Pop songs that were big hits across Europe but not in the US?
March 29, 2016 2:13 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a list of songs that were large hits across multiple European countries but which never made significant inroads in the US. I'm thinking of songs like Stromae's "Papoutai" or Zara Larsson's "Uncover" here - which hit the top of the charts in multiple countries and made at least a moderate cultural impact.
posted by LSK to Media & Arts (54 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
All of the Backstreet Boys early songs were major European hits but were virtually unknown in the USA.
posted by parmanparman at 2:17 PM on March 29, 2016

Robbie Williams was the first artist that came to mind for me. He's had all sorts of huge hits in Europe, but not so many in the US.
posted by SisterHavana at 2:29 PM on March 29, 2016 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Also Cliff Richard. Any of his Number 1's. He appears to be like the Elvis of the UK but many Americans haven't even heard of him.

In fact, he's the UK's 3rd highest selling artist, behind Elvis and the Beatles.
posted by vacapinta at 2:33 PM on March 29, 2016 [7 favorites]

Ai Se Eu Te Pego jumps to mind - - hit #1 just about everywhere in Europe as well as most of South America in 2011-2012.
posted by Seeba at 2:34 PM on March 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Do Eurovision songs count? The first one I can think of is Loreen's Euphoria, which made #1 in most European countries, but never even sniffed the charts in the US.

There's probably plenty in there that would fit this category, especially from recent Eurovision history.
posted by chillin411 at 2:36 PM on March 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

Abba fits this category.
posted by Melismata at 2:36 PM on March 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

It would take a lot of footwork, but Google Books has Billboard Magazine archived. If you search every issue for "Hits of the World" you can dig up charts from other countries and try to cross-reference.
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:43 PM on March 29, 2016

Best answer: This article talks about some artists who were big in Europe but not the U.S., and vice versa.
posted by jabes at 2:48 PM on March 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Here's another one.
posted by jabes at 2:51 PM on March 29, 2016

My Bosnian co-worker who grew up in Germany talks a lot about Music Instructor, of whom I'd never heard. They seem to have charted highly. Also, "Eins Zwei Polizei" by Mo-Do, which was top ten in a few countries. The 1990s were weird. I can't speak to the wider cultural impact beyond this one acquaintance, though.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:54 PM on March 29, 2016

Response by poster: (It occurs to me that one way to do this would be to cross-reference all the Wikipedia lists for "Number-one singles in *". Are there tools to do this?)
posted by LSK at 2:59 PM on March 29, 2016

Modern Talking epitomizes this.
posted by k8t at 3:01 PM on March 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

There were some 90s Michael Jackson songs that were big hits abroad but never in the US. I hear them all the time in the Former USSR and looked them up.
posted by k8t at 3:02 PM on March 29, 2016

When You Believe from the Prince of Egypt animated film is big abroad but I never heard it in the US, although it seems like it did get some minor airplay.
posted by k8t at 3:04 PM on March 29, 2016

Best answer: Eurodance was lumped in with "techno" by the US mainstream in the 90s and consequently ignored ("nobody listens to techno anymore").

The most obvious and extreme example is Saturday Night. When I saw this played at a Spanish/American wedding recently, the American guests had clearly never heard it in their lives (much less done the dance routine that goes with it).
posted by caek at 3:05 PM on March 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

Juanita Banana was originally an American record, never a hit in the US, but recorded many times by artists in many countries.
posted by in278s at 3:05 PM on March 29, 2016

Another Eurovision song: Poupée de cire, poupée de son by France Gall.
posted by mhum at 3:26 PM on March 29, 2016

Here are a couple musicians, with a few links to some of their songs and summaries of the pop charts they hit for other parts of the world. I'm fairly certain that most of these never got much coverage in the United States.

Amadou & Mariam, with songs such as Senegal Fast Food and Je pense a toi. They made it to top charts in France, Belgium, etc.

Idir with songs such as La France des couleurs - several of his songs made top lists in France.

Magic System, with songs like Magic in the Air, have hit charts throughout Africa, France, the West Indies, Belgium, Germany

Blah blah blah blah blah Lost my attention on this, sorry.

posted by Wolfster at 3:37 PM on March 29, 2016

S Club 7 is the first band that came to mind.

Fun Lovin Criminals are an American band that seemed to be more popular in the UK and Europe.
posted by seesom at 3:47 PM on March 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There are quite a few Spanish language songs that had massive succes all over in Europe. (A Latin pop summer hit is practically an annual tradition in many European countries.) I googled around a bit and some of them have made it to the US Latin Billboard, but many have never even been released there. A few that come to mind:

Righeira: Vamos a la playa (1983) omg I've never seen this video before...
Las Ketchup: The Ketchup Song / Aserejé (2002), topped the charts in almost all European countries and was fricking inescapable.
Juanes: La Camisa Negra (2006)
Alvaro Soler: Bajo el mismo sol (2015)

Italian music occasionally produces pan-European hits, too. I'm not sure how much they spread over the Atlantic? E.g. these:

Nek: Laura non c'è (1997)
Andrea Bocelli: Con te partirò (1995) Ok, it's not exactly pop but it climbed the charts nevertheless

There are probably more recent examples, too. (And I think Eros Ramazotti, the soundtrack of all European pizzerias, made it in the US too, no?)

One more artist I can think of who's been all over various European charts every now and then for 20 years but never made her breakthrough in the US (not for lack of trying, though) is Anouk.

Anouk: Nobody's Wife (1997), her first international hit.

Oh! And then there's the Finnish "love metal" band HIM, who were very big in all German speaking & Benelux markets for a while in the early 00's, but when they tried to cross the Atlantic, it turned out someone already owned the rights to their name, so they had to release their music in USA as HER. I... don't think they got anywhere. But here in Europe, I had even 10 years later students who wanted to take a Finnish course because they were so enamoured with the singer. So, I guess that can be called a cultural impact...? And here's their biggest international hit:

HIM: Join me in death (1998)
posted by sively at 4:34 PM on March 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

La Bomba was a huge hit in Latin America but is virtually unknown in the United States to English-speakers.
posted by radioamy at 4:49 PM on March 29, 2016

Americans tend to associate Aha with just the one song 'Take On Me', but they had a number of hits across Europe after that including a James Bond theme that didn't trouble the US chart but did well in various other markets.
posted by biffa at 5:04 PM on March 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The hits of Boney M. would fit this bill, I think.
posted by Dr. Wu at 5:24 PM on March 29, 2016 [9 favorites]

A European friend was stunned when I referred to Dexy's Midnight Runners as a one hit wonder for Come On Eileen. Apparently they were huge in the UK.
posted by peppermind at 5:28 PM on March 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

Okay, here are some extremely random songs I was able to dredge from my memory which are influenced by both my seven years living in the UK and my unabashed love of eurodance/europop.

Ding Dong Song by Günther
Brown Girl in the Ring by Boney M
From Paris to Berlin by Infernal
We No Speak Americano by Yolanda Be Cool
Every Morning by Basshunter
Dragostea Din Tei by O-Zone
Cascada is huge, but they might be more well known in the US as well.
I guess Lordi were around before they won Eurovision, but I think Eurovision was what catapulted them to pretty big fame. Hard Rock Hallelujah.
People know Kylie Minogue over here, but I think that's mainly from the 80s. She's much bigger internationally.
posted by triggerfinger at 6:00 PM on March 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

Joe le Taxi.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:52 PM on March 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Shu-bi-dua , although I don't know what song of theirs was the most popular and I'm afraid to find out because if it's what I think it is, it's horrible and catchy and I don't want it in my YouTube search history.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:56 PM on March 29, 2016

Aqua had a bunch more hits in Europe and Asia than just Barbie Girl. Roses are Red (which was released before Barbie Girl), Dr Jones, and My Oh My, to name a few.

Savage Garden were somewhat more successful in the US than in Europe (esp the UK), but Darren Hayes's solo work has gotten way more traction in Europe than in the US - particularly his second solo album The Tension and The Spark, which had Pop!ular as a lead single.
posted by divabat at 10:06 PM on March 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also OH MAN the bubblegum bands that came out of the UK circa late 90s/early 2000s. There's the front-runner Take That, where Robbie Williams is from, and Westlife, one of the bigger names. There was also 911, Atomic Kitten, Another Level, A1, Steps, BBMak, Blue, Ultra, B*Witched, Cleopatra, 5ive, Honeyz, All Saints, probably a gazillion more.

Before Billie Piper was Rose in Doctor Who she was a pretty famous pop singer; I remember many thinkpieces about whether Britney Spears was "the next Billie".

Michael Learns To Rock is Danish and Sugababes isn't really bubblegum, but they're roughly from the same batch as the above.
posted by divabat at 10:15 PM on March 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

The American Band Gossip had a fair amount of international success but not much in the states. In particular I remember the song Heavy Cross. It was constantly on the radio in Germany, and I recall being surprised that there was this American band I hadn't heard of that that everyone seemed to know. I checked; the song hit the top ten across Europe.
posted by cotterpin at 2:37 AM on March 30, 2016

Where do you go to my lovely? by Peter Starsted.

Johnny Hallyday
, the French Elvis (and doubtless the template for Johnny Bluejeans).
posted by BWA at 6:32 AM on March 30, 2016

Yannick Noah (yes, the former tennis player) is a major pop star in France, and has had hits in other European countries too.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:06 AM on March 30, 2016

Blur were pretty big in the UK but never really made it in the US.
posted by mcjimmyv at 11:30 AM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

People know Kylie Minogue yt over here, but I think that's mainly from the 80s. She's much bigger internationally.

Kylie Minogue is, I believe, the biggest female recording star in the world outside of Madonna. She's basically unknown in the US (aside from her one hit wonder cover of Locomotion), but she is fuckin' GIGANTIC across the rest of the globe.
posted by hippybear at 11:26 AM on May 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

A-ha are known in North America for "Take On Me" and absolutely nothing else whatsoever, but in Europe they've been on the charts consistently for the past thirty years.

She's basically unknown in the US (aside from her one hit wonder cover of Locomotion)

Uh, no. Two-hit wonder. How you ever got this out of your head is anyone's guess.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:49 PM on May 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

Trio: Da Da Da.
Jona Lewie: Stop The Cavalry - n.b. the Cory Band reworking is perhaps surprisingly very well known in the USA.
Madness: Wings of a Dove, Night Boat to Cairo, The Return of The Los Palmas 7, Baggy Trousers...
posted by Wordshore at 10:36 AM on May 8, 2016

[Thanks for making this thread. Sorry I'm so late. After at least 7 years of lurking reading and bookmarking, I have a burning desire to add my insight.]

A lot of contemporary dance and electronic music that charts high in Europe doesn't make a significant dent in the US. Many popular songs are created by DJs that are pretty much anonymous. I feel like the European DJs who make it big in the US are ones a significant amount of people would recognize by face (Calvin Harris, David Guetta, Avicii).

Some examples of electronic dance music that has charted high in several European countries. A lot of it can be classed under tropical house (some videos may feature NSFW content):
Kygo - Firestone (feat. Conrad Sewell), Stole the Show
Rudimental - Feel the Love (feat. John Newman), Waiting All Night (feat. Ella Eyre)
Duke Dumont - I Got U (feat. Jax Jones)
Philip George - Wish You Were Mine
99 Souls - The Girl is Mine (feat. Destiny's Child, Brandy & Monica)
Lost Frequencies - Are You With Me, Reality (feat. Janieck Devy)
Sigma - Nobody to Love
Klingande - Jubel
Zwette - Rush (feat. Molly)
Alan Walker - Faded
ZHU - Faded
Jonas Blue - Fast Car (feat. Dakota)
Faul & Wad Ad vs Pnau - Changes
Matt Simons - Catch & Release (Deepend Remix)
Galantis - Runaway (U & I), Peanut Butter Jelly
Sigala - Easy Love, Sweet Lovin'
Route 94 - My Love (feat. Jess Glynne)
Mr. Probz - Waves (Robin Shulz Remix)
Robin Schulz - Sun Goes Down (feat. Jasmine Thompson), Sugar (feat. Francesco Yates)
Felix Jaehn - Ain't Nobody (feat. Jasmine Thompson) (his remix of OMI's Cheerleader hit #1 in the US, but the follow-up was just as huge in Europe)

More songs that hit it big in Europe, but did not cross over:
Dua Lipa - Be the One
Years & Years - King
Jess Glynne - Hold My Hand
Little Mix - Black Magic
Katy B - Katy on a Mission, Crying for No Reason
Rita Ora - I Will Never Let You Down (especially sad because she was about to embark on a promo tour in the US, including a performance at the Teen Choice Awards when the songwriter (ex-boyfriend Calvin Harris) prohibited her from performing)
Kwabs - Walk
Inna - Hot, Sun is Up
Adam Lambert - Ghost Town
Tom Odell - Another Love
posted by Warm Summer Night at 8:11 AM on May 26, 2016 [6 favorites]

I was in Europe during the summer of 1995 and everyone was nuts about Take That, Britain's uber-hot boy band. I went back to the U.S. in September thinking Take That must've made a big splash there, but nothing. And by extension, Robbie Williams, one of the boys, whose later solo career never caught on in the U.S.
posted by zardoz at 11:59 PM on May 27, 2016

who? yeah. exactly.
posted by juv3nal at 5:44 AM on May 28, 2016

Calvin Russell (Texas blues rock) was really big in Europe through the 90s and 00s but when he was in Austin you could see him in his element without the crowds and lunacy of all that; I paid three bucks to go to his CD release for Soldier at The Black Cat. Prophet unknown in his homeland and all that...
posted by dancestoblue at 7:40 AM on May 28, 2016

The Connells' haunting power-pop song "'74-'75" was a hit across Europe, especially in Sweden and Norway. This made no sense to me at first, because the track struck me as being about high school and youthful shame/regret in a super American-specific way, but then I looked up the lyrics and realized that they're actually incredibly vague. I only read them that way because they're easy to project on and because of prompting from the video (and, in fact, they do have a "Swedish crossover pop" feel to them, in that the style of English is kind of impressionistic).

The arch, experimental American band Sparks were big in the UK in the '70s, and had a decent pan-European hit with "This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us." I remember reading some of Morrissey's youthful writing about them years ago -- he was a voracious fan of weird music, which was hard to find when you were a working-class '70s kid, but he had full access to Sparks and he adored them. He'd mention them in the same breath as Bowie. (Me, I have a viscerally negative reaction to everything they've ever done except "Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth," which Neko Case covered a few years go, but to each his own, render unto Morrissey the things that are Morrissey's, etc.)
posted by thesmallmachine at 8:54 AM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I came here to mention the Eurovision Song Contest, and here are some recent winners, all of which charted in numerous European countries and not in the US:
Måns Zemerlöw - Heroes
Conchita Wurst - Rise Like a Phoenix
Alexander Rybak - Fairytale, which won by the most points of any song in Eurovision history and is also my own personal favorite ESC entry

But in general, now that I think of it I've had a knack for being a lonely US fan of bands that never really made it here, particularly the Welsh group Manic Street Preachers, whose biggest hit A Design for Life is the only one any Americans stand a chance of recognizing; and Placebo, who originally hail from Luxembourg but who have been UK-based for most of their career and whose one US hit was Pure Morning - although you also might know Every You Every Me from the movie Cruel Intentions. I went to see the Manics, who regularly pack stadiums across the rest of the world, in a half-filled club on a Monday night here in Washington, DC.
posted by capricorn at 3:13 PM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Perhaps the one song that charted highest everywhere in Europe (in the top 3 in 13 countries, including n°2 in the UK) and the rest of the world (n°1 in South Africa, New Zealand, Mexico and Brazil) but not the US (it never went beyond 33 on the Dance chart): Trio's 1982 ditty Da Da Da.
posted by progosk at 3:59 PM on May 28, 2016

Maybe someone based in Spain can confirm, but it seemed that Sr. Chinarro is a pretty big name there? Searching English-language Wikipedia returns a "you made a typo" message; the only real hit is the entry for Five Spanish Songs, which was a cover/rethink album done by Destroyer (from New Pornographers) a few years ago (which is how I found out about him). My Spanish google-fu is pretty useless but he's been around since the 90s and the results I got seem to say that he's pretty well known but I couldn't find chart data.
posted by mrg at 4:37 PM on May 28, 2016

Some people may know O-Zone's Dragostea din Tei better as the Numa Numa song of internet memeage

In conclusion, because I came here late and everybody else has already listed Scooter et alia, I must now mention the English footie anthem Vindaloo by Damien Hirst's boy band Fat Les. #2 in the UK in June 1998.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 5:44 PM on May 28, 2016

posted by infinitewindow at 6:28 PM on May 28, 2016

Cinderella Rockefella by Esther and Abi Ofarim, a huge hit in Europe and the UK in '68. It looks like it was briefly in the lower reaches of the Billboard Hot 100, and there were many US TV appearances, but it never really caught on.

Bonus clip of Esther/Cher/Tom Jones singing a few bars.
posted by plasticpalacealice at 7:09 AM on May 29, 2016

Level 42 had two or three charted songs in North America in around 1985 but where huge in Europe for several years before then.
posted by srboisvert at 12:20 PM on May 29, 2016

The Rasmus - In The Shadows was massive, massive, massive around 15 years ago. Inescapable no matter where you went. According to Wikipedia, it never made as much as a dent in the US.

Crowded House hit it big in the US with their first album/Don't Dream It's Over but are probably thought of as a one-hit-wonder by most. In Europe, they were absolute stars for most of their career - Weather With You is the quintessential summer song.

Second Kylie & Robbie Williams.

Kylie is a LEGEND. Kylie's biggest hits across Europe include I Should Be So Lucky and Spinning Around. Especially For You, her duet with then-boyfriend Jason Donovan, is also a stone-cold European pop chart classic.

Robbie Williams - Millennium, Feel, Let Me Entertain You etc. And his duet with Kylie, Kids. His star has faded in recent years, but RW is a bonafide superstar across Europe.
posted by kariebookish at 1:25 PM on May 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

Mull of Kintyre (from 1977) was Paul McCartney's biggest hit to date, and the top single ever for Wings, but most Americans have never heard of it.
posted by yhbc at 6:40 PM on May 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Anything from the Stock Aitken Waterman production stable in the 80s/90s surely.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 5:37 AM on June 8, 2016

Mull of Kintyre (from 1977) was Paul McCartney's biggest hit to date, and the top single ever for Wings, but most Americans have never heard of it.

I would think that's got to be the top answer for this question: at the time (1977) the best-selling single in British history (also the first ever to sell 2 million copies); #1 in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland... and it didn't even make the Top 100 chart in the U.S.
posted by LeLiLo at 10:17 PM on June 12, 2016

Guardian round-up of Euro-stars, as yet unknown outside their own countries.
posted by progosk at 2:18 AM on June 16, 2016

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