There have been countless articles, compilations, blogs, and lists about one-hit wonders over the years, many of them focused on 80’s acts. However, often times there was a second song from the “one hit wonder” that may not have been as commercially successful, but was just as good, if not better, than the first hit. We are once again tapping into the deep musical knowledge of fellow blogger “Treacherous Friend” for our look at the most notable 1.5 hit wonders.
My main issue with one-hit wonders is the level of overplaying the hit song gets, especially when it comes to looking back at the 80’s. But even during the 80’s, I often preferred the lesser-known hits of an artist, vs. the one overplayed hit on the radio. I like to think it’s due to a more sophisticated ear, picking-up on a song that is less radio-friendly but better quality, but the reality is, I may have just preferred these songs because they weren’t overplayed.
Frankie Goes To Hollywood (“Relax” and “Two Tribes”)
The single, “Relax” off of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s debut album, Welcome to the Pleasuredome, was released in the UK in October 1983. As it climbed up the UK charts, the BBC banned the song due to its “overtly sexual” lyrics, ironically propelling the song’s success all the way to #1. In the US, the song was released in 1984 and took its time making it to #10 in March 1985. By that point, the song was a cultural sensation, spawning the classic T-shirts stating “Frankie Say Relax Don’t Do It!”. The band was a bigger hit in the UK and other countries, but in the US, history has tagged Frankie a one-hit wonder for “Relax”. They did have a second US single, “Two Tribes”, which was also released in 1984, but never even broke the top 40, only making it to 43. While not as much of a party tune, and wouldn’t piss off anyone’s parents either, it’s the song I think is better. It’s an upbeat rumination on the Cold War and specifically the specter of nuclear weapons and MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). It was accompanied by a satirical video featuring a Reagan look-alike wrestling a Soviet leader Chernenko look-alike. It’s hard for me to believe it only made it to #43 in the US (it went to #1 in the UK and other countries), but perhaps at the height of the country’s love for Reagan, there weren’t many sympathetic ears to a song even remotely critical of him.
Bonus: The video for “Two Tribes” was played several times during the 1984 Democratic National Convention. It’s actually worth checking out:
DJ: I agree 100%, I loved “Two Tribes”, never bought into “Relax”, the video was great as well.
TF: I still prefer “Relax,” myself. And the cover art on the 12″ single was shocking in 1984!
A-Ha (“Take On Me” and “The Sun Always Shines On TV”)
I found this awesome image of the single cover and it makes me like the song even more. So we all know the Norwegian band A-Ha’s “Take On Me” by heart and it’s one of the oft-referenced one-hit wonders of the 80’s. It would not be overstating to say that the groundbreaking video in 1985 featuring a hybrid of live action and hand-drawn animation was a key video that helped make MTV into a cable behemoth. Considering its staying power as a staple of any 80’s look back show, I had always assumed “Take On Me” was a #1 hit, but it only made it to #15. However, it did get them the Grammy for Best New Artist, only to have them never be heard from again. Before they disappeared, they released the follow-up single “The Sun Always Shines On TV”, which made a respectable run to #20 on Billboard’s top 100. Yet, history seems to have forgotten this song, which may not be as catchy as its predecessor but is the one that I prefer to hear. It was a bit less synthesized than “Take On Me”, a more complex vocal from lead singer Morten Harket (cool name), and had generally a less bubblegum pop vibe to it. I understand why “Take On Me” is the song they are remembered for, but this song deserves its place on anyone’s 80’s mix playlist.
DJ: Disagree on this one. Although I agree that “Take on Me” is overplayed it’s the better song in my opinion. A-Ha is mostly on the radar of music history for the inventive video. The over playing of this song is what caused me to like it. Which I know kind of goes against our whole premise here, exception to the rule.
TF: See, I’m with Mike on this one. I’ve always thought “The Sun Always Shines On TV” was the far better single. And I know we’re using U.S. charts as our yardstick, here, but to suggest that A-Ha were never heard from again seems a bit unfair since they released 10 albums, the most recent of which was in 2015.
Blind Melon (“No Rain” and “Tones Of Home”)
In 1992 the band Blind Melon released first “Tones of Home” and then “No Rain” as singles, and no one paid much attention. Then in 1993 the video for “No Rain” featuring the classic “Bee Girl” character broke the song wide and it made it to #20 on the top 100 and #1 on the “Album Rock” tracks and “Modern Rock” tracks charts. The death of lead singer Shannon Hoon of a cocaine overdose in 1995 sealed a short fate for the band, and thus the band made #15 on VH1’s top 40 one-hit wonders of the 90’s. However, let’s go back to that first single, “Tones of Home”. Musically, this is a far superior song, the lyrics are much less whiny than “No Rain”, and it is a better showcase for Hoon’s vocals. On its initial release in 1992, it did make it to #20 on the top 40 Modern Rock chart. After the success of “No Rain”, it was re-released as a single, with an accompanying remade video that played kind of like a sequel to the whole Bee Girl thing, and this time it reached #10 on the Mainstream Rock chart. However, as far as the masses are concerned, the song went unheard and all people remember of the band is “No Rain”, a song that I personally could just never get behind.
Bonus: Another great tune from their self-titled album is “Change”. It was released as a single in 1992 but did not get the post “No Rain” re-release treatment.
DJ: I love this album, one of my 90’s favorites. I expected big things from Blind Melon. I loved “No Rain” but quickly hated it and focused on “Tones of Home”, “Change” is good too but for me the holy grail of this album is “Sleepyhouse”. I still listen to this album and it’s a sad reminder of their lost potential. Side note: the non-charting single “Galaxie” off their second album Soup is quite good as well .
TF: Nothing to add on this one. While I liked (and still like) “No Rain” and the dancing bee girl, I never got behind the rest of this band’s output. Part of that may have been the choice of “No Rain” as the breakthrough single – though I enjoyed it, it wasn’t compelling enough for me to seek out anything further from these guys.
I love one-hit wonders. Hits from Rockwell, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Gallery, Edison’s Lighthouse, and even Eddie Murphy are fun to look back on but these artists never produced anything else worth listening to and Eddie Murphy made Pluto Nash. What I enjoy more, are artists that were perceived as a one-hit wonder but actually had another great song. Flock of Seagulls (“I Ran” and “Space Age Love Song”), Spandau Ballet (“True” and “Gold”), John Waite (“Missing You” and “Change”), and Fountains of Wayne (“Stacy’s Mom” and “Radiation Vibe”), to name a few. I could go on all day. Here are the three I am most passionate about.
Crash Test Dummies (“Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” and “Afternoons and Coffespoons”)
In 1993 the Canadian band Crash Test Dummies put out their fantastic sophomore album God Shuffled His Feet and with it a huge 90’s one-hit wonder “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm”. It had a hard to sing chorus and went all the way to number 4 in the U.S. It had a fantastic video and even a Weird Al Yankovic parody called “Headline News”. Although hugely successful it also shows up on lists of bad and annoying songs which brings me to “Afternoons and Coffeespoons”. The T.S. Eliot inspired better second single is more upbeat and doesn’t lose any of that Brad Robert’s great bass-baritone, Crash Test Dummies signature sound. I saw these guys open for Elvis Costello and when they played this song, people were actually moshing to it, a feel-good song where “Mmmm, Mmmm, Mmmm, Mmmm” is kind of a real downer.
Bonus: Some may argue that Superman’s Song off their first album The Ghosts That Haunt Me may qualify as a minor hit, it does not, compared to the other two songs it only charted on 3 charts as opposed to 9.
MG: I actually still don’t mind hearing “4Mmms”. “Afternoons and Coffeespoons” is such an original pop tune, between Brad Roberts’ cool voice and its subject matter. How many pop tunes are a jaunty look at the physical deterioration of old age? Unfortunately, it is slightly tainted from a personal association I have, but I try to avoid thinking about that.
TF: CTD were to be one of my picks until you beat me to the punch, DJ. Great song. Great band. Another outfit that was releasing albums well into the 2000s, though no one ever heard them. And though “Afternoons & Coffeespoons” appeared on more worldwide charts, “Superman’s Song” charted higher in the U.S.
Bonus: Their 1999 album, Give Yourself A Hand, featured an unofficial sequel to “Afternoons & Coffeespoons” in the excellent and somewhat more cynical “Just Shoot Me, Baby.”
Crowded House (“Don’t Dream it’s Over” and “Something So Strong”)
Crowded House is in my top three bands of all-time and they actually may be first – I like everything they have done. So it breaks my heart that they are considered a one-hit wonder in the States. Neil Finn’s other band Split Enz is also considered a one-hit wonder with “I Got You”. “Don’t Dream it’s Over” was huge going to number 2 on the US Billboard Hot 100. It’s been covered by Paul Young, Sixpence None the Richer and Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus. For me it’s ok, I appreciate it but it’s low on my favorite Crowded House songs list. For me, it’s the next single off their 1986 debut that is far superior, “Something So Strong”. Outside of my own iPod I never hear this song. It’s happier and fresh and quite frankly reminds me of a youthful and more hopeful time. I absolutely love the video for this song which also blows away “Don’t Dream it’s Over”. Neil Finn writes beautifully and the opening lyric is a keeper, “Love can make you weep, can make you run for cover, roots that spread so deep, bring life to frozen ground”. It’s a shame this is as far as they could get in the U.S. as they are far more successful globally especially down under where they are superstars.
Bonus: Crowded House is not a dormant group but on a hiatus, in the meantime, Neil Finn just released a solo album, his fourth, and although mellow, a very solid and well-reviewed record.
MG: That debut album had a number of songs that were radio-friendly – “World Where You Live” comes to mind. Not sure why they didn’t end up on the charts. “Something So Strong” is a great happy-relationship tune, which are hard songs to come by. Such a great band – have to plug their album “Woodface” which is in my top 5 all-time albums.
TF: I know you two are crazy for Neil Finn, but his music just hasn’t grabbed me the same way it has you. However, all three of these singles (including the Split Enz number) are great songs. And you’re right – “Something So Strong” should have been a much more massive hit.
Haircut 100 (“Love Plus One” and “Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl)”)
In 1982 the light new wave band Haircut 100 (maybe the least known band on our list) put out their first album Pelican West. The only album with main writer and vocalist Nick Heyward (Looking like Ian McCullough’s happier twin). After Nick suffered a mental breakdown and moved on to a solo career, Haircut 100 released its disappointing second album before disbanding for good. People know them for the fun second single from Pelican West, “Love Plus One”. It reached 37 on the U.S. charts. The “ay ay ay ay ay ah” chorus is infectious and memorable. Every former 80’s kid knows this song but their first single “Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl) which stalled at 101 is actually the better tune. With this tune, you get way more horns and a great energy filled hook. It’s a song you very rarely hear, forgotten about in a time capsule. It’s funky new wave and very danceable. Nick Hayward loved writing very abstract lyrics and this song will not disappoint. I would also argue their third and non-charting single “Fantastic Day” is also better. Pelican West is actually a really solid fun album and Haircut 100 had a ton of potential but it wasn’t meant to be.
Bonus: In 2004 VH1 reality show Bands United got the full group including Heywood to reunite for two songs, the show in its entirety is on YouTube.
MG: I miss when bands regularly had a horn section in their songs – and there’s even a xylophone in Love Plus One! Unfortunately, I don’t recall Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl), but I checked it out on YouTube and loved the horns and the bongo drum solo in it. Fun song – like a hybrid of Split Enz and early Wham.
TF: Both of these are good singles, which I guess is technically the stated topic of this post, though I found Haircut 100 to be a strange choice. Most of the other acts we’ve written about here have a bit more longevity (Blind Melon aside). Nonetheless, great pick with “Favourite Shirts.”
There have been so many One-Hit Wonder collections (the best of which remains EMI’s expansive Living In Oblivion series) that the term itself seems overused and outdated. While still accurate in the sense that these acts only had one major hit, there were few cases where the band itself was a wonder. DJ touched on one of my favorites – Crash Test Dummies – whose decades-spanning career showed genre-sampling on par with David Bowie and Madonna while maintaining the initial quirk and humor of their early offerings. These are some of my favorite one-and-a-half hit wonders.
Thomas Dolby (“She Blinded Me With Science” and “Hyperactive”)
Thomas Dolby seems to engender the whole concept; in fact, if you were to ask people of my generation to name a one-hit wonder from when they were growing up, nine-out-of-ten times you’d get “Come On Eileen,” “Mickey,” or “She Blinded Me With Science.” More than anyone to date, Dolby’s single pushed the boundaries of the synthesizer in pop music and, frankly, who doesn’t love an excuse to shout, “Science!”? It was a singular quirky number and a huge departure from the remainder of the album from which it was released, The Golden Age Of Wireless. This is a case where the single was good, but the album is truly great. His follow-up in the U.S., “Hyperactive!” off of sophomore effort The Flat Earth almost feels obligatory, as though the record company said, “We need another ‘Science’ to hit the charts.” While “Hyperactive!” retains the same offbeat humor of its predecessor, Dolby fleshes out the sound a bit more with trombone accents and a huge walking funk bassline. However, “Hyperactive!” had a dismal chart performance, peaking at #62 in the U.S. and it is only the true TMDR fans who heard the bulk of his output from that point forward. The rest of the world has missed out.
DJ: Honestly growing up I didn’t know “Science”, “Hyperactive” was it for me, maybe because it was constantly on MTV, and had a really cool video. I don’t mind “Science” but prefer “Hyperactive” by far.
MG: Nice choice, and Dolby falling into the “one hit wonder” category is a real injustice to his talent. At the time I preferred “Hyperactive”, but love both tunes equally now, along with so many other great songs in his catalog.
Scritti Politti (“Perfect Way” & “Boom There She Was”)
Scritti Politti is one of my all-time favorite acts and in the running for my favorite band that no one else listens to. Most people are hard-pressed to even remember their “one hit,” the beautifully melodic “Perfect Way” from 1985, which crested at #11 on U.S. charts. Fewer still remember it’s clone, “Boom! There She Was” from 1988’s Provision album, which stalled at #53. Though the second single was a clear attempt to match the chart success of “Perfect Way,” the blue-eyed soul number incorporated funky stabs and processed backing vocals that gave it a richer, fuller sound. Still, present on this single – and throughout the ensuing album – Green Gartside’s pop sensibilities meld seamlessly with his erudite lyrics (this is a guy who rhymed “Gaultier pants” with “Immanuel Kant’s”). This is another act that would continue to record into the new millennium, though few people were aware of it.
DJ: I loved “The Perfect Way”, one of my all-time favorites. “Boom, There She Was” is excellent as well and did not get the credit it deserved. I will say for consideration an earlier single, “Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)” is also in this category, it was on more charts, including higher than both other singles on the US Dance chart (#4) and is just as catchy. I first heard this song on a mix tape I was given.
MG: Perfect example of a 1 1/2 hit wonder. I preferred “Boom”, but never tired of “The Perfect Way”. Both are such catchy, fun, put-you-in-a-good-mood songs. It feels like no one makes songs like this anymore.
Elvis Costello (“Veronica” & everything else Elvis Costello ever did)
For my third selection, I’m gonna cheat this one out a little bit. Everyone knows “Alison” by Elvis Costello (né MacManus) – it’s neck-and-neck with Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” for the most overplayed song by a single artist – but it never charted in the U.S. or, surprisingly, anywhere else in the world. His highest charting single was 1989’s “Veronica” which hit #19 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the Modern Rock charts. Similar to Leonard Cohen or Tom Waits, Elvis Costello is someone who has always skated under the radar but who has nonetheless cemented his place in the public consciousness. Part of it is his iconic look, more bookworm than rockstar, that everyone can immediately place at the mention of his name. Part of it is his ability to insert himself into pop culture in odd spots (cameo on Two And A Half Men, anyone?). And part of it is an aging hipster coolness that seems well-crafted by both the artist and his fans. Despite a huge career in the U.K., Declan MacManus remains but a footnote in American rock-and-roll history, but that footnote is a massive tome in its own right.
DJ: Big time cheat here, I can’t wrap my head around how Elvis Costello could be considered a one-hit wonder. I am not an Elvis super fan but I do love a lot of his 80’s and early 90’s singles. I didn’t know “Alison” when it came out so I wasn’t even counting this one as overplayed. Helped by a music video with a humorous poke at the British monarchy, “Everyday I Write the Book” got huge airplay. For me it’s the overplayed song here, not “Veronica”, which I rarely hear. Another side note “The Other Side of Summer” in Elvis’s fat bearded phase also charted and was played on the radio and MTV.
MG: As the more casual fan out of the three of us, I’d say the best case for Elvis as a one-hit wonder is “Everyday I Write the Book”. In the mid-80’s I remember it getting huge radio/MTV play, and then no follow-up, at least as far as strict American Top 40 goes. Not sure what the second song would be in that scenario – perhaps “Veronica” but it was 7 years later.