[2 October 2009]
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.
Eddy Grant first tasted success as a guitarist with the Equals. One of the songs he wrote, “Baby, Come Back”, became a Top 40 hit in the United States in 1968 and went all the way to number one in the UK. Fifteen years later, he became a major recording artist when “Electric Avenue” spent five weeks at #2 on the Hot 100, selling more than a million copies of the single. I was evidently in the minority when it came to the huge hit’s reception; not only didn’t I like it, sometimes I’d start flipping stations when it came on the radio.
Then a year later, Grant released the theme song for Romancing the Stone, a Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner movie, and I fell in love with it. Although the producers decided not to use it in the movie, “Romancing the Stone” became a Top 40 hit (peaking at #26) and stayed on the Hot 100 for four months. I still listen to the song now and love it.
The last revival of The Mickey Mouse Club might have featured future stars like Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Ryan Gosling, and Keri Russell. But Kids, Incorporated, which began years earlier, was almost as impressive. Cast members included Fergie, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Eric Balfour, Mario Lopez, Shanice, and my favorite, Martika.
Erroneously labeled a one-hit wonder, Marta “Martika” Marrero had three other Top 40 hits besides “Toy Soldiers” (which spent two weeks at #1 and was sampled on Eminem’s Top 40 hit, “Like Toy Soldiers”). Although I thought “Toy Soldiers” was a decent song, it was a little too melodramatic and earnest for my tastes. But two years later, when she released “Love… Thy Will Be Done”, a beautiful song written by Prince that eventually became a Top 10 hit, I loved it so much I bought Martika’s Kitchen (a surprisingly good and extremely underrated album).
In 1987, Chris de Burgh released “The Lady in Red”, which became his defining hit. It spent half a year on the Hot 100 chart, peaking at #3 for two weeks, and the song has appeared in numerous movies and television shows since. Over the years, the song has grown on me, but I wouldn’t call it one of my favorites by any means.
However, I think de Burgh’s first Top 40 hit, “Don’t Pay the Ferryman”, was incredible. A mix of mythology and over-the-top drama, “Ferryman” combines great music, an unforgettable hook, and mystical lyrics to come up with something that is literally greater than the sum of its parts. This is definitely one of the greatest all-but-forgotten songs of the ‘80s.