Top 40 Smash Near Misses — “Dance Naked”

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

After releasing a string of hit singles throughout the nineteen-eighties, John Mellencamp largely fell out of favor with pop radio programmers as the decade gave way to the nineteen-nineties. While reluctantly recording under the name John Cougar, Mellencamp hit the Billboard Top 40 with the 1979 cut “I Need a Lover” and then again with a couple singles from his 1981 album, Nothin’ Matters and What If It Did, but those were modest successes. Then he blew up with the American Fool LP, released in 1982. Its first single, “Hurts So Good,” climbed all the way to the runner-up position on the Hot 100, boxed out of the top spot by Survivor’s Rocky III soundtrack contribution, “Eye of the Tiger.” Mellencamp’s next single, “Jack and Diane,” did even better, spending a full month atop the chart and landing a permanent place in the retro rotations of rock radio stations. From there, Mellencamp notched thirteen more Top 40 singles through the remainder of the decade, seven of them crossing into the Top 10.

There were signs of softening support as he moved into the nineteen-nineties. None of the singles from the 1993 album Human Wheels made the Top 40, a commercial snake eyes roll that happened to Mellencamp since his little-heard 1978 sophomore album, A Biography. Mellencamp was staring down an era when Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey had a near stranglehold on the pop charts, and there didn’t seem to be much room for a roots rocker like him. A pragmatic Midwesterner, Mellencamp evidently decided joining them was a far better option that persisting in not beating them. With his next album, 1994’s Dance Naked, the lead single was a cover of Van Morrison’s “Wild Night” with up-and-coming neo-soul belter Meshell Ndegeocello sharing lead vocal duties. If no one was going to mistake it for Boyz II Men, the track had just enough of a pleasing R&B groove to recapture the attention of music directors who’d given up on Mellencamp’s earnest laments of farmland plight. It made it all the way to #3.

For the follow-up single, Mellencamp tried to keep the party going. The title cut from Dance Naked is a ribald come-on set against a simple, lively guitar riff: “I want you to dance naked/ If you’d like I’ll join you/ I want to enjoy your body/ I want to hear your secrets.” It’s also a little throwaway of a song without much more to offer than its lightly naughty provocations. The afterglow of the preceding hit lasted just long enough for “Dance Naked” to peak at #41.

It feels like that was the end of Mellencamp’s tenure on the pop charts, but he was afforded one last spin on the dance floor. “Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First),” the utterly charming, genially evocative lead single from the 1997 album Mr. Happy Go Lucky, peaked at #14, nestled in between “How Do You Want It/California Love,” by 2Pac featuring K-Ci and JoJo, and “Only You,” by 112 featuring the Notorious B.I.G. Up at #1 that week, “Macarena” was the in the eleventh week of its fourteen-week run on top of the chart. Mellencamp’s time had clearly passed.

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

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