Top 40 Smash Near Misses — “Banapple Gas”

These posts are about the songs that just barely failed to cross the key line of chart success, entering the Billboard Top 40. Every song featured in this series peaked at number 41.


In between answering to Steven Demetre Georgiou and Yusuf Islam, the performer best known as Cat Stevens was once at the point in his career when it seemed a good idea to release a concept album. He’d enjoyed enormous commercial success through the first half of the nineteen-seventies, marked by multiplatinum albums and ten singles that registered in the Billboard Top 40. Keeping with the times required ambition. It was the era of prog rock and hefty artistic statements in pop music. He’d already taken a stab at such pretensions with the first side of his 1973 album, Foreigner, which was comprised entirely of an eighteen-minute song suite. Numbers, released in 1975, was yet more ambitious.

A booklet included with the album lays out the particulars.

“Further away from our Earth than it is possible to imagine, there was a galaxy,” the tale begins. “And almost in the centre of the galaxy was the little planet of Polygor.”

The chief export of Polygor was numbers, which were manufactured in a subbasement of a large castle and then distributed throughout the universe. Society is thrown into disarray when a slave named Jzero starts questioning well-established routines. Somehow, this informs the song “Banapple Gas,” which kicks off the second side, which is labelled “SIDE 0,” evidently in tribute to the story’s transformational figure.

There’s not a whole lot about numbers to be found in the song’s lyrics, but there are plenty of descriptions of the trippy experiences that result from huffing the substance of the title: “Does it help you smile more to wake up/ Make you happy just to be alive?/ Well I don’t know if it makes you happy/ But it must be healthy/ ‘Cause it’s certified.” According to The A-Z Encyclopedia of Alcohol and Drug Abuse, by Thomas Nordegren, “banapple gas” is lingo for amyl nitrite, as are amys, crypt, liquid pearls, snapdragons, and snappers.

Released as the first and only single from Numbers, “Banapple Gas” peaked at #41 on the Billboard Hot 100. It represented the end of his run as a hitmaker. He took only one more song into the Top 40 before his early retirement from the music biz in order to be of service to the Muslim community, a life’s works, it must be noted, that included some highly problematic moments.

Other entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Top 40 Smash Near Misses” tag.

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