Friday, February 15, 2008

Weekend Listomania (Special They Could Have Been Contenders! Video Edition)

Well, it's Friday and you know what that means. Yes, my Oriental manservant Hop-Sing and I are off to the Arkansas Governor's Mansion, for the first annual Chuck Norris Film Festival. (The highlight is going to be a restored director's cut of The Octagon, which, obviously, could be a hot one). In any case, in the face of such cinematic brilliance, posting by moi will necessarily be sporadic for a few days.

But in my absence, here's a fun project for you all to contemplate:


You know -- a chart smash that is just utterly wonderful, but for whatever reason the person or persons behind it could never quite manage another one with a comparable level of commercial success.

[Totally arbitrary rule: The competition is based on artist rankings on the American charts only. A couple of the people whose songs I've chosen had multiple hits in the UK, but not here.]

Okay, that said -- here's my hastily tossed together Top Ten.

10. Shocking Blue -- Venus (1970)

Longtime readers know of my fondness for these guys, and yes, they had scads of other songs equally as good. Of course, the fact that few of them ever got released in this country due to the collapse of their record company was obviously problematic. If you're curious, you might order this definitive greatest hits collection.

9. Brenda Holloway -- Every Little Bit Hurts (1964)

The most gorgeous soul ballad of the 60s and one of the most perfect female vocal performances ever. Perhaps it's not so amazing that she couldn't follow it up.

8. The Outsiders -- Time Won't Let Me (1966)

The Greaseball Motown Pastiche to end them all. Interestingly, Sonny Geraci, the guy who sang it, was later in a one-hit wonder band of the 70s -- Climax, of "Precious and Few" infamy.

7. Count Five -- Psychotic Reaction (1966)

The greatest Yardbirds rip-off homage ever, unless you count the Shadows of Knight's "Oh, Yeah."

6. The Jaynetts -- Sally Go Round the Roses (1963)

The most mysterious of girl group hits. What does it mean? What did Sally do? What the hell are the roses? For that matter, who exactly wrote and recorded the damn song? At last, we have some of the answers! And yes -- apparently the drummer really was Buddy Miles.

5. Tommy Tutone -- 867-5309(Jenny) (1982)

Pretty much the definitive skinny-tie band song, n'est-ce pas?

4. Des'ree -- You Gotta Be (1994)

I thought she was a goddess back in the day, frankly, and hearing the song again after more than a decade hasn't changed my mind. Why didn't this woman have Beyonce's career?

3. Desmond Dekker -- Israelites (1968)

This was basically the first exposure to Jamaican music that us kids in the Top 40 audience ever had, and it's hard to overstate just how otherworldly and unique it sounded at the time. Still does, actually. Maybe that's why Dekker never had another American hit -- this one felt too much like a novelty record.

2. The Knickerbockers -- Lies (1966)

Greatest Beatles knock-off ever. The guitar sound alone is worth the price of admission.

And the absolute best, and certainly most profound, one-hit wonder of all time is -----

1. Joan Osborne -- One of Us (1995)

I can't help it -- everything about this record kills me. The guitars, the groove, the longing in Osborne's voice, and just the whole conceit -- God as a stranger on the bus, trying to find his way home -- strike me as ineffably touching. Osborne has had, and continues to have, an estimable career but I don't see how she's ever going to have another moment like this one.

Alrighty, now -- and your choices would be?


Anonymous said...

"Red Rubber Ball" by the Cyrkle. The most perfect pop song Paul Simon ever wrote.

Anonymous said...

First off, props to Tony Burrows, king of the early 70s one hit wonders: he sang on Beach Baby (First Class), Gimme Dat Ding (Pipkins), My Baby Loves Lovin' (White Plains), Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes (Edison Lighthouse), and United We Stand (Brotherhood Of Man).

Psychotic Reaction is definitely one of my top 5, but these also do it for me:

Little Star - The Elegants

Girl Of My Dreams - Bram Tchaikovsky (Why isn't there any video of BT on the internets????)

Precious To Me - Phil Seymour

Ariel - Dean Friedman

Farmer John - The Premiers

Motorcycle Mama - Sailcat

Sunshine - Jonathan Edwards

Mixed-Up, Shook-Up Girl - Patty & The Emblems

TJWood said...

The Cyrkle also had "Turn Down Day", which I'm not sure was quite as big a hit as "Red Rubber Ball", but you can still hear on oldies stations today.

This one I had to do some cheating on, so I could either go back to the Nuggets collections or do online research. I chose the latter, and here are four totally random picks, one from each of the last four decades of the last millennium.

I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night--The Electric Prunes (1967)

Magic--Pilot (1975) (Sort of a guilty pleasure song, but there were some slim pickings in that decade)

Everybody's Got To Learn Sometime--The Korgis (1980)(Only because I recently saw Richard Thompson cover this in his "1000 Years of Popular Music" show)

You Get What You Give--New Radicals (1998))(This song got raves from Joni Mitchell, who has virtually nothing good to say about any popular music of recent vintage)

I took a quick look at the so-far 2000's one-hit wonders on Wikipedia--slimmer pickings than the '70's. If I had to choose one right now, I'd go for "Crazy For This Girl" by Evan and Jaron (2001). Like I said, slim pickings.

Anonymous said...

Love That Dirty Water - The Standells
96 Tears - ? and the mysterians (the best one hit song ever)

steve simels said...

Bram Tchaikovsky Girl of My Dreams. God, I love that song, and I can't believe I didn't think of it. Of course, if there's no video....

You're right about RedRubber Ball -- somebody could cover that right this minute and have a hit. But the Cyrkle had that other record, so I didn't include it.

I don't know that Korgis song (or anything about them, actually). I'll check 'em out -- thanks!!!

Anonymous said...

I thought Turn Down Day was the B-side of Red Rubber Ball?

In any case, the snigger going around the sixth grade was that that was a dirty song if you listened closely.

Well, we all listened closely and sniggered like we were supposed to, but I never figured it out.

Perfect pop-rock song, though, as are most of your choices this week, steve.

Also, are you aware of this website that fanatically chronicles the history of one-hit wonders?:


Anonymous said...

"That Thing That You Do"
The Oneders, I mean, Wonders

Anonymous said...

Oh, I guess I should contribute a song too --

howzabout "I Melt With You" by Modern English?

The late 80s encapsulated in 3 minutes.


Anonymous said...

Since everybody was doing it and it was so exciting how bout Kung Fu Fighting by Carl Douglas.
And if you remember the silly video you have to include The Safety Dance by Men Without Hats

Anonymous said...

Magnet and Steel - Walter Egan. I know, it's kind of sappy and what have you, but it's really a beautiful song, imo.

Only the Lonely Can Play - The Motels. Probably the most beautiful song to come out of the Wave 80's, if you ask me. Great guitar solo, great sax solo and Martha's voice... mmmm...

For songs that seem to keep finding new life, I'd nominate Black Betty by Ram Jam.

Anonymous said...

In the Year 2525 - Zager and Evans

Spirit in the Sky - the immortal Norman Greenbaum, what a name!

Cleveland Bob said...

Wow. Great list by Steve and some mighty contributions from the rest of y'all.

Here are mine:

Right Said Fred - I'm Too Sexy
Dexys Midnight Runners - Come On Eileen
The Knack - My Sharona (Sorry, NYMary!)
Soft Cell - Tainted Love
Chumbawamba - Tubthumping
A-ha - Take on me
Frankie Goes to Hollywood - Relax
Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians - What I Am
Gary Numan - Cars
Toni Basil - Mickey

Oh, and by the by Steve, Sonny Geraci is, somewhat to my hometown chagrin, not from Detroit, but from Cleveland.

Cleveland Bob said...


I also failed to mention that the cover of Psychotic Reaction by the Cramps, circa 1983, kicks ass.

Vive Le Lux!

Anonymous said...

When I first became conscious of pop music, about kindergarten and 1st grade, it was all about really hiorrible one-hit wonders-- Zager +Evans, "Love is Blue" by Paul Mauriat -- mind you, I didn't like them, I just knew they were out there. I did, however, love a slightly earlier one-hit wonder song, "The Ballad of the Green Berets". I was 6, gimme a break.

Why were all instrumental hits in the 70s one hit wonders? Discuss…

Here's my pick for the greatest list "Hippy Hippy Shake" by the Swinging Blue Jeans. Completely wonderful, completely disposable, like a one hit wonder should be.

Check out Joan Osborne getting real gone on "What becomes of the Brokenhearted" in "Standing in the Shadows of Motown". I was dubious when she said she was going to do it; now I tear up a little just thinking about it.

--king nosmo

Anonymous said...

Love That Dirty Water - The Standells
96 Tears - ? and the mysterians (the best one hit song ever)

"96 Tears" was the first one to occur to me, too ...

The Standells also had a hit with "Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White", although it was nowhere near the iconic smash that "Dirty Water" was.

"When a Man Loves a Woman" by Percy Sledge has to be right up there ...

dave™© said...

"Spirit in the Sky" really doesn't count as a one-hit wonder, since Greenbaum had a follow-up: "Canned Ham".

What - you don't remember that???

dave™© said...

If you want to talk one-hit instrumentals from the 70s, "Scorpio" by Dennis Coffey has to be in there. And, of course, "Popcorn" by whoever the hell it was...

drunkenorangetree said...

How about Smith, "Baby, It's You"?

Anonymous said...

I had hoped "Turn Down Day" would have been minor enough to merit "Red Rubber Ball"'s inclusion, but I didn't actually check before posting. Sorry.

Didn't the Motels also have "Suddenly Last Summer"? Another gorgeous record. The Premiers, The Standells (best group ever named after their amplifiers). Both wonderful records. I confess ? and the Mysterians never quite rocked me, but "96 Tears" WAS easy to play, which counts for a lot. And they were suddenly relevent again when Prince went through his "glyph" phase.

Anonymous said...

If we're talking about top 40 singles then we should include Patti Smith's "Because The Night".

Also it's the only track of her's you will ever hear on Classic Rock radio.

Return of the Plumber

TJWood said...

Anonymous said:

Why were all instrumental hits in the 70s one hit wonders? Discuss…

There's at least one exception I can think of: Billy Preston, who had a huge hit with the instrumental "Outta Space" in 1972 and had several other big Top 40 hits, including another instrumental, "Space Race", in 1973. There was also Average White Band, who had a #1 hit with the virtually all instrumental "Pick Up The Pieces" (the title is shouted by the members at various spots in the song). True, AWB never had a hit again anywhere near that huge, but as they did have significant success during the '70's, I don't think they can be considered a true one-hit wonder.

MBowen said...

Looking through the lists of U.S. one-hit wonders, it's interesting to note some of the names who pop up: Ella Fitzgerald, Robert Goulet, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Big Brother & The Holding Company, Janis Joplin, Mott The Hoople, Roxy Music, Warren Zevon, Nick Lowe, Roger Daltrey, Emmylou Harris, Marshall Crenshaw, Frank Zappa, Donald Fagen, Graham Parker, Iggy Pop, Siouxsie & The Banshees - all acts you'd think would have made it at least more than once.

Anonymous said...

I love your list, Steve!

If you haven't heard it... Joan Osborne also does a killer version of Stevie Wonder's "Love's in Need of Love Today".


steve simels said...

Ripley said...
Magnet and Steel - Walter Egan. I know, it's kind of sappy and what have you, but it's really a beautiful song, imo.

I couldn't agree more. If there's a video of that, I'm gonna try to find an excuse to post it seperately.

Anonymous said...

for "dave tm c" (can't manage the fancy ascii) and anyone else--

As with Tony Burrows, let's not forget that Norman Greenbaum was not just a one-hit wonder-- he was TWO one-hit wonders, scoring with "The Eggplant that ate Chicago" under the name of Dr West's Medicine Show and Jug Band before using his own moniker on Spirit in the Sky.

steve simels said...

dave™© said...
"Spirit in the Sky" really doesn't count as a one-hit wonder, since Greenbaum had a follow-up: "Canned Ham".

What - you don't remember that???

Nobody likes a wise guy, pal.

Anonymous said...

The Lemon Pipers - Green Tambourine

Love those finger cymbals.

Expressway to your Heart - Soul Survivors

- said...

The Proclaimers - 500 miles

Grateful Dead - Touch of Grey

Turning Japanese


Whisper to a Scream

99 Luftballons

shrimplate said...

I'd like to chime in here with popular "hits" by classical composers, meaning works that are the only ones that you really ever get to hear by some of these cats.

Pachelbel's Canon has to top the list. When has a classical station ever aired anything else by that guy?

Then there's the two "Adagios," one by Albinoni and the other by Samuel Barber. Can anyone out there, even serious fans of classical music, even faintly recall anything from the other movements of the quartet from which the Barber is excerpted? Nope. Didn't think so.

Then there's the slow movements from the Vivaldi and Rodrigo guitar concertos. You know which ones I'm talking about.

I swear the local classical station broadcasts a recording of Smetana's "The Moldau" twice a day completely ignoring the rest of his stuff which is just as interesting.

Villa-Lobos could probably have only written (and transcribed for singer Bidu Sayao,) his Bachianas Brasilieras #5 and not bothered with all the rest because you never get to hear them.

Though Brits, my fave pop one-hitter has to be Pictures of Matchstick Men by the Status Quo. This clip from TOTP seems to actually be played live.

My mother just hated that song. I love its swirly psychedelia.

Anonymous said...

I remember listening to 610 WTVN with my dad when I was a kid and hearing Classical Gas, Popcorn, Love is Blue, the theme to Romeo and Juliet and similar schmaltz as outros to the news on the hour. Great stuff!

Other comments -- although I love Joan Osborne, the god song gets on my nerves because of bad grammar. Should be what if God were one of us, not was. Sorry - I hate songs where the singer says "jew" instead of "you" and my beloved Matthew Sweet does that on several songs...wah....

TMink said...

Bram T. wrote one album of perfect power pop. Only one hit, but the whole record is crucial.


Anonymous said...

I always hated that Joan Osbourne song. I mean, if God were one of us, he wouldn't be God, right? Isn't that the whole point?

That always seemed like such an obvious answer, but everybody treated it like it had depth. Even Prince.

dave™© said...

As with Tony Burrows, let's not forget that Norman Greenbaum was not just a one-hit wonder-- he was TWO one-hit wonders, scoring with "The Eggplant that ate Chicago"...

Oh, yeah, I'd forgotten that - a Dr. Demento fave!

Greenbaum was an interesting character... after "Spirit/Canned Ham," he did an entire album about his organic farm in the then-rural town of Petaluma.

Saw an interview with him some time back where he was working at a (non-chain) burger joint in Santa Rosa.

Nobody likes a wise guy, pal.

Back atcha, babe!

MBowen said...

Some particular favorites of mine:

Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs - Stay - The shortest #1 single ever (1:40). These guys played my high school's junior/senior prom in 1975, and they're still playing today.

Arthur Alexander - You Better Move On - This guy had such a great voice and wrote such great songs!

John Fred and His Playboy Band - Judy in Disguise (With Glasses) - Can you listen to this and not start smiling?

Cliff Nobles & Co. - The Horse - The first single I ever bought.

Laura Lee - Woman's Love Rights - There were a lot of great one-shot soul hits in this period - Mr. Big Stuff by Jean Knight, Smiling Faces Sometimes by the Undisputed Truth, Denise LaSalle's Trapped By A Thing Called Love - but this is my favorite.

Sniff'n'the Tears - Driver's Seat - This song just never gets old for me.

Sugarhill Gang - Rapper's Delight - It's not true that hip-hop all went downhill from here, but this still kicks the chitlins out of T-Pain.

Rosanne Cash - Seven Year Ache - I've been leaving out songs by artists who have had real careers but only bumped into the top 40 once (Jimi Hendrix, Nick Lowe, Warren Zevon, Marshall Crenshaw, etc.), but I had to throw this one in there. The first time I heard it (years after it came out) I just stared at the speakers as it played - the lyric was so simple, yet so complex, with overlapping layers of anger, compassion, sarcasm, disgust, sympathy and pride. This is one of the best songs ever.

Primitive Radio Gods - Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand - Love the song, love the sonic layering, love the B.B. King sample. A great record.

agitpropre said...

The Troggs - Wild thing.

And that little ditty by the Kingsmen...

Obvious, yes. But they should be on the list....

Anonymous said...

"Walking on Sunshine" - Katrina and the Waves.

This always makes me feel like it's the middle of summer.

"This Beat Goes On/Switchin' To Glide" - The Kings

"On The Highway" - Paul Collins' Beat


"Walkin' in Memphis" - Marc Cohn

None of his other stuff hit the top 40. Soulful.

"Lullaby" - Shawn Mullins

"Life is a Highway" - Tom Cochrane

A great road single.

"Everything Falls Apart" - Dog's Eye View

"She Blinded Me With Science" -Thomas Dolby.

Just plain fun.

"All Right Now" - Free

Great hook.

And I second the nominations of New Radicals and Joan Osborne.

Anonymous said...

Lots of great songs- I'll add:

"Banditos" The Refreshments
(the world is full of Stupid People!)

Bobby Fuller Four "I fought the law"

Lots of stuff from Nuggets - I nominate IT'S COLD OUTSIDE - The Choir (1967):

steve simels said...

agitpropre said...
The Troggs - Wild thing.

And that little ditty by the Kingsmen...

Obvious, yes. But they should be on the list....

2/17/2008 2:05 PM

Great songs, but neither band were one hit wonders. Kingsmen had a bunch, including Money and Jolly Green Giant, and the Troggs, of course, had the sublime and often covered "Love is All Around."

Noam Sane said...

The Joan Osborne tune is more of the faux-intellectual community-college lesbian folk rock the we seem to be awash in these days. It's about as deep as a puddle. To quote the Indigo Girls: "Rescue me from the agony of my intellect". Yeah, me too.

On the other hand, nobody mentioned the Strawberry Alarm Clock? (Or did I miss it...lotta comments).

This video
is one of my favorites ever. Combine the beyond-grainy quality with the amazingly weird outfits and the very odd song itself, and this whole production seems to have been beamed down from space.

steve simels said...

Noam Sane said...
The Joan Osborne tune is more of the faux-intellectual community-college lesbian folk rock the we seem to be awash in these days. It's about as deep as a puddle...

Behold the perils of being insufficiently cynical for some people.

Noam Sane said...

Steve, I find your lack of cynicism refreshing.

On the other hand, Mencken said “The cynics are right nine times out of ten."

Have you heard the new Anne Heche album?

Unknown said...

Oh man...

"Turning Japanese" by The Vapors.


Unknown said...

"Just Walk Away, Renee" by The Left Bank is the song that comes immediately into my head. Gorgeous, wistful melody, heartbreaking lyrics, perfect execution...sublime.