10 Hits You Won't Believe Never Made It To UK No.1

To celebrate the release of his new book, The Story of NOW That's What I Call Music In 100 Artists, author Michael Mulligan walks us through 10 classic songs that have appeared on NOW but surprisingly failed to reach No. 1.

1) Livin’ On A Prayer – Bon Jovi (NOW 9 & NOW 100)

A song so good that it was chosen as one of the twenty-one classic tracks to appear on the celebratory NOW 100, but sadly this 1986 No. 4 joins the list of seventeen other Top 10 singles by Bon Jovi that didn’t make No. 1.

The boys from New Jersey have spent forty-two weeks in the Top 10, and their singles have peaked at every position from No. 2 through to No. 10 but that all-important chart topper still eludes them. Their best shot so far is the 1994 Power Ballad ‘Always’, which spent three weeks at No. 2.

2) American Pie – Don McLean (NOW 20)

At eight minutes and thirty-two seconds ‘American Pie’ can lay claim to The Longest Song To Appear On NOW but it can’t join the list of more than 600 No. 1 hits on the first 100 volumes. Don McLean’s homage to Buddy Holly spent three weeks at No. 2 in 1972 but was thwarted first by Chicory Tip, then by Nilsson.

It had another go in 1991 when it peaked at No. 12, hence Don’s consolation of his one and only NOW appearance. Of course, Madonna took a paltry four and a half minute version to No. 1 in 2000, but as she didn’t appear on any of the first 100 volumes of NOW she can’t join our list either.

3) When You Tell Me That You Love Me – Diana Ross (NOW 21

Diana Ross first topped the chart in 1964 when The Supremes ‘Baby Love’ spent two weeks at No. 1. Her magnificent 1991 Power Ballad ‘When You Tell Me That You Love Me’ spent two weeks at No. 2 that December but couldn’t get past George Michael and Elton John in the first week, nor Queen in the second.

In 2005 she had another crack at it, this time teaming up with serial chart toppers Westlife. They already had a whopping 13 No. 1s, including a duet with Mariah Carey. What could possibly go wrong? Nizlopi and ‘JCB Song’, that’s what! Unlucky Diana had to settle for No. 2 once more with the very same song.

4) Vienna – Ultravox (NOW 24)

Poor Ultravox – this moody Synth-Pop classic was the fifth best-selling single of 1981 but spent four consecutive weeks at No. 2, three of them looking up at ‘Shaddap Your Face’ by Australian One Hit Wonder Joe Dolce Music Theatre.

It had another try in 1993 when it peaked at No. 13 and was rewarded with a place on NOW 24. In 2013 a poll of BBC Radio 2 listeners voted it their favourite No. 2 of the last 60 years, and although Ultravox never had a chart topper of their own, singer Midge Ure spent one week at No. 1 in 1985 with ‘If I Was’. 

5) Wonderwall – Oasis (NOW 34)

In 1995 Noel and Liam Gallagher had already had their first No. 1 with ‘Some Might Say’, and were famously denied a second when ‘Roll With It’ lost out to Blur’s ‘Country House’. ‘Wonderwall’ entered the chart at No. 2 in November but the quibbling siblings hadn’t reckoned on Robson & Jerome.

‘Wonderwall’ spent eleven weeks in the Top 10 but No. 2 was as good as it got. The same plight befell a cheeky cover by Mike Flowers Pops, which also entered the chart at No. 2 but was denied by Michael Jackson’s sixth No. 1 ‘Earth Song’.

6) SOS. – Rihanna (NOW 64)

Rihanna was still waiting on her first No. 1 when ‘SOS’ peaked at No. 2 in April 2006, but poor Rihanna found her way blocked by the year’s best selling single, ‘Crazy’ by Gnarls Barkley. And that was despite ‘SOS’ including a sample of Soft Cell’s 1981 No. 1 ‘Tainted Love’, the best selling single of that year. 

In 2010 Rihanna teamed up with Eminem for ‘Love The Way You Lie’, which was – you’ve guessed it – the best selling single of that particular year. Though once again, she had to settle for a No. 2 chart peak – the first time that the best selling single of any year has failed to make the top spot. 

7) Rule The World – Take That (NOW 68)

Take That have racked up No. 1 singles as a quintet, a quartet, a trio and with a little help from Lulu but this 2007 single by Gary, Howard, Jason and Mark was destined to spend four weeks at No. 2 while Leona Lewis occupied the top spot with ‘Bleeding Love’. 

Despite that ‘Rule The World’ is one of the band’s biggest selling hits, with sales in excess of 1.2 million, helped in part by its inclusion in the fantasy film Stardust and a performance at the London 2012 Olympic Games Closing Ceremony whilst the Olympic Flame was extinguished. 

8) Moves Like Jagger – Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera (NOW 80)

Christina Aguilera had US No. 1 singles in three successive decades but over here her best shot at topping the chart in the 2010s spent an extraordinary seven weeks at No. 2, only to watch Example, Pixie Lott, One Direction, Dappy, Sak Noel and Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris all come and go from the top spot. 

And despite selling more than a million copies ‘Moves Like Jagger’ also finished 2011 as the year’s second best selling single, this time trailing Adele with ‘Someone Like You’. Some consolation for Maroon 5, their follow-up single ‘Payphone’ featuring Wiz Khalifa, spent two weeks at No. 1 in 2012.

9) Take Me To Church – Hozier (NOW 89)

Something of a slow burner, the chart debut by Irish singer-songwriter Andrew Hozier-Byrne took twenty weeks to climb up the Top 40 to No. 2, where it hung around for four weeks before taking another leisurely eighteen weeks to slip out again.

‘Take Me To Church’ had the bad luck of being released at the same time as ‘Uptown Funk’ by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars, seven weeks at No. 1 and the best-selling single of 2015. Still, Hozier's total of forty-five weeks in the Top 40 helped him score the third best selling single of that year.

10) Last Christmas – Wham! (NOW The Christmas Album – of course)

In 1984 Wham! had already topped the chart with ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ and ‘Freedom’ and would have been set for a third No. 1 had George Michael and the other stars of the day not agreed to appear on Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’, obliging Wham! to settle for five weeks at No. 2. 

Since 1984 ‘Last Christmas’ has returned to Top 40 in eleven separate years, culminating in a second No. 2 peak in 2017, following George’s sad death a year earlier. It remains the biggest selling single in UK chart history to never make the top spot.

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