The Best and Worst of What’s Lost

What are the most loved and hated Lost Factor songs? The ones that were hits at the time that people came not to like over time? The songs that people disliked even then? The ones that readers still love and can’t understand why they’re lost?

One of the gratifying aspects of the Lost Factor, our ongoing look at the difference between a song’s hit status then and its airplay now, is that the series has taken on a life of its own in Facebook discussions, thanks to a number of fans, including Slate’s Chris Molanphy and Superior Music’s Mara Kuge. 

Last week, there was a thread on Kuge’s page that began with a discussion of the all-time Lost Factor champion, “Theme From ‘A Summer Place.’” That led her Facebook friend Brian MacDonald to suggest that 1971/1974’s “Once You Understand” by Think must be one of the “most lost [songs], outside music-trivia friends/fans.” “I’ve only heard it on American Top 40 reruns, and I’ll put that next to the dueling versions of ‘The Americans’ as Top 40 songs nobody really wanted to hear between Donny Osmond and Aerosmith,” Kuge responded.

“Yeah, most lost and loved at the time would be the really fun challenge,” said MacDonald. “It’s easier to think of lost songs that people wish never really existed in the first place.”

We can answer both of those questions for you.

And more.

And then we have a question of our own for Ross On Radio readers.

We made one key decision. The songs we’re going to look at are based on Lost Factor calculations from 1970-94. The average “Lost Factor” scores for the early ‘60s dwarf most other songs. If we included those songs, the clear “most loved/most lost” winner would be “A Summer Place.” Since the frame of reference for many readers begins between the late ‘60s and the early ‘80s, we narrowed the camera angle. We’re still hoping to do an all-time top 100 tally from 1960 to the late ‘90s or early ‘00s later this year.

Biggest Hits That Became “Lost”

To MacDonald’s question of “most loved and lost at the time,” we looked at all songs with a Lost Factor of 5.0 (with rounding) or higher, then we ranked them by which songs were the biggest hits, based on their year-end placement. We weren’t looking for the highest “Lost Factor” rankings; instead, we were ranking the biggest hits that had a medium-to-high “Lost Factor.”

When you rank the songs that way, they have relatively low Lost Factor” scores. “The Way We Were” is only an 11. “Alone Again (Naturally)” just cracks a 5.0 with rounding. But they are the songs that people liked for a while, then eventually turned against. Some big hits are lost to time because the listeners that grew up with them are no longer part of radio’s target audience. That is not the case here. These songs weren’t “lost” as much as “de-accessioned.” 

1 – Barbra Streisand, “The Way We Were”

2 – Roberta Flack, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”

3 – Chicago, “Look Away”

4 – Gilbert O’Sullivan, “Alone Again (Naturally)”

5 – Debby Boone, “You Light Up My Life”

6 – Johnnie Taylor, “Disco Lady”

7 – Osmonds, “One Bad Apple”

8 – Barbra Streisand, “Evergreen (Love Theme From A Star Is Born)”

9 – Sammy Davis Jr., “The Candy Man”

10 – Hot, “Angel In Your Arms”

Some songs here feel more megahit than others. Hot’s “Angel in Your Arms” feels very ephemeral now, perhaps because of having the least well-known artist, but it was top five for the year, as was every song here. Chicago’s “Look Away” seemed like a very dubious choice for No. 1 song of 1989, but it was No. 1 for the year, and so were the two songs above it.

Songs That Were Polarizing Even Then

Were there really “songs that nobody wanted to be hits in the first place”? The answer is never “nobody,” of course, when you’re dealing with hits of a certain magnitude. But there are songs that attracted a greater level of derision than others, even when popular. 

The songs on this list are ranked by Lost Factor. The judgment that they were polarizing even as currents is my own. A certain amount of polarization is inherently built into any lost hit. I was looking for songs that sparked a discussion beyond “my taste/not my taste.” “Dynomite” by Bazuka and “Jungle Fever” by the Chakachas are both goofy ‘70s instrumentals with high Lost Factors. The former was obnoxious to many, but harmless. In 1971, “Jungle Fever” was dirty and controversial. That’s why it’s the one that made this list. 

1 – Wayne Newton, “Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast”

2 – Chuck Berry, “My Ding-a-Ling”

3 – Paul Anka, “(You’re) Having My Baby”

4 – Chakachas, “Jungle Fever”

5 – Mac Davis, “One Hell of a Woman”

6 – Clint Holmes, “Playground in My Mind”

7 – Michael Jackson, “Ben”

8 – Melissa Manchester, “Don’t Cry Out Loud”

9 – Sammy Davis Jr., “The Candy Man”

10 – Charlene, “I’ve Never Been to Me” (the only ‘80s title, but it first charted in the ‘70s)

Top 10 Superstar Supernovas

Molanphy has written about the grade inflation experienced by superstar artists, especially when it comes to high album debuts. In general, superstar acts and/or follow-ups to smashes often seemed to benefit from grade inflation. 

Non-industry people often assume that record hype, legal or otherwise, is the only reason that disposable pop songs (read “anything I don’t like”) become hits. Often, however, it was the faltering superstar single that was likely to get the biggest label push, especially in the mid-‘80s, when labels began to expect at least four hits, and maybe six or seven, from any major album. It’s noteworthy that unlike our previous ‘70s-dominated lists, these songs all come from the ‘80s and particularly the early ‘90s, when a lot of our ‘80s superstars were losing steam.

These are songs by major artists and consistent hitmakers that felt like they most benefited from an artist’s name and career momentum during their chart run, but faded quickly. A few felt like legit hits to me at the time (particularly “Twist of Fate”). Others were quickly identifiable as “work records” even then.  

1 – Olivia Newton-John, “Twist of Fate”

2 – Janet Jackson, “Because of Love”

3 – Donna Summer, “Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger)”

4 – Madonna, “This Used to Be My Playground”

5 – Michael Bolton, “Time, Love and Tenderness”

6 – Michael Jackson, “In the Closet”

7 – Madonna, “Deeper and Deeper”

8 – Genesis, “No Son of Mine”

9 – Paula Abdul, “The Promise of a New Day” 

10 – Meat Loaf, “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through”

The Best Lost 45s

There are two ways of looking at MacDonald’s “most loved and lost question.” You can look, as we did, as the biggest hits that faded from favor. Or you can ask the far more subjective question of what the best songs are that somehow became lost. 

If I made that list, it would include a lot of early ‘70s R&B songs like “Starting All Over Again” by Mel & Tim or “Power of Love” by Joe Simon that don’t have any of the usual Lost Factor hallmarks. They’re not by teen idols or MOR acts, they’re not instrumentals or novelties. They’re not goofy or risible in any way. They just didn’t become pop hits in every market at the time. But my list would include “How Do I Make You” by Linda Ronstadt, too.

So we’re turning the job of “Best Lost Factor” songs over to you. On June 30, I’m going to publish a list of my favorite Lost Factor songs from 1970-94, by choosing from the Top 100 Lost Factor Songs of the 1970s, the Top 100 Lost Factor Songs of the 1980s, and the Top 60 of 1990-94. You’re encouraged to submit a top 5 list by June 25 to Thanks for all your support of the Lost Factor so far; now we’re looking forward to your input. 

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