One Hit Wonder: Dionne Farris

In the summer of 1992, Arrested Development had the first of three top ten hits with “Tennessee”, a song as powerful and hypnotic today as it was seventeen years ago. A quest for spiritual enlightenment hindered by the anger and pain of growing up in a world that often makes no sense, the song ended with the strong, pleading voice of Dionne Farris echoing the song’s search for home.

Dionne, who was more one of the “extended family” than an actual member of Arrested Development, got noticed after the song became such a major hit, and Chrysalis (Arrested Development’s record company) offered her a solo contract. Looking for more creative control than the company was willing to give, Dionne turned down the offer. Fortunately, Sony Music heard a demo she made with David Harris, and they offered her a contract that was more flexible.

The result was one of the best albums of the year, Wild Seed, Wild Flower.

I still find music’s capacity to insinuate itself into every area of our lives amazing. A song can heal you in ways medicine never can, yet it can shatter an already broken heart with a casualness that’s almost terrifying. A theme song from a decades-old television show can make you inadvertently smile, even when you’re at your worst, and an annoying song that causes you to change radio stations can still haunt you hours later, playing on a perpetual loop until you want to scream.

I just have to hear the opening chords of Boz Scaggs’ “Love Look What You’ve Done To Me” and I’m fourteen-years-old again in the roller-skating rink in LaCrosse, Virginia, confused and overwhelmed by pretty much everything and yet oddly optimistic at the same time. “Blister in the Sun” by the Violent Femmes reminds me of Rick and of driving through Tanglewood, smashing mailboxes (yes, at one time I was one of those horrible teenage terrorists). “If I Never Knew You”, one of those cheesy Disney movie ballads sung by Jon Secada and Shanice, instantly brings me back to a time when I was in love and couldn’t believe it had actually happened for me.

Listening to Wild Seed, Wild Flower makes me feel safe. Every now and then during the spring and summer of 1995, I’d drive out to an elementary school a few miles away, get on the swing set, and watch the evening turn into night while I’d listen to Dionne Farris’ cassette on my Walkman. It was wonderful to have an hour or two of peace, listening to smart, sophisticated music from a woman with a phenomenal voice. I wouldn’t go back to that time, when I was still wrestling with so much and working at a job that barely paid enough to survive on. But listening to Dionne reminds me that not all of my memories of that time are bad, not by a long stretch.

“I Know”, the lead single from Wild Seed, became a massive hit for Dionne Farris. The song stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 for nine months, eventually peaking at #4. Just like “Tennessee”, it’s one of those timeless songs that only gets better as the years go by.

Unfortunately, the phenomenal “Don’t Ever Touch Me (Again)” peaked at #21 on the Bubbling Under Hot 100 chart, but never made it onto the main chart. And while “Hopeless”, a song featured on the Love Jones movie soundtrack, became a mild hit on some radio stations (peaking at #23 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart on June 21, 1997), it too never made it to the Hot 100.

But that’s okay. The one thing most music fans can probably agree on is that sometimes it’s okay to be a one-hit wonder. Sometimes, just that one song or one album can be more than you could have reasonably hoped for. And while I would love to see Dionne Farris achieve the level of success her huge talent deserves, I’m just glad there was a time in my life when she’d sing to me while I sat on a swing, trying to figure out what I wanted to do with myself.