The Top 10 Weirdest U.S. No. 1 Hits
Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells topped the UK charts 38 years ago despite being a dense and inaccessible art rock record.
It's not often that the pop charts will surprise you. After all, the average consumer in most countries doesn't have time to delve too deep into an artist's catalogue. They don't often pick up on songs that will stand the test of time. They like the ephemera record labels tell them is hot right now.
Nevertheless, every once in a while something will top the charts that doesn't make sense. We're seeing it happen now with "Gangnam Style", and this past week marks 38 years since Mike Oldfield topped the UK Album charts with Tubular Bells, a 48 minute long instrumental classically inspired progressive-rock album. An edited down single even managed to hit No. 7 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart after being used as the title theme for The Exorcist.
That sounds weird, but what other strangeness has occurred on the charts? For the purposes of this list, we'll stick to the U.S., since covering the entire world would just fill this list with the weird bands topping the charts in Norway (where, oddly enough, "Gangnam Style" is currently the No. 1 song).
10. Cake, Showroom of Compassion
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Billboard 200 No. 1, 2011 Could anyone have ever predicted that this would hit #1? Cake hadn't put out an album since 2004 and hadn't had a big, big hit since 1998. As a matter of fact, this is their first #1 album in their entire career. Maybe there are just that many fans of Chuck.
9. Vampire Weekend, Contra
Billboard 200 No. 1, 2010 Love them or hate them, Vampire Weekend made a big splash in 2010 by breaking into the No. 1 spot on an independent label (XL), something almost unheard of before them. Even indie-rockers Modest Mouse signed to a major label before they hit No. 1 in 2007.
8. Prince, "Batdance"
Billboard Hot 100 No. 1, 1989 Hip hop was barely making a dent in the charts, much less club remixes with hip-hop, funk and metal overtones -- all thrown in with a lot of samples from Tim Burton's first Batman movie, but the popularity of that film and Prince improbably propelled this song to No. 1.
Billboard 200 No. 1, 2000 Radiohead overcame seemingly insurmountable odds with this one. The album had next to no promotion, no hit singles, and featured a new, almost entirely electronic sound for the band that eschewed any resemblance of their previous sounds, especially the sounds of their hits. It was an experiment destined to flop, but it worked. It hit No. 1 and is revered today as one of the best albums of all time.
6. Beach Boys, "Kokomo"
Billboard Hot 100 No. 1, 1988 No band was less likely to hit No. 1 in the 1980s than the Beach Boys, who were 20 years past their prime and missing Brian Wilson. Against all the odds, they got one last hit single, though your mileage may vary on whether it was worth it or not.
5. Jan Hammer, "Miami Vice Theme"
Billboard Hot 100 No. 1, 1985 Oddly enough, theme songs have ever so occasionally managed to hit No. 1 on the charts, such as Bill Conti's theme for Rocky, "Gonna Fly Now". Still, it's always bizarre when people listen to one of these songs outside of their context. I mean, Cheers was popular, but not a lot of people were rocking the theme song on their Walkman.
Billboard Hot 100 No. 1, 1985 Americans don't normally like listening to people speak languages they don't understand. That's why foreign films almost never do well here and why most pop stars have to switch to speaking English if they want to sell records here. But somehow Falco broke through despite speaking German and paved the way for people like Psy to overcome the language barrier with infectious hooks.
3. Jethro Tull, A Passion Play
Billboard 200 No. 1 in 1973 It was odd when Jethro Tull hit No. 1 the previous year with Thick as a Brick which, like Tubular Bells, was a 43-minute-long progressive-rock album consisting of one single unbroken up song and featured no hit singles. It was even odder when they hit No. 1 again a year later with another album.
2. Pantera, Far Beyond Driven
Billboard 200 No. 1 in 1994 Any metalhead and/or Texan remembers this one. Our boys finally made it and made it big. To date it's widely agreed that this album, which at the time was the heaviest Pantera had done (only to be outdone by The Great Southern Trendkill two years later), is probably the heaviest metal album to ever top the charts.
Billboard Hot 100 No. 1, 1972 As in the case of the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry was long past his prime to be getting No. 1 hits, but what's even weirder is that he managed to hit the charts again with a strange and creepily sexual novelty song. We're not going to say Berry didn't deserve the hit for his esteemed contributions to the history of rock and roll, this just wasn't one of his more dignified moments.
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