Posted by: DigitalPlato | September 27, 2010

Music Legends Who Never Made the Top 40

Would you believe that Bob Marley and The Ramones never made it!?

Bob Marley.

Closest: “Iron Lion Zion”, #11 on alternative chart in 1992

I had to quintuple-check this because I just couldn’t believe it. But it’s true. While every single college kid ever had bought (pre-1998) or downloaded (post-1998) the album “Legend”… and many have had a terrible ill-advised “white poser rasta phase” in the wake of said acquisition… not a single one of the iconic songs from that album ever cracked the overall top 40. Not even the top 100.

In a weird twist, Ziggy Marley actually has had a top 40 song, with “Tomorrow People”. Which, with all due respect to Ziggy, is like the American people passed over prime rib for the weird brother of prime rib.

(Remember that Marley wrote political songs)


Closest: “Express Yourself”, #2 on rap chart in 1989

Sure, they changed the rap genre forever… but that wasn’t good enough to make Whitey play their music on the radio. (The top 40 takes into account sales and airplay.) They never even came close. Still, they were more successful than the other NWA — Northwest Airlines. That NWA has never been on the top of ANY list.


Closest: “Free”, #11 on mainstream rock chart in 1996

Zero hits, at least $175 million in concert revenue in the past 20 years. This is about the point where the Phish people start writing furious e-mails about how the band has never been in it for the money. I don’t have any beef with Phish but I’ve anecdotally found that saying anything even a little sideways about them gets you chastised. For a band that’s ostensibly a hippie throwback their fans are quite un-mellow.

Do it.

Judas Priest.

Closest: “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'”, #67 in 1982

I guess it’s good that their subliminal messages never reached a top 40 audience. We’d ALL be Satan worshiping long hairs right now, right?


Closest: “Doin’ Time”, #87 in 1997

Granted, they only got out three albums before Brad Nowell overdosed on heroin. “What I Got”, “Santeria” and “Wrong Way” all made the modern rock chart but none of them cracked the main top 100.

I found this one particularly surprising because I felt like Sublime was everywhere when I was in college. Not just being played by the stoner kids or on college radio. (If aliens ever tried to judge the popularity of music based on intercepting college radio, they’d think the top songs in the country all feature a sitar.) I think ultimately it comes down to my friend Nathan having blasted Sublime for all four years of college. It’s the same reason I feel like everyone should be able to quote “Baseketball”.

The Ramones.

Closest: “Rockaway Beach”, #66 in 1977

Having top 40 singles wasn’t very punk rock. In fact, it might have been the opposite of punk rock. It would’ve been like putting a safety pin in your clothes to fasten them, not just for the sake of having a safety pin in your clothes. So gauche.

Also, I always liked how they all took the last name “Ramone” even though none of them actually had the last name Ramone. It reminds me of all the Dudleys in wrestling. Or (gulp) the Cullens.

Marilyn Manson.

Closest: “The Dope Show”, #122 in 1998

Even with all of the media hype — and if you’re too young to remember it, in the ’90s, every time any kid ever did anything wrong, Marilyn Manson got the blame — he never stuck a song in the top 40 or top 100. He was far more commercially recognized in the U.K., where he had 12 top 40 hits.

And by “he” I mean “they” — I somehow never realized that Marilyn Manson was both the (stage) name of the singer and of the band. Kind of like Bon Jovi, or Daughtry, or a really warped version of The Archies.

Wu-Tang Clan.

Closest: “C.R.E.A.M.”, #60 in 1994

Yet in spite of that, they still ain’t nothin’ to fuck with.

Miles Davis.

Closest: “The Doo Bop Song”, #13 on R&B/Hip-Hop chart in 1992

It’s kind of amazing how this list contains some of the most influential artists in reggae, rap, punk rock, metal, jam, androgynous angry suburban rock and now jazz. In fact, many of the artists on this list are Rock and Roll Hall of Famers. Which, coincidentally, is not even close to one of the most influential halls of fame.

Indigo Girls.

Closest: “Closer To Fine”, #52 in 1989

I once heard an interview where they said the most common thing the two Indigo Girls get asked is if they’ve had a lesbian relationship with each other. Their standard answer is “no, we’d kill each other.” If I were in their shoes, armed with my love of puns, I’d tell the interviewers, “No, things between us would never be harmonious.” Don’t tell ME Rosie O’Donnell has the market cornered on pun-spouting lesbians.

Josh Groban.

Closest: “You Raise Me Up”, #73 in 2003

I thought a legion of obsessed middle aged women would be worth at least one hit song. I mean, they’ve added at least 30 years to Tom Jones’s life, it’s clear they have SOME kind of magical power.

Honorable mention: Harry Connick Jr., The Smiths, Death Cab For Cutie, Ben Folds (solo), Vampire Weekend, Ice-T, Guster, Tori Amos, MGMT, The Shins, Mos Def, India.Arie, Daft Punk, Robbie Williams (U.S.), Bloodhound Gang, Tenacious D, Tool, Insane Clown Posse, “Double J” Jeff Jarrett.
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