The album is dead. Ever since the internet made it effortless to get our grubby little hands on individual songs rather than having to deal with all that excess filler musicians refer to as their “artistic vision” the full-length LP has gone the way Dodo bird. A fact older generations love to unjustly blame on millennials as if no one over the age of thirty-five ever sipped the fine fermented wine that was the Napster Kool-Aid. Even though the record industry did take a massive financial hit when youths began dipping their toes in the waters of internet piracy it’s difficult to argue the advantages of web sharing. Songs that would have never cracked a top ten list are suddenly being catapulted to the peak of the Billboard charts (hell, Rae Sremmurd got a number one song due to the popularity of an Instagram hashtag). But simply using a catchy song as the backdrop to your [very unimpressive] mannequin challenge isn’t going to get your favorite artist to that top slot.
Billboard uses radio popularity, plays from streaming services, and yes, even boring old album sales to calculate their prestigious ranking system, and let me tell you, climbing that mountain is no cakewalk. Since the start of 2016, there’s only been thirteen number one songs, which means more likely than not, that song you loved blasting in your car barely crept higher than number three (I’m looking at you, Hotline Bling). History is littered with immensely popular artists who’ve hit speed bumps on the road to number one. N.W.A. sold 3 million copies in 1988 and didn’t break into the top 40 until 2015, and they’re not alone. Here’s a list of your favorite musicians that have never had a number one single.
Back in the late 80s, you would have been hard-pressed to hear anything other than hair metal coming through a speaker. Bands like Poison and Quiet Riot, ruled the airwaves with iron fists wrapped in lace gloves, that is, until 1991 when everyone remembered life kind of sucked, turned their attention to dreary Seattle and traded in their eyeliner for flannels. Enter the grunge era. A subgenre built on the shrugging shoulders of despondent teens who only opened their drowsy eyes for one band, Nirvana. Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, formed the group in 1987, but it wasn’t until their breakthrough album Nevermind, and their groundbreaking single “Smells Like Teen Spirit” that they became the spokesmen for Generation X. By Christmas 1991 Nevermind was selling 400,000 copies a week domestically, and the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was the top played video on MTV. Still, the song never managed to peak higher than number six on the charts despite spending twenty weeks there. Amidst the tribulations of fame and drug abuse, the band managed to release one more album before Cobain’s death in 1994 but never did come close to the success of their first angsty anthem.
14. Red Hot Chili Peppers
Sixteen Grammy nominations and 80 million records sold worldwide. These are but a fragment of the mind-blowing stats on the resume of the southern California rock band. Over the course of thirty years and eleven studio albums, the Chili Peppers have pumped out hit after hit that were somehow capable of attracting new fans in every decade they infiltrated. To have a band play the Sunset Strip during its prime and headline Coachella all in the same career is an impressive feat whether you’re a fan of the group or not. However, somehow even with their staggering track record, the Chili Peppers have never hit number one. In fact, since their single “Under The Bridge” peaked at number two in 1992, they haven’t even been able to crack the top five. “Dani California” was close coming in at six, but after that it’s a fast plummet out of the top forty (I know, I know – “What about ‘Scar Tissue’?” Peaked at nine. I was surprised too).
13. Bob Marley
Considered by many to not only be one of the most prolific humans to step foot on the planet, Marley is also widely regarded as one of the most influential musicians of all time. Not counting the decade he spent recording with The Wailers which gave us songs like “No Woman No Cry”, Marley is one of the highest selling musicians to ever step in front of a microphone. His compilation album Legend, still flies off the shelves at 250,000 copies annually and it’s also one of the only albums to have ever sold over 10 million copies (and that figure is low considering Soundscan didn’t start keeping tabs on sales until seven years after its initial release). Time Magazine called Exodus, the “album of the century” and the BBC named his song, “One Love” the “song of the millennium.” That means it’s the best song in the past one thousand years if you’re keeping a tally at home. However, if you look very closely at all these grandiose figures you’ll find not one of them says “Billboard number one single.”
12. Green Day
Who isn’t guilty of getting a bit nostalgic when “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” comes on the radio? Who doesn’t drop into a fit of political outrage when “American Idiot” pops up in a Pandora playlist? And who can possibly resist chanting those infectious opening lyrics of “Basket Case?” Every consumer in the United States of America apparently. Green Day has been a band since the mid-80s but didn’t really become mainstream until the release of Dookie in 1994, for which they won a Grammy. Fast forward through twenty plus years of success which included four more Grammys, a rock opera turned Broadway musical, and 75 million worldwide record sales and what do they have to show for it? Pretty much everything except a number one single. These guys have gone double platinum three times over and still never peaked higher than number two, and even that was after making music for nineteen years.
11. Bob Dylan
This guy has won Grammys, Oscars, Golden Globes, and even a Nobel Prize. He’s a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer with 100 million record sales under his belt spanning over five decades, and when it’s all said and done Desiigner has bragging rights over him (“Panda” spent two weeks at number one earlier this year). Sure, his heyday of making potential hits may have ended thirty years ago, but with a hardcore fanbase in the millions it’s difficult to imagine how not even one of his iconic releases snuck its way past number two, but that’s where his highest ranking songs like “Rainy Day Women” and “Like a Rolling stone” peter out. The wrinkled folk-rocker is still an active recording artist to this day, but you can’t imagine any new track he’ll release will compare to his chart-toppers of yesteryear, most likely you’re going to see some post-mortem reissues speed to the top, just a little too late for Dylan to enjoy it.
Their recent “comeback” album California, may have hit number one, but the trio has never been able to see that type of success with an individual track. Since they came onto the pop-punk scene in 1995 with their debut, Cheshire Cat, or more rightly put, stepped through the metaphorical Warped Tour mosh pit and into the mainstream in 1999 with the wildly popular Enema of the State, Blink fans have kept the band close to their hearts. Unfortunately, Billboard has yet to introduce an algorithm that can calculate love and the boys of Blink haven’t seen anything above number six when “All the Small Things” got them there in 2000. Oddly enough, the band probably regards that positioning as an absolute triumph considering it’s their only song to ever even break into the top forty. Their other hit single from Enema, “What’s My Age Again” couldn’t make it passed 58, and 2004’s overplayed emo ballad, “I Miss You” hit a wall at 42.
9. Dr. Dre
If I told you the undisputed forefather of West Coast rap and pioneer of the G-Funk era never had a number one single, would you believe me? What if I said the guy who, before he turned thirty-five, made a platinum selling album with N.W.A., went solo, recorded some of the most iconic songs in history, built his own label from the ground up, and then found enough down time to turn an unknown white kid from Detroit into the second highest selling male artist of all time, never managed to grab that brass ring? It’s the truth. It’s in a list on the internet, so it’s the truth. He came close in 1993 when he teamed up with Snoop Dogg to record, “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” but couldn’t quite build enough momentum to bump Snow’s memorably unmemorable hit “Informer” out of the top slot. He had a glimpse of a second chance when 2011’s “I Need a Doctor” reached number four, but unfortunately for the good doctor, almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
8. Jimi Hendrix
Legend has it a fifteen-year-old Hendrix learned to play guitar on a five-dollar acoustic, went in and out of the army, and then started a few different bands and lived in a few different cities before moving to London where he famously upstaged Eric Clapton during an impromptu jam session by playing guitar with his teeth. The man is nothing short of mythical, and since his name is synonymous with every rock-god fable imaginable it’s almost tasking to think he’s never had a number one single. Alas, I’m here to assure you of that exact distressing fact. Despite being in the top handful of every music magazine’s “best of” list, Hendrix never made it past twenty on the most frequently cited list of them all.
7. Bruce Springsteen
You could make the argument that some artists on this list didn’t make it to number one because their genre wasn’t mainstream enough, or more specifically because their popularity has grown with time, resulting in a present day fanbase that would have cast shadows over their highest concert attendance thirty years ago. Do not, I repeat, do not make the mistake of bundling Springsteen in this exhausting explanation. The Boss has been a rock hitmaker ever since he shuffled his way out of Asbury Park in 1973, and his fame has barely dipped below blue-collar-superstar in the past four decades. Because of this, and his nine Grammy wins, it makes it easy to overlook the fact that the E Street Band frontman only ever made it to number two with “Dancing in the Dark” in 1984. Actually, if you ignore his slew of top ten hits in the 80s and 90s, you’ll notice he hasn’t had a top forty hit this millennia, so I guess in hindsight he really doesn’t need an exhausting explanation… he’s just not as popular as he once was.
6. Beastie Boys
“Three Idiots Create Masterpiece” that was the headline Rolling Stone used for their review of the Beastie’s 1987 debut, License to Ill, a groundbreaking hip hop album brought to you by a trio of beer-chugging punk rockers turned rappers thanks to the convincing of a then NYU undergrad and future Def Jam Founder/overall kicka*s producer named, Rick Rubin. The combination of which gave us their first and biggest hit “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)”. The song pissed off parents while simultaneously becoming the premiere soundtrack to shotgun Bud heavies but, as you may have guessed, it fell five short of the coveted number one spot. In the twenty-five years before the death of founding member, MCA, in 2012, the Beastie Boys put out seven more albums. Each release was well-received by critics and fans alike, and they each had their own respective singles, but in regards to the Billboard charts, none came close to their breakout hit.
5. Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick hasn’t been around all that long and that’s what makes him an interesting addition to this list. In a time when many of his peers are striking Billboard gold with throwaway hits, Lamar has landed surprisingly far from a number one single. In the five years since his first major label release, good kid, m.A.A.d. city, debuted at number two he’s been regarded as one of, if not the best, living rapper, a theory that was powerfully backed when his second release, To Pimp a Butterfly, debuted at number one and lingered there for two weeks. Not to mention he’s sold out arenas worldwide, has 8.4 million monthly Spotify listeners on top of his already continuous radio play, and a slew of hit singles. And while four of those aforementioned singles were top forty hits, the Compton native only made it as high as number seventeen with 2012’s “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and that’s been his most impressive showing to date. Although you could make the argument that Lamar certainly has a number one hit in his foreseeable future, it’s also just as easy to argue the counterpoint given his acclaimed company on this list.
Don’t mess with KISS fans. It’s not so much that they’re notoriously tough as it is they’re notoriously fanatical. These are grown men and women with meticulously done face paint dressed head to toe in leather-bound intergalactic battle armor proclaiming allegiance to the forty-year-old KISS army. You don’t want that headache, okay? So just don’t do it. And while that may sound pretty effing insane to the uninitiated, these loons’ obsession comes with some pretty ideal bonuses. After all, these are the same fans that put KISS in the prestigious ‘100 million records sold’ club, not to mention the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but the one battle the KISS army never won was the battle of the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The Knights In Satan’s Service never rose higher than number seven and haven’t seen the top forty since 1978. Granted, the 70s saw KISS at the height of their popularity, but they remained a pop culture force for several decades following, making their lack of number one singles rather puzzling.
3. Led Zeppelin
For twelve years from 1968 to 1980, Led Zeppelin was at the forefront of the music industry. They basically invented what we now call heavy metal. They set attendance records for many of their concerts, had each of their nine albums reach the top ten (six at number one), they’ve sold an estimated 300 million albums worldwide and either someone at Billboard fudged the numbers or they’ve never had a number one single. How is that even remotely possible, you ask? The answer is actually pretty simple – the band never really released any singles. Zero, to be precise, in the UK at least, and the US release figure isn’t too far off. The group’s manager, Peter Grant, tried with all his might to keep the label from releasing singles in fear of it harming album sales. A theory that proved to be true if you look back at the overall numbers. It wasn’t until 1977 that the US got their first Zeppelin single in the form of “Whole Lotta Love” and even at that point the track was fairly old. Still, it crept its way up to the number four spot, but that’s where it met its end. They didn’t have much time to top themselves after that. The group disbanded three years later when drummer, John Bonham, choked to death on his own vomit while he slept. Not the most ideal way to end the story, but an ending all the same.
2. Pearl Jam
Another band birthed out of the dismal Seattle overcast. Like Nirvana, Pearl Jam was a leader of the grunge movement in the early 90s, but where Nirvana’s time at the top was cut short due to drug abuse and death, Pearl Jam kept powering out hits for the remainder of the decade. While their worldwide record sales of 60 million may pale in comparison to others on this list, it’s impossible to describe how big of a deal PJ used to be. They consistently brought alt-rock/grunge to America’s doorstep and was even named, “the most popular American rock n’ roll band of the 90’s” by legendary music critic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine.
When you consider their widespread popularity you have to wonder how these guys were never able to top the charts. One popular theory has to do with the band’s refusal to make music videos when MTV was the be-all end-all in popular music publicity, and if that didn’t aggravate fans enough the band raised a big, fat middle finger to interviews. The only real publicity they received was when they boycotted Ticketmaster in 1994 for overcharging their potential concert-goers; an admirable feat but you want your favorite band in the studio making music instead of raising fists in a courtroom. In the end, fame is commonly said to have caused the downfall of the biggest band from the 90s, and possibly the reason why the never made it past number two on the Billboard charts.
1. One Direction
Some people might be annoyed to find these angelic mounds of hair gel at the tail end of this list, but trust me it’s not without reason. Let’s start off by talking stats because One Direction is not just another boy band. Quite the contrary, One Direction is the top earning boy band of all time representing a merchandising empire valued at $200 million as of 2015, making them the highest paid celebrities on planet earth. They’ve won eleven MTV Europe Music Awards, twenty-seven Teen Choice Awards, and the American Music Awards’ ‘Artist of the Year’ two years in a row. They’re the first group in U.S. history to have four albums in a row debut at number one, and in 2014 they put on the highest-grossing concert tour. Ever.
Across the pond, in their native land of England, these boys have had four number one singles, but here in the states they topped off at number two with the now ironically titled, “Best Song Ever.” In December of 2015, the group announced a brief hiatus and a month later it graduated to an indefinite split, a decision that has undoubtedly transformed thousands of teenage girls into sniveling piles of tears while having the somewhat opposite effect on the 1D members themselves. Zayn Malik, the first of the five to split from the group, saw his first solo venture race to number one earlier this year and the other boys are on pace to follow suit. So, if you were one of the people who scoffed at their presence here, and were then filled with glee when I mentioned their “indefinite split,” I want you to be well aware that your happiness will be short lived. These fellas are going to be relaxing in at least the top ten for years to come.
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