The first dozen or so times I listened to Mariah Carey's The Emancipation of Mimi in 2005, back when the first single, "It's Like That," was limping up Billboard's Hot 100 en route to its eventual No. 16 peak, not once did I hear "We Belong Together" and think, This is it! I was too busy anticipating big things for "Say Somethin'," which peaked at No. 79 when it was eventually released as the sixth single. Four singles earlier, "We Belong Together" spent 14 weeks at No. 1, cementing Carey's comeback and becoming her biggest solo hit ever.
So I have absolutely no reason to believe that had Fiona Apple released "Anything We Want" and not "Every Single Night" as the lead single from The Idler Wheel... that the album might have sold even more than a still-solid 72,000 copies in its first week.
But who knows? What if? And what about the following songs? What if they had been released as singles instead of being passed over, forever banished to the second-tier cut-out bin labeled "album tracks"?
"He Won't Go" Adele (from 21) No, the hottest woman on planet pop didn't make a single misstep when it came to choosing singles from 21 (three of them went all the way to the top!), but after its year and a half in circulation (and just as long in the upper reaches of the album chart), I still can't get enough of Track 6 and its smooth, syncopated '70s-style swing.
"Heavy Metal Lover" Lady Gaga (from Born This Way) I'd like to know which Interscope Records executive actually thought that "Marry the Night," which peaked at No. 29 and became the first official Gaga single to miss the Top 10, had more chart potential than this or "Government Hooker." But what do I know? As you now know, I probably would have cost Mariah Carey her 2005 comeback!
"Life on a Nickel" Foster the People (fromTorches) Raise your hand if you were alive in 1982 and were fairly certain that after "The One Thing," we'd probably never again see INXS in the U.S. Top 30. How wrong we were! Perhaps a similar unexpected fate awaits Foster the People, but had the trio released this, the non-follow-up to "Pumped Up Kicks," as one of the five singles from Torches, FTP might already be in a place that it took INXS three years and "What You Need" to get to.
"Cockiness (Suck It)" Rihanna (from Talk That Talk) Until "Where Are You Now," currently safely ensconced in the Top 10 of Billboard's Hot 100, Rihanna struggled with all the follow-ups to "We Found Love," and its easy to hear why. Talk That Talk is spectacularly average, and after more than a half-year of hearing "We Found Love" pretty much everywhere I turn, this is the only thing on Rihanna's sixth album that I can bear to listen to all the way through.
"I'm Addicted" Madonna (from MDNA) Instead of immediately taking the tough money shot on her 12th album (with this track, which wouldn't have sounded out-of-place on Kylie Minogue's brilliant Aphrodite), Madonna went for the easy score by hooking up with Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. and missed. (Don't get me started on "Girl Gone Wild," MDNA's middling single No. 2!) "Give Me All Your Luvin'" may have given her a No. 10 single on Billboard's Hot 100 (thanks to her lip-synced performance of it at Super Bowl XLVI in February), but it was on and off the chart in less than two months, which means that for Madonna fans, it was nowhere near as addictive as the track that should have introduced the album, the one the I once listened to on repeat for an hour straight. Like a drug indeed.
"Peacock" Katy Perry (from Teenage Dream) Had Perry released this as one of the billion singles from Teenage Dream, maybe we would have been spared Teenage Dream: The Complete Confection, which was little more than a shameless attempt to keep her in the spotlight and on the charts by padding the original album with more quick hits. But that's not the only reason I wish this had been a single. I know it's kind of terrible (as were most of the singles that were released instead of it), but I live for double entendres in songs. The dick implication here might not be nearly as clever as the one in "Joystick," Dazz Band's 1983 R&B hit, but I'll take my "cock" songs where I can hear them (see the Rihanna track above).
"Curtains" Elton John (from Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy) The world is full of '70s classics that somehow, incredibly, were never released as U.S. singles (Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," for one -- the biggest one). And so it went for the closing track on John's 1975 opus Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy and my all-time favorite John song. But "Curtains" is about to get a second shot, via Good Morning to the Night, the upcoming album (July 16) by Elton John Vs Pnau, featuring the original masters of some of John's 1970-76 recordings dressed up in modern production by the Australian duo who blended up to nine John songs at a time and packed them into the space of less than five minutes to create eight brand-new musical experiences. Listen for "Curtains" as a key component of "Sad," which, sadly, is not the first single. That would be "Good Morning to the Night," based, most significantly, on "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters," another one of those '70s classics that somehow, incredibly, was never released as a U.S. single.