One Hit Wonders

15 Nov

One hit wonders are an interesting phenomenon.   To be clear, I am not including bands that are well established groups that happened to have a crossover single.  Jimi Hendrix might have had one top 40 hit, but that doesn’t make him a one hit wonder in my book–his music had more influence than most of the top 40 combined.  The groups I count are ones where they are known only for one very significant song.

Take the group Steam.  You don’t know them by their name unless you’re a music nerd, but if I started singing “Na Na Na, Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye” you know that song as if you were born with it in your head.   That song has a place in our cultural landscape to this day, though I could pass the band on the street and never recognize them.   They will always be the band that wrote that song, even if they had five more albums to their name.

In general I can place one hit wonders into three groups.

Novelty Songs–I include holiday ones here too.  Things like “The Monster Mash,” “It’s Raining Men,” “Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”  There’s a million of these things.  Most of these songs are funny at first, but right on the verge of annoying.  Whether it’s “I’m Too Sexy” or “I Touch Myself” nobody was wondering why these groups didn’t have follow-ups.  Their scope was too small.

Trend Followers–For example “Winchester Cathedral.”  When this song came out the British Invasion was very trendy, so they made a generic British Invasiony sounding song.  It was catchy, but because the band never got an image beyond that, they had no place to go.  “Green Tambourine” did that with psychedelic pop.  There’s a million disco songs that go with this, and in the late eighties-early nineties–generic soul songs.

Songs so good that they’re impossible to follow–These are the songs I love.  Songs that could come from some no-name band and have an impact because they were so good, but the band either had terrible marketing, were actually not that talented and tripped over a great song, or could make great songs but not great albums.   “I ran (so far away),” “Black Velvet” “Stay.”   However, I could argue that these songs are better than many of the “hits” because they are popular because of the music, and not because the band had an image or anything.


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