Our first article on one and a half hit wonders was so much fun to write we decided to do a part two. Like last time we have decided to invite back Treacherous Friend, our favorite music blogger, to help us out. You can find him at Hello, My Treacherous Friends. The rules are the same. We are looking for artists that were considered one-hit wonders but may have had another second minor hit that we liked better than the original.
Spandau Ballet: “True”/”Gold”
I love the English band Spandau Ballet, unfortunately, they are known here for their only US hit “True”. “True” reached number 4 on the US charts in 1983. This is a jazzy new wave band and “True” is a smooth pop ballad that sounds virtually nothing like the rest of their oeuvre. Don’t get me wrong it’s a beautiful song, Tony Hadley’s voice is spot on. I wonder how many high schools in 1983 across the country used this song for their prom. Very few people realize what Spandau Ballet sounds like outside of this song, but they are actually a really good band. The next closest song to hit the US charts was “Gold” which reached number 29 in 1983. “Gold” also appears on the True album. It’s a much more upbeat song and has a more New Wave sound than “True”. This is closer to the band’s real sound and it’s great. If you like sax, you get a great sax solo on this song. The video for “Gold” is also better as it intercuts the band into a Raiders of the Lost Ark-like story which contrasted with “True” which is just a band performance. A good comparison band would be ABC who had better luck breaking through in the states.
Bonus: The band got back together in 2009 but unfortunately Hadley left the band this past summer. In addition to checking out “Gold,” their greatest hits are worth a listen.
TF: I don’t think I was familiar with “Gold” before hearing it here. It might have been better in 1983 – hearing it for the first time here, it comes off as generic 80s New Wave. I was a big fan of “Chant No. 1,” though, with its huge horn lines and dance beats. Maybe I’ll go check out their greatest hits.
MG: I have only the vaguest memory of “Gold”, which is ok, but not all that distinctive, outside of the cool sax solo. I always think of “Chant No. 1” as the “other” SB song, which I prefer much more than “True”.
Screaming Trees: “Nearly Lost You”/”Dollar Bill”
The Seattle grunge scene produced some of the greatest 90’s bands, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney and Candlebox (which I often forget are from Seattle). The band that always slips off this list is The Screaming Trees. Their 1992 album Sweet Oblivion should be considered one of the best from the grunge era. “Nearly Lost You” was their big radio hit also being included in the 1992 Cameron Crowe film Singles. Mark Lanegan has a great rock voice, more Vedder than Cornell. For me, it’s really the second single “Dollar Bill” from the same album that is their best single. It’s a softer single than “Nearly Lost You”. “Dollar Bill” seems like a very personal song and Lanegan, not only with the lyrics but how he sings it really showcases the narrators coming to grips with his failings. “Torn like an old dollar bill” or “I don’t want to hurt you but it’s all I seem to do” are sung with incredible feeling. Not to leave the rest of the band out the song starts soft and really build to the end. It’s a perfectly built song, that too often got missed.
Bonus: Lanegan who also spent some time in Queens of the Stone Age has said that he has mixed feelings about the band and can’t see himself listening to these old records. Their 1996 single “All I Know” is also worth checking out.
TF: I can definitely see where you draw the Eddie Vedder comparison. This isn’t really my bag – grunge, in general, really isn’t – but it’s inoffensive and I probably wouldn’t complain too loudly if it came on in a friend’s car. I vaguely remember “Nearly Lost You,” but I couldn’t sing you the chorus if you offered me a million bucks.
MG: I kind of forgot about Screaming Trees, but “Nearly Lost You” is a solid pop-grunge tune. I never explored other Trees tunes, but “Dollar Bill” sounds pretty good – the acoustic guitar chords remind me of George Michael’s song “Waiting For That Day”.
Hanson: “MMMBop”/”Where’s the Love?”
Yes, I have an eclectic taste in music and I can’t resist a band with a great hook. And for Hanson, they unfortunately only had one number one hit and it was a doozy. In 1997 the three teen and preteen brothers captured the world’s heart and imagination with “MMMBop” a catchy song with a great hook and hard to decipher lyrics. They were the darlings of the music world and seemed to have the world in front of them but this song got overplayed, got extremely annoying and their bubble burst. Not so fast, yes the song got annoying at the time, but they had one more fun bubblegum song left in them, off the same album “Where’s the Love?” is just as sugary and hooky as “MMMBop” but without the grating chorus. The lyrics are cleaner and the sound is not watered down. This song should put the grumpiest of fools in their happy place. I know they still make music but it’s too bad they could not replicate their success.
Bonus: If you read Part 1 you will see that yes indeed I have now picked two songs that have Mmm in the title, what are the odds of that?
TF: I’d never heard this before, either, but it sure is upbeat, poppy, and catchy. It’s basically “MmmBop Redux.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I would listen to this one over and over again, but my favorite Hanson is still Beck.
MG: I despised “MMMBop” when it was popular, but I’m fine with it now as a novelty song. I have no memory of “Where’s The Love?”, but your description of it is apt. It’s ok, but I can’t say I’m adding it to any of my playlists.
The 80’s really are the decade of the one (and a half) hit wonders. It seemed like there was a new band on the charts every other week. It was tempting to continue to exclusively mine the 80’s for this topic, but I did select one of my picks from the 90’s, and that artist’s half-hit is one of my favorite songs.
Scandal (Featuring Patty Smyth): “The Warrior”/”Goodbye To You”
“The Warrior” is a massive 80’s song, peaking at #7 in 1984 and still a staple of any 80’s retrospective show or playlist. I never understood the “featuring Patty Smyth” part of the band’s name, since she was always the lead singer – it wasn’t like they existed in some other incarnation without her. Plus, it muted what was a cool band name. Anyway, I always enjoyed “The Warrior” and it was admittedly a while before I discovered their first single, “Goodbye To You”, which was released 2 years prior to “The Warrior” and only reached #65. This is a less aggressive track, but it has a catchy new-wave rock vibe to it that I’ve come to enjoy over the years. Smyth’s voice really shines on this track, bringing some of that gravelly tone in her voice to underscore the kiss-off nature of the lyrics. Unfortunately, it is slightly marred by an inexplicable and frenetic keyboard solo, which sounds like the soundtrack to that nightmare you had where sadistic clowns were chasing you on an amusement park merry-go-round.
Bonus: In 1983, Jon Bon Jovi had a brief stint with the band as their guitarist.
TF: This is a great choice. I have “Goodbye To You” on a random ’80s compilation CD called Don’t Touch My 45s and I’ve always dug the track. The video features Ms. Smyth doing the quintessential 80s lady’s dance – you know, the one that looks like half of an aerobics workout. Great rocker, and I actually enjoy the keyboard solo in the middle – it’s just long enough.
DJ: “The Warrior” is still one of my favorite 80’s songs but I admit “Goodbye To You” is criminally ignored. The video for this tune is old school new wave, the band looks like if The Knack and The Greg Kihn Band had a baby and Patty Smyth sounds great. She also had a short solo career including the best version of “Downtown Train” in a video directed by David Fincher. I wish she would have stayed in Scandal and rocked more, she has a great rocker voice.
Icehouse: “Crazy”/”Electric Blue”
Not only was the 80’s the decade of the one-hit wonder, it seemed to be the decade of the Aussie bands. To be honest, it was until very recently I even knew that Icehouse was Australian. The band members had been together in some form or another since 1977, but it wasn’t until the 1987 album Man Of Colours that they broke big in the US. Their first single “Crazy”, which reached #14 on Billboard’s Top 100 in 1988 is the one hit most people remember them for. At the time of its release, I was lukewarm on it, although I appreciate the song now. There’s nothing overly remarkable about it, but it had a memorable chorus and an overall radio-friendly pop vibe. Their second and only other US single was “Electric Blue” and this would definitely land on my high school soundtrack/playlist. Wikipedia is telling me it went to #7 in the US in May 1988, but I do not recall this level of popularity, and it has always seemed to me that Icehouse was known far better for “Crazy” (at least in the US). To this day, I don’t really know what the lyrics to “Electric Blue” are about, outside of the general theme of being infatuated with a girl. However, this theme tied perfectly into my first real crush/infatuation, and when I saw this girl wear a blue dress to a formal ceremony at school, all the planets aligned for me. Alas, I never got the girl, but there are other songs to lament that part of the story.
Bonus: “Electric Blue” was co-written by none other than Jon Oates of Hall & Oates. Who knew?
TF: I remember “Electric Blue” far better than “Crazy,” but that could be because we grew up together and I remember you being fixated on this song. Both are great cuts, but if they both landed in the Top 20, how do they rate as a one-and-a-half hit wonder?
DJ: Yep, I knew “Electric Blue” better as well. But like Scandal, I love both of these songs.
Fiona Apple “Criminal”/”Shadowboxer”
Fiona Apple has sold a remarkable number of albums and performed well on the concert circuit considering she had only one song break into the Billboard Hot 100. That song was “Criminal” and reached #21 in 1997. Its success is partially credited to the popularity of its controversial video, which featured a waifish 19-year-old Apple writhing around in her underwear in a seedy motel room. Had social media been around then people would have spent days arguing about the soft-porn nature of the video and her lack of body fat – “Eat a sandwich!” would have been the internet troll’s refrain. But back to the music – “Criminal” is an ok song, but it never really captured my interest, not nearly as much as her prior single “Shadowboxer”. Written when she was only 17, “Shadowboxer” is the perfect marriage of song and voice. The way-ahead-of-her-age lyrics, about having to be on guard against the sneaky tactics of an ex-lover, are a perfect fit for her deep, powerful and bluesy voice. The piano and bass play off of each other nicely and you can easily imagine her singing this song in the corner of a smoky jazz club. It’s amazing to me that this single barely charted, as it’s one of my favorite songs from the 90’s.
Bonus: “Criminal” won the 1998 MTV VMA for Best Cinematography. (I didn’t even know they had this category).
TF: Anyone who only knows Fiona Apple for “Criminal” and her latent weirdness (for lack of a better word) is missing out on one of the great songstresses of a generation. She’s an amazingly gifted writer, pianist, and vocalist. I’m bummed that she hasn’t been more prolific, releasing just four albums over the past 20 years, the most recent in 2012. For me, she’s one of those artists where singles and deep cuts just sort of all roll together into one amazing body of work.
DJ: Here is one I am completely on board with “Criminal” is ok but “Shadowboxer” is the better song and better use of her vocals. Easilly her best. “Fast as You Can”, “Limp” and “Paper Bag” are three other stand outs that are completely lost to the populace.
Hey, fellas, thanks for having me back again. I always enjoy working on these music lists with you. Not that there isn’t already a thousand other “one-hit wonder” lists online, some with the same conceit as this one (one and a half), but it’s still fun to write them and to get your perspectives on some of these songs.
Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians: “What I Am”/”Circle”
This album was so ubiquitous in my late teens that it was hard for me to believe that Edie Brickell fell into the one-and-a-half hit category. I was a senior in high school when Shooting Rubberbands At The Stars was released in ’88 and by the new year, it seemed that everyone had a copy and every radio station was playing it. Furthermore, I played the cassette so much that it became difficult to distinguish the singles from the non-singles. I loved the dippy, new-age philosophy of lead single “What I Am,” but it was the soft acoustic downbeat realism of “Circle” that really seemed to capture people’s attention, at least in my circle of friends (sadly necessary and unavoidable allusion, there). At a time in most people’s lives when everything around them – including social circles – is in constant flux, Miss Brickell’s assertion that “…being alone is the best way to be…” and that “…when I’m by myself, nobody else can say goodbye,” rang true and hit close to home for me. It was surprising to me to learn that the latter had barely cracked the Top 50 when it was released as a single in 1989. But everything is temporary, anyway.
MG: I hate to say it, but “What I Am” would make my top 20 annoying songs. [Editor’s note: this would make a fantastic future blog post, MG!] I am just not a fan of Edie’s whiney voice, although “Circle” is a better song and I wouldn’t have to automatically switch the station if it came on the radio.
DJ: Yeah I had the cassette tape and I couldn’t tell you why, maybe it was Brickell’s discount Janis Joplin-lite voice or the catchiness of “What I Am?” I just tried to listen to this record and I can’t; it doesn’t come close to holding up. But “Circle” is the better song, no doubt.
Gorillaz: “Feel Good Inc”/”Clint Eastwood”
When I decided to discuss Gorillaz as a one-and-a-half hit wonder (stateside, anyway), I totally expected this to go in the other direction. By the time Damon Albarn and company released this side-project debut in early 2001, I’d more or less turned off my radio. That didn’t keep me from being bombarded with “Clint Eastwood” at every turn, or so it seemed. But I had no idea that the lead single off their sophomore album, “Feel Good Inc,” had charted as well as it did. While I like both, I definitely prefer “Clint Eastwood,” which features Del The Funkee Homosapien guesting for the bulk of the vocals on this cut. It’s a low-key feel-good party anthem that has little to do with Clint Eastwood and even less to do with Albarn’s earlier and better-known projects.
MG: I don’t know why, but the cartoon stuff with this band bugged me and I never explored their music much, other than the occasional radio listen. “Clint Eastwood” is the only one of these two that I’m familiar with. It’s got a nice chill vibe. I’ve never heard Gorillaz discussed as a one-hit wonder, but I’ll take your word for it.
DJ: Not a big Gorillaz fan, “Feel Good Inc” is pretty good and not annoying and Clint Eastwood is about as palatable as the real man. Side note, love Blur, but can’t really get into a band that has cartoon doppelgängers, what is this Josie and the Pussycats?
Quiet Riot: “Cum On Feel The Noize”/”Bang Your Head”
Twisted Sister: “”We’re Not Gonna Take It”/”I Wanna Rock”
I wanted to juxtapose these two bands and their singles because there’s very little to differentiate the two. Both broke through into the mainstream with a third huge album that yielded a monster hit (and a half) bolstered heavily by MTV airplay. It’s worth noting, too, that in an era of synthesized new-wave pop, these two acts broke through with guitar-heavy faux-metal that recalled the already-classic rock of the 1970s. In fact, Quiet Riot’s big hit, “Cum On Feel The Noize” was a cover of a song that had charted for Slade ten years prior (the original is better than the remake). “Bang Your Head (Metal Health)” is an original by the band and much more fun, particularly in the video which has lead singer Kevin DuBrow escaping a mental institution to join his band on stage.
This approach worked so well for Quiet Riot in 1983 that in 1984, Dee Snider and Twisted Sister got on board, releasing “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” followed up by lesser hit (but better MTV presence), “I Wanna Rock.” Both the songs and videos were interchangeable rebel-rousers designed to appeal to youth culture looking to get out from under the thumb of authority figures in the midst of the buttoned-down conservative ’80s. In fact, from Dee Snider’s wig and makeup to Mark Metcalf’s scenery chewing in both TS videos, everything about these songs is over-the-top. I enjoy going back to these (and the Quiet Riot songs) now and then because they’re from an era before I started taking music too seriously or looking for songs that had substance – these are just silly rock-and-roll songs that pay perfect homage to a less complicated era.
MG: Nice job doing 4 pairs of songs instead of the assigned 3. I liked Quiet Riot much more in the 80’s than I do now. I now don’t care much for either song, since I discovered the superior Slade version of the “Cum On Feel The Noize”. I still enjoy the silliness of both Twister Sister songs, though I prefer “I Wanna Rock”, mostly due to overplay of the former.
TF: As DJ mentions below, all four of these songs are the same – I felt they warranted a single entry.
DJ: Yeah all 4 of these songs are the same. I liked them all at the time and could care less for them now and have no clue which ones I like better. It’s kind of amazing they couldn’t do much more than this for output.