Take Me to the River
Rock & Roll Books
The Billboard Book of No. 2 Singlesby Christopher Feldman
Billboard Books, 288 pp., $19.95 (paper)
What a singular idea! In this country, everyone's so obsessed with who's No. 1 that we tend to forget that anything else matters. As one result of this attitude, there have been innumerable books written about things that have topped various lists and charts, while especially in the music industry, actually reaching No. 1 doesn't necessarily have that much relation with how popular something is. Devo's "Whip It," for instance, never even made the top 10, but more people remember it better than many songs that topped the charts around that time. The Billboard Book of No. 2 Singles thus takes a step in the right direction (down) and gives us insight into a whole mess of songs that in many cases are more interesting than the songs that kept them from the top slot.
Creedence Clearwater Revival fans in particular should rejoice, as that band hit No. 2 five times but never did anything to merit any inclusion in a book of No. 1s. Madonna's had six No. 2s, the Beatles had three -- and are these songs any less notable than their single-notch-higher counterparts? Not likely. Without buying massive biographies on each individual artist, The Billboard Book of No. 2 Singles is a great way to take peeks at literally hundreds of songs that "missed the mark," from Sam Cooke's "Chain Gang" (the sound of clanging prisoners, after much experimentation, was achieved by having the percussionist strike the base of the microphone stand) to Prince's "Raspberry Beret" (the Lightning Seeds were named after a mishearing of the line "The thunder drowns out what the lightning sees"). Did you know that current Austinite Arthur Brown's "Fire" was stalled out by the Beatles' "Hey Jude," that "Ride Like the Wind" by San Antonio's Christopher Cross was kept from the top by Blondie's "Call Me," that Texan LeAnn Rimes managed to spend nearly a year and a half on the charts with "How Do I Live" but missed the No. 1 slot (and still holds the longevity record for a non-No. 1 hit) or that New Braunfels' Sixpence None the Richer had to release "Kiss Me" twice to take it to No. 2?
If you're a fan of music trivia, there's nothing about The Billboard Book of No. 2 Singles that's any less interesting than any book on No. 1s. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if a follow-up on No. 3 hits (and so on) turned out to be just like this volume -- tops.