"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." Elvis Costello
Mr. White: It’s a very common tale.
Guy Patterson: Well, maybe for you, but I was in a band. And we still have a hit record.
Mr. White: Yes, you do. The one-hit Wonders. A very common tale.
If you don’t recognize the above snatch of dialogue, it’s from a Tom Hanks vehicle called That Thing You Do!, about a band called the Wonders who were, indeed, of the one hit variety. Come to think of it, they were a hybrid, dual one-hit-wonders if you will, since their hit in the song, eponymous with the movie title, was also a minor hit in the real world, assuming you can refer to anything related to the music business as “the real world”. Anyway. It occurred to me the other day that there are enough OHWs that it really is its own genre, with a long and fascinating history. Some would say the first to qualify, counting from the inception of the Billboard Hot 100 on October 13, 1958, would be “To Know Him is to Love Him” by the Teddy Bears, released in December of that year, but that all depends on the parameters you use. In any case, I thought it might be interesting to list a few examples from this quirky category, along with a snapshot backstory, and then see if you have your own favorites to add. Go ahead and send them my way at email@example.com and I’ll post them here for posterity.
1966 • The Outsiders • Time Won’t Let Me
A quasi-garage rock tune that went to number 5. I’ve always wondered if this band was the inspiration for The Wonders in That Thing You Do, since there are quite a few similarities. The lead singer, Sonny Geraci, actually scored not one but two one-hit-wonders, the second with his later band Climax in 1972, “Precious and Few”.
1969 • Mason Williams • Classical Gas
If you’re only going to have one hit, you can’t do better than this. Composer Williams was the head writer for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and was able to have the song featured several times on the program. The original recording was by Williams and members of The Wrecking Crew, won three Grammys in 1969, and pretty much has a life of its own.
1972 • Mott the Hoople • All the Young Dudes
Written for the band by David Bowie after they had turned down "Suffragette City" (picky fellows, those young Brits) the song has become a glam rock anthem and is listed as #256 on Rolling Stone’s 2010 update of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Bowie himself once claimed that the song was not intended to be an anthem for glam, that it actually carried a darker message of apocalypse.
1974 • The Kiki Dee Band • I’ve Got the Music In Me
Probably better known for her 1976 duet with Elton John, "Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart", which went to No. 1 in both the US and UK, (so she technically had more than one hit, but it was credited to John) “Music” is a blue-eyed soul number with some blazing guitar and possibly the best fake ending ever in a pop song. Dee has actually released 40 singles outside the U.S. over the course of a long and successful career.
1983 • Big Country • In a Big Country
Great early eighties pre-Britpop with the advantage of a quirky music video that received heavy airplay on MTV.
1996 • The Wonders • That Thing You Do
The aforementioned title cut from Tom Hanks directorial debut made it to #41 on the hot 100. The song was written by Adam Schlesinger, the bassist for the alternative rock group Fountains of Wayne, and, had it been released in 1964, it seems a good bet that it might have actually made it to #2, as it does in the movie.
1998 • The New Radicals • You Only Get What You Give
From an alternative album with a heavy 1970s rock and soul influence; the song was a top 5 hit in the United Kingdom, was in the top 40 in the US, and included lyrics which insulted celebrities at the end of the song, providing a minor media spectacle.
2006 • Daniel Powter • Bad Day
Canadian Daniel Powters first single was huge, as in multi-national number one, Coca-Cola commercial, extensive American Idol use, Song of the Year huge. A couple of other singles from the album charted, but that was pretty much all she wrote. If you're only getting fifteen minutes, go big.
2011 • Gotye • Somebody That I Used to Know
From being all you could find on the radio in 2011 to now being possibly more well-known as the music to the Game of Thrones You Tube parody - that's a one hit wonder. How do you pronounce "Gotye" again?
Eric Molinsky selects and purchases music for JCLS. He considers himself a musician, since he once sold a guitar because he needed the money.
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