Here’s an indisputable fact: Creedence Clearwater Revival were one of the biggest commercial successes of the late 1960s and early ’70s. During a time when psychedelia, soft rock, R&B, Motown soul, funk, and proto-metal were all on the rise, CCR’s unique blend of driving ’50s style rock and roll and classic Americana imagery made them one of the biggest standouts of the era. With John Fogerty’s singular voice and songwriting skill, CCR were in a league all their own, and audiences on both sides of the Atlantic responded by making them a huge draw for albums, singles, and live performances.
Here’s another indisputable fact: Creedence Clearwater Revival have had the most number two singles on the Billboard Hot 100 without ever having a number one hit. Somehow, the band that defined their generation wasn’t able to ever sit atop the singles mountain.
If nothing else, CCR’s lack of number one singles is a testament to how fickle the Hot 100 chart can be and how lucky an artist has to be in order to score a number one hit. Month after month for years on end, CCR would throw classic song after classic song out into the world, landing scoring nine top ten hits and five number two singles without ever cracking the top of the chart.
In two separate cases, the band released a double A-side single that reached number two, giving the band seven total songs stuck at number two. This became a point of contention, with Fogerty’s bandmates wishing to spread out the singles so as not to waste them on a singular piece of vinyl. Fogerty disagreed, arguing that their competition like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones put out double A-sides and that they needed to release quality songs as quick as possible. The infighting over control of the band eventually led to rhythm guitarist Tom Fogerty’s departure in 1971. The rest of the band stumbled along in a more democratic fashion for one final train wreck of an album, Mardi Gras, before breaking up in 1972, only four years after the release of their first single.
The lack of a number one hit never seemed to affect the band’s popularity, however, as they landed two number one albums with Green River and Cosmo’s Factory. The band continued to sell out large venues as a live act, and their last top 10 hit ‘Sweet Hitch-Hiker’ came even as the band were falling apart. No one could say that CCR weren’t popular enough to get a number one song, but for whatever reason, they could never quite scale the mountain.
Here are all five of the band’s singles that stalled out before reaching the top of the Billboard Hot 100.
1. ‘Proud Mary’
Songs that kept it from number one: ‘Everyday People’ – Sly and the Family Stone, ‘Dizzy’- Tommy Roe
The band’s initial biggest peak on the Hot 100 came from their tale about working on a riverboat down in New Orleans. Although the song reached number two with CCR in 1969, it would fail to reach number one yet again when Ike & Tina Turner released their powerhouse version two years later.
Put the blame on the one-two punch of Sly and the Family Stone’s ‘Everyday People’ and Tommy Roe’s ‘Dizzy’. ‘Everyday People’ continues to be an emblematic anthem of the late 1960s, while ‘Dizzy’ has taken on the status of a slightly forgotten hidden gem remembered fondly by the generations that were around for its ascent but largely lost to the cultural evolution. If nothing else, ‘Dizzy’ lives on for giving ‘Proud Mary’ the stiff arm for number one.
2. ‘Bad Moon Rising’
Song that kept it from number one: ‘Love Theme From Romeo & Juliet’ – Henry Mancini and His Orchestra
During the summer of 1969, Creedence Clearwater Revival were arguably at the peak of their popularity. In the span of two months, CCR landed their second number two hit, released the number one album Green River, and appeared as one of the headlining acts at the Woodstock Festival, with only two weeks elapsing between the album release and the festival. CCR were having a moment, and they were easily one of the biggest bands in the US, if not the single biggest.
So what cultural monolith could have prevented what was in all likelihood CCR’s best opportunity to score a number one hit? The instrumental love theme to Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 adaptation of Romeo & Juliet was arranged by seasoned composer Henry Mancini. This is truly one of the most bizarre occurrences in the entire history of the Hot 100, not just because it blocked ‘Bad Moon Rising’, but also because it knocked The Beatles’ ‘Get Back’ out of the number one spot. Truly strange days, those must have been.
3. ‘Green River’
Song that kept it from number one: ‘Sugar, Sugar’ by The Archies
After two straight singles that stalled out at number two, John Fogerty believed he had the perfect answer: the title track to the band’s upcoming album Green River. But while the album went all the way to number one, the song ‘Green River’ once again got stuck at number two.
To add insult to injury, CCR were beaten out at number one by a group that wasn’t even a real band. The Archies were based on the characters from the Archie Comics series, which had their own cartoon series on CBS at the time. Manager Don Kirshner originally created The Monkees, but was frustrated that the members began taking control of the project. Drawing couldn’t talk back, and Kirshner got sessions musicians and songwriters to fill in the rest. Just in case you’re wondering, The Monkees have three number one hits with ‘I’m a Believer’, ‘Last Train to Clarksville’, and ‘Daydream Believer’.
4. ‘Travelin’ Band’ / ‘Who’ll Stop the Rain’ (double A-side)
Song that kept it from number one: ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ – Simon & Garfunkel
After the failure of ‘Green River’ to hit the top of the charts, Fogerty changed his strategy. He saw that premier bands like The Beatles were releasing double-A sides, and at the time double-A sides were counted with separate stats to determine their placement on the Hot 100. ‘Down on the Corner’ and ‘Fortunate Sun’ were subsequently released in the format, but the singsongy peaked at numbers three and 14 before Billboard began giving double A-sides the same credit on the charts. Fogerty thought that the following single ‘Travelin’ Band’ / ‘Who’ll Stop the Rain’ was destined to break through, but he had to settle for another number two.
What Fogerty didn’t count on the momentous power of Simon & Garfunkel. Although they were seen as less cutting edge than the harder-edged CCR, Simon & Garfunkel tapped into America’s love of sweeping power ballads with an all-time great, the title track to their final LP Bridge Over Troubled Water. ‘Travelin’ Band’ / ‘Who’ll Stop the Rain’ ascended to number two while ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ had already hit number one and the double A-side was unable to dislodge Garfunkel’s titanic vocal performance at number one.
5. ‘Lookin’ Out My Back Door’ / ‘Long As I Can See The Light’ (double A-side)
Song that kept it from number one: ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ – Diana Ross
It all came down to this: Fogerty had the formula down. On one side, there was a killer uptempo earworm that was impossible not to hum along to. On the other side, there was a huge ballad that any prom kid could slow dance to. Fogerty had the perfect number one hit, and dissension in the band meant that he wasn’t sure how much longer it would last. It was now or never, and certainly, nothing could keep CCR from their long-awaited a well-deserved number one hit.
Well, a new factor emerged that Fogerty couldn’t have seen coming if he tried: nostalgia. America was already well acquainted with Diana Ross thanks to her insane 12 number ones with The Supremes. They were also well acquainted with ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ thanks to the hit duet by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. Their powers combined were just too much to ignore, and Fogerty had to resign himself to a record fifth number two single. It would be Fogerty and CCR’s peak on the Hot 100, and the band ended their career with numerous close calls but no number one singles.