What do you think is the biggest one-hit-wonder of all time? And how do we judge this? Many moons ago I wrote a rant – masquerading as a poem or short story – that saw one character get into an argument with another because one was sure that Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade Of Pale was the biggest one-hit-wonder of all time. And the other character argued that owing to Procol Harum’s 30-something-year career they couldn’t be deemed one-hit-wonders. A smarter choice, as far as this guy was concerned, was Scott McKenzie for his hippie-dippie San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair).
I have always been interested in one-hit-wonders. We write them off as has-beens/nobodies but is that fair? I mean, with one hit, they have achieved more – albeit fleetingly – than many more established artists. Don’t get me wrong, I love Lou Reed – he was my hero growing up – but is he not, essentially, a one-hit wonder? The Billboard charts would tell us that he was a one-hit-wonder. They would also say that Iggy Pop was too. And Faith No More. And yet these are all acts that I really like, I really respect and they all have several albums of very strong material. So one-hit-wonder has a stigma that transcends mere chart placement. We look at a one-hit-wonder as being a cheesy pop act. And while that’s most often true, isn’t a one-hit-wonder also someone who – again, albeit fleetingly – captures the zeitgeist?
One-hit-wonders become cultural touchstones. These are songs synonymous with moods, places, times – they are the musical equivalent of the day John Kennedy died (in that we remember where we were when we first heard the news – or in this case the song).
A while back I read the book 99 Red Balloons And 100 Other All-Time Great One- Hit Wonders. It’s probably one of several books on the subject. From memory it’s not a stunning text, but was a fun read. I liked the fact that OMC’s How Bizarre was included. It’s a kitsch song – one that I wasn’t hugely fond of when I first heard it – but certainly one that I remember well. I remember when I first heard it – and How Bizarre was/is certainly a heck of a lot better than the other single from that album, Land Of Plenty.
Some one-hit-wonders are tied up with a fad – a dance-craze perhaps like Macarena by Los del Rio. And then, even more annoyingly that ridiculous Asereje – or better known by its English name, The Ketchup Song by Las Ketchup (which lifts part of its chorus from another one-hit-wonder, The Sugarhill Gang’s Rappers’ Delight).
The song 99 Red Balloons is a bit of a classic for me – definitely a one-hit-wonder. But it is easy for us to see foreign crossover hits as one-hit-wonders. The band might have a storied career with a litany of hits in their mother tongue – Falco being the classic example; a man who sold 60 million units worldwide but is considered a one-hit-wonder because of the mainstream acceptance of this wee ditty.
(Random tangential note: the other day I shared a drink with my wife and some of her work mates – one big drink, we all gathered around, pushing our chairs up close to the table so that our straws would reach the collective cup – anyway, one guy, who, for protection of the truth, I will refer to here as “Trotter”, had bet the rest of the table his left testicle that he knew who sung the one-hit-wonder Rock Me Amadeus. They asked me who it was and I said Falco. He winced with realisation. He had proudly told the table – before I arrived to sip from the communal drink – that the song had been sung by Wilco).
Right, back on track. So as well as Nena carping on about all those red balloons, I like acknowledged one-hit-wonders like Soft Cell’s cover of Tainted Love, the annoying-but-catchy Mickey by Toni Basil, Buggles’ Video Killed The Radio Star (the effect of which was somewhat ruined by the Presidents Of The United States Of America cover) and Weird Science by Oingo Boingo. They’re all really great pop songs, catchy and clever.
There are plenty of giant one-hit-wonders (particularly post-80s) that I can’t stand – like Baha Men’s Who Let The Dogs Out – but then there are some bizarre but brilliant ones that I rather dig like Flat Beat by Mr Oizo. The video (dance music meets Dada) might have had something to do with it?
I guess it’s hard to have a favourite one-hit-wonder, because you hear a song – especially a kitsch-classic – in a certain environment and realise it’s a bit of a gem. To that end, for now at least, I’d say my favourite one-hit-wonder might be Deee-Lite’s Groove Is In The Heart. I loved it when I first heard it. I still think – played at the right time – it’s a great song. Did you know they released more than one song? Enough in fact to fill a rather decent hits compilation. I’m sure they wouldn’t argue their status as a one-hit-wonder…it kept them gigging and recording, the various members dining out on it for their sporadic solo endeavours too.
What are some of you favourite – or most hated – one-hit-wonders?