These posts are about the songs that can accurately claim to crossed the key line of chart success, becoming Top 40 hits on Billboard, but just barely. Every song featured in this series peaked at number 40.
Percy Sledge had as strong of a start as any new recording artist could hope for. He was working in an Alabama hospital while touring with a music group on the weekends in the mid-nineteen-sixties when a friend introduced him to DJ-turned-producer Quin Ivy, who helped get him signed to a recording contract. The very first product of that, issued on Atlantic Records in the spring of 1966, was “When a Man Loves a Woman,” which topped the charts, became the label’s first gold record, won countless accolades as one of the best R&B songs of the year and had enough long-lasting appeal that it managed to nearly hit #1 in the U.K. twenty years later after being featured in a blue jeans ad. It’s definitely one of those songs with a settled, permanent place in the canon.
Sledge never had the same level of success with another single. He had four more songs that charted in the Billboard Top 40, but none of those managed to even make the Top 10, much less challenge for the top spot. The third of those four songs managed the trick just barely, peaking at #40 in 1967. It was a song that was quite familiar to radio listeners as one of many that Elvis Presley took to the #1 position. Presley’s original version of “Love Me Tender” was a hit in the autumn of 1956. By the time Sledge took his turn with it, the tune had already been recorded and released by Richard Chamberlain and The Platters. Frank Sinatra even gave it a spin with The King right by his side. Sledge’s rendition makes it into a nice enough soul song, but it completely lacks the staggering passion that marked “When a Man Loves a Woman.” Good as the song may inherently be, Sledge sings it like it doesn’t really belong to him, something that can’t be said of his finest performances.
Sledge kept releasing singles into the mid-nineteen-seventies before retiring for a spell due to ill health. He eventually returned, crafting a few records that appealed to the nostalgic and enjoying some success on the oldies circuit. He was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2005, exactly the sort of recognition of the undercelebrated that almost justifies the existence of that questionable institution.
—“Just Like Heaven” by The Cure.
—“I’m in Love” by Evelyn King
—“Buy Me a Rose” by Kenny Rogers
—“Who’s Your Baby” by The Archies
—“Me and Bobby McGee” by Jerry Lee Lewis
—“Angel in Blue” by J. Geils Band
—“Crazy Downtown” by Allan Sherman
—“I’ve Seen All Good People” and “Rhythm of Love” by Yes
—“Naturally Stoned” by the Avant-Garde
—“Come See” by Major Lance
—“Your Old Standby” by Mary Wells
—“See the Lights” by Simple Minds
—“Watch Out For Lucy” by Eric Clapton
—“The Alvin Twist” by Alvin and the Chipmunks