Landing the #1 spot on the Billboard albums chart is pretty easy — provided your name is Elvis, the Beatles or, uh, Now That’s What I Call Music! For anyone else, it’s a rather difficult thing to accomplish because, despite some of the “luminaries” who’ve occupied the top spot this year (Pretty Ricky, Daughtry), the #1 album club is a pretty exclusive one.
Up until this week, Johnny Marr — whose ringing guitar tones were first heard nearly 25 years ago on the Smiths’ “Hand in Glove” — wasn’t a member. Then We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, the new album from Modest Mouse, debuted in the top spot, selling an impressive 128,000 copies (see ” Modest Mouse Felt ’No Pressure’ To Be #1 — But They Got There Anyway “ ). This gave Marr, who joined MM before this album, his first-ever Stateside #1.
And while it might have taken Marr a quarter-century to get his first Billboard chart-topper, at least he got there. Because there’s a whole list of rock, pop and hip-hop heavyweights who haven’t, and — unless they decide to record a duet with someone like Jay-Z — probably never will.
We’ve compiled some of them here, though it bears mentioning that we’re only talking about #1 albums on the Billboard 200, mainly because it ranks the top-selling albums in the country, regardless of genre (plus it’s been around — under various handles like the “Stereo Action Charts,” “Top LPs” and “Top Pop Albums” — since 1945), but also because landing the #1 album on the Top Contemporary Jazz chart just doesn’t seem like all that great of an accomplishment (unless, of course, you’re Motörhead).
David Bowie: The Thin White Duke has accomplished much in a career that spans more than 40 years, including countless #1 albums in the U.K., yet the top spot on the Billboard albums chart has continued to elude him. He’s come close in the past: 1976’s Station to Station made it to #3, and ’83’s Let’s Dance got to #4 based on the strength of the title track (which made it to #1 on the singles chart). The following year, his Tonight album peaked at #11 — and he hasn’t made it higher since.
Tom Petty: Be it as a solo artist, along with the Heartbreakers or as a member of the Traveling Wilburys, Petty’s never had the #1 album on the Billboard chart. Damn the Torpedoes got to #2 in early 1980, a position it would hold for seven straight weeks (Pink Floyd’s The Wall, in the midst of a 15-week run at #1, kept it from taking the top spot). Full Moon Fever made it to #3, and Wildflowers got to #8. The Traveling Wilburys’ Vol. 1 — which Petty recorded with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne — peaked at #3 in 1989. Last year, his third solo effort, Highway Companion debuted at #4.
Kiss: As the commanders of the Kiss Army — and the sheer purchasing power contained therein — it’s rather shocking to learn that Gene Simmons and company have never made it to #1. Thanks to the crossover appeal of “Christine Sixteen,” 1977’s Love Gun got to #4 on the chart, and it wasn’t until 1998’s Psycho Circus that they made it higher: That album topped out at #3.
Public Enemy: Perhaps it was the political slant, the blaring production or the fact that Chuck D just scared the crap out of most of America, but PE have never had a #1 album on the Billboard 200. Fear of a Black Planet scraped the top 10 in 1990, and Apocalypse 91 … The Enemy Strikes Black powered its way to #4 (Apocalypse did, however, go to #1 on the R&B/hip-hop chart). Since then, they’ve released a pair of albums that didn’t dent the top 10, and 2002’s Revolverlution peaked at #110.
Duran Duran: They ruled the ’80s with pulsing synths and razor-sharp cheekbones, but the Durannies could never quite strut their way to the top of the albums chart. The decade-uniting Rio made it to #6 in 1983 (back when Michael Jackson’s Thriller was the reigning chart champ) and stayed in the top 200 for 129 consecutive weeks. The live album Arena, recorded during their ’83-’84 world tour, actually charted higher — it got to #4. The boys’ self-titled 1993 comeback record made it to #7, but they haven’t caressed the top 10 since.
The Who: They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as “prime contenders, in the minds of many, for the title of World’s Greatest Rock Band,” but the Who have not made it to #1 on the albums chart. They got close with 1973’s Quadrophenia and 1978’s Who Are You, both of which peaked at #2. Last year’s Endless Wire — the band’s first studio album in more than 20 years — debuted at #7.
Neil Diamond: He’s written hit singles for everyone from Deep Purple to the Monkees and had his own fair share of singular success, but — somewhat inexplicably — Diamond’s never had a #1 album in a career that’s spanned nearly 50 years. His soundtracks to “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” and “The Jazz Singer” (the latter of which contained his ultra-schmaltzy hit “America”) got to #2 and #3, respectively, and a host of his late-’70s efforts made the top 10. In 2005, his Rick Rubin-produced 12 Songs debuted at #4.
Ozzy Osbourne: Whether running solo or as a member of seminal metal act Black Sabbath, the Ozzman never managed to battle his way to the top of the Billboard albums chart. Sabbath’s Master of Reality made it to #8, and a host of Osbourne’s solo albums landed in the top 10 (most notably 1995’s Ozzmosis, and his 2001 follow-up, Down to Earth, both of which debuted at #4).
The Cure: Robert Smith and his mascaraed marauders debuted at #2 with 1992’s Wish, but that’s as close as they ever came to the top spot. And we suspect they’ve been depressed about it ever since.
Motörhead: OK, while this one doesn’t exactly fall into the “shocking” category, we’d like to state for the record that it’s a crime of monumental proportions that Lemmy and his mates have not had a #1 album on the Billboard chart (though 1991’s 1916 did reach #142). In fact, Mr. Kilminster’s biggest chart success came in 2001, when WWF: The Music, Vol. 5 — featuring Motörhead’s “The Game,” which wrestler Triple H used as his entrance music — sold 176,000 copies and debuted at #2, proving once again that you should never doubt the broad cross-market appeal of Hunter Hearst Helmsley.
The Smiths/ Morrissey: Marr’s former bandmates — and his former musical foil — must be hella jealous about his recent chart success, because none of them has ever gotten close to sniffing #1 on the top 200. The Smiths’ final album, 1987’s Strangeways, Here We Come, topped out at #55, and the Mozfather never got higher on the charts than he did with 2004’s You Are the Quarry, which debuted at #11. Then again, all that could change if the Smiths would just go ahead and reunite already … hint, hint.