Superstars like Rihanna, Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift make it look easy, but racking up hit single after hit single is hard work. Despite his iconic status, universal acclaim and multi-platinum albums, Bruce Springsteen has never had one of his go all the way to No. 1 (a dishonor he shares with James Brown, Credence Clearwater Revival, ELO and The Pointer Sisters).
At least he has a nice collection of Top 10s — 12 of them — to show for his recording efforts. Meanwhile, legends like Joni Mitchell, Led Zeppelin and Bonnie Raitt have only one Top 10 hit apiece on Billboard’s Hot 100 (“Help Me,” “Whole Lotta Love” and “Something to Talk About,” respectively). The late, great Etta James didn’t even have that many. That’s right, her chart failures included the pop standard “At Last,” which peaked at No. 47.
It’s even tougher up there in the Top 40 for alternative rock acts. The likes of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Psychedelic Furs and Love and Rockets all managed a single Top 40 trip each (with “Kiss Them for Me,” “Heartbreak Beat” and “So Alive,” respectively). That’s one more than the following hitless masters of pop, rock and soul.
Grace Jones Legendary status as an enduring gay icon will have to do. The woman behind the classics “Pull Up to the Bumper,” “My Jamaican Guy” and “Slave to the Rhythm,” none of which charted on the Hot 100, only made the U.S. hit list three times, never going higher than No. 69 (in 1986, with “I’m Not Perfect [But I’m Perfect for You]”).
Echo & The Bunnymen One of the greatest bands to emerge from the 1980s post-punk movement is without a true signature hit — not even in its native UK, where the group managed to climb onto the lower rungs of the Top 10 only three times.
The Jesus and Mary Chain Despite the Reid brothers’ near-legendary status in alternative rock circles, a string of hits in their native UK, and the prominent placement of their 1985 single “Just Like Honey” in the 2003 film Lost in Translation, they only made to the Hot 100 once, in 1994, when “Sometimes Always” limped to No. 96. Even then, they had to share top billing with guest vocalist Hope Sandoval, then of Mazzy Star, a band that had just missed the Top 40 with its only U.S. hit, “Fade into You” (No. 44).
The Smiths/Morrissey Here’s where things get really weird: The man behind one of the most formidable discographies in the history of rock calls “The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get,” which reached No. 46 in 1994, his biggest U.S. hit. Like anyone thinks of that song first when they think of Morrissey. Like anyone thinks of that song at all.
The Pixies Although Kurt Cobain’s biggest influence had an undeniable knack for crafting undeniably hooky space-age alternative rock, the band never made it onto the Hot 100. Well, except for bassist Kim Deal. She barely missed the Top 40 as a member of The Breeders, whose “Cannonball” went to No. 44 in 1993, the year The Pixies split.
Peter Murphy The lead singer of Bauhaus has the unfortunate distinction of being a frontman of an A-list group whose former bandmates (as Love and Rockets) did better without him.
Tom Waits He’s not completely hitless, though, thanks to Rod Stewart, who rode his “Downtown Train” all the way to No. 3 in 1989/90.
Leonard Cohen He found his Rod Stewart in Justin Timberlake, who alongside Matt Morris and Charlie Sexton, made the Cohen classic “Hallelujah” a U.S. Top 40 hit for the first and only time when they took it to No. 13 in 2010.
Blur Frontman Damon Albarn would have to create a cartoon band (Gorillaz) to land his first U.S. hit (2005’s “Feel Good Inc,” which reached No. 14).
Joan Armatrading Yeah, what do we Americans know?