15 Pop Songs That Stalled At Number Two


Not every song can make it to the top, and some of your favorites were likely stunted before their time. Here's a look at 15 memorable hits that never quite made it to No. 1.

1. "Bohemian Rhapsody" // Queen

Queen's melodramatic masterpiece is everyone's favorite karaoke song, but the operatic rock ballad only hit No. 9 in the U.S. market following its 1975 release. However, after noted rock enthusiasts Wayne and Garth did their best falsetto in 1992's Wayne's World, the song reentered the charts and peaked at No. 2, behind Kris Kross' "Jump."

2. "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)" // En Vogue

Another song that those Atlanta tweens kept from the top because of the eight-week reign of "Jump"? This highlight from the iconic Oakland girl group's repertoire.

3. "Great Balls of Fire" // Jerry Lee Lewis

The Killer may have sold a million copies of his song in 10 days, and it's been covered by everyone from Dolly Parton to Tom Cruise, but this rock standard couldn't take the top spot from "At the Hop."

4. "Waiting For a Girl Like You" // Foreigner

After stalling for 10 weeks in 1981-'82 behind Olivia Newton-John's "Physical" and Hall and Oates' "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)", this song did manage to set a record for most weeks at No. 2.

5. "Work It" // Missy Elliott

Foreigner's record stood until 2002 when Missy Elliott tied it, spending 10 weeks stuck behind Eminem's Grammy and Oscar-winning "Lose Yourself." Missy's track got a second wind after her Super Bowl appearance earlier this year, though—it reentered the Billboard chart at No. 35.

6. "Gangnam Style" // Psy

The Korean songwriter achieved overnight global fame and broke the YouTube record for number of video views in 2012 (surpassing one—and then two—billion views), but Maroon 5's "One More Night" kept the breakout K-pop song from topping the U.S. charts. Too bad: Psy had promised to perform the song topless if he hit No. 1, and you know that would have been entertaining.

7. "Y.M.C.A." // Village People

Every roller rink and wedding reception has forced group participation with this double-entendre-filled ode to the YMCA, but its enduring appeal couldn't propel it past Chic's "Le Freak" or Rod Stewart's "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" in 1979.

8. "Get Lucky" // Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers

The French house duo released this Song of the Summer-worthy disco jam in 2013, and though it topped charts worldwide and won the Record of the Year Grammy, it never managed to overtake Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" (which Pharrell also wrote and was featured on).

9. "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" // Green Day

Another Record of the Year winner that stalled at No. 2 was this standout from Green Day's 2004 rock opera album American Idiot. It spent five weeks in the shadow of 50 Cent's "Candy Shop."

10. "Be My Baby" // The Ronettes

In a travesty from 1963, the completely forgettable "Sugar Shack" by Jimmy Glimer and the Fireballs kept this distinctive and oft-imitated beauty of a song from taking the top spot.

11. "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" // Frankie Valli

This solo effort from the Four Seasons' frontman has had a lasting cultural impact and numerous soundtrack appearances, but it was held off by "Windy" from The Association.

12. "Breathe" // Faith Hill

The country crossover hit couldn't surpass Santana's "Maria Maria" or Aaliyah's "Try Again," but with 53 weeks on the charts, "Breathe" still snagged the Top 100 Song of the Year title in 2000.

13. "Bad Romance" // Lady Gaga

Gaga's 2009 hit screamed modern classic the moment it was released, but while "Bad Romance" sold more than 10 million copies and has become one of her signature songs and videos, it couldn't top Jay Z and Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind."

14. "Like a Rolling Stone" // Bob Dylan

This seminal 1965 piece transformed Dylan from a folk artist to a rock icon, but No. 2 was the highest he ever charted on the Hot 100. "Like A Rolling Stone" couldn't roll past the Beatles' "Help."

15. "Rhythm Nation" // Janet Jackson

Janet's 1989 album Rhythm Nation 1814 broke all kinds of new ground, but it just barely missed a major milestone. If it weren't for Phil Collins' "Another Day in Paradise," this single would have reached the top and she would have become only the second artist in history (after her brother Michael) to score five No. 1 hits from a single album.

Samir Hussein, Getty Images
One of Michael Jackson's 'Billie Jean' Gloves Can Be Yours (For the Right Price)
Samir Hussein, Getty Images
Samir Hussein, Getty Images

Three things usually come to mind when people recall Michael Jackson's stratospheric fame in the 1980s: His music videos were events unto themselves; he toted around a chimp named Bubbles (who once bit Quincy Jones's daughter Rashida); and Jackson was often seen wearing a single white sequined glove.

There's no official count on how many gloves Jackson owned and wore during his career, but one performance-used mitt is now up for sale via GWS Auctions and their Legends of Hollywood & Music Auction. Used by Jackson during his 1997 HIStory tour, the Swarovski crystal-covered glove is unique in that Jackson had it made for his left hand, as he wanted to keep the wedding ring—courtesy of his marriage to nurse Debbie Rowe—visible on his right. (Though wedding rings are traditionally worn on the left hand, Jackson was known to wear his on the right.)

A white glove worn by Michael Jackson during his 1997 HIStory tour
GWS Auctions

According to Jackson associate John Kehe, Jackson allegedly got the idea for the glove in 1980, when he was touring a production company and saw a film editor at a control panel wearing a white cotton glove. Jackson himself wrote in his autobiography, Moonwalk, that he had been wearing a single glove since the 1970s. Either way, it was Jackson's performance of "Billie Jean" during a television appearance for Motown's 25th anniversary in May 1983 that cemented the accessory in the eyes of the public. That particular glove sold for $350,000 in 2009.

The HIStory glove will be up for auction March 24; pre-bids currently have it in excess of $5000. The Legends of Music and Hollywood Auction is also set to feature a prescription pill bottle once owned by Frank Sinatra and a hairbrush used by Marilyn Monroe.

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The Stories Behind 10 Johnny Cash Songs
Getty Images
Getty Images

Johnny Cash, who was born on this day in 1932, once wrote, “I love songs about horses, railroads, land, judgment day, family, hard times, whiskey, courtship, marriage, adultery, separation, murder, war, prison, rambling, damnation, home, salvation, death, pride, humor, piety, rebellion, patriotism, larceny, determination, tragedy, rowdiness, heartbreak and love. And Mother And God."

That sums the Cash discography up pretty well. He covers at least 20 of those themes in the 10 songs below. Here are the backstories behind some of the Man in Black's most famous songs—and maybe a little insight into why he loved those topics so much.


In the song, Cash explains that he always wears black to performances and public appearances because of social injustices, “just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back.” It’s a great story, but it’s not 100 percent true. In 2002, he told Larry King that black was his signature color simply because he felt most comfortable in it, although he preferred light blue in summer. “You walk into my clothes closet. It’s dark in there,” he said.

Rolling Stone wrote that the inky wardrobe was also helpful when it came to hiding dirt and dust in the early touring days.


Cash didn’t always wear black. In the video above, he’s dressed in bright yellow, accessorized with a powder blue cape.

Sound a little off-brand? It was. In the early ‘80s, Cash felt that Columbia, his record label, was ignoring him and failing to promote his music properly. He decided to record a song so awful that it would force Columbia to cut his contract early. The plan worked, but it came at a price. “He was kind of mocking and dismantling his own legacy,” daughter Rosanne later said. Here’s a sampling of the lyrics, in case the video is too painful to watch: “I put your brain in a chicken last Monday, he’s singing your songs and making lots of money, and I’ve got him signed to a 10-year recording contract.”


Written in just 20 minutes, Cash’s (arguably) greatest hit  was intended as a reminder to himself to stay faithful to his first wife, Vivian, while he was on the road opening for Elvis in the mid-1950s. "It was kind of a prodding to myself to 'Play it straight, Johnny,'" he once said. According to other interviews, that wasn’t the song’s only meaning: He also meant it as an oath to God. Although Sam Phillips from Sun Records said that he wasn’t interested in gospel songs, Johnny was able to sneak “I Walk the Line” past him with the story about being true to his wife.


In 1969, Johnny and June threw a party at their house in Hendersonville. As you might imagine, it was a veritable who’s-who of music: Bob Dylan, Graham Nash, Joni Mitchell, Kris Kristofferson, and Shel Silverstein. Everyone debuted a new song at the party—Dylan sang “Lay Lady Lay,” Nash did “Marrakkesh Express,” Kristofferson played “Me and Bobby McGee,” and Mitchell sang “Both Sides Now.” Silverstein, who was a songwriter in addition to an author of children’s books, debuted “A Boy Named Sue.”

When the party was over, June encouraged Johnny to take the lyrics to “Sue” on the plane the next day. They were headed to California to record the famous live At San Quentin album. Johnny wasn’t sure he could learn the lyrics fast enough, but he did—and the inmates went crazy for it. They weren’t the only ones: "A Boy Named Sue" quickly shot to the top of the charts. And not just the country charts—it held the #2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks.

The song was originally inspired by a male friend of Silverstein’s with a somewhat feminine name—Jean Shepherd, the author of A Christmas Story.


The story behind this one depends on who you believe. The Carter-Cash family has always maintained that June and guitar player Merle Kilgore co-wrote the song about June falling in love with Johnny despite being worried about his drug and alcohol problem.

But according to Johnny’s first wife, Vivian, June had nothing to do with “Ring of Fire.” “The truth is, Johnny wrote that song, while pilled up and drunk, about a certain private female body part,” Vivian wrote in her autobiography. She claims he gave June credit for writing the song because he thought she needed the money.

Either way, June’s sister Anita originally recorded the song. After Johnny had a dream that he was singing it with mariachi horns, he recorded it that way. 


“Ring of Fire” isn’t the only time Johnny had a dream that inspired a song. In his later years, Cash had a dream that he walked into Buckingham Palace and encountered Queen Elizabeth just sitting on the floor. When she saw him, the Queen said, “Johnny Cash, you’re like a thorn tree in a whirlwind!” Two or three years later, Cash remembered the dream, decided that the reference must be a biblical one, and wrote what he called “my song of the apocalypse”—“The Man Comes Around.”


This one is another early song inspired by Vivian. From the summer of 1951 through the summer of 1954, Cash was deployed in Germany with the Air Force. At the end of three years, he turned down the option to re-enlist, feeling homesick for his girl and his home. On the journey back from Germany, he penned “Hey Porter” about the excitement and relief he felt to finally be coming home.


After seeing Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison, Cash was inspired to write a song about it. Too bad that song already existed as “Crescent City Blues,” written by Gordon Jenkins.

Jenkins sued for copyright infringement in 1969 and received $75,000. Cash later admitted that he heard the song when he was in the Air Force, but borrowing the tune and some of the lyrics was subconscious; he never meant to rip Jenkins off. Oh, but the famous “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die” line—that was all Johnny.

9. "CRY! CRY! CRY!"

After Cash returned home from the Air Force and signed with Sun Records, he gave Sam Phillips “Hey Porter.” Phillips asked for a ballad for the B-side, so Cash went home and quickly wrote “Cry! Cry! Cry!” literally overnight. It became his first big hit—not bad for an afterthought.


Though “Get Rhythm” eventually became the B-side for “I Walk the Line,” Cash originally wrote it for Elvis. It might have been recorded by Presley, but when he went to RCA, Sam Phillips refused to let him take “Get Rhythm” with him.


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