On Dec. 22, 1973, singer and musician Todd Rundgren reached the height of his commercial career as a performing artist when his single “Hello It’s Me” reached No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Rundgren would go on to produce albums for other acts, two of which scored No. 1 hits: Grand Funk and Meatloaf. Other bands Rundgren produced included Patti Smith, Hall & Oates, Psychedelic Furs, Badfinger, Rick Derringer, The Tubes, Shaun Cassidy, Cheap Trick and XTC.
What’s so special about Todd Rundgren? Nothing in particular. I liked his stuff and first heard it on Casey Kasem’s “American Top 40” radio show. Every Sunday morning, while the rest of the family trooped off to church, I parked myself by the stereo and tuned in Casey’s mellow, home-spun voice.
“American Top 40” was an amalgam music, anecdotes, the occasional dedication, and Kasem’s easy familiarity. But mostly it was about the countdown. Who would record the highest climb on the charts this week? Who would be blessed with that pinnacle of musical achievement, the No. 1 hit?
I felt sorry for the artists whose songs had peaked at No. 2. You wonder how many chances they will have as performers to record a song that big. It’s a shame the song didn’t go all the way. It happened to Carol King with “Jazzman,” but I consoled myself with the knowledge that King probably had many other No. 1 hits in her career.
Except she didn’t, and that is what galvanized my interest in the Billboard Hot 100. King had only one No. 1 hit, “It’s Too Late/I Feel the Earth Move.” I was flabbergasted. Songs like “Sweet Seasons,” “One Fine Day” and “So Far Away” didn’t reach the top. The latter two didn’t even crack the Top 10.
I wondered: Who had the most No. 1 hits?
If you guessed The Beatles, you’d be right. The Fab Four racked up an incredible 20 No. 1 tunes, according to Billboard. Close behind were Elvis and Mariah Carey with 18 apiece (and Carey’s still in the game, so that could change). Trailing are Rihanna with 14 (who?), Michael Jackson with 13, The Supremes and Madonna with 12, Whitney Houston with 11, and Stevie Wonder and Janet Jackson with 10. I was surprised by the Janet Jackson entry. I didn’t know she had 10 hits, much less 10 No. 1 songs.
Billboard has an entire list of musical records, such as Most Weeks Spent at No. 1. I remember a particularly annoying song by Debby Boone, “You Light Up My Life,” which seemed to have spent all of 1977 atop the charts. Alas it was only 10 weeks. The record belongs to Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men with “One Sweet Day,” which spent three months at the top.
Now for some oddities. How about people you would never guess had a song in the top 100. Let’s start with John Schneider, star of the TV show “The Dukes of Hazzard.” He had four top 100 hits with “It’s Now or Never” climbing all the way to No. 14. Bruce Willis of “Die Hard” fame had three top 100 hits. “Respect Yourself” climbed to No. 5 before topping out. Most people think of John Travolta as a movie star, but he also made a mark in music with five top 100 hits, including the No. 1 smash “You’re the One that I Want” with Olivia Newton-John. He also had a top 10 hit with “Let Her In.”
Finally, what about famous musical acts that never enjoyed a No. 1. That list would include James Brown, One Direction, Bruce Springsteen, Nicki Minaj, Don Henley, Bob Dylan and Sheryl Crow.
Billboard’s Top 100 — check it out.
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