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Friday, Oct 2, 2009
Sometimes the best hit singles by "one-hit wonders" are the ones that have been forgotten over the years.

In some ways, a one-hit wonder is in the eye of the beholder (or more accurately, the memory). A-Ha peaked at #20 on the Billboard Hot 100 with “The Sun Always Shines on TV”, a great song that spent four months on the chart. But most people only remember “Take on Me” (and the phenomenal video that accompanied it), so A-Ha is mistakenly thought to be a one-hit wonder. Vanilla Ice fared no better. “Play That Funky Music” was on the chart for four months and peaked at #4, but the song was overshadowed by the enormous success of “Ice Ice Baby”, so he too is often labeled a one-hit wonder.


This bothers me. The geek part of me cringes when Katrina and the Waves, for instance, is labeled a one-hit wonder. They actually had three Top 40 hits, “Walking on Sunshine”, “Do You Want Crying”, and “That’s the Way”. And my love for music makes me feel sad that radio stations (and as a result, listeners) have completely forgotten that “Real, Real, Real” was almost as huge a hit as “Right Here, Right Now” for Jesus Jones and was, in fact, a great song too.


So today I want to talk about so-called one-hit wonders who actually had more than one hit. There are literally hundreds of singers and groups who are remembered primarily for the one hit among many that lived on, from the Angels (“My Boyfriend’s Back” was just one of four Top 40 hits for the female pop trio) to Spandau Ballet (“True” peaked at #4, but “Gold” and “Only When You Leave” were also Top 40 hits in the US). I thought it would be interesting to talk about “one-hit wonders” who released successful songs I personally liked more than the hits they’re remembered for.


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Thursday, Oct 1, 2009
Some artists are more than merely great. There are some artists that for a period of years, a period that is finite, consistently produced music that, it can be argued, far exceeded the work of their peers. For that brief period of time they were definitely Masters of the Form.

It’s pretty ballsy to call yourself the world’s greatest rock and roll band, but the Rolling Stones have got the talent, and the back catalog, to back such a boast up. They began their careers as eager teenagers with a love for American blues music and found themselves, upon tasting their first success, being compared to the Beatles because the Beatles had tasted success first. However, the Rolling Stones were more than just another British band to crash through in the Beatles’ wake. From 1968-1972, they were the world’s greatest rock and roll band. They were masters of the form who recorded what could quite possibly be the four best successive rock albums released by any band in the history of rock and roll, four discs that became blueprints for generations of aspiring rock bands to follow: Exile on Main St., Sticky Fingers, Let It Bleed and the album that started the impressive run, Beggar’s Banquet



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Wednesday, Sep 30, 2009

The 2010 nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have been announced. The ballot includes KISS, the Stooges, Genesis, LL Cool J, ABBA, Jimmy Cliff, the Chantels, Darlene Love, Donna Summer, Laura Nyro, the Hollies, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Of these 12, five will be chosen for induction into the Hall early next year. That’s a pretty diverse selection.


The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has long suffered from two main flaws when it comes to choosing artists for induction. First, the Hall subscribes to the Rolling Stone definition of rock music: basically, all popular music since the late 1950s that isn’t country. In particular, what is favored is the music the baby bomber generation grew up on and loved. This makes perfect sense as the Hall was co-founded by Rolling Stone creator Jann Wenner, and features several contributors to the magazine on its nomination committee and in its voting pool. More problematic is that there is no hard metric to help decide an artist’s merit for induction. Unlike with sports hall of fames, artists are not measured by figures or performance statistics in order to ascertain their worthiness to join the Rock Hall. The only hard criterion is that an artist is only eligible for induction 25 years after they have released their first recording. Aside from this one rule, the 30-member nomination committee weighs concepts like influence and longevity in choosing artists for the ballot in lieu of more concrete measurements like record sales or number of awards won. Additionally, members of the nomination committee can easily exert their own personal prejudices, leading to the active lobbying of induction for some artists and the active dismissal of others held in low critical regard, regardless of that artist’s impact or influence. These factors combined explain why Percy Sledge, Miles Davis, and Madonna are in the Hall, and why Deep Purple, Genesis, and the Cure aren’t.


The Rock Hall of Fame has made some strides in addressing common criticisms of its induction process. For starters, the number of artists on the nomination ballot has been increased from nine to 12 artists this year. Additionally, the Hall’s Chief Curator Jim Henke has explained that the nominating committee has created three subcommittees to suggest nominations in particular genres (“one on progressive rock and heavy metal, one on hip-hop and one on early rock and rollers and rhythm & blues”), which inspires confidence that the Hall is aiming to reach outside the baby boomer music canon. Those considerations have resulted in a pretty intriguing ballot; while there are still head-scratchers (really, Laura Nyro?), there are a fair number of artists who definitely have earned their places in the history of modern music. Let’s take a look at a few of them.


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Wednesday, Sep 30, 2009
Brooklyn workhorses return with new material.

Every few years I wonder “What ever happened to Alice Donut?” The Brooklyn band has been around since 1986, putting out 12 albums and countless singles while it did what all good punk bands did back then—toured its ass off all over the world. Led by vocalist Tomas Antona, the band has spent the majority of its career on Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles label, and if any band could personify Biafra’s off-kilter take on music and the world in general, it would be Alice Donut. Just look at some of their album titles: Dork Me Bangladesh, The Untidy Suicides of Your Degenerate Children. Over a decade before emo made the mile-long song title faddish, Alice Donut gave us a little ditty called “The Son of a Disgruntled X-Postal Worker Reflects on His Life While Getting Stoned in the Parking Lot of a Winn Dixie Listening to Metallica”. (Take that, Fall Out Boy!) If Alice Donut didn’t exist, Snakefinger from the Residents would have had to invent them. And they’re back with a new CD, Ten Glorious Animals.


After a long hiatus following their 1996 breakup, the band reformed to release Three Sisters in 2004 and Fuzz in 2006. They occupy that murky grey area of one of those stalwart bands with no real commercial success in over two decades of playing, but sufficient fans dotting the globe to make it worthwhile to persevere. It is a subject that plays out in their lyrics, as Antona and his band mates wryly accept their lot in life on the track “Shiloh”: “Gonna get famous and rich / Got a gig with the Unsane / And 7 Year Bitch.” They know they aren’t going to be the next Green Day, and they’re cool with that. As guitarist Michael Jung said in a 2007 interview, “We weren’t in search of hand jobs or castles. There’s all kinds of popular success. Look at Tom Waits.”


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Tuesday, Sep 29, 2009

Walking into the Silent Comedy show at San Diego’s Casbah on September 11th, you might have felt you’d stumbled onto the craft services table on set of a remake of Paper Moon. Every other guy in attendance looked like a particularly roguish Depression-era hobo or the piano player at a Chaplin film festival. A sampling of the look can be found in the video for the band’s 2007 song “Bones”, except these aren’t costumes—these dudes dress this way 24-7. To take advantage of sartorial similarities with opening acts Mississippi Man, Skyline Union and River City, the gig was christened “Mustache Mayhem”.


In fact, the guys in the Silent Comedy love facial hair so much that they’ve turned it into a way to finance their next CD. You too can be a patron of the arts if you sport a mustache (real or faux) and give a donation on the band’s website. Talk about music industry innovations in the tech age!


The band had reason to celebrate, having won a San Diego Music Award for Best Pop Group the night before. Frontman Joshua Zimmerman (aka J. John) displayed a newfound confidence and swagger that was palpable as the band launched in the song “Poison” with all the fervor of a tent revival meeting. There was no sign of the hellacious hangover that photographer Rich Cook said followed Thursday night’s totally unexpected win—but that might be due to the very liberal hair-of-the-dog flowing throughout the set.


Mississippi Man was the only non-San Diego band on the bill, and their sound, while certainly as sepia-toned as the rest, had the most modern flair, if your idea of modern is the 1960s. Sure, they look just as breadline-ready as their compatriots, but their music is decidedly more Brian Wilson than Al Jolson. And River City, playing in the back bar known as the Atari Lounge during breaks in the main stage sets, might have been the sleeper hit of the night. Their mustache ratio was strong (three out of five), and they rocked a Maid Rite washboard to boot! 


September 11th is a time of somber reflection for most Americans. But the crowd at the Casbah that night got a welcome break from the cares of the day with the help of some great music, and some truly inspired facial hair.



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