Today’s topic: pop hits — or songs that should have been. Katy Perry and Rihanna can rack up No. 1 singles in their sleep. Between them, they’ve had 16 in the last six years. But the leading ladies of pop haven’t always had it so easy. Here are five of the most egregious examples currently in heavy rotation on my iPod.
1) Susanna Hoffs: “My Side of the Bed” Considering how hot the Bangles were in the late ’80s, one might have expected the 1991 debut solo single from the band’s lead singer to have gone higher than No. 30 on Billboard’s Hot 100. I was on the verge of coming out, and I still found her offer almost tempting.
2) Belinda Carlisle: “Summer Rain” Ex-Go-Go Belinda Carlisle, for whom Hoffs co-wrote “I Need a Disguise” from her 1986 solo debut, Belinda, had more luck on the singles scene at the same time that the Bangles were scoring. Though Australians had the good taste to send “Summer Rain” to No. 6 in 1990, like Hoffs’ flop, it only reached No. 30 in the U.S. and would be Carlisle’s last Top 40 trip there. To quote one of Carlisle’s solo hits — actually, to quote three of them — I’m mad about “Summer Rain.” It sounds like heaven on earth, and I still get weak whenever it pours down and out of my headphones.
3) k.d. lang: “Constant Craving” The other day I was listening to “Honky Tonk Angels Medley,” a non-charter from lang’s great 1988 Shadowlands CD, and wondered how the androgynous then-barely known singer got country queens Loretta Lynn, Kitty Wells and Brenda Lee to join her in the studio and video for the stunning single. I also wondered how a singer with lang’s talent only managed one Top 40 single in her entire career. Despite winning her the Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, “Constant Craving” barely edged into the upper reaches of the Hot 100, peaking at No. 39 in 1992.
4) Annie Lennox: “No More I Love You’s” Like Constant Craving, this single won the Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, yet it only reached No. 23 on the Hot 100 in 1995. In fact, the woman who went Top 10 three times with Eurythmics and once with Al Green has scored only one U.S. Top 20 single on her own (“Walking on Broken Glass,” No. 14 in 1992). At least she has an Oscar (for “Into the West,” from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), which, as far as I’m concerned, is worth all of Rihanna’s No. 1’s.
5) Aretha Franklin: “A Rose Is Still a Rose” At least Lennox’s Eurythmics duet with Franklin managed to get to a so-so No. 18 in 1985. But even with Lauryn Hill (at the time hot like fire, thanks to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill) on board as producer and songwriter, Franklin couldn’t go quite that high with this 1998 single, her final Top 40 hit to date. You know you are living in a crazy mixed-up pop world, when the Queen of Soul gets to No. 26 on the Hot 100, and it’s considered a comeback. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, please.