Homegrown Flops That Were Hits Across the Atlantic
***Anglophenia returns Tuesday, July 8th***
It’s Independence Day, and it’s time for a good old list: songs by American artists that were flops stateside but were big hits in the UK:
Perhaps the band was too international for American listeners, but Kid Creole and the Coconuts had a string of UK smash singles in the early ’80s. The biggest of these hits was 1982’s “Annie I’m Not Your Daddy,” a super-catchy, darkly comedic dance hit sung from the point of view of a
deadbeat father victim of “mistaken” paternity. (“If I were in your blood, then you wouldn’t be so ugly” is one of the harshest tell-offs in music history – and to a little child, no less.)
Who knew Ms. Simon, a wealthy, private-school girl-turned-FM radio pinup, could be so funky? Well, it helps that she had disco legends Chic (“Good Times,” “Le Freak”) produce this 1982 record. The American public, used to Simon’s easy-listening fare like “You’re So Vain” and “Nobody Does It Better,” didn’t bite with this one, but UK listeners made it a top 10 hit.
We all know the Celine Dion remake, but Queens-born songstress Jennifer Rush did it first and did it better in 1985. “The Power of Love” spent five weeks on top of the UK pop charts in 1985, making it the best-selling single in Britain for the year. Oddly, this radio-ready love ballad didn’t even make the top 40 in the U.S.
How did this song not become a mega-hit in the States, at the very least on R&B radio? This simply irresistible soul jam was ignored in the U.S., but the Brits ate it up: it was the tenth biggest-selling single of 1988 in the UK.
Jackson’s record company didn’t even bother releasing this as a proper single in the U.S. – it was a B-side to the track “This Time Around” – but, internationally, the plaintive “Earth Song” was a phenomenon. It spent six weeks at No. 1 in the UK and led to a classic performance at the 1996 BRIT Awards (which was infamously sabotaged by Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker).
Singer-songwriter Tori Amos has an almost slavish fan following, yet she’s never had a top 20 hit in the U.S. In 1997, she had a surprise No. 1 in the UK with a remix of her 1997 song, “Professional Widow.”
Aaliyah’s untimely death in a 2001 plane crash was a devastating shocker for music fans. Songs like “Are You That Somebody?,” “We Need a Resolution,” and “More Than a Woman” seem to only hint at the provocative directions she was headed. The latter single was released posthumously, but it didn’t break the top 20 in the States. In the UK, however, it went to No. 1.
Some blame homophobia for this NYC-based glam band’s lack of success in their native country. Perhaps it’s a small factor, but songs like “I Don’t Feel Like Dancing,” an unapologetic homage to ’70s rock and disco, would truly seem out-of-place on hip-hop-dominated U.S. radio. The Brits, however, dig campy schtick, and “I Don’t Feel Like Dancing” spent four weeks at No. 1 in the UK in 2006.
After departing the Supremes, Diana Ross had trouble finding her footing as a solo artist in the U.S. There was no such struggle in the UK; the Brits took to her immediately, and her big 1971 ballad, “I’m Still Waiting,” went to No. 1. It wasn’t until 1973, with the chart-topping “Touch Me in the Morning,” that Ross broke through in the States.
After parting ways with Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel became something of a joke in the States – the wispy-voiced has-been with an unruly blond white-boy ‘fro. But in the UK, he became a superstar with his 1979 solo hit, “Bright Eyes.” In fact, after being featuring on the soundtrack to the film Watership Down, it became the best-selling hit in the UK for the year. Paul Simon, ironically, has never had a British No. 1 single as a solo artist.
It’s hard to imagine that this Phil Spector-produced track – long regarded as one of the great works of pop music history – topped out at No. 66 on the Billboard Hot 100. Excuse me? The Brits knew a classic when they heard one: it was Ike and Tina‘s first top five hit across the Atlantic.
This art-school experiment was a cult hit in America, but it was a surprise top five hit in the UK. Pretty astonishing for a song that’s essentially an answering machine message.
Their song “We Are Family” was a sensation in 1979, but U.S. girl group Sister Sledge were considered has-beens by 1985. However, they were just getting warmed up in the UK. They produced a number of hits in Britain throughout the ’80s and early ’90s, starting with 1985’s “Frankie,” a surprise No. 1 hit that peaked at No. 75 in the U.S.
Philly Soul stars The Stylistics
had a number of enormously popular songs in the early ’70s – “You Are Everything,” “Betcha By Golly Wow!,” “You Make Me Feel Brand New.” As their star began to fade Stateside in the mid ’70s, they were suddenly embraced in the UK. Their 1975 song, “Can’t Give You Anything (But My Love)” was a No. 1 hit in Britain but topped out at No. 51 on the Billboard Hot 100.