Some singles, however great, aren’t destined to go to Number One. So what are the best Number Two singles which were cruelly kept off the top spot? The Beatles’ double A-side ‘Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever’ is often held up as one of the Fab Four’s finest releases, but it was beaten to Number One by Engelbert Humperdinck’s ‘Release Me’.
The Libertines – ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ (2004). Pete and Carl’s highest single placing, and yet it was pipped to the post by 3 Of A Kind and their track ‘Babycakes’. The garage trio might have won the battle, but still – it’s doubtful they’ll be reuniting and selling out Hyde Park any time soon.
Oasis – ‘Wonderwall’ (1995). Arguably the Gallagher brothers’ best-known song, but Liam and Noel were beaten to top spot by another duo: Robson And Jerome, with their double A-side ‘I Believe/Up On The Roof’. Despite only getting to Number Two, ‘Wonderwall’ has still sold a huge 1.26 million copies in the UK alone.
Pulp – ‘Common People’ (1995). A biting satire of rich trustafarians, elegantly slumming in arts college while contributing nothing to the world, set to the most memorable of melodies. Undoubtedly one of Britpop’s defining moments, and a highlight in Pulp’s glittering career, it was beaten by Robson And Jerome’s (yep, them again) ‘Unchained Melody’.
Sex Pistols – ‘God Save The Queen’ (1977). Not even a BBC Radio 1 ban and outcry from politicians could stop this from being the most-talked about song of 1977, although it took the might of Rod Stewart’s ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’ to stop it getting to Number One.
David Bowie – ‘Jean Genie’ (1972). Even when glam rock ruled the charts, the single-buying public couldn’t resist Jimmy Osmond and his annoying alliterative, grammatically incorrect hit ‘Long Haired Lover From Liverpool’. Ziggy played guitar. Jimmy couldn’t even put a hyphen in the right place. Pah.
The Verve – ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ (1997). You’d think with all the effort and legal wrangling over getting the Rolling Stones sample cleared that this song by The Verve deserved to get to Number One. Instead Puff Daddy and Faith Evans had that privilege, with their tribute to Notorious BIG, ‘I’ll Be Missing You’.
The Kinks – ‘Wateroo Sunset’ (1962).The Kinks’ classic is arguably one of the finest songs ever written – but it was thwarted by The Tremeloes’ ‘Silence Is Golden’, which most definitely isn’t.
Aha – ‘Take On Me’ (!985). A pop classic and a groundbreaking video where pencil sketches come to life – surely that’s enough to get a Number One? Apparently not: Jennifer Rush’s ‘Power Of Love’ clinched the top spot instead.
Manic Street Preachers – ‘A Design For Life’ (1996). “Libraries gave us power, then work came and made us free. What price now, for a shallow piece of dignity?” Such poignant lyrics, respectively inspired by a plaque in their local library and a slogan seen in Nazi PoW camps, and in such tragic circumstances; this was the first single released after Richey’s disappearance in 1995.
Elvis Presley – ‘Suspicious Minds’ (1969). After a few years in the wilderness, this single, along with his ’68 Comeback Special a year previously, is widely credited with restoring Elvis’ career to its former glory. Recorded in Memphis’ American Sound Studio, it moved Presley away from his rock’n’roll roots and established him as a gospel singer.
The Who – ‘My Generation’ (1965). “People try to put us down,” sang Roger Daltrey on this song of teenage rebellion, released in November 1965. And the people won, keeping The Who down at Number Two while The Seekers’ ‘The Carnival Is Over’ clinched the top spot.
James – ‘Sit Down’ (1991). Originally released in 1989 and then re-released two years later, James’ ‘Sit Down’ became an unlikely smash – although it didn’t do quite enough to topple Chesney Hawkes’ one-and-only hit ‘The One And Only’.
Daft Punk – ‘One More Time’ (2000). “We care less now than we used to about what critics say about our music,” said Thomas Bangalter when this song was released in 2000. So he and Guy-Manuel de Homem Christo won’t have been too upset, then, when it was trumped by Westlife and ‘My Love’ must’ve tested their resolve somewhat.
Kelis – ‘Milkshake’ (2003). Kelis’ ‘Milkshake’ might’ve brought all the boys to the yard, but it didn’t bring quite enough customers to record shops to knock Blu Cantrell and Sean Paul’s ‘Breathe’ off the top of the charts.
Supergrass – ‘Alright’ (1995). This song, and crucially the accompanying video, was enough to see Steven Spielberg offer Gaz, Mick and Danny a Monkees-style TV series back in 1995. It wasn’t enough, though, to shift enough copies and outsell The Outhere Brothers’ ‘Boom Boom Boom’.
Underworld – ‘Born Slippy’ (1996). Underworld had lager lager lager in abundance. What they didn’t have was a chart-topping single, as this effort, released in 1996 and best known for appearing on the Trainspotting soundtrack, only made it to Number Two. Pretty apt, when you think about Renton in that toilet scene…
Blur – ‘Song 2’ (1997). Appropriately, ‘Song 2’ only reached Number Two when it was released in April 1997, losing out to R Kelly’s ‘I Believe I Can Fly’. The band’s light parody of American alt-rock and grunge was the song that helped break them in the US.
Madonna – ‘Ray Of Light’ (1998). Madonna’s earth mother reinvention, produced by William Orbit, served up one of the great albums of the 1990s. What it didn’t give Madge was a title track that became a No 1 single. Nevertheless, ‘Ray Of Light’ is still a banger, no matter where it ended up.
Eminem – ‘My Name Is’ (1999). It put Eminem on the map, and showed off his biting lyrics and playful delivery. The video was an MTV smash. But ‘My Name Is’ didn’t have quite enough in the tank to get to Number One – the honours that week went to Offspring’s ‘Pretty Fly For A White Guy’.
Ultravox – ‘Vienna’ (1981). Ultravox were definitely showna no respect-a by Joe Dolce, whose single ‘Shadapp You Face’ beat them in the chart battle. Some consolation for Midge Ure and co, though: the song has consistently been voted as the best Number Two single ever in various polls and surveys.
The Stranglers – ‘Gordon Brown’ (1981), Songs overtly about heroin don’t tend to chart that well. But songs covertly about heroin – dressed up as jaunty, summery, harpsichord pop songs – do very well indeed. Not well enough to go to the top of the charts, but well enough to be the second-biggest-selling song of the week.
Laurie Anderson – ‘O Superman’ (1981). There’s something very unconventional about Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman’, including the way it became a hit. Radio 1’s John Peel played it on his show, and eventually it began picking up a following, until before long it was Number Two in the singles chart. Anderson, the long-time partner of Lou Reed, never had another hit single.
Yazoo – ‘Only You’ (1982). Although a Christmas number one for The Flying Pickets in 1983, the original by Yazoo – Alison Moyet and Erasure’s Vince Clarke – only made it to number two when it was released in March 1982.
David Bowie – ‘Modern Love’ (1983). The first track on Bowie’s 1983 album ‘Let’s Dance’ was the third single to be taken from the album, following the title track and ‘China Girl’. Unlike ‘Let’s Dance’, however, which was a Number One all over the world, ‘Modern Love’ could rise any higher than second spot, losing out to Culture Club’s ‘Karma Chameleon’.
Cyndi Lauper – ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’ (1983). Cyndi Lauper’s signature hit reached Number Two in both the US, where it was beaten to the top spot by Van Halen’s ‘Jump’, and in the UK, where it lost out to UB40’s ‘Red Red Wine’.
Queen – ‘Radio Gaga’ (1984). There’s a certain irony in the fact that Queen’s ‘Radio Gaga’ was kept at Number Two by a song that was banned from being played on the radio. Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ode to premature ejaculation, ‘Relax’, was kept off playlists after BBC DJ Mike Read claimed to be offended by the lyrics. And that coming from a man who would go on to pen ‘UKIP Calypso’.
Prince – ‘1999’ (1982). His Royal Purpleness has only had one Number One in the UK, and this isn’t it (that was ‘The Most Beautiful Girl In The World’ in 1994). Like ‘Little Red Corvette’ and ‘Batdance’, ultimate party track ‘1999’ couldn’t get any higher than Number Two.
The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl – ‘Fairytale Of New York’ (1987). Perhaps the only Christmas song you wouldn’t mind hearing at the height of summer, The Pogues’ festive classic didn’t get to number one in 1987, kept out by Pet Shop Boys’ cover of ‘Always On My Mind’.
Jackson 5 – ‘I Want You Back’ (1969). This was the Jackson 5’s first single released in the US on Motown label, and kickstarted a run of five US number ones for the group. It also sold a staggering six million copies around the world, although not quite enough in the UK to get it past Number Two on the singles chart.
T Rex – ‘Children Of The Revolution’ (1972). The four singles that preceded this – ‘Hot Love’, ‘Get It On’, ‘Telegram Sam’ and ‘Metal Guru’ – all topped the charts, but there was obviously something about ‘Children Of The Revolution’, blasted by suspicious types as pro-Communist propaganda, that the public didn’t like quite as much.
The Rolling Stones – ‘Brown Sugar’ (1971).Tony Orlando And The Dawn’s ‘Knock Three Times’ got to Number One ahead of the Stones in 1971. Maybe single buyers were scared of the Stones’ song’s subject matter, with its lyrical allusions to slavery, heroin, lost virginity, illicit sex and sadomasochism?
The Kinks – ‘All Of The Day And All Of The Night’ (1964). Kinks guitarist Dave Davies is often credited with inventing heavy metal when he played this track’s riff. But this song, pioneering as it may have been, only got to Number Two in 1964.
The Troggs – ‘Wild Thing’ (1966). This song, written by New York’s Chip Taylor, was originally a single by American band The Wild Ones, although Brits The Troggs had far more success with it when they covered it in 1966.
The Beach Boys – ‘God Only Knows’ (1966). Brian Wilson initially wanted brother Carl to release the song as a solo single, but in the US it was merely the B-side to ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’, whereas in Europe it was the A-side.