January 21, 2004

ev'rybody's work-in' for the week-end



I think the subject has been done to death since high school, but there seem to be an awful lot of shows right now about one-hit wonders. VH1 did a Top 100 countdown of them a few weeks ago, and the iTunes Store just prompted me to download their One-Hit Wonders Vol. 2 collection.

What gets me is the smugness that audiophiles have about one-hit-wonders; as I like to say, they have one more hit that you ever did. Most people's favorite bands have never yielded a hit in my case, XTC put out fourteen brilliant albums and never had a Top 40 song. Not "Senses Working Overtime," not "Dear God," not "Making Plans for Nigel" not even the ones you might know. The fact that Right Said Fred ("I'm Too Sexy For My Shirt") was capable of doing something XTC couldn't is further proof of an arbitrary world with no functioning Deity.

Another curious thing about so-called one-hit-wonders is that most of them had 2-5 other hits that you've forgotten about. At dinner the other night, someone described Men at Work as a one-hit band for "Down Under," when they actually had a Number 1 song before that one ("Who Can it Be Now?"). Men at Work also had "Overkill," "It's a Mistake," "Be Good Johnny," and "Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive" just to name a few early MTV heavy rotations. If you look at any of the excellent Top 40 books out there (or have me along with you on a month-long road trip), you'd know fun and useful facts like Romeo Void's other song.

Another one of my favorite band categories are Groups That Had a Shitload of Hits But You Don't Remember They Existed, which includes Quarterflash, Billy Squier, Ambrosia and Richard Marx. These people all have mansions, swimming pools shaped like guitars and manservants.

I've rambled on about micro-eras before (like the "Daisy Age" from 1987-90) but there was another weird one occurring from about mid-1980 to early 1982. It was the last gasp of the earnest hair bands like REO Speedwagon, Blue Oyster Cult, Foreigner, Loverboy and Journey before the requisite beauty-demands of MTV made them superfluous. The music? Frequently terrible (Speedwagon's "Take It On the Run" and Foreigner's "Jukebox Hero" is CRAP). The lyrics? Unbelievably idiotic ("I'm not looking for a love that'll last, I know what I need and I need it fast"). But those early days of Atari, after Disco and before the New Romantics, had its own barefoot charm.

Speaking of Romeo Void, VH1 has done an excellent job of mining the secret longings of your backwards-leaning 33-year-old; their show Bands Reunited is one of the best ideas I've seen in the history of nostalgia. I don't know if it works or not, but they tried to get the Void, Berlin, Kajagoogoo, The Alarm and Squeeze back together for one show. Putting the Squeeze boys in one room is a public service to humanity, and I thought only the Budster and I liked Romeo Void. Count me in! Can you also try and get the Smiths back together? I'd give up baked goods to see Morrissey and Marr together again!!!

Posted by irw at January 21, 2004 10:46 PM
Posted by: michelle at January 21, 2004 11:06 PM

What about "Mayor of Simpleton"? I certainly remember hearing that one on the radio during... high school? What year did that song come out?

And if you are going to put Morrissey and Marr together again, you best get Rourke as well. There was a time when I fleetingly considered heroin, if only because I wanted to create beautiful, melodic bass lines like that guy.

Posted by: scott at January 22, 2004 12:09 AM

i always thought "the church" got a raw deal, too. under the milky way was a perfectly haunting song, but so was most of the album.

and missing persons. and possum dixon, st. johnny. camper van beethoven.

i'm trying this "ambian" for insomnia and it certainly kicks in a wee bit faster than they said. foggy. a girl nearly bit my ear off while listening to "strawberry letter #23" was that the brothers johnson?

my monitor suddenly seems very far away so a good night to all. i'm dumb.

Posted by: Mac Rogers at January 22, 2004 5:16 AM

I believe it's Right Said Fred that performed "I'm Too Sexy." I should know: I've listened to it over and over and over again.

Posted by: Lyle at January 22, 2004 5:49 AM

i loved, loved, absolutely lurved romeo void! popping the cassette into my chunky walkman while washing dinner dishes or the like was one of the few ways the teenaged me could flip the bird at my ridiculously strict and repressed parents. that tape disappeared long ago. most of the album that had the "I might like you better if we slept together" song was pretty good. don't forget icicle works, OMD and modern english...

Posted by: CL at January 22, 2004 6:47 AM

Then there's the issue of bands who were one-hit wonders in the U.S. (or two-hit wonders) but are known on a whole nother level ("nother" should be a world) in the UK. Like Madness & Aha.

Posted by: Alan at January 22, 2004 7:01 AM

Thanks for your title. You see Loverboy is the crappiest Canadian band of all time. In Canada there is a thing called CanCon, regulated levels of "Canadian music" - identified according to a bureaucractic formula - that must be played on the radio. As a result, Loverboy got much ariplay in the late 70's early 80's because it was good for us. Further, when I was a college radio DJ I had to play the stuff as the easiest way to get through the regulation was a canned set of CanCon tapes we rotated throught the hour. Sounds like Bulgaria but for the most part it works and we can thank it in part for Rufus Wainright and other great artists personally or by artist parents funded through sales that would never had occurred without the exposure of CanCon. But in the 80's we had Loverboy - as you did - because that was all there was back then to listen to and export.

Posted by: Greg at January 22, 2004 8:20 AM

I think "Mayor of Simpleton" was mainly played on 120 minutes. That was the XTC song that drew me into the fold (my, what a beautiful fold you have!) I was thinking the other day that I could easily waste great spans of my life watching tapes, dvds, or good ol' fashioned reruns of 120 minutes if they were available. That's where I discovered Guadalcanal Diary, Pere Ubu, The Godfathers and Love & Rockets, just to name a few. Then again, I'd probably discover that I've over-romanticized that time in my life (the period between 11pm and 2am on Sunday nights - the rest sucked) and 120 minutes wasn't that great - not a risk I want to take.

Posted by: Sean at January 22, 2004 8:32 AM

Modern English! When magic Mick and I were in a band together, we learned all the Modern English songs as if they were REM or the Violent Femmes. And, unless I remember wrong, they were a one-hit wonder twice, releasing "I Melt With You" about six or seven years after the first time and charting again. I think it went higher the second time.

I know we were talking about Men At Work the other day, but Foreigner is actually *awesome*, if you listen to them the way you would Tenacious D. "Hot Blooded" is the worst song in the world, unless you think they're kidding, and then it's *amazing*.

Posted by: Ian at January 22, 2004 9:13 AM

Mac - master of the "straight-to-video erotic thriller - is correct about Right Said Fred. In a way, the two are culturally related, yes?

Another category of bands I was going to put in there was "Bands From the '70s Who Had That One Incongruous Hit in the '80s." Pink Floyd, Zep(!), Supertramp, Donna Summer, and I guess you could throw the Speedwagon in there as well (since I don't include 80-81 as "the Eighties" yet).

Hey Scott Br., posting while on Ambien is always encouraged!

Posted by: magic Mick at January 22, 2004 9:15 AM

I tried to see Modern English live when I was 13. I went with a redhead named Brent, who, when I told the doorman I didn't have any I.D. (my, uh, shall we say upper body usually got me into places), said, "Yeah, uh, didn't you leave your wallet by your curlers?" Half my head was shaved at the time. Both doormen and I turned and gave him a disgusted look and I walked out, head down, hearing my then-fave band kick into "I Melt With You".

Posted by: hilary at January 23, 2004 1:43 PM

how could anyone forget about billy squire? come on! he needs to be in another category. what about the category of aging but hip rock stars who ride in private jets with current controversial presidential candidates, like joan jett?

and i'm sick of people mentioning loverboy's "working for the weekend" when "take me to the top" was such an important tune for the era.

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