Hits You Never Heard Of
Totally straightforward concept here: I opened up my copy of Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955-1999 book and started at the beginning, with the A's. Then, every time I came across a record that made me wonder either "What the heck is that??" (for instance, when the artist or song had a really goofy name I'd never heard before) or "What the heck is that doing here?? (i.e., in just a few cases when I was aware of the song or artist, but was totally surprised either had ever hit the charts), I then checked to see if it was (1) available on Rhapsody and (2) pretty good. The 34 songs that made the cut -- alphabetically, featuring such mysterious acts as '90s Belgian techno-ravers AB Logic and '80s Australian rock band The Choirboys -- all hit the Top 100 in Billboard at some point.
Since they'd mostly never crossed my ears before, a good deal of that charting was done in the chart's lower reaches, the 90s or thereabouts. But not always: I was shocked to discover Bazuka's very funky JJ Walker-on- Good Times-inspired proto-disco hit "Dynomite-Part 1," which somehow climbed all the way to #10 in 1975 but took me 37 years to hear. Novelties often fall off the face of the earth, obviously, once they've served their intended purpose: St. Louis R&B combo Bull & the Matadors' "The Funky Judge" (no. 39 in 1968) and crunky Falcons fans the ATL All Stars' "The Dirty Bird Groove" (no. 56 in 1999) were also entirely new to me, as were a few zany late '50s/early '60s lounge-exotica instrumental one-offs, such as Billy Joe and the Checkmates' no. 10-in-1962 "Percolator (Twist)," which plinks and plonks like a distant electro ancestor and which the Whitburn book explains was "based on the 'perky' tune used in a Maxwell House coffee jingle." There are some nifty but long-forgotten cover tunes, as well.
Among other things, this mixtape has one reggae dancehall number, one Latin freestyle song (from 1996 -- a decade after the style's heyday), one jaunty bagpipe march by (Whitburn sez) a "Scottish military unit," a couple raps, three fairly topical old country laments (including one by Johnny Cash's younger brother Tommy), a bunch of wild-haired early rock 'n' roll, and more hooky if hacky '80s/'90s corporate rock than I would have predicted. Most of the artists wound up one-hit (or okay, one-almost-hit) wonders where the pop chart is concerned, though a few had two or three. And while I can't guarantee that every song here is the exact version that charted (artists have been known to re-record, after all), only in one case did I intentionally include a non-hit mix: namely, London soul band Central Line's "Walking Into Sunshine," which got to no. 84 in the U.S. in 1981, presumably as a seven-inch single, but the eight-minute 12-inch dance remix on Rhapsody was too wonderful to resist. So don't! Dig in and eat up.