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Surprising Hit Songs That Didn't Top the Charts

Rachel M. Johnson is a lover of all things pop culture. She's been writing about music and entertainment online for years.

The Billboard Hot 100 is a weekly chart published by Billboard magazine, and is the music industry standard record chart in the United States. The rankings on the chart are based on sales (both physical and digital), online streaming, and radio play. This is a list of extremely popular songs that somehow failed to top the Hot 100.


1. Michael Jackson: "Thriller" (Peak Position: 4)

It's hard to believe that the iconic song did not reach the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Released on November 2, 1983, Michael Jackson's groundbreaking single heavily impacted airwaves across America. The accompanying music video came in at a whopping 14 minutes, and starred Jackson and actress Ola Ray as a young couple being hunted by zombies.

Though the song peaked at number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, the single became certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on December 4, 1989 and as of November 2016, the song has sold 4.024 million copies in the U.S.

Fun Fact: The famous music video was given a budget of $500,000.


2. Britney Spears: "Toxic" (Peak Position: 9)

Britney Spears released her fourth studio album, In the Zone on November 12, 2003. The album went on to sell 609,000 during its first week, and with it came Spears' smash hit "Toxic". The song hit airwaves on January 13, 2004 and received acclaim from music critics alike, with many praising its catchy hook and chorus. "Toxic" helped Spears nab her first and only Grammy Award in 2005, for Best Dance Recording.

Though the club banger was Britney's fourth top-ten single, peaking at number 9, it's shocking that "Toxic" never claimed the top position.

Fun Fact: The song was initially offered to Kylie Minogue for her ninth studio album Body Language (2003), but the singer rejected it.


3. AC/DC: "Back in Black" (Peak Position: 37)

Australian rock band AC/DC has been steadily rocking hard since their formation in 1973, and have gone on to sell more than 200 million records worldwide. Their 1980 album Back in Black has sold an estimated 50 million units, the second-highest-selling album by any artist. With accolades such these, it's shocking to learn that their single of the same-name failed to top the charts. "Back in Black" reached its peak position of 37 on the Billboard Hot 100, although it did reach number 1 on the U.S. Hard Rock Digital Songs.

Fun Fact: The song was a tribute to the band's former late singer, Bon Scott.


4. Madonna: "Material Girl" (Peak Position: 2)

Madonna released her single "Material Girl" on January 23, 1985. The song came from her second studio album Like a Virgin (1984), and helped establish Madonna as a cultural icon. The music video for the single has also become a classic, as it paid homage to Marilyn Monroe's performance of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" from the hit 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Though the song received heavy airplay, it just barely missed claiming the top position on the charts.

Fun Fact: It was on the set of "Material Girl" that Madonna met Sean Penn, who would become her first husband.


5. Queen: "Bohemian Rhapsody" (Peak Position: 9)

Arguably one of the greatest songs of all time, Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" became a commercial success upon its release on October 31, 1975. The epic "mock opera" song ran for 6 minutes, and with opera and ballad influences, became a 1970's progressive rock hit. While critical reaction to the song was initially mixed, "Bohemian Rhapsody" and its accompanying video cemented the single's place in rock n' roll history. It topped the charts in the U.K, and peaked at number 9 in the United States.

Fun Fact: Singer Elton John believed the song was too "weird" to be played on the radio, and thought it was far too long.


6. Justin Timberlake: "Cry Me a River" (Peak Position: 3)

The song that helped introduce Justin Timberlake as a solo artist, "Cry Me a River" hit airwaves on November 25, 2002 and received critical acclaim. While many speculated the direct lyrics and video production was a shot at ex-girlfriend Britney Spears, the song helped catapult Timberlake into solo stardom. While the single garnered heavy airplay and is still a radio staple to this day, "Cry Me a River" did not in fact claim the top spot. Its peak position was number 3.

Fun Fact: The video for the song won Best Male Video and Best Pop Video at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards.


7. Christina Aguilera: "Beautiful" (Peak Position: 2)

Christina Aguilera wanted to shed her teen pop persona, and embrace a more grown-up public image. With the release of her fourth studio album Stripped, Aguilera did just that. Many songs of the album demonstrate the theme of self-respect, and the pop/R&B ballad "Beautiful" was no exception. Upon its release on November 16, 2002 the single saw universal acclaim, with many praising its positive and uplifting message. It has since gone on to become one of Aguilera's signature ballads. The song peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 charts at number 2.

Fun Fact: "Beautiful" won the award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 2004 Grammy Awards.


8. Black Sabbath: "Iron Man" (Peak Position: 52)

"Iron Man" is a notorious song by the British heavy metal band Black Sabbath. From their 1970 album Paranoid, the single tells the story of a man who time travels and witnesses the apocalypse. "Iron Man" was ranked by VH1 as the greatest heavy metal song of all time. It is played on television commercials, movies, at sporting events, and all across the radio to this day. Despite all this, the song somehow only managed to peak at number 52 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Fun Fact: The song's title was initially going to be "Iron Bloke" instead of "Iron Man."


9. Beyonce: "Halo" (Peak Position: 5)

Beyonce's 2008 record I Am...Sasha Fierce was a critical and commercial success, spawning multiple smash hits and introducing the world to her on-stage alter ego, Sasha Fierce. The songstress released "Halo" on January 20, 2009 and the power ballad received positive reviews. Despite garnering massive airplay and nabbing Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 52nd Grammy Awards, "Halo" somehow did not reach the top of the charts. The single peaked at number 5.

Fun Fact: "Halo" faced some controversy when fellow musician Kelly Clarkson claimed that producer/songwriter Ryan Tedder used the same musical arrangement for her own song, "Already Gone."


10. Etta James: "At Last" (Peak Position: 47)

On November 15, 1960 Etta James released a cover of "At Last," which would go on to become her signature song. The ballad would be played at weddings and parties alike, and only helped James soar in popularity. Though the iconic song only managed to peak at number 47, "At Last" has been a staple on oldies radio stations and continues to get airplay. Her moving cover has become the face of the song.

Fun Fact: Etta James's stage name came from switching around the letters in her actual first name, Jamesetta.

Which song on this list surprised you the most? Let me know in the comments!

© 2018 Rachel M Johnson


Kelly Ann Christensen from Overland Park, Johnson County, Kansas on February 01, 2020:

That is kind of interesting that Michael Jackson released Thriller clear back in 1983. May he rest in peace. I was grieved to hear he had died, I think it was the very day I left Alabama to return to Kansas City. I heard it on the radio as I was picking up my last check. I enjoyed your article.

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