Some years ago BBC Radio 2 compiled “The Nation’s Favourite No 2 Single” a chart of the best songs to make it as far as #2 in the UK charts and no further. They compiled a list of “around 100 classic number two hits” and then Radio 2 listeners voted for their favourites. The results are here. As the link shows, the Top 3 were “Vienna” by Ultravox at #1 followed by “Fairy Tale of New York” by the Pogues featuring Kirsty McColl and Don McLean’s “American Pie”.
“Vienna” would never have been my choice. My aversion to the song partly stems from my preference for the pre-Midge Ure incarnation of the band (who had John Foxx on vocals and had an exclamation mark at the end of their name: Ultravox!). I had seen them a few times, including two memorable shows at the old Marquee Club in Wardour Street, and always preferred songs like “Young Savage”, “Slow Motion” and “Hiroshima Mon Amour” to their later output. But “Vienna” has resonance for many people because Midge Ure is a nice guy, Ultravox never had a #1 and, more importantly, because of the song that famously kept it from the top of the chart back in early 1981: “Shaddup you face” by Joe Dolce Music Theatre. (People are less likely to remember that it was also kept at #2 by “Woman” by John Lennon, one of the three posthumous Lennon #1s following his murder on 8 December 1980.)
As often happens at weekends this all came to mind because of Saturday afternoon’s “Pick of the Pops” show. It featured the chart from this date in 1967, with “Waterloo Sunset” by the Kinks at #2. My pop trivia knowledge meant that I knew what was #1 before Mark Goodier played it: “Silence is Golden” by the Tremeloes. “Waterloo Sunset” is probably my choice as the best song to be stuck at 2, but it’s down at #6 in Radio 2’s list.
That list doesn’t tell you what kept each song off the top of the chart. If, like me, you’re into pop trivia this will prompt a load of questions, some of which I can answer off the top of my head and others which needed some extra research. As noted above “Vienna” was kept off the top by “Woman” and then by “Shaddup your face”. What kept “Fairy Tale of New York” from the top spot? It was “Always on my mind” by Pet Shop Boys, the Christmas #1 for 1987. And who kept “American Pie” from #1 in 1972? First it was Chicory Tip with “Son of my father” and then Nilsson with “Without You”. (Don McLean did go on to have two chart-toppers: “Vincent”, later in 1972 and “Crying” in 1980.)
#4 in that Radio 2 list is “Sit Down” by James, from April 1991. I had to check who was at the top instead (Chesney Hawkes with “The One and Only”) but didn’t have to look up what kept the #5 entry (“Golden Brown” by the Stranglers) from the top. It was “Town Called Malice” by the Jam, back in February 1982.
Without going through all 40 songs on that list (even though it’s a Sunday, and part of me really wants to) here are the main “Stuck at 2” facts which have lodged in my mind in over 40 years of following the charts.
- The double A side “Penny Lane” / “Strawberry Fields Forever” by the Beatles was kept off the top for 3 weeks by Englebert Humperdinck’s “Release Me”. (They had 11 consecutive chart-toppers, from “From Me to You” in 1963 through to “Yellow Submarine” / “Eleanor Rigby” in 1966; Englebert broke that run.)
- “Let it be”, the final Beatles single release (before re-issues), was kept at #2 by Lee Marvin’s “Wanderin’ Star”.
- The Who never had a UK #1. “My Generation” was kept at #2 by The Seekers in late 1965 with “The Carnival is Over” and “I’m a boy” failed to dislodge Jim Reeves’s posthumous #1 “Distant Drums” in October 1966.
- This was all a little before my time so I’ll finish with more recent trivia, from when I was old enough to follow the charts more keenly. “Wonderwall” by Oasis was kept of the top by Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song” (late 1995) and Right Said Fred’s “I’m too sexy” was kept at #2 for 6 weeks by “(Everything I do) I do it for you” during Bryan Adams’s 16 weeks at the top in 1991. Was it only 16 weeks? It felt longer.