In high school, I had the pleasure of becoming friends with two foreign exchange students from Germany. Frequently, there would be discussions about what did they do back home in Germany for fun. One of the hot topics in the mid-80s revolved around a recent hit record, "99 Luftballoons/99 Red Balloons" by a German singer named Nena. Both of these German teens said the same thing, they could believe Americans made Nena's worst song a big hit.
The truth is this happens quite a bit in the American pop chart, a major acts biggest hit is not the best. In many cases, it is a boring ballad or sappy love song, instead of an upbeat rocker or funky dance number. Not sure what causes this to happen. You could blame the industry I'm in, radio, since, in the past, many radio stations tried to be "safe" and overplayed the boring stuff. Of course, what eventually came to pass is "classic" or "oldie" formats wound up playing the good songs, because that is what the audience really liked. As for the sales factor, we can figure that out.
I'm going to give you a list of songs that were big hits that are annoying, depressing or just bad, but they were either number one or went platinum several times over or both of those, while a more enjoyable song didn't achieve these honors. We will start with the song that is playing while I write this at work and end, kind of full circle, with a German band (easy listening but still).
1. Foreigner - "I Want to Know What Love Is" - It is long, slow, depressing and repetitive. Songs that should have been the big hit: "Hot Blooded," "Double Vision," "Waiting for a Girl Like You," "Cold as Ice," "Urgent" and "Feels Like The First Time.
2. Aerosmith - "I Don't Want To Miss a Thing" - The sad truth of rock & roll is that when you give up drugs and booze, you wind up recording lame songs like this one. Part of the success could be attributed to the move Armageddon, a cover on the country charts and (yes) a ton of radio airplay. Songs that should have been the big hit: "Walk This Way," "Same Old Song and Dance," "The Other Side," "Dream On," "Kings and Queens," "Back In the Saddle" and "Love In an Elevator."
3. Cheap Trick - "The Flame" - Another slow, boring song. Songs that should have been the big hit: "I Want You To Want Me (live version)," "Surrender," "Dream Police," "Voices," "Gonna Raise Hell" and "Don't Be Cruel."
4. Stevie Wonder - "I Just Called To Say I Love You" - Another movie song and as mushy and sappy as a love song can get. Stevie has had several number ones, but this one is his biggest seller of all time. Songs that should have been the big hit: "Superstition," "Sir Duke," "Higher Ground," "Uptight," "Shoo-Be Doo-Be Doo Da," "For Once In My Life" and "You Met Your Match."
5. Journey - "Open Arms" - I have never figured out why people like this song. Even worse, why radio continues to force this one down our throats. Songs that should have been the big hit: "Any Way You Want It," "Wheel In The Sky," "Who's Crying Now," "Lights" and "Separate Ways."
6. Chuck Berry - "My Ding A- Ling" - If I was ranking these according to injustice, this would be number one. Consider all of his great, ground-breaking, pioneering rock & roll hits of the 50s and 60s, filled with those iconic guitar riffs, then realize this was his only number one hit. Songs that should have been the big hit: "Johnny B. Good," "School Days," "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Brown Eyed Hansom Man," "Nadine," "Maybeline" and "You Never Can Tell." (This list could go on for ever)
7. Styx - "Babe" - Many have said this was the first chink in the armor of Styx. The fact that it went to number one adds insult to injury. Songs that should have been the big hit: "Lady," "Come Sail Away," "Blue Collar Man," "Too Much Time On My Hands," "Miss America," "Suite Madam Blue," and "Renegade."
8. Marvin Gaye - "Let's Get It On" - This may shock you, but this song out sold "I Heard It Through The Grapevine." To me, this song is a bluesy guitar and Marvin yammering. Songs that should have been the big hit: "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," "What's Going On," "Mercy Mercy Me," "Inner City Blues" and "Sexual Healing."
9. Bryan Adams - "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" - Slow, dull and painful. I've been to several weddings where this was used and each one ended in a divorce. Songs that should have been the big hit: "Run To You," "Cuts Like a Knife," "I Need Somebody" and "Summer of 69."
10. Bert Kaempfert - "Wonderland By Night"- You are probably looking at this and think "Why is this on here?" Two reasons: 1) This was the artist that got me to thinking about doing this post, and 2) I began this with a German singer, so I will end with a German orchestra leader. Kaempfert's music was used a lot in the 60s & 70s in radio and TV as background music because it was peppy and cheerful. The 60s version of The Match Game used his song "Swinging Safari" (which became a big hit for saxaphonist Billy Vaughn). It featured a playful brass section and a thumping bass guitar, not heard in most easy listening groups of the time. However, his only number one hit in this country was a slow, depressing instrumental called "Wonderland By Night." Many view its hitting number one in 1960 as an example of the state of music after the death of Buddy Holly and the payola scandals. Songs that should have been the big hit: "Swinging Safari," "Afrikan Beat," "Happy Trumpet," "That Happy Feeling," and "Zambesi." These songs can be found here on YouTube.