7 Classic Rock Bands Who Never Had a No. 1 Hit

No matter how much they might say that the quality of the work is the most important thing, most rock bands would give anything for the chance to see their name atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It’s probably even harder for rock bands to achieve that now, so dominant is pop music when it comes to those charts. But even in an era when rock and roll was predominant, there were many bands who enjoyed great success without ever getting to the pinnacle. Here are seven elite classic rock bands whose resume lacks a No.1.

Videos by American Songwriter

1. Led Zeppelin

The issue that Zep had hitting the top was that they had a natural aversion to the process of releasing singles. Instead, they just let their albums do the talking. And can you blame them? When Atlantic Records decided that the colossal “Whole Lotta Love,” off Led Zeppelin II in 1969, should be released as a single in the US, they shaved more than two minutes off it to make it more palatable for radio. This truncated version would go on to be the band’s highest-charting single, peaking at No. 4. They never even hit the Top 10 again with the sporadically-released singles that came out over the years. Who knows if they would have changed their tune in the ‘80s because the remaining three members called it a day for the band upon the death of drummer John Bonham in 1980.

2. The Who 

Few bands have a discography as imposing as The Who. They managed to blaze trails along the way, first as a British Invasion band with a rhythmic swagger, then as concept album masters, and finally as arena-rock lifers. Many of the songs that come from iconic albums like Tommy and Who’s Next are indelible parts of the ultimate classic rock soundtrack. And yet not only didn’t they hit the top of the pop charts, but they weren’t particularly close. Their 1967 epic “I Can See for Miles” snuck into the Top 10. As it turns out, that was as close as they’d ever come to the apex. They did manage seven more Top 40 entries, which is nothing to sneeze at. But No. 1 always eluded them.

3. Creedence Clearwater Revival

In 1968, CCR’s cover of “Susie Q, just their second single, hit No. 11. Their fourth single, “Proud Mary,” which arrived early in ’69, went all the way to No. 2. At that point, a betting person would have laid big money on Creedence hitting the top spot in a short matter of time. After all, it was clear they had a formula that satisfied both rock purists and AM radio audiences. But the John Fogerty-led band would suffer near-miss and after near-miss. After “Proud Mary,” “Bad Moon Rising” and “Green River” made it to No.2, as did the double-sided releases “Travelin’ Band/Who’ll Stop the Rain” and “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”/”Long As I Can See the Light.” That’s not to mention four other Top 10 singles. But No. 1? It never happened for this quartet.

4. The Kinks

Much like The Who, The Kinks proved especially resilient when it came to weathering the winds of classic rock change throughout their career. They came blasting onto the scene with a pair of iconic, fuzzed-out singles in 1964, before segueing into the critically-acclaimed concept albums of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. They then went back to their hard-rocking roots as the ‘70s wore on (albeit in a literate fashion due to Ray Davies’ songs) and even scored big in the MTV era with the nostalgic ’82 Top 10 hit “Come Dancing.” So many iconic songs, and yet they couldn’t find the top spot, despite hitting the Top 10 five different times over a span of 18 years. 

5. AC/DC

The hard-rocking Aussie legends AC/DC managed the near-impossible. Following the death of original lead singer Bon Scott, whose sneering vocals were so iconic on songs like “Highway to Hell” and “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” they were able to replace him with muscular belter Brian Johnson and somehow emerged even more popular. Their first album with Johnson, Back in Black (1980), was their biggest hit, and it paved the way to their first and only U.S. No. 1 album, For Those About To Rock We Salute You (1982). But they never got particularly close to No.1 on the Hot 100; “Moneytalks” in 1990 was as close as they came, hitting No. 23.

6. The Band

As beloved as they were with critics and peers, The Band never did much on the singles charts. And it’s not as if they didn’t try. Many of their most memorable songs were dutifully trotted out as singles over the years. Yet even at the height of their popularity in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, their songs landed at radio with a thud. To give you an idea, “The Weight,” one of the most beloved classic rock songs ever, only made it to No. 63. “Up on Cripple Creek” did the best in 1969, yodeling its way to No. 25 in the U.S. It should be noted that The Band almost made it to No. 1 in a way: Joan Baez’s cover of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” stalled at No. 3.

7. ZZ Top

The beloved Texas trio first found their footing as crunching rockers with a Southern edge in the ‘70s, and they squeaked into the Top 20 in 1975 with the chugging “Tush.” They then transformed their sound in the ‘80s, while also playing off their iconic look in a series of tongue-in-cheek music videos. That’s when they came closest to scraping the top, as both “Legs” and “Sleeping Bag” made it up to No. 8. ZZ Top’s pop popularity dwindled in the second half of the ‘80s, even as they continued to churn out excellent product. Sadly, bassist Dusty Hill passed away in 2021, but what an impressive streak of success they enjoyed, even if they weren’t singles chart-toppers.

Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images

Leave a Reply

3 Movies Every Queen Fan Should See