Songs You Thought Hit Number One But Didn’t

Topping Billboard’s Hot 100 isn’t as easy as Taylor Swift makes it look.

Jeremy Helligar
6 min readSep 2, 2020


Cyndi Lauper in the “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” video (Photo: YouTube)

Over the course of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart history, some artists, at various points in their careers, have made scoring number ones look like a cinch: Elvis Presley in the late ’50s, The Beatles and The Supremes in the ’60s, Bee Gees and Elton John and Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder in the ’70s, Michael Jackson and George Michael and Janet Jackson and Lionel Richie and Madonna and Phil Collins and Prince in the ’80s, Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men in the ’90s, Rihanna and Katy Perry and Taylor Swift and The Weeknd this century.

But looks indeed can be deceiving. Getting to the top of the US pop chart takes hard work. Some superstars (Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, ELO, and The Pointer Sisters immediately come to mind) never managed to reach the Hot 100 summit. Then there are the pop classics that, to many of us, sound like number-one hits, but never were.

Of course, these would vary for everyone, so this list of singles from the ’60s through the ’80s that have legacies worthy of a number one but never quite scaled the Hot 100 is just a sampler. (Non-US singles like Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and Madonna’s “Into the Groove” are not included.)

“Stand by Me” by Ben E. King

This modern pop standard has charted multiple times since it first became a hit for its co-writer in 1961, yet it’s never been able to make it to the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 in any version. In fact, its only two trips to the top ten have been via Ben E. King’s original recording in 1961 (number four) and a 1986 re-release that reached number nine after the song was featured on the soundtrack to the film of the same name.

“A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke

The national anthem for Black Americans was most recently dusted off by Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson during the Democratic National…



Jeremy Helligar

Brother Son Husband Friend Loner Minimalist World Traveler. Author of “Is It True What They Say About Black Men?” and “Storms in Africa”