Whether it’s record labels throwing big bucks at established artists that are guaranteed big sales (Ed Sheeran’s latest three albums), or hotly anticipated follow-ups to hugely successful albums (Michael Jackson’s Bad), there are plenty of songs that were expected to be hits.
But what about tunes that weren’t expected to be hits?
From comedy tunes to songs that the band itself thought had no chance of chart success, this is an article about songs that weren’t supposed to make the charts!
1: Another One Bites The Dust – Queen
Queen was already a household name when they released their eighth studio album The Game, in 1980. Crazy Little Thing Called Love had already made number 1 and number 2 on the singles charts in the US and UK respectively.
The band didn’t want to release another track as a single, let alone Another One Bites The Dust. Queen drummer Roger Taylor remarked of the song, “that will never be a hit.”
That’s until Michael Jackson convinced them to release the track as a single backstage at a concert. Queen duly obliged the King of Pop’s advice, and Another One Bites rocketed up the charts and remains Queen’s best-selling single in the USA today.
2: The Wombles – Multiple
A prime example of British eccentricism, The Wombles was a children’s book series written by Elisabeth Beresford (the books were also an unexpected hit, as Beresford had little success as an author prior to The Wombles). The books were adapted for a 70s TV show which followed the family of fictional creatures that lived underground at Wimbledon Common, London.
Then, The Wombles became a band that went on to release four studio albums that included seven singles that made the top 10 on the UK Singles Chart. Their Christmas song Wombling Merry Christmas made number 2 on the UK Singles Chart and spent eight weeks in the top 50.
3: I’m Too Sexy – Right Said Fred
Many people will recognize this song, but fewer will recognize the band Right Said Fred.
However, this song was the first debut single to reach number 1 in the US since The Beatles and has been a number 1 hit in 70 countries, including the US, UK, and Japan.
The song was released on independent London record label Tug Records – their only big success. The band went on to perform plenty of sell-out shows in Europe throughout the 90s and has been involved in writing comedy songs for charity events, film, and TV.
4: Sweet Child O’ Mine – Guns N’ Roses
Arguably G’n’r’s most famous tune, Sweet Child O’ Mine, resulted from a pre-production warm-up for the band’s 1987 debut album Appetite For Destruction.
Slash was messing about on the guitar, Axl overheard a riff he played and convinced him to play the riff the next day. The song developed from there and became a Billboard Hot 100 number 1 hit for two weeks.
5: Call Me Maybe – Carly Rae Jepsen
Carly Rae Jepsen’s only musical accolade was placing third in Canadian Idol in 2007. It wasn’t until 2012 that she released Call Me Maybe, which became an early viral hit on YouTube, rapidly reaching millions of plays.
Justin Bieber played a big part in that by posting a viral video of him and Selena Gomez lip-syncing to it on Twitter. The song became the best-selling single of 2012, reaching number one in 18 countries.
Call Me Maybe received widespread criticism – pop music this cringy wasn’t accepted as much in 2012 as it is in 2022! But, to Jepsen’s credit, she is a trained soprano, and her voice in subsequent songs won her genuine fans and success.
6: Thrift Shop – Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
This hip-hop duo was an underground gem until their album The Heist. They self-released Thrift Shop as a single on their own record label, with minimal professional assistance in production.
At first, the track received a good reception from the underground community. It wasn’t until one year later, in February 2013, that the song rocketed to number one on the US Billboard Hot 100, selling over 6 million copies in the US alone.
In addition, the single went on to win Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song at the 2014 Grammys.
7: Timmy Mallett
Timmy Mallett rose to prominence through the radio but worked as a TV presenter, broadcaster, musician, and artist throughout his career. Another eccentric personality, Mallett more-or-less retired from celebrity life in the 2000s to become a professional artist.
Perhaps his greatest claim to fame is his cover of the 1960 song Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, together with vocalists Dawn Andrews and Annie Dunkley. The song reached number one on the UK Singles Chart in August in 1990.
8: The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?) – Ylvis
Probably one of the most prolific examples of viral chart music, alongside Baby Shark.
What Does The Fox Say was produced by a Norwegian comedy duo, and was originally posted on YouTube in 2013. As of 2022, the video has over 1 billion views.
Once it blew up, the song peaked at number six on the Billboard Hot 100, where it remained for three weeks. It became number 1 in Norway and made the top 10 in many countries across the world. One critic summed the song up as “a parody of the excesses and absurdities of contemporary club music.”
Baby Shark is similar, becoming the first video on YouTube to reach a crazy 10 billion views in January 2022. It reached number 6 on the UK Singles Chart and the top 50 in many countries worldwide. Baby Shark wasn’t even written by a band, but by an entertainment company called Pinkfong that adapted the lyrics from a campfire song.
Summary: Unexpected Hits That Made The Charts
An eclectic mix of songs!
Some, such as Guns N’ Roses’ Sweet Child O’ Mine are more coincidental hits than unexpected hits.
Others, such as Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ Thrift Shop are evidence that self-released songs can gain traction in the charts, snowballing into modern classics.
Comedy songs have always enjoyed some success in the charts, and it’s good to see some modern examples of that. Songs like What Does the Fox Say? are superb examples of how weird and wacky songs can still make the charts today.