Ah, one hit wonders. Who knew that Martine McCutcheon was at number one for 2 weeks in 1999? Not me, until I started researching this piece. Mercifully, I’d also forgotten Glenn Medeiros and his only hit single, ‘Nothing’s Gonna Change my Love for You’, which held the top spot for 4 weeks in mid-1988. That’s 4 weeks of my Top of the Pops peak viewing time I’ll never get back. (Maybe it should have been renamed ‘Top if the Plops’ for that 4 weeks, thinks the childish part of my brain…)
Anyway. One hit wonders or one trick ponies, if you prefer – who can we count among their number? Some surprised me; songs that I was sure were one-off hits for certain acts had a bridesmaid follow up. The most unexpected example, for me, was undoubtedly Robson and Jerome. Yes, we all remember ‘Unchained Melody’ (whether we want to or not), which was at number one for 7 weeks from May 1985, but did you know that the ‘Soldier, Soldier’ stars also had 2 other number ones, in November 1985 – for 4 weeks, no less. They followed this with another, a year later, which was at the peak for 2 weeks. Who knew? Not me (and I’m a Geordie, like Robson, if that makes any difference).
Perennial wedding favourite ‘Come on Eileen’ wasn’t Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ only number one hit, either; they’d scored another, 2 years previously, in 1980 when ‘Geno’ spent 2 weeks at the top. I can’t recall ever having heard that one (but I was only 6 at the time, so perhaps that explains it).
Often, one hit wonders could be described as novelty songs. From ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, released in the mid-1970s, via the Spitting Image ‘Chicken Song’ of 1986. Then Right Said Fred said ‘I’m Too Sexy’ in the early 1990s, before 1997 brought us both the ‘Teletubbies’ ditty and ‘Barbie Girl’. Yeah, thanks 1997. All but Right Said Fred reached the top spot; Fred had to be content with number 2.
There are a lot more where those unique anthems came from, but many were penned for a specific reason – as a charity single, a Christmas song or for a film. Some were written as sporting chants; others specifically to dance to – in a very precise, strictly choreographed pattern.
Band Aid had one of the most memorable charity singles ever, firstly in 1984, when the original topped the chart for 5 weeks. 5 years after, Band Aid II managed 3 weeks at the peak. The 1980s were big for fund-raising records – USA for Africa scored a number 1 for 2 weeks with ‘We are the World’, right in the middle of the decade. 2 years later, in 1987, Ferry Aid managed 3 weeks at the chart’s pinnacle, raising money in the wake of the Zeebrugge disaster, when the Herald of Free Enterprise capsized.
More cheerily, some novelty songs were made simply to dance to – Whigfield’s ‘Saturday Night (1984), the ‘Macarena’ in the 1990s, then ’The Ketchup Song’ in the early noughties. All had in common that they inspired scores of people to hit the dancefloor and throw very specific, highly synchronised shapes.
From throwing shapes to kicking balls, some one hit wonders are still hugely popular with sporting fans at present-day fixtures. New Order’s 1990 hit ‘World in Motion’ is still oft-heard whenever England are due to play, as is ‘Tubthumping’ by Chumbawamba (1997). The most relevant example right now, though, has to be 1996’s ‘3 Lions’, which recently re-entered the UK charts during England’s most successful World Cup campaign for decades. (I guess we can’t strictly call that a one-hit-wonder, then.)
Some songs are released to coincide with a film in which they feature, and can be huge hits. In 1982, ’The Eye of the Tiger’, from Rocky III, reached number one, as did Berlin’s ‘Take my Breath Away’, from Top Gun, in 1986. That was rapidly followed by ‘Stand by Me’ (from the film of the same name) and ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop us Now’ by Starship, in 1987, from the movie ‘Mannequin’. ‘Show me Heaven’ – from another Tom Cruise film, ‘Days of Thunder’ – scored 4 weeks at the top in the first year of the the 1990s.
Christmas rounds off each year nicely, and also rounds off this list of novelty song choices – although not every yuletide one-trick-pony is particularly festive. A case in point being the acapella ditty ‘Only You’, which grabbed the coveted Christmas numero uno in 1983. It enjoyed 5 weeks in the spotlight, before The Flying Pickets sank into oblivion. ‘There’s no-one quite like Grandma’ wasn’t especially festive, either, but it was a massive surprise hit for Christmas 1980 – presumably because everyone had to buy it for their Nan. I know I (or rather, my parents) did. The Christmas hit phenomenon has been immortalised in novel and celluloid form as well as vinyl; Nick Hornby’s book ‘About a Boy’ tells the tale of a man who lives on the royalties from his father’s one and only hit tune – which fortunately for Hugh Grant’s character – happened to be a Christmas song.
Not all one hit wonders are novelty songs, though; there are many more which range from dire, to good and great – or even absolute classic. This piece was inspired when I happened to hear House of Pain’s lively anthem ‘Jump Around’ on the radio. It wasn’t a huge hit here, reaching number 8 in 1992, although it fared better across the pond, achieving 3rd place. I love that tune and am always happy to hear it.
How songs perform, chart-wise, here in the UK isn’t always reflected in the US Billboard. I was surprised that some lists I stumbled across classified A-ha’s ‘Take on Me’ as a one-hit-wonder, when I recalled those boys from Norway having successive, massive hits over here. The animated, sketch-style video, in fact, was apparently what catapulted A-ha to the top of the Billboard across the Atlantic.
Another song I’m pretty fond of is ‘My Sharona’, released in 1979 by the Knack, which peaked at number 6 here, but managed to secure the top spot stateside – another of those one hit wonders. American artist Billy Ray Cyrus had a big hit with ‘Achy breaky heart’ both here and in the US. Although he didn’t get to number one in either, the song endures (possibly because it’s profoundly irritating). Cyrus’s daughter Miley, aka Hannah Montana, is far more famous than he these days.
Some real decade-defining tracks were but one hit wonders. In the 1970s, Wild Cherry had a number 1 in the US (number 7 here) with ‘Play that funky music’, a song that still pops up on pretty much every funk compilation album. Synth hot-hit ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ took us into the 1980s, though I had to look up who even performed it (Bruce Woolley). Toni Basil’s ‘Mickey’ was so fine in 1982, and is a tune favoured by compilers of 80s hits albums, even though it didn’t quite reach number one (it peaked in second place). 1982 also brought us ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’, which roared for 3 weeks at number 1, before Tight Fit disappeared into obscurity. Thankfully, some might say.
In 1983, Men at Work were ‘Down Under’ up top for 3 weeks; in ’84 Nena’s ’99 Red Balloons’ was a stratospheric, worldwide smash. 1985 brought us ‘na na na na 19’ by Paul Hardcastle, which topped the list for 5 weeks. ‘You Spin Me Round’ only managed a week, but is very much fondly and clearly remembered, judging by the airtime it still gets. In fact, 1985 seems to have been THE year for one hit wonders, with Jennifer Rush and Feargal Sharkey scoring number ones with ‘The Power Of Love’ and ‘A Good Heart’ respectively.
By 1986 I was in the full throes of my first massive crush – on Nick Berry from ‘Eastenders’, who hit the top spot with ‘Every Loser Wins’. Not one that I ever hear these days, unlike ‘The Final Countdown’ by Europe, which actually spent less time at number 1 – 2 weeks for the latter as opposed to 3 for the former.
Rick Astley – who apparently has a new album out, right now – had a huge 5 weeks at the top of the charts in 1987 with ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’. Few people have forgotten him (alas, some might add). Most will have forgotten his Stock, Aitken and Waterman peer Sonia, who had one big hit in 1989.She’d completely slipped my mind, until I saw a sign advertising her performance at my local holiday park a couple of months ago…
Something of a Scottish anthem, The Proclaimers’ ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)’ peaked just outside the top 10 – at number 11 – in 1988. It’s hard, now, to believe that this song, still heard so often now, didn’t even make the top ten. Although it made number 3 in the US – and number 1 in New Zealand.
By the end of the 1990s, things had something of a Latin flavour, with Ricky Martin ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’ for 3 weeks in July 1999, swiftly followed by Lou Bega’s ‘Mambo no. 5’ which spent a fortnight at the top a couple of months later.
By the time we reached the year 2000, I was 26 and my interest in new music was already waning. Simon Cowell was poised to take the music world by storm (a dire, dark, threatening type of storm in my book, at that). I can’t really speak of music from that point on with any authority, so I’ll stop right here.
Suffice to say that the world of music would not be the same without one hit wonders. Better, perhaps, maybe worse; it would definitely be different. For me, variety is the spice of life. One good song is still a good song, and the rich tapestry of music history may well be somewhat less colourful without those one-off hits and misses.
This article was written by our guest blogger Polly Taylor @ BloggerByTheSea.com
Check out Polly’s very eclectic blog……There are some very entertaining and informative articles on a diverse range of subjects & topics. For instance her home made recipes are mouth watering and delicious!!