Top 40 Smash Near Misses — “Easy Come Easy Go”

winger

Whatever other plentiful complaints can be lodged against the hair metal band Winger, they deserve admiring credit for the novelistic perfection of this detail: Their final single to place on the Billboard Hot 100 bears the title “Easy Come Easy Go.”

Hailing from New York City and named for frontman Kip Winger, the band benefited from the boom in glossed up, expertly moussed hard rock bands that struck the U.S. music market in the late nineteen-eighties. Much as they might have liked to, MTV couldn’t fill the programming day with Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home” on endless repeat, so other bands with the right sound and the right look — especially the right look — had ample opportunity to rattle up interest in the marketplace. Winger’s self-titled debut album landed in later summer of 1988, and two of its singles — classically gross underage girl anthem “Seventeen” and power ballad “Headed for a Heartbreak” — made it into the Billboard Top 40. The band also quickly became an MTV staple, even playing the annual New Year’s Eve live extravaganza.

The band’s sophomore album, In the Heart of the Young, was released in 1990 and including their highest charting single, “Miles Away,” which peaked at #12. Utterly generic hard rock number “Easy Come Easy Go” served as the follow up.

In the manner of the day, the requisite music video also served as an advertisement for the band’s concerts. The clip opens with Kip Winger’s stage banter, which offers Paul Stanley a challenge in the competition for yelped inanity. (There’s no beating the champ, though.) “How many of you people have been tryin’ all your life for somethin’ and it ain’t happened yet?” shouts Winger, pausing to grin at the raucous cheers. “Yeah, I know what you mean, man. But I tell ya, if things get goin’ just a little bit too bad just remember one thing.” Then Winger yells, “Easy Come,” and the crowd finishes, “Easy Go!”

I can’t quite parse the meaning of Winger’s advice, but the fans seemed to like it. I hope some of them eventually got to see that thing they were trying all their life for come to fruition.

Top 40 Smash Near Misses — “Whiskey Lullaby”

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.

Brad-and-Alison

In the late nineteen-nineties and into the early two-thousands, there was a lot of room for country music on the pop charts. Led by the likes of Faith Hill and Shania Twain, multiple artists crossed over from the twangier slices of the radio dial, perhaps reflecting a recognition that as broadcasters were losing their hold on the mass listenership, country fans were uncommonly devoted. Even so, the tracks that did best, perhaps understandably, were often those that wore the Nashville influence lightly. The more country an artist was, the less likely they were to ascend particularly high on Billboard‘s main chart.

Brad Paisley is — and established himself almost immediately as — one of the biggest country music performers of his generation. Paisley’s second single, “He Didn’t Have to Be,” topped the country music chart, and he would return to that peak often. At one point, Paisley claimed the chart’s top spot with ten straight singles. Once that streak ended, his next seven singles made it to at least the runner-up slot, with four of those landing at #1. Of those seventeen songs, only one made into the Billboard pop Top 20, and that had the boost of Carrie Underwood sharing vocal duties. By my rough count, Paisley made it into the Top 40 seventeen times, almost always stalling out low enough that the songs still felt more like also-rans than big hits.

And then there’s the song that sputtered and started to drop after peaking just outside the Top 40. As might be expected, the cut in question is very, very country. Penned by Jon Randall and Bill Anderson, “Whiskey Lullaby” is almost country music cliche, recounting a tale of woe that includes a man who drinks himself to death over heartbreak (“We watched him drink his pain away a little at a time/ But he never could get drunk enough to get her off his mind”). Then the woman who left him commits the same grueling suicide by constant inebriation because of the guilt she feels at her ex-lover’s demise.

Even for country music, “Whiskey Lullaby” is grim stuff, which is why it sat unclaimed for around five years before Paisley took it on. Paisley decided that it would work better as a duet and recruited Alison Krauss as a partner. Released as the third single from the album Mud on the Tires, the song was a major hit on country radio, reaching #3 on the relevant chart, earning double platinum certification by the RIAA, and weighing down the shelves of both Paisley and Krauss with country music awards.

Other entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Top 40 Smash Near Misses” tag.

Top 40 Smash Near Misses — “All Cried Out”

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.

dusty

Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien was born in London, in 1939. When in her teens, she started pursuing music as a professional career, starting with some very basic jobs singing at camps and then moving up to be a member of a girl group called the Lana Sisters. She left that act to join her older brother in a vocal trio he was forming. According to lore, the new group adopted a name inspired by the verdant springtime landscape in which they often rehearsed. O’Brien decided she needed a stage name and chose to the group’s name into her new moniker, and so she became known as Dusty Springfield.

Before long, Springfield was out on her own, releasing elegant pop singles. She had the voice, she had the look. She was practically an embodiment of a certain nineteen-sixties style, as the buttoned-up nineteen-fifties gave way to a gradually loosening of mores and a zingier outlook. And, though Springfield was a solid songwriter in her own right, she was a skilled interpreter of other’s songs, a vital skill in the echoing culture of the time. When she heard Dionne Warwick’s version of “Wishin’ and Hopin’,” written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Springfield knew she could make it her own. It became her first Top 10 hit in the U.S.

“All Cried Out” was the follow-up single to that hit. Slinky and romantically forlorn, it’s a splendid showcase for Springfield, offering irrefutable evidence that her voice could be nestled deep into lush, Phil Spector-style production and still burst forth, fully commanding the track. Rarely in the history of the form has there been another vocalist like Springfield, powerful and yet fully at ease at the same time. “All Cried Out” is wonderful, but it didn’t match its immediate predecessor in terms of upward chart mobility. It peaked at #41 on Billboard.

 

Other entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Top 40 Smash Near Misses” tag.

Top 40 Smash Near Misses — “Promised Land”

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.

chuck

The Mann Act was cemented in U.S. federal law on June 25, 1910. Like most regulations with over a century of dust on it, the Mann Act has been amended and finessed over the years, but its core prohibition is against transporting women or girls across state lines for “immoral purposes.” In the most famous cases, the law has mostly been leveled against individuals who were lasciviousness preying on girls under the age of consent. As the nineteen-fifties came to a close, Chuck Berry became one of those individuals.

The rock ‘n’ roll trailblazer, who sang of a sixteen-year-old girl in tights dress, lipstick, and high heel shoes in one of his many hits, claimed that it was only the most innocent gainful employment he had in mind when Janice Norine Escalanti was brought by him from Mexico to the club he owned in St. Louis. Escalanti, who was two years younger than the subject of his hit single when Berry recruited her, offered a different interpretation of events. The courts sided with her. After an initial conviction was vacated because of the judge’s bigoted commentary from the bench, a retrial landed Berry a prison sentence. He served almost two years behind bars.

“Promised Land” was the first single from Berry following his release from prison. Borrowing the melody of folk standard “Wabash Cannonball,” the newly unconfined Berry offered a tale of a fellow who travels from Norfolk, Virginia to California by multiple means, with stops in Charlotte, Atlanta, Birmingham, New Orleans, and Houston (and Albuquerque apparently glimpsed from high above in an airplane). The performer was clearly agitated and feeling his freedom.

According to fellow rock ‘n’ roll founding father Carl Perkins, Berry came out a prison a deeply changed man, carrying around anger and bitterness that seemed to stick with him for the remainder of his life. The propensity for skeevy behavior lingered, too. Three decades after he was on the wrong side of the Mann Act, Berry got in trouble for secretly videotaping women as they used the bathroom on a property he owned. There’s no denying Berry’s importance in the foundation of rock ‘n’ roll, but there’s a big impediment to hero worship. His legacy should be as much about the ignominious behavior that no amount of guitar wizardry excuses.

Other entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Top 40 Smash Near Misses” tag.

Top 40 Smash Near Misses — “I’ll Bring It Home to You”

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.

carla thomas

In 1962, Sam Cooke released the cut “Bring It On Home to Me.” It resided on the flip side of the single “Having a Party,” but it actually slightly outperformed the A-side, peaking four spots higher on the Billboard chart, at #13. That same year, Carla Thomas took the same song and gave it just enough of a twist to make it simultaneously a cover and an answer song, offering the assurance that she would indeed commit to bringing it home.

Thomas registered a Top 10 hit one year earlier, with “Gee Whiz (Look at His Eyes),” a song she also wrote and that had been persistently championed by her father, Rufus Thomas, even after it was essentially rejected by Vee-Jay Records. A version of the track was recorded in the Thomas home and basically self-released before being picked up for distribution by Atlantic Records. By that point, Carla Thomas wasn’t counting on a music career. As the song took off, she was in her first year of college.

Finding the follow-up hit proved elusive. For several years, the pass at the Cooke song was the closest Thomas came to a return to the Top 40, missing by one place. A few years later, Thomas had moved on to record for Stax Records, working with their ace songwriters Isaac Hayes and David Porter. One of their compositions, “B-A-B-Y,” become the only other solo Top 40 single of Thomas’s career.

Other entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Top 40 Smash Near Misses” tag.

Top 40 Smash Near Misses — “Good Times Roll,” “It’s All I Can Do,” and “Since You’re Gone”

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.

cars

The Cars registered thirteen Top 40 singles on the Billboard chart during their tenure. The Boston-originating band also had a peculiar propensity for falling just short of crossing that threshold. Best as I can tell, they are the only act to see three different tracks peak at #41.

The Cars released three singles from their 1978 self-titled debut album, none of which exactly became a smash in the U.S. at the time. “Just What I Needed” stalled out at #27, and “My Best Friend’s Girl” climbed no further than #35. The third single, “Good Times Roll,” was, in a way, a fitting encapsulation of the band’s meager success. Frontman and chief songwriter Ric Ocasek intended the song to be a sarcastic parroting of the empty party posturing that typified much of rock music. It was withering pessimism dressed up in flashy, cheerful garb.

The singles off of The Cars may have underperformed, but the album itself was a healthy hit, a reflection of the swelling influence on album rock radio stations on the FM dial. Although the band turned in their sophomore album with impressive speed, their label, Elektra Records, originally wanted to leave it on the shelf for a while to let the debut record continue to sell without immediate competition in the band’s catalog. Uniting in opposition, the band insisted the new material come out, and Candy-O hit record stores almost exactly one year after The Cars.

Candy-O charted even higher, and it’s lead single, “Let’s Go,” hit a new high for the band on the singles chart, reaching #14. The follow-up, “It’s All I Can Do,” was the glimmering new wave version of a ballad. Once again, the Cars moved right to the front door of the Top 40 and couldn’t quite cross through.

The Cars logged one tepidly performing Top 40 single from their third album, Panorama, and then finally had a more significant breakthrough with the first offering from their fourth album, Shake It Up. The title song hit #4, and it seemed like the band might finally start experiencing chart success more aligned with their sterling songcraft. The Cars banged out great singles: short, catchy, punchy, perfect. And most have had incredible staying power, too. They simply didn’t turn into pop hits, in the most accurate measure of the term.

And the promise of “Shake It Up” wasn’t realized, either. The other singles from the album were indifferently received. Only the third single, the splendidly mopey “Since You’re Gone,” even made an appearance on the Hot 100. Of course, it peaked at #41.

By this point, the terrain of pop success was changing, mostly because of the seismic influence of a certain cable television network. The Cars couldn’t quite get Top 40 radio programmers to embrace them fully and consistently, but they were starting to suspect they could slip in the side door if they brought some unique visual acumen to their presentation. By the band’s next album, they figured out how to create a sensation so strong that they couldn’t be denied any longer.

Other entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Top 40 Smash Near Misses” tag.

 

Top 40 Smash Near Misses — “Closer”

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.

nin

Trent Reznor didn’t expect to make hits. In fact, he outright rejected the notion that his band Nine Inch Nail might strive for music with popular appeal, leading to a unrepairable rift with TVT Records, the label that signed him and released Pretty Hate Machine, the band’s debut album. The dispute didn’t exactly slow down Reznor’s creative process, but it did lead to a fair long wait before a second full-length studio effort was forthcoming.

Nine Inch Nails was basically swapped over to Interscope Records. After a couple EPs basically proved that the new corporate overlords were more amenable to Reznor’s caustic musical instincts, he and his collaborators began earnestly working on the material that would comprise the sophomore release. Around five years after the band’s debut, a follow-up, The Downward Spiral, finally arrived, in 1994. It was a major commercial success, getting all the way up to the runner-up spot on the Billboard album chart. To date, it’s sold over four million copies in the U.S.

Even with album sales popping, Nine Inch Nails was a fairly hard sell on commercial pop radio, which was still the main driver for the singles charts. Lead single “March of the Pigs” made it onto the Hot 100, but it could only go so high. For the second single, Reznor and the label went with a fairly unorthodox choice, given the need for some heavy duty editing to make it suitable for airplay.

“Closer” is raw, thudding, angry, and profane. In the waning days of MTV’s interest in playing music videos, the assemblage of nightmare footage promoting the single, directed by Mark Romanek, became a staple. Many songs were bigger that year (Boyz II Men had the top of the Billboard singles chart almost all to themselves for the second half of 1994), but few felt as a doggedly inescapable as “Closer.” Even so, it didn’t have the oomph to make it into the Top 40. Still undoubtedly the most famous Nine Inch Nails song, “Closer” was later out-charted by both “The Day the World Went Away,” in 1999, and “The Hand That Feeds,” in 2005.

Realistically, it’s impressive that a song highly reliant on the repeated phrase “I want to fuck you like an animal” even made it as high as #41.

Other entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Top 40 Smash Near Misses” tag.