Top 40 Smash Near Misses — “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman” and “Do It Again”

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.

The Kinks always felt like the underdogs of the British Invasion. Certainly no one was expecting them to equal the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, but surely they should have been as formidable as the Who, if only because the there was a similar garage rock foundational to their sounds and Ray Davies carried a comparable talent and kindred sensibility to Pete Townshend as a songwriter. And the Kinks came out of the gate as hot as anyone, scoring three straight Top 10 singles on the U.S. charts across 1964 and 1965. After that, though, it became a struggle to stay in the favor of North American music fans, and the rare additional occasion when the Kinks encroached on the upper reaches of the chart was greeted like a pop culture miracle. So it’s fitting that the Kinks are one of the few artists to miss the Top 40 by a single place on more than one occasion.

The band’s hit drought had gone on long enough by the late nineteen-seventies that the head of the band’s relatively new label was hounding Davies to divert from his more erudite inclinations to just write a hit already. Davies was irritated, but also felt he had something to prove. He went to where the hit were sure to be playing circa 1979 and found himself in a disco. The unique dance beat properly absorbed, Davies concocted his own version of the groove and added lyrics that were at least partially inspired by the recent movie smash Superman. Those were upbeat elements, but Davies was still gonna be Davies. The lyrics evoked the heroic alter ego of Clark Kent only as a fruitless fantasy of a sorry soul beset by all the problems of the day: “There was a gas strike, oil strike, lorry strike, bread strike/ Got to be a superman to survive/ Gas bills, rent bills, tax bills, phone bills/ I’m such a wreck but I’m staying alive.”

“(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman” was released as the first single from the Kinks’ 1979 album, Low Budget.

Three years passed before the Kinks landed another song on the Billboard Hot 100. “Come Dancing” became the Kinks’ first U.S. Top 10 single since their breakthrough in the nineteen-sixties. When one of its follow-up singles, “Don’t Forget to Dance” also had a modest showing in the Top 40, it seemed the Kinks might be on their way to an unfamiliar positive momentum.

The Kinks moved quickly to record new material, emerging with the album Word of Mouth. “Do It Again” the album’s lead single, addressed the rush Davies felt to capitalize on the band’s new flare of success. Davies took the rock star weariness of the constant, recurring crush of going from tour to the studio to another and wisely expanded it to a more universal sentiment: “Where are all the people going?/ Round and round till we reach the end/ One day leading to another/ Get up, go out, do it again.” When the single started its descent down the chart from its heartbreakingly short peak, it represented the Kinks’ farewell retreat from the U.S. chart. The Kinks released only three more studio albums, none of them with singles that found their way to the chart.

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

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