Many musicians and groups often go decades releasing hit after hit single, but then, something changes, and their songs are no longer hitting the Top 40. Is it due to a changing musical landscape? Is their sound no longer resonating with the public? Are they making music that’s just not as good as it once was? In any case, questions like these may plague musicians who are used to seeing their songs hitting the charts and reaching a wide audience. Of course, many musicians never chart, and that isn’t a reflection on the quality of the music they produce. But, for some musicians, the charts are one way they determine their success, especially if they are used to seeing their songs there.
The following is a blog of the final Top 40 songs for 20 musicians and groups. These are all from well-established musicians who had a decade or more of hits in most cases. Of course, some of these musicians could still have another Top 40 hit in the future, which would require an amendment to this blog, but that would be OK by me, as I would love to see future songs by these musicians getting airplay and sales again!
Touch Me When We’re Dancing by Carpenters The final Top 40 for a group that was dominant in the 1970s came way too early! The very talented brother and sister duo known as the Carpenters created a sound that really resonated with the easy listening audience, especially in the first half of the 1970s. Songs of love, love lost, relationship difficulties, and feelings of hope and despair, were all sung so plaintively by the late great Karen Carpenter. Even in this final Top 40 song that peaked at Number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1981, there’s a touch of sadness, even though the lyrics and melody present a more optimistic tone. This song also has a country feel to it, and it was later covered by the country group Alabama. Unfortunately about a year and a half after this final Top 40 hit, Karen Carpenter passed away, due to health complications from her lifelong struggle with anorexia nervosa.
When She Was My Girl by Four Tops A lot of folks don’t realize that the Four Tops were releasing music in the 1980s. But more importantly, they were releasing damn fine music too! This song just missed the Top 10, peaking at Number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1982. This song has the classic Four Tops sound, but it also sounds like a song from the early 1980s, which is most likely why it did so well on the charts at the time. Some of you may have never heard this song before, and I encourage you to check it out. It’s good!
Missing You by Diana Ross Diana Ross had been a chart fixture since the 1960s with The Supremes, and then her own solo career in the '70s and '80s. It seemed like there was no stopping her, chart-wise. But for whatever reason, after this wonderful tribute song written by Lionel Richie reminiscing about the life and passing of Marvin Gaye peaked at Number 10 in 1985, she hasn’t visited the Top 40 since. Miss Ross, we are really missing you! It’s also interesting that the follow-up song, Chain Reaction, (written by and featuring backing vocals by the Bee Gees!) released in 1986, was a major Number One hit in the U.K. but couldn’t chart higher than Number 66 in the U.S. So very strange!
Making Love In The Rain by Herb Alpert featuring Lisa Keith I had the great fortune of seeing Herb in concert last autumn, back in the good old days when we could see shows live and in person! But, joking aside, Herb has been producing wonderful instrumental music since the mid-1960s and his final Top 40 hit occurred in 1987 when this jazzy little tune went to Number 35 on the Billboard Hot 100. This song is quite representative of the quiet storm format prevalent in the 1980s, and features the sultry vocals of Lisa Keith. It’s a great number, and probably even more “applicable” during these days of shelter in place...rain or not!
This Time I Know It’s For Real by Donna Summer A comeback hit of sorts for the late great Donna Summer, This is one of my faves of hers! Back in my high school days in 1989, I would love singing along to this Number 7 tune whenever it would come on the radio. There was no streaming back then, so I actually had to wait for it to come on the radio, or traipse to a store where they sold music in order to purchase a device with which I could listen to it. Times were tough back then.
Now I’m going to delve into the early 1990s. Many musicians who did well in the 1970s and 1980s suddenly saw their final Top 40 hit in the early 1990s. Much of it had to do with the changing radio landscape, and the growing popularity of grunge, rap, and other styles of music that were resonating with a younger mass audience. It wasn’t that the music that these artists was releasing was inferior to what they had previously released, but it was suddenly out of place with what was being promoted at contemporary radio.
So Close by Daryl Hall and John Oates This song was "so close" to hitting the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at Number 11 in 1990! This is such a fantastic song, about looking back, and reminiscing about the old days. Perhaps that nostalgia was partly thinking about years past, in the 1970s and 80s, when Hall & Oates were at their peak on the charts? In any case, this is a fantastic swan song for a group that continues to perform to this day, and does so with a wonderful energy and production!
Save Me by Fleetwood Mac Another song from 1990, this last Top 40 for the classic group that got their start in the 1970s, peaked at Number 33 on the Billboard Hot 100. This song has an urgency to it, along with a certain haunting quality that wasn’t as present in earlier Fleetwood Mac music. Maybe they secretly knew this was to be their last Top 40 hit, and they were hoping we could save them from that fate?
All My Life by Linda Ronstadt featuring Aaron Neville needless to say, 1990 was a tough year for many musicians! Linda experienced many Top 40 hits in the '70s and '80s, and then there were no more after this beautiful ballad with Aaron Neville. Of course, her previous hit, Don’t Know Much, also featured Aaron Neville, and just missed the Number One spot on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at Number Two. But, this song also reached a runner-up position, just missing the Top 10, peaking at Number 11! No doubt about it, the last two Top 40 hits by Linda Ronstadt are simply stunning, and provide a wonderful bookend to her storied career. Oh, and Aaron Neville, saw his last Top 40 hit the following year in 1991 after his remake of the classic song, Everybody Plays The Fool, peaked at Number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Chasin’ The Wind by Chicago The group Chicago pumped out many big hits in the '70s and '80s, including their big Number One, Look Away, in 1988. Even as recently as 1990, they had a Number Five hit with What Kind of Man Would I Be? But the early '90s certainly played no favorites when it came to handing out final Top 40 songs, and the chart gods just barely let this song slide into the Top 40, peaking at Number 39 in 1991! The song checked all the boxes when it came to that classic Chicago sound, but that was likely the problem. Radio didn’t really resonate with or promote that sound by the early 1990s. I guess Chicago really were just chasing the wind!
Lift Me Up by Howard Jones Such a positive, infectiously poppy, and just plain fun song, but that didn’t help it lift higher than Number 32 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1992! The accompanying video was also fantastic, but unfortunately by the early 1990s, Howard Jones was perceived by some as an "'80s artist.” And that wasn’t necessarily a good thing as the '90s progressed. In any case, I still love this song, and I can’t help but sing along with it when I hear it!
Church Of Your Heart by Roxette When I’m having a bad day, there are certain groups that will always make me feel better, and Roxette is definitely one of those groups! I’m still sad about Marie Fredriksson's passing last year in 2019. She and Per Gessle had a wonderful thing going with that group! In any case, this final Top 40 hit, reaching number 36 in 1992, is yet another fantastic example of the wonderful music created by Roxette.
Will You Be There (In The Morning) by Heart Yet another classic group from the '70s and '80s was shown the door in the early 1990s, after this song barely squeaked into the Top 40 at Number 39 in 1993. Much like the song by Chicago mentioned previously, this song was representative of the sound of the band and screamed “classic Heart,” but radio programmers weren’t really interested in promoting that sound so much by the '90s. Alas, I guess they really weren’t going to be there in the morning?
All About Soul by Billy Joel Although this song was Billy’s last Top 40 hit, reaching Number 29 in 1993, it’s not entirely clear if the “decade" was to "blame" for the situation, as Billy hasn’t really released any pop music material since that time. Had Billy Joel gone in the grunge or rap direction, he might’ve had a huge hit...or a complete flop! I guess we will never know. But one thing is for certain, this last Top 40 tune by Billy Joel is fantastic. It’s very powerful, it’s very uplifting, and it’s so very true 27 years later too… It really is all about soul. And, for you children of the '90s, it features the back up vocals of the group Color Me Badd...righteous!
Don’t Wanna Lose You by Lionel Richie This song reached Number 39 in 1996, but it sounds like it could’ve been released 20 years earlier and been right at home on the radio airwaves back then. It’s just a fantastic soul song by the legendary Lionel Richie! Lionel always does things his way, and it’s nice to see a song where he didn’t adjust the production quality to match a particular time. His tunes are timeless, and this is another great example of that.
I Finally Found Someone by Barbra Streisand and Bryan Adams This song definitely features an unusual pairing of artists, but it works. For what it’s worth though, some might argue it didn’t work so well, as this was the last Top 40 hit for both Bryan and Barbara! Perhaps they need to record another tune to see if the magic is still there?
When You Love A Woman by Journey A great song is a great song regardless of when it is a released! I was pleasantly surprised at how well the song did on the charts, considering it didn’t really fit into the musical landscape of 1996, peaking at Number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 that year. Steve Perry sounds fantastic, as usual on this tune, and it’s just a gorgeous ballad all the way around. This is another good song for sheltering in place with the one you love!
You’ll Be In My Heart by Phil Collins It’s hard to believe that Phil hasn’t had a Top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in more than 20 years! His last Top 40 hit came courtesy of the Disney animated film Tarzan that featured this tune back before the turn of the century. Once this song gets in your head, it doesn’t easily escape. But, it’s such a fun song, and you can tell Phil had fun singing it, so it’s all good! The only thing that’s not good, is that Phil really should have more Top 40 hits!
Written In The Stars by Elton John and Leann Rimes I just mentioned how it’s hard to believe that it’s been more than 20 years since Phil Collins had a Top 40 hit, but it’s even harder to believe it’s been that long since Sir Elton John had a Top 40 hit! What is the world coming to? In any case, perhaps the answer is written in the stars, and if we listen to this last Top 40 tune from Elton John, featuring Leann Rimes, reaching Number 29 in 1999, perhaps the answer to our question will become more apparent? But even if it doesn’t, this song, featured in the musical Aida will still be a most worthwhile listen! Elton and Leann sound really good together; perhaps they need to record together again someday?
Always On Your Side by Sheryl Crow featuring Sting How could such a beautiful ballad be the final Top 40 for two legendary and talented musicians? Inquiring minds want to know! But, it’s always important to make sure your stage exit is memorable, and Sheryl Crow and Sting have definitely done that with this tune. It’s a well-crafted piece of music, and although it didn’t really sound like anything else being released in 2006, it still managed to go to Number 33 on the Billboard Hot 100. Not too shabby!
Give Me All Your Luvin’ by Madonna featuring M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj It’s hard to believe that Madonna hasn’t had a Top 40 hit now in eight years! This tune, reached Number 10 back in 2012, but like several of the singles released around the same time, it featured multiple artists, making it harder to identify who is singing what in the song. Heavy production quality, along with auto tune, makes it hard to really hear and appreciate Madonna’s vocals. I’m definitely more of a fan of her early music, but much of her '90s output was very well executed as well. In any case, I guess the love (luv?) for Madonna went away after this tune in 2012? And there you have it! There are so many other groups and musicians for which I could do a final Top 40 article. Let me know your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org, and your suggestions might be featured in a future blog. Thanks for reading!