager & Evans, “In The Year 2525.” Still, “Crystal” was the band’s biggest hit during the summer that gave us historic events like Woodstock, the music festival that James and his band missed out on due to a misunderstanding on his part when his secretary was trying to book him for it. Chalk it up to bad marketing when she told him the event was “some pig farmer in upstate New York” who wanted James and the Shondells to play in his field. Interestingly, James is not in the current lineup of artists slated for the event’s on-and-off again 50th anniversary concert this August.
“A Boy Named Sue” – Johnny Cash. (No. 1: “Honky Tonk Women” – Rolling Stones)
Lost in all the trivia about 1969’s No. 2 smorgasbord is the fact that four of the songs contained women’s names in their titles (not counting Crystal). There’s Mary, Maria, Jean and Sue – the name given to Johnny Cash’s male protagonist in his big No. 2 hit that year. Of course, Johnny’s titular character didn’t appreciate the name his father gave him and set out on a course to get revenge before fully understanding dear old dad’s more noble motives. The story ended on a high note, well, except for the fact that “Sue” (whose lyrics mention “Honky Tonk” bars, btw) could never get past those “Honky Tonk Women” (by the Stones) after three frustrating weeks in the No. 2 spot.
“Green River” – Creedence Clearwater Revival. (No. 1: “Sugar, Sugar” – the Archies)
Did you know that the title for “Green River” came from a soda fountain that John Fogerty used to frequent as a kid? He would buy his favorite bottle of flavored syrup, a lime-flavored concoction branded as Green River, and mix it with soda water to create his pop. While the title was inspired by soda, all of the other imagery in the song’s lyrics were inspired by more vast recollections from Fogerty’s childhood, mostly from summer camp (at Cody’s) and cabins and creeks where he and the others would camp and swim. In the end, “Green River,” with all its sweet, lime-flavored inspiration, couldn’t get past the confectionery “Sugar, Sugar” by The Archies, thus making it the third-straight No. 2 record for CCR.
“Jean” – Oliver. (No. 1: “Sugar, Sugar” – the Archies)
This (really) soft ballad came from the motion picture The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and was Oliver’s second-consecutive top-3 hit after “Good Morning, Starshine” (another hit from Hair) a few months earlier. The film was about a Scottish school teacher who found greater meaning in life by teaching young girls about life. “Jean,” however, was its own case study in the life lesson of how it’s not always about where you finish, but how you play the game. In addition to finishing second on the charts (to a bunch of cartoon characters about a fictional band named Archies), the song and its artist lost in all the Oscar and Grammy categories for which they were nominated that year.
“Hot Fun In The Summertime” – Sly & the Family Stone. (No. 1: “I Can’t Get Next To You” – Temptations )
The interracial band fronted by Sly Stone had this No. 2 smash to go along with its three No. 1 hits (in each of three consecutive years beginning in ‘69). But their “Summertime” couldn’t topple the Temptations second No. 1 hit in the fall of ‘69. Still, “Hot Fun” is regarded as one of the Family Stone’s greatest classics. One wonders what might have been had Sly & Co. released their song a few months earlier – like actually during the summertime.
“Take A Letter, Maria” – R. B. Greaves. (No. 1: “Wedding Bell Blues” – 5th Dimension)
Two of the acts on this list with No. 2 hits might be considered one-hit wonders. There’s Mercy and R. B. Greaves. Except, only one would be accurately labeled as such: the band Mercy. R. B. Greaves actually had two top-40 pop hits. Right after “Take A Letter, Maria,” he hit the top-40 again with “Always Something There To Remind Me,” the biggest version of that Burt Bacharach/Hal David classic before the band Naked Eyes remade it in the ‘80s. After that one, Greaves’ chart career was over.
“And When I Die” – Blood, Sweat & Tears. (No. 1: “Come Together”/“Something” – Beatles)
And the capper for 1969 was this upbeat, death-obsessed ditty by BS&T. Rarely has a song about dying made it sound so sweet. “And When I Die” completed the second No. 2 hat trick of the year as BS&T joined CCR with three runners-up each. There’ve been few years where multiple acts got two No. 2 hits, and 1969 is still the only one where two acts each had three such hits. Of course, if Taylor Swift and Shawn Mendes each get one more in 2019, then this year would join ‘69 in that distinction as well.
At this rate, anything is possible.
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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XXTRA No. 2 trivia:
Even the two biggest singles acts of the decade – the Beatles and the Supremes, who had a total of 30 No. 1 singles in the 60s (the Beatles had two more in 1970) – had to settle for five No. 2 hits between them. The Beatles had three No. 2 chart hits in addition to their 20 No. 1s, and the Supremes had two to go with their twelve chart-toppers.
Since 1969, the closest any year has come to matching its record were 1989 and 1990, when there were 14 No. 2 songs each.
The most No. 2 songs during a calendar year in the Nielsen SoundScan era (with point-of-sale tracking and real-time airplay monitoring) is ten. That number is shared by two years: 1992 (the first full year of SoundScan) and 2005.
The two artists with the most No. 2s in history are Madonna and Taylor Swift, each with six. Taylor tied the record this year with her two runners-up, “ME!” and “You Need To Calm Down.”
But Taylor and Madonna have each also had No. 1 songs. The artist with the most No. 2s and no No. 1s is still Creedence Clearwater Revival, with five.