Once again a "hit" is defined as a song that landed into the Billboard Top 40, not the alterna-rock charts, not the country charts, not the radio playlists, the POP charts.
Granted, this is not the perfect measure of an artist's worth. Album-Oriented-Rock was just that and cared much less about singles and these days nearly every decent musician barely skims the charts if at all.
But pop hits are what everyone experiences, even against their will. They're the songs that pipe through the culture and cause future historians to skew their perceptions. Movie makers enjoy playing up the camp value of days bygone. And we innocent listeners wonder how some of these songs ever made it out of the garage or the corporate office while loving other songs unconditionally.
Let's enjoy ourselves here, as I handpick artists from across the spectrum to represent the musicians who have two songs everyone should know.
25) The Band -- "Up On Cripple Creek," "Don't Do It": Wow. Not "The Weight," you know that "Take a load off, Annie" song, which landed at #63, nor "The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down," which was a hit for Joan Baez and never a single for these four Canadians and Levon Helm. They fared a bit better in Canada, where the government forces its citizens to like its musicians.
24) Barenaked Ladies -- "One Week," "Pinch Me": I don't think I know either of these songs and nothing in my contract says I have to listen to the tunes I pick out. "One Week," though, did spend exactly one week at #1 in the U.S., but only made it to #3 in Canada, who preferred to send "It's All Been Done" to #1, while the U.S. was happy with #44. Canadians liked "Pinch Me" more than us, but I'd like to interview actual Canadians before I accept these chart positions.
23) Berlin -- "No More Words," "Take My Breath Away": Had "Take My Breathe Away" not been the "Love Theme" of the film Top Gun there is a chance very few people would ever remember these folks. I look at a picture of these guys and Terri Nunn in 1982 and am immediately reminded how much I personally could not relate to much of the 1980s. The fashions were so obviously gross that it would take a lobotomy to wear them. Nowadays, people write on Facebook, "OMG!!! I can't be-lieve YOU let me wear this! LOL!!!," but I assure you, you thought you were pretty cool when you did. No wonder so many of us listened to unlistenable hardcore bands.
Nothing made sense.
22) The Black Crowes -- "Hard To Handle," "She Talks To Angels": On something called the U.S Mainstream Rock Tracks, a Billboard chart invented apparently to make rock bands feel better about themselves, The Black Crowes are wildly successful. 22 hits, in fact. The U.K. even likes them more than we do. In the U.S., those two hits, from their first album are all that non-rock people could stand. By their third album Amorica, it's as if the band and label just gave up trying to market their songs to non-rock radio. Weird.
21) Blue Oyster Cult -- "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," "Burnin' For You": Looking at the chart positions of anything Blue Oyster Cult -- albums, singles -- there is no career. Not even the Rock charts make that strong of a case for them. 1988 seems to be the last time anyone paid attention with something called "Astronomy." Yet, the band has a reputation among its hardcore fans. They're also known for putting out five live albums and at least eight greatest hits albums, all of which should include the two songs listed above. I've got nothing against bands that don't chart. Most bands I like from the last thirty years don't chart, but most bands I like very few people have ever heard of. You've heard of Blue Oyster Cult, right?
20) Brownsville Station -- "Smokin' In the Boys Room," "Kings of the Party": So, Brownsville Station should be as popular as Blue Oyster Cult! I'll be part of a new openness here and admit I have no idea what "Kings of the Party" is, but unlike Berlin, who I sincerely don't wish to research, I am curious to hear this tune…OK, I'm back. I listened to it. These guys are really into "talking" on their songs. Not sure how much I want to buy albums by guys who talk through their songs. I gave up on Lou Reed for this reason many years ago. Though when these guys rock, they really sound like those bar bands I've been trying to avoid for my entire life.
19) The Clash -- "Train In Vain," "Rock The Casbah": Need a reason to prefer the U.K.? Well, back when the Clash began, they landed Top 40 hits with "White Riot," "Complete Control," "Clash City Rockers," "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais," "Tommy Gun," "English Civil War," "I Fought the Law," "London Calling," "Bankrobber," "The Call Up," and "The Magnificent Seven." In other words, they had a career in the U.K. and radio played them!
18) Elvis Costello -- "Everyday I Write The Book," "Veronica": I won't go into such great detail here, but let's just say "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea" went to #16, "Oliver's Army" went to #2. "I Cant Stand Up For Falling Down" went to #4 and "Pills and Soap" went to #16. Seriously, "Pills and Soap" charted better in the U.K. than "Everyday I Write The Book." Yeah, we won the Revolutionary War! But at what cost?
17) Dido -- "Thank You," "White Flag": Despite the fact that everyone hears her name and immediately thinks "Pop music for Moms everywhere," (For the record, Bruce Springsteen is "Pop Music for Dads everywhere.") Miss Dido has only two hits to her name and one of them is simply "Thank You." Even the Beatles went for "Please Please Me" and "Thank You Girl" and not just "Thank You." What's next? "You're Welcome"?
16) EMF -- "Unbelievable," "Lies": There was a brief period of time where it looked as if EMF would be a lasting concern. Their first album Schubert Dip went to #12 and scored these two singles along with two others ("I Believe," "Children") that went into the rock charts. But then grunge took over and we couldn't do two things at once.
15) Andrew Gold -- "Lonely Boy," "Thank You For Being A Friend": New York critics never gave California a fair shake. If you weren't unhappy and miserable in the most turgid ways then your despair didn't mean anything. Sunshine, apparently, invalidates your pain. And should you be a gifted musician who decides to write shameless pop, well, you'd better not sell any records then -- or else! Now, now, The Golden Girls association is enough to sink any serious person's public career. But didn't guys like Gold always end up working corporate gigs anyway?
14) SSG Barry Sadler -- "The Ballad Of The Green Berets," "The 'A' Team": Most people conscious of the 1960s remember the "Ballad," but the follow-up album with the follow-up single did a bit worse. From what I know, The Mr. T. television program did not use SSG Sadler's 1966 hit "The 'A' Team" for their theme song, a mistake in creative that just goes to show the kind of commie bastards we had running our family entertainment back in the good ol' days!
13) Radiohead -- "Creep," "Nude": Despite their decision to "go art" and eschew all naked power grabs, Radiohead still managed to squeeze out a #37 hit with "Nude" from In Rainbows[/i]. Again, I must marvel at how the United Kingdom has not treated them so indifferently. In their country, songs such as "Paranoid Android," "Street Spirit," "No Surprises," "Karma Police," "Pyramid Song" and "There There" were Top Ten pop hits! You may not enjoy Radiohead, but you must admit living somewhere where a band like them can succeed as a mainstream taste is likely an interesting place to be, even if their bathrooms are horrifically smaller.
12) Men Without Hats -- "The Safety Dance," "Pop Goes The World": Is it my imagination or do Men Without Hats usually get trotted out as a One Hit Wonder? The always semi-reliable Wikipedia gets it wrong, if a book called The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits can be believed! "Pop Goes The World" landed at #20!
11) New Order -- "True Faith," "Regret": There are no clear reasons why certain successful bands take forever to have a mainstream pop hit. By the time they do, their careers are usually past the prime years. 1987 isn't terribly late for New Order to have "True Faith" climb the charts, but when you eyeball the songs that passed without hitting -- "Temptation," "Blue Monday," "Confusion," "Thieves Like Us" -- it does feel like an entire alternative society were sidelined by Huey Lewis and the News fans.
10) Strawberry Alarm Clock -- "Incense and Peppermints," "Tomorrow": If you name yourself the Strawberry Alarm Clock, you're pretty much guaranteeing yourself a future of about 18 months. Maybe in modern times, this wouldn't be the case, but by the second and third flash of psychedelia, it was obvious that bands with groovy names and heady song titles would be shown the way to the country-rock pastures before the decade was out.
9) Nine Inch Nails -- "The Day The World Went Away," "The Hand That Feeds": What do you do with an "underground" artist who immediately connects with critics? Oh, great, Dad likes my music! What's really weird about NIN's pop success is that neither song sounds like The Outlaw Trent Reznor is pandering to anyone (well, maybe "The Hand That Feeds" rocks a bit more conventionally). They don't sound like he's making a single decision based on what he thinks other people will like. Who does that and succeeds?
8) Los Lobos -- "Come On, Let's Go," "La Bamba": Gee, you'd think they'd have a third hit with that other Ritchie Valens tune "Donna." Not sure what happened there. We would never expect a band as musically talented as Los Lobos to have a hit of their own. Besides, their "classic" album Kiko was made with producer Mitchell Froom, who is for people who want great reviews, not big hits.
7) Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch -- "Good Vibrations," "Wildside": Before he became the biggest actor of his generation, Marky Mark had a couple hits with other people's hooks. Lou Reed for "Wildside" and not the Beach Boys but Loleatta Holloway's "Love Sensation" for "Good Vibrations." Bring on the underwear ads!!!
6) Jethro Tull -- "Living In The Past," "Bungle In the Jungle": This Grammy-winning Heavy Metal band also were quite the pop-jingle machine with these nifty, catchy tunes where the flute takes its rightful place as the ultimate pop music instrument. The flute craze took over grammar school bands and even college freshman music classes like Introduction to Music, where everyone learned to play "Lady of Spain," a song never covered by Jethro Tull, to my knowledge.
5) ? and the Mysterians -- "96 Tears," "I Need Somebody": Personally, I think it's flat-out wrong for this classic garage rock band to have a second hit single. History would be neater if they were a one-hit wonder. It doesn't improve their fortune to have another song. People go see you at the state fair because of "96 Tears" and the dinky organ. It's enough.
4) Kris Kristofferson -- "Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again)," "Why Me": Of all the songs Kris wrote, these are the two he got in front of us. I can accept that he never struck with "Me and Bobby McGee," but not with "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down"? Country artists always re-record each other's songs without penalty. He was always best narrating TV specials anyway. His job on Marvin Gaye: Behind the Music is epic.
3) Janis Joplin -- "Piece of My Heart," "Me and Bobby McGee": She took "Me and Bobby McGee" from Kris Kristofferson because she could do more with it. She took Erma Franklin's "Piece of My Heart" a year after Erma had a U.K. hit with the Jerry Ragovoy-Bert Berns number because it was there. Noted critic Ellen Willis said of Joplin that she used blues conventions not to transcend pain, but "to scream it out of existence."
2) Pink Floyd -- "Money," "Another Brick In the Wall (Part II)": Imagine no album charts, it's easy if you try. Most rock bands would be rendered irrelevant and Pink Floyd would never get the chance to make either of these songs. Or in the rare possibility they do -- boy, that "See Emily Play" single bought them a lot of second chances -- the context for "Money" never surfaces and budgets force it to sound like that early demo that floats around. Forget "Brick in the Wall." No way the label waits around four years for the follow-up to that Norwegian hit "Wish You Were Here."
1) Young M.C. -- "Bust A Move," "Principal's Office": I don't think Young M.C.'s cameo in Up In the Air gets quite the same response if they have him performing "Principal's Office," but that's just my hunch.