One-Hit Wonders That Saved The World

Some of the best music of the sixties, the seventies, and on into today was the product of bands whose most popular song became their only popular song. “Music Box Dancer”, by Frank Mills, for example, or “Why Can’t we Live Together”, by Timmy Thomas.  Herein forthwith, therefore, would be my favorite tunes in the “We had one good tune in us” category.

1) Sweet City Woman, by The Stampeders— This is also an entrant in my list of “best summer songs of all time”, which ditties must sound great coming out of even the cheapest tinny transistor radio. A light, airy, bouncy tune that begins  with a jaunty banjo hook and has a nice sing-along feel to it. There is a great guitar solo that the band members start to harmonize with. These guys sound like they are really having a good time. This was a Canadian group who were superstars in their own country, but only this song made any impression below the 54th° parallel.

2) Never Been Any Reason, by Head East–An all-out, up-tempo rocker, powered by a synthesizer-laced melodic riff that captured the innocent pining for a love just out of reach. Before the last chorus, the band sings the refrain “Save my life, I’m going down for the last time…woman with the sweet lovin’ better than a white line…(OK, so it ain’t Ira Gershwin)” a capella, which creates a dynamic tension that doubles the impact when they start to play again and bring the song home. A perfect radio song, it would have been hard to top for any band. Unfortunately this south Illinois combo never did. However, the lead singer, John Schlitt, who was fired in 1980 for a drug problem, got clean and sober and went on to become the lead singer of Petra, a leading Christian-rock band, for 19 years.

3) Na-na Hey-hey(Kiss him Goodbye), by Steam–This is an interesting story, as the band came into existence after the song was released. 3 friends had written the song when they were in a group in the early ’60’s, called the Chateaus. After this band went nowhere, the lead singer, Gary deCarlo,  laid down four tracks that impressed the studio heads. They wanted to release the songs as singles, but b-sides were needed. Singles had two sides, one song each, for you blessedly young people out there. The A-side was the single-to-be, and the B-side was an album cut or filler that did not make the final cut. With 2 other former Chateaus in tow, Decarlo re-recorded a song by their former band, “Kiss Him Goodbye”. Surprisingly, the studio liked this cut better than the others, and wanted it released as a single. But none of the three liked the song much, and no one wanted it released under their name, so a fictitious band, Steam was concocted. As history shows, it became a monster hit, and a band was quickly assembled to tour behind it. The band lasted one year, and dissolved.
The song itself is a percussion-ladened delight, with lyrics about an unrequited love(is there a theme here?), but hope lives on. I would love to hear the songs the guys preferred to this one.

4) Son of my Father, by Giorgio Moroder– Giorgio was, maybe still is, a top-notch record producer who masterminded hit records for the likes of Donna Summer, Blondie, and Sparks. He was also a musician who had several hits in Europe in the seventies and eighties. This was his only hit in the US, which livened up the radio in 1972. A song about coming of age, and coming to terms with one’s parental expectations. While this tune has more introspective lyrics than others on my list, it masks the somber subject matter with a nice synthesizer hook (Another theme) and a sing-along chorus (again!).

5) Spirit in the Sky, by Norman Greenbaum–A practicing Jew, writing a hit song about Jesus, using an opening riff stolen directly from Canned Heat’s “Refried Boogie”, what’s not to like?  A nice sing-along chorus, hand-clapping, and a drumbeat you could set an atomic clock to. This is one of the greatest hits of all time, in or out of the one-hit category. A non-denominational rocker, Mr. Greenbaum wrote it after watching  Porter Waggoner on TV, singing a song about a preacher.  The song was all over the airwaves from its release in 1969 until 1970 was almost over. In 1968, he had also had a hit , under the Dr. West’s Medicine Show and Jug Band nom de combo, called “The Eggplant That Ate Chicago”, a less spiritual song than “Spirit”, to be sure. But this makes him either a One-hit-wonder twice, or not a OHW at all.  Since “Eggplant” is only heard on Dr. Demento these days, and “Spirit” has ensured Norman’s economic freedom for four decades, let’s allow him to hold the title, but once only. I cannot imagine Mr. Greenbaum complaining; I know which song I would prefer to be remembered for.

Hand-claps and /or sing-along friendly, easy to remember lyrics, and a quirky yet melodic hook aren’t solely the characteristics of one-hit wonders, but they seem to be ubiquitous in the songs that I have chosen. It’s that communion spirit, the feeling that you can be part of the song, that makes these songs such favorites. They draw you in and perk you up for three minutes. The songs will endure even though the performers may now be the guy that you buy furniture from, work with, or live next door to.

One response to this post.

  1. Wonderful. Tonight, I got them to tune my whisky.


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