Three-Decade Wonders: 10 Songs, 35 Top 40 Hits

We loved these ridiculously enduring classics more times than “Satisfaction.”

Elvis Presley in Blue Hawaii, the 1961 film featuring “Can’t Help Falling in Love” (Photo: Paramount Pictures)

I recently listened to a 1981 episode of Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 countdown, and one of Casey’s trivia tangents changed the way I see pop history.

When I think of the biggest vintage songs of the rock & roll era, a few always have immediately popped into mind: “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by The Beatles, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones, “Respect” by Aretha Franklin — you know, those usual 1960s suspects.

When Casey revealed the five songs that made the Top 40 via different versions in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, though, he kind of blew me away. They were songs that were so beloved they entered the Top 40 again … and again … and again. Still, I’ve only ever thought of one of them (number two below) as being among the quintessential classics from the last 50-plus years.

I mean, the Stones’ “Satisfaction” is the band’s signature single, and it’s been covered by artists as diverse as Franklin, Otis Redding, Devo, and Britney Spears, yet it’s only enjoyed one Top 40 trip on Billboard’s Hot 100. How is that possible?

Even if one considers the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s triple-players that Casey listed as being among the bonafide classics of the rock & roll era (numbers two, three, five, eight, and nine below), they hardly represent the cornerstone of the genre. You can’t build that up without at least one block of The Beatles.

I suppose I could imagine a post-millennial choosing a few as audition songs for a reality TV talent contest, but then, Stevie Wonder’s “Lately” was an American Idol staple for several seasons, and Stevie’s original made it only to number 64 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Perhaps they were actually covering Jodeci’s 1993 number-four cover, which was the only hit version of the song.

After carefully considering rock & roll’s chart history, including covers that made Casey’s countdown after the August 1981 episode, I’ve doubled his triple-players. The result: a potential Spotify playlist of songs that went Top 40 in different versions in three or more consecutive or non-consecutive decades. Hmm … I’m still scratching my head and wondering, These are the songs Americans loved so much they sent them into the upper echelons of the Hot 100 at least once in at least three decades? Huh?

Well, who said life isn’t full of surprises? There are a number of them among Billboard’s biggest decades-spanning hits.

(Interesting aside: The title “Venus” has topped the Hot 100 in three non-consecutive decades — the ’50s, ’70s, and ’80s — via Frankie Avalon’s 1959 classic, a completely different 1970 Shocking Blue hit, and Bananarama’s 1986 Shocking Blue cover. Despite the chart clout of the “goddess on a mountaintop,” would anyone consider her latter twice-at-number-one tribute a pop classic on par with “Satisfaction”?)

1) Elvis Presley, 1961, number two. 2) Corey Hart, 1987, number 24. 3) UB40, 1993, number one.

1) Ben E. King, 1961, number four. 2) Spyder Turner, 1967, number 12. 3) John Lennon, 1975, number 20. 4) Mickey Gilley, 1980, number 22. 5) Ben E. King, 1986, number nine.

1) Sam Cooke, 1961, number 17. 2) Johnny Nash, 1970, number 39. 3) Tony Orlando and Dawn, 1976, number 22. 4) The Spinners, 1980, number four.

1) Little Eva, 1962, number one. 2) Grand Funk Railroad, 1974, number one. 3) Kylie Minogue, 1988, number three.

1) Ruby and the Romantics, 1963, number 27. 2) Eddie Holman, 1970, number two. 3) Robert John, 1980, number 31.

1) Dusty Springfield, 1964, number 12. 2) Bay City Rollers, 1976, number 12. 3) Samantha Fox, 1988, number 31.

1) The Temptations, 1964, number 11. 2) Rita Coolidge, 1978, number 20. 3) Daryl Hall & John Oates featuring David Ruffin and Eddie Kendrick, 1985, number 25. 4) UB40, 1990, number six.

1) The Four Tops, 1965, number one. 2) Donnie Elbert, 1972, number 22. 3) Bonnie Pointer, 1980, number 40.

1) Robert Knight, 1967, number 13. 2) Carl Carlton, 1974, number six. 3) Rex Smith and Rachel Sweet, 1981, number 32. 4) Gloria Estefan, 1995, number 27.

1) Peter Frampton, 1976, number 12. 2) Will to Power, 1988, number one. 3) Big Mountain, 1994, number six.

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

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