Singular sensation: They popped onto the airwaves, then pooped out
by Mario Tarradell and Mike Daniel
The Dallas Morning News
The popular music landscape is littered with one-hit wonders, artists who scored big with a single song and then—poof!—disappeared like the eight-track tape. Some radio staples are pure fluke, a product of stars serendipitously aligning just so for a brief, catchy blip. Others are the beginning of a supposedly promising career that never advanced beyond the first tune. Those are examples of the song being bigger than the singer.
In one-hit wonderland there are the obvious, such as Anita Ward’s disco signpost “Ring My Bell” and Iron Butterfly’s epic, psychedelic rocker “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” Then you have the obscure blokes who got lucky, say, Switzerland’s Double with its jazzy-dreamy “The Captain of Her Heart” and England’s Haircut One Hundred with the buoyant “Love Plus One.”
There’s no way to examine every one-hit wonder; we could fill the entire newspaper. But let’s look at 10 national momentary splashes, five Texans who scored once and five acts most people think were one-hit wonders, but the truth might surprise you.
THE NATIONAL WONDERS
Taco, “Puttin’ on the Ritz” (1983)—Nobody would have suspected that Taco Ockerse from Indonesia could score a No. 4 smash with this synthesized, slightly dance version of the Irving Berlin classic. He did other period pieces (“Cheek to Cheek,” “Singin’ in the Rain”) in the same electronic pop vein on his only U.S. album, “After Eight.” But apparently he vanished once the clock struck midnight, because Taco was never heard from again.
Aldo Nova, “Fantasy” (1982)—Montreal’s Aldo Scarporuscio (no wonder he changed his last name) rode the synthesized classic rock train carrying an air-guitar nugget with a nocturnal vibe. The song pushed his 1982 self-titled album to double platinum. He could never follow it up, though. Two other discs failed to catch fire, and Nova is now more songwriter than performing artist. He penned “I Love You,” which Celine Dion sang on her 11-million-selling “Falling Into You.”
Dionne Farris, “I Know” (1995)—After a brief stint as a singer with hip-hop band Arrested Development, New Jersey’s Farris went solo and delivered “Wild Seed—Wild Flower.” The CD’s lone single sparkled in its rhythmic blend of pop, rock and R&B. It hit No. 4. And then ... nothing. We’re still waiting for her sophomore album. Maybe she knows something we don’t.
M, “Pop Muzik” (1979)—England’s Robin Scott adopted his one-letter moniker and sprinted to No. 1 armed with the bounciest, most effervescent piece of synth pop. Yet he was invisible. His album “New York-London-Paris-Munich” stalled at No. 79. Plus, although he released a handful more records, nothing else even charted. These days it doesn’t matter what he’s dubbed, he’s but a footnote.
The Buggles, “Video Killed the Radio Star” (1979)—A studio concoction of Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn (later of Yes and Asia), the Buggles’ totally machine-driven single holds the distinction of being the first video ever played on MTV. Stateside the song stopped at No. 40 and its accompanying album, “The Age of Plastic,” never charted. But once you hear that song you won’t forget it.
Right Said Fred, “I’m Too Sexy” (1992)—Talk about a pop-culture phenomenon. RSF was the trio of English bodybuilding brothers Richard and Fred Fairbrass and lean guitarist Rob Manzoli. The song was total novelty, adorned by a slinky dance beat and the monotone, baritone Fairbrass vocals. The mass fascination stopped there. RSF couldn’t produce a U.S. successor to the song or the debut album, “Up.”
Alan O’Day, “Undercover Angel” (1977)—For a spell in late ‘70s Hollywood, Calif.-born O’Day was all the rage. Well, at least his song was. His delicious slice of pure pop was inescapable. However, his album, “Appetizers,” had no staying power and he quickly evaporated into the Tinseltown ether. A bit of trivia: O’Day wrote Helen Reddy’s 1974 chart-topper “Angie Baby.”
Haddaway, “What Is Love” (1993)—Born in Trinidad but raised in Chicago, Nestor Haddaway had the dance floor packed every time his propulsive, swirling anthem played. In fact, you still hear the song during sporting events. Haddaway, on the other hand, is out of sight and out of mind. A self-titled debut album never led to a second disc in this country.
Eiffel 65, “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” (1999)—Baby talk or pop-hit genius? The male dance trio from Italy must have loved the United States right before the new millennium. The single darted to No. 6 and the accompanying album, “Europop,” peaked at No. 4 and sold 2 million copies. And where are they now? Hmm, perhaps shimmying by, well, the Eiffel Tower.
Ram Jam, “Black Betty” (1977)—A folk song, written by the legendary Leadbelly, transformed into a roaring, bottom-beat rocker. The New York City group enjoyed a No. 18 hit with “Black Betty” and a self-titled album that reached No. 34. A second album followed in 1978, but Ram Jam was already on its way to music industry extinction.
Deep Blue Something, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1995)—Dashing siblings Todd and Toby Pipes considered their Denton band a more haunting version of R.E.M. What proved truly scary was that this buoyant little ode would be reworked by Interscope Records and turn into a No. 4 pop hit (and reach No. 1 in the United Kingdom). But then, DBS pulled a Toadies and disappeared into the deep blue, well, something. Actually, the Pipes brothers began producing records and drummer John Kirtland morphed into an indie record mogul.
Jeannie C. Riley, “Harper Valley P.T.A.” (1968)—Raised in Anson, which is about 25 miles north of Abilene, she moved to Nashville in the late 1950s with her hubby to become a star. Which she did with this cheeky, Grammy-winning country ditty that made her the first female to hit No. 1 on the pop and country charts simultaneously and spawned a variety special, a movie and a TV series. After that, nothing crossed over to the pop chart despite a sultry (for the late ‘60s) image and Hollywood’s infatuation. She later became a born-again Christian and has made gospel albums ever since.
B.W. Stevenson, “My Maria” (1973)—Dubbed “The Voice” by music biographer Jan Reid, this Dallas native hit No. 9 with this taste of harmony-thickened country pop. Despite a glowing songwriting reputation and his status as a staple of Austin’s music scene at the time, he never seriously crossed over as a recording artist again, though his songs frequently became hits for other artists. Brooks & Dunn redid “My Maria” in 1996. Stevenson died in 1988 at age 38.
Edie Brickell and New Bohemians, “What I Am” (1989)—Darlings of Dallas’ Deep Ellum indie scene in the mid-1980s, the New Bo’s happened upon No. 7 pop gold with this jazzy, meandering song with Brickell’s pixie-ish, conversational vocals. However, no other song from its platinum-selling debut, “Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars,” made the Top 40 (“Circle” came close at No. 48), and after the follow-up disc tanked, the band did what Bohemians do and wandered off, with Brickell marrying Paul Simon and doing the motherly thing. A recent reunion has yielded little national notice.
The Fabulous Thunderbirds, “Tuff Enuff” (1986)—Dallas-bred blues guitarist Jimmie Vaughan almost always existed in the shadow of his brother, Stevie Ray. The exception? MTV-era commercial success, epitomized by this macho No. 10 hit and the Austin-based band’s longtime status as Texas roadhouse rock ambassadors. Only thing is, “Tuff Enuff” is its only Top 40 score: “Wrap It Up,” its second-most iconic tune, only reached No. 50.
WONDERING? DON’T BOTHER
Vanilla Ice—“Ice Ice Baby” was a chilling-enough tune to have hit Billboard’s top spot in 1990. But its daft follow-up, “Play That Funky Music,” by the cred-crippled Ice was even worse—and it reached No. 4.
Lisa Loeb—Only one song defines this ultracute, camera-kind Dallasite: “Stay (I Missed You),” which captured the top spot in 1994. But Dweezil Zappa’s former squeeze has had two other top 40 hits: the “Stay” follow-up “Do You Sleep?” (No. 18) and “I Do,” which reached No. 19 two years later.
Selena—By our definition, the South Texas-raised Latina songstress is a one-hit wonder. But the circumstances that surrounded the No. 22 hit “Dreaming of You” in 1995—her death earlier that year, her handlers’ posthumous finishing of the song and the grief that may or may not have pushed it into crossover territory, not to mention her legacy as a Tejano pioneer—masks the fact. Simply put, no one thinks of her that way, and that’s absolutely proper.
Arc Angels—Call the Austin supergroup a one-album wonder. Despite critical acclaim, heavy MTV exposure and an intent to exist for many years, the Charlie Sexton- and Doyle Bramhall II-fronted Arc Angels never issued a formal single from its lone self-titled 1992 album. However, three songs (“Living in a Dream,” “Sent by Angels” and “Too Many Ways to Fall”) did appear on the airplay-based Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.
Toadies—More than even Deep Blue Something’s smash (see above), 1995’s “Possum Kingdom” defined the propulsive North Texas indie-rock movement in the mid-1990s. But the Fort Worth outfit’s song never appeared on the pop chart, a fact that should prompt a few rubbernecks.
// Notes from the Road
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