music / Columns

411 Music Ten Deep 8.20.10: Top Ten One-Hit Wonder Songs

August 20, 2010 | Posted by Andrew Moll

(Disclaimer: All opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of 411 Music and its staff.)

Welcome to you, to you and to you as well into this week’s edition of 411 Music Ten Deep, the weekly column that picks a topic and ranks down the ten best in that respective category. A pretty simple concept, I agree. So since we need no more explaination, let’s move right on with the column as we look back to a week before, and the reaction to the list of the Top Ten Controversial Moments:

What exactly is the criteria you use for making this list? There are way more controversial moments in music, IE: Ozzy at the alamo, swedish death metal band turning to murder, hell even fat mike from nofx dressing up as Cokie the Clown and feeding ‘urine’ to the audience is more controversial than half this tripe. sorry, just sayin
Posted By: Guest#6813 (Guest) on August 12, 2010 at 11:40 PM

There was no criteria, just whatever came to mind or what I thought was worthy after doing some research. Obviously, such a way of doing the column leave blind spots that I’ll miss, and that’s why it’s nice to have plenty of people each week call me out on stuff. Also, if I had wanted to, I could have done an entirely separate list of just moments from Scandinavian death metal.

I will NEVER understand why #4 is even MENTIONED here. Only in America could something like this become such a big story. I am still ashamed of all the backlash. Jesus, you have nude girls in your crappy rap videos all the time, yet Janet gets the blame? Grow up, people.
Posted By: Uwe (Guest) on August 13, 2010 at 12:04 AM

You’re surprised the American people blew something out of proportion until it became the dominant piece of the news cycle and caused the pendulum to swing back the other way far too much? Really?

The list is fair. First I rolled my eyes about Nipplegate, but it really did cause a lot of panic at the FCC. I mean LAWS WERE CHANGED because of that. A lot of important missed items have been mentioned already. I find it hard to discuss the most controversial things in music history without talking about payola. You could also throw in Sammy Davis marries a white girl, Jello Biafra runs for public office, John Lennon deported, Bob Marley shot, Dylan goes electric, Al Green finds God, and Sid and Nancy.
Posted By: THESTONE (Guest) on August 13, 2010 at 02:36 AM

I don’t remeber much about Jello running for office (aside from his Green Party nomination), but it doesn’t sound controversial but actually sounds pretty awesome.

How about Jethro Tull winning the first metal Grammy seconds after Metallica finished playing?

The Sex Pistols on Bill Grundy buries the Doors on Sullivan.

How about Elton John first admitting his bisexuality to Rolling Stone? He was one of the first to ever out himself.

Oh, and who can forget Rod Stewart supposedly getting his stomach pumped?
Posted By: Trashy (Guest) on August 13, 2010 at 03:30 PM

Jethro Tull at the Grammys wasn’t controversial, just unfathomably stupid. I’ve heard plenty about the Bill Grundy incident, but it didn’t have as much of an impact on this side of the Atlantic, obviously.

Considering how many kids the catholic priests have fucked in the ass since 1992, don’t you people think you owe Sinhead O’conner an apology? She was right. Priests are nothing but petifiles, that’s why I won’t let mhy son near a church of catholic school. So since none of you people will do it, thank-you Sinhead for putting those perveted pieces of shit in their place, especially the pope. “

But she doesn’t have to lump the whole religion with the ones who did people wrong. I don’t defend those who did the molesting, of course, but for every one of them, I guarantee there’s a lot of Catholics willing to show real love and compassion to people. And who have done good things for society. To “erase” the bad ones, we have to make them all a taboo subject, huh?

I don’t get it… if we do not judge all Muslims for the 9/11 terrorists (rightly so), don’t we deserve the same courtesy?
Posted By: Guest#1487 (Guest) on August 13, 2010 at 09:28 PM

I noticed a theme in writing those pieces up last week, and it was that whenever an incident happened, instead of people debating the merits of the issue itself and trying to figure out what would implore a person to make a song called “Cop Killer” orsay they’re bigger than Jesus or whatever, we as Americans just protest and take sides against each other and don’t come out of it any better than we went in.

So good for some people for actually looking at what happened and why it happened, and the conclusions that can be made from it.

Top Ten One-Hit Wonder Songs

Who doesn’t love a good one-hit wonder? They pop up out of nowhere with an infectious song that takes over the country, and they promptly disappear, never to be seen again. Some of those artists, however, deserve better than to be the butt of jokes and being known for just one song. These songs on the list today show bands that could have had long, fruitful careers based on their big hits, but could never make it happen.

Note: This is not a list of the just the Top One-Hit Wonders. I don’t want to make some VH1 list where we extol the virtues of “Macarena” or some other terrible fucking song. These are the best songs that happened to come from one-hit wonders. Got it? Good. Let’s look at the honorable mentions:

Some Honorable Mentions: Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians – “What I Am;” Iron Butterfly – “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida;” Sinead O’Conner – “Nothing Compares 2 U;” The Waitresses – “I Know What Boys Like;” Young MC – “Bust a Move”

10. Marcy Playground – “Sex and Candy”

The late 1990s were the prime era for post-grunge modern rock bands to come out with catchy singles that provided an effective blend of alternative rock and pop music. Bands like Harvey Danger, Semisonic, and the New Radicals all scored big hits with slightly edgy songs that featured big time hooks. The best of that bunch, however, was Marcy Playground’s “Sex and Candy,” a huge hit that managed to stay at the top spot on the Billboard Modern Rock Charts for fifteen weeks, which was a record at the time.

“Sex and Candy” had the hooks and melody of the songs by those previously mentioned bands, but it also had a brooding mood to it that helped set it apart from the other similar one-hit wonder songs of the era. There will always be a home for excessively catchy pop-rock on the radio, and Marcy Playground filled that slot quite nicely in early 1998. Unfortunately, the band’s time came and went pretty quickly, but their one hit leaves a pretty ncie legacy, at least for a band in such a position.

9. Blind Melon – “No Rain”

A large part of the success of Blind Melon’s “No Rain” came from their instantly iconic music video, which featured the bee girl on all her journeys. The clip meshed perfectly with the sunny pop song that seemed to be filled with plenty of optimism, and that spirit helped make the song a hit, along with that aforementioned music video. It was a song so catchy that it was impossible to resist, which is a pretty odd thing to say about a song that was about depression.

The song’s lyrics stood in stark contrast to the melody and video, and this was a case where that’s not necessarily a bad thing. All the good vibes helped make “No Rain” the band’s biggest hit, but they would never be able to capitalize on its success; Shannon Hoon was a charismatic frontman, but he also had problems with drugs, and died of an overdose in 1995 at the age of 28. It stunted the growth of the band and left people wondering “What if?’ but their big hit was great enough on its own to last for an incredibly long time.

8. Dexy’s Midnight Runners – “Come On Eileen”

“Come on Eileen” wasn’t Dexy’s Midnight Runners only hit in the UK, but it’s what they’re best (and pretty much only) known for here in the United States. But when a song like this is the only thing you’re known for, that’s not exactly a terrible thing. Much of the rest of the Runners’ catalog was devoutly a combination of soul and Celtic, but they added plenty of pop elements for “Come on Eileen,” so it’s not a surprise that this song ended up becoming a big hit.

The look of the band on their album cover and in the song’s music video, with the overalls and the street urchin look, made it look in America like they were immediately a one-hit wonder, and not surprisingly, that’s exactly what happened. But that previously mentioned affinity for Celtic music and soul, like they were descendents of Van Morrison, showed that they had plenty to offer the music business. “Come on Eileen” is an undeniably great pop song, and whether it has fiddles or not, songs like that will always be appreciated.

7. The Verve – “Bittersweet Symphony

One Rolling Stones sample and another hit on MTV later, and the Verve became stars with their hit song “Bittersweet Symphony.” (I know that the Verve had plenty of hit in the United Kingdom, but for the purposes of this column I’m focusing on the hits they had in the US, and, well, this was their only one.) The song is exceptionally majestic, as it uses that string sample to great effect, as the song builds and builds, and rises and rises in an orchestral way that makes it into such an emotional track.

The song sometimes gets overshadowed by that great video, and also by the legal troubles the song got the band into; ultimately, the songwriting credits went to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, despite Richard Ashcroft writing the lyrics for the song, which was based on a string version of a Stones song. Whatever the outcome is, this song still really belongs to the Verve, and it helped make Urban Hymns such a great album itself. The Verve never reached the heights of their Britpop counterparts (at least in the US), but “Bittersweet Symphony” proved they had the chops to play with the best of them.

6. Biz Markie – “Just a Friend”

Rarely is a musician’s talent less in line with their chart success than it was with Biz Markie, who enjoyed only one major pop hit in his career, despite his enormous talent. Luckily, that hit was “Just a Friend,” a hip-hop classic that lives on to this day in commercials, and movies, and anywhere else you can imagine hearing such an amazing track. Most of the success of Biz Markie’s songs relied on how much of his charm and personality came through on the song, and he’s on at full force on “Just a Friend,” where his story telling and singing are incredibly infectious.

The story of “Just a Friend” is an instantly relatable one, with a guy trying to figure out what exactly his girlfriend is doing with another guy, who Biz suspects is going way past friendship. The verses are enjoyable and humorous enough, but the whole thing gets taken to another level when the chorus kicks in and Biz unleashes the worst/best crooning you’ve ever heard in your life. That’s Biz Markie in a nutshell, and part of the reason why, despite never having another major hit, none of that really matters one bit.

5. The Knack – “My Sharona”

Few power pop songs have ever been as immediately catchy as the Knack’s “My Sharona,” which catches right at the beginning with those pounding drums. Not all great music requires you to try and reinvent the wheel, which the Knack learned in 1979 when this song came out and became a massive hit. Those pounding drums plus a great guitar riff and a catchy and danceable song, they make for a song that could be a hit at almost any time, but came along at the right time.

That right time was sandwiched in between the decline of punk rock as it had become to be known, and the emergence of early new wave artists like Blondie, Elvis Costello and the Talking Heads. The Knack and “My Sharona” fit in perfectly in that spot in the middle, and its catchiness was impossible to avoid. Five weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 charts later, and the Knack’s place in history was set, even if it was physically impossible for them to try and match it.

4. Thomas Dolby – “She Blinded Me with Science”

Unlike many British musicians who have a number of hits in their native country and then score a hit only once here in the States, Thomas Dolby’s only American hit didn’t make much of a dent in the UK. I’m not sure what to make of this, but I found it interesting. ANYWAY, “She Blinded Me with Science” was a huge part of the early 1980s synth-pop scene, and one of its standouts as well. Its quirky sensibility helped make it standout at the time along with the unusual instrumentation for a pop track.

The melody and hook are good enough to become a hit, but the electronic and synthesizer aspects help make it into something even better. Based on this song, Dolby wasn’t just concerned about making pop hits, but instead was more interested in making interesting and compelling; he luckily fell into a great melody and ended up with a chart success and one of the more interesting songs of the 1980s. Out of all the one-hit wonders, Dolby has probably dealt with it as well as anybody, considering being a pop star wasn’t his major concern in the first place.

3. Soft Cell – “Tainted Love”

“Tainted Love” was originally recorded by Gloria Jones in 1965, and it didn’t make the charts in either the US or the UK. Sixteen years later, the electronic dup Soft Cell came out with a version of the song that featured a drastically different arrangement. With a slowed-down tempo and the use of synthesizers and drum machines, the Soft Cell version eventually became a massive hit, reaching #8 and staying in the Top 100 for a record forty-three weeks. The song became ubiquitous and managed to also define the era in a way, which is quite an accomplishment for a one-hit wonder.

2. Gary Numan – “Cars”

I recently wrote a column on the Top Ten Electronic Albums, and if I had been able to extend it a bit more, then Gary Numan’s The Pleasure Principle may very well have made the list, which is something you can’t necessarily say about a lot of albums made by one-hit wonders. But it’s a great album that exists in the cold, distant electronic realm that Kraftwerk helped to form, and also highlighted by an infectious pop song that manages to be catchy while also utilizing those other styles.

Not all electronic music had to be lifeless, or seemingly so, and Soft Cell proved it as well as anybody with a soulful and energetic song that was incredibly emotional for not just an electronic song, but any pop song period. A lot of that comes from the constantly piercing notes that pop up, and also from the vocal delivery, which peaks near the end when Marc Almond sings, “Take my tears and that’s not nearly all!” That last word rings out and helps to make “Tainted Love” into something great.

The song details Numan’s take on the modern world and our embrace of technology; specifically it’s about the comfort we feel on four wheels, or as Numan described it, “our own little personal empire.” Big ideas in lyrical content and in musical approach are always appreciated, as are great hooks and melodies, and when you put them together the result is usually something pretty special. “Cars” fits in that category, as it puts to great use a series of traditional instruments, as well as synthesizers and keyboard while also sneaking in a message that only gets more relevant every day.

1. Big Country – “In a Big Country”

In the early 1980s, U2 broke out of Ireland with a collection of new wave rock that managed to feel epic and simultaneously tied to their homeland while relating to the rest of the world. Big Country hailed from Scotland, but they hit on all those other points with their breakout American hit “In a Big Country.” Never mind the gimmick of having the name of the band in the title and the chorus; this is a truly great song and a rock anthem of the highest order.

You hear a song like this one and you can’t imagine how the band that made it didn’t become big stars with a long career; in other words, they very well could have followed a similar career path, to a certain point, that U2 did. For whatever reason, they didn’t, at least in the United States, and it’s a shame because “In a Big Country” reveals a band that was capable of more greatness than we got to hear from them with just this one song. It didn’t happen for Big Country in this country, but there will always be “In a Big Country,” which I maintain is as good a rock anthem as was released in the 1980s.

That’ll do it for this week folks, thanks for reading. If you have any questions, comments or concerns feel free to let me know, and make sure to leave your own lists in the comments. I’ll see you all next week. And if you’re out on your bike tonight, do wear white.


article topics

Andrew Moll
comments powered by Disqus