These posts are about the songs that just barely failed to cross the key line of chart success, entering the Billboard Top 40. Every song featured in this series peaked at number 41.
Johnny Rivers was born in New York City, but he started slinging his guitar when his family lived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Recording and releasing a smattering of songs during his teenage years, Rivers had basically given up on the notion of being a performer by the early nineteen-sixties, when he moved to Los Angeles seeking his fortune as a songwriter and studio musician. He first muscled his way onto the charts in 1964 with a version of “Memphis,” originally written and recorded by Chuck Berry (who included the Southern town’s state in the title).
From there, Rivers had a solid career notching thirteen Top 40 hits, including one that reached the top of the Billboard chart. And then there were the near misses.
Although Rivers initially made his way in the music business as a songwriter, he was a dedicated borrower in his performing career. That include borrowing Van Morrison’s “Slim Slow Slider” — once again slightly renaming it — for the title and lead track on his 1970 studio album. The primary single was “Muddy River,” written by James Hendricks, in between his tenure in the Mamas and the Papas precursor the Mugwumps and spitting out Christian music ditties for the rest of his career.
Several years later, was one of many artists trying to navigate the music business waters that had turned rough because of the giant mirrored ball that had been plunged right into the deepest end. There were worse strategies that releasing a song about dancing, even it was closer to soft rock than a synth-powered workout designed to send feet skittering across a flashing-light floor. Originally done by Funky Kings (again with a slightly different title), “Swayin’ to the Music (Slow Dancin’)” was a Top 10 hit for Rivers in 1977.
For the follow-up single, Rivers drew another cover song from his album Outside Help. Penned by Curtis Mayfield, “Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um” was a Top 5 hit for Major Lance, in 1964. Rivers took the classic, oldies rock sound and watered it down into more featherweight nineteen-seventies glop.
Other entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Top 40 Smash Near Misses” tag.