Real One Hit Wonders
|Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton doing the Hucklebuck|
A while back I sort of debunked “One Hit Wonders” lists in my “One Hit Wonders (Not!)” post as there were so many songs that just don’t qualify. So I thought I’d share a list of songs that are truly “one and done” hit songs. Once again following the definition laid out by music journalist Wayne Jancik “an act that has won a position on The Billboard (Hot 100) Top 40 record chart just once.” This from the ‘The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders’ (1998).
In my last post there is this one hit wonder by The Buggles, “Video Killed the Radio Star” (1979-80) this song is oddly often overlooked on most ‘one hit’ lists yet it is one of the biggest of them all, not many songs hit #1 in 16 different countries!
Conversely Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” (1969-70) is rightfully very high on most every list, however with the exception of charting higher in the US at #3 on Billboard and #1 on Cashbox it did not have near the same amount of success or sales as the Buggles song. So as many rank their one hit wonders by success, the Buggles should be at or near the top of these lists yet as I mentioned is strangely absent on many of them.
Here is my list of songs that in order to simplify things, must have at least hit top 40 in the US on Billboard’s Pop or R&B charts. And (in my opinion) had some staying power or impact past the artists “moment in the sun”. Todays list will jump around a bit but won’t go past 1980 and of course is not comprehensive, so I will visit this topic again.
Over the years there have been a number of songs that have either capitalized on a dance trend or “craze” or like this next one have actually started it off. I have talked about a few of them like “The Twist” and “The Stroll”. But before those was “The Hucklebuck“, you may not know why but you will recognize the tune. It was originally written as an instrumental by Andy Gibson as “D’ Natural Blues”. In truth this was strongly based on an earlier original Charlie Parker song “Now’s the Time” from 1945 and a brilliant record it is with an all star lineup including Miles Davis on Trumpet. Anyway a guy named Paul Williams heard the unrecorded song played by an orchestra, he liked the tune so much he was first to record it as ‘Paul Williams and His Hucklebuckers’ in 1949 and named it “The Hucklebuck” (as in the above clip) which went to #1 on the fledgling R&B charts and would be his only hit song, hence the one hit wonder moniker. The first version with the lyrics (added by Roy Alfred) was recorded by the great Roy Milton and His Solid Senders. Here is a clip of some dancers doing the ‘The Hucklebuck’. Chubby Checker covered “The Hucklebuck” in 1960 trying to capitalize on the success of “The Twist” which he had recorded just two months prior. Maybe it’s just me but I find quite a bit of similarity in the 1956 Jim Lowe song “Green Door” written by Bob Davie and Marvin Moore. In all, this song both instrumental and vocal has been covered about 90 times. Kate Smith of “God Bless America” fame covered it in 1958.
One of these days I will do more of these fad, novelty or trend songs but for now another dancing song. King Harvest’s cover version in 1972 of “Dancing in the Moonlight” reached #5 in Canada and #13 in the US. The original was by the songwriter Sherman Kelly and his band, Boffalongo in 1969. Kelly had been beaten by a gang in a vicious attack that left him near death, he wrote the song while recovering, imagining how different the world could be compared to the one he had experienced. How about this jazzy cover from Liza Minnelli (1973).
Yet another dance song, The group ‘Ashton, Gardner and Dyke’ recorded “Resurrection Shuffle” (1971) and it was a #3 hit in the UK, #40 in the US. I remember this song well from my youth, though it charted regionally in several markets it was not a huge hit in Canada. It was however a couple years later the first song I requested from a DJ in High School at the first “9’er” (Grade 9) dance. The DJ replied “cool choice man”, as clearly he was duly impressed with my groovy request, so pleased was I with myself I got up enough nerve to ask a girl to dance. And this from a person who can’t carry a beat from one side of a closet to the next. Short lived was my elation as I was summarily turned down. I confessed this story many years later to the of course, now grown woman who told me she had zero recollection of the incident, so to this day my ego remains in check. A cover by Tom Jones would hit #26 in the US, also in 1971.
Mashmakhan with “As the Years Go By” (1970) was a million seller and it hit #1 in Canada and #31 in the US. While it meets my criteria it’s really only on the list like the above song because I think it’s a great tune as did a number of us Canucks! One official documented cover that I could find “Τα χρόνια περνούν” in Greek, by Βρείτε το (‘The Idols’) also in 1970. A lovely piano version, Johannes Bornlöf.
‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’ was the second Album released by the band Iron Butterfly, in 1968. While this was not at first a single release, the 17 plus minute title track took up an entire side of the LP, which hit #4 on the Billboard albums chart. Selling a reported eight million copies within its first year of release, making it in 1969 the biggest selling album in history at the time. It would go on to worldwide sales of over 30 million copies by 1993. So while the song “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” did chart #30 as a single (edited down to under 3 minutes) it was the only reason the Album reached #4 on the Billboard chart. Thus making it and Iron Butterfly one hit wonders. And yes you may have heard the story “In the Garden of Eden” were indeed the original lyrics. When sharing the song for the first time with his band mates Doug Ingle had apparently drank a gallon (just over 4 litres) of wine, so the the lead singers words were so slurred the drummer Ron Bushy wrote down “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” and the rest is Rock and Roll history.
A song that was played at the now seemingly ancient sporting activities is “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye“. Credited to ‘Steam’, which was not a band at all but the collective of studio musicians that wrote and recorded the song. The principals and writers were Gary DeCarlo, Dale Frashuer, and Paul Leka who were all in a group named the Glenwoods in the mid 1960’s. They split and went their separate ways and each had fair success writing, producing, singing and playing session guitars and keyboards etc. Long story short a ‘B’ side single was needed for a record release, they reunited and “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” was born. With DeCarlo singing lead the intended ‘filler’ song became a #1 hit in December of 1969. There was much behind the scenes crap going on and for whatever reasons DeCarlo was apparently ousted for the tour, the makeshift band soon fell apart. The sports thing all started in 1977 when the Chicago White Sox organist Nancy Faust played the song in order to taunt the opposing teams. A cover by the Canadian a capella group ‘The Nylons‘ (saw them a few times 👍) hit #12 on Billboard in the summer of 1987, Bananarama did it in 1983 but failed to crack the top 100 but it went #5 in their native UK.
City Boy with “18.104.22.168.” (1978) in the UK it hit #8, and peaked in the U.S. at #27. Another little walk down memory lane for me as I remember hearing this song for the first time while sitting at the kitchen table and listening to the radio. It set off a course of me buying all nine of the bands albums, the well known Robert John “Mutt” Lange would produce the first five. This song however would be their only big hit, although “What a Night” from the same album ‘Book Early’ (#4 of 9 if you wanted to keep track) did chart in the UK only. So at least the song allowed them to produce another five albums. A talented band and I really don’t know why more people didn’t get them like I did. Post ‘City Boy’ many of the band would go on to other success, namely guitarist Mike Slammer as a session player, Steve Broughton would co-write “She-Bop” with Cyndi Lauper and the late (July 31, 2019) lead singer Lol Mason would hit top ten again in the UK with ‘The Maisonettes’ song “Heartache Avenue” in 1983.
Yet another cover version that would out chart the original is “Brother Louie” (1973) by the ‘Stories’. The two album band never again reached the heights of their song hitting #1 on both Billboard and Cashbox. With Ian Lloyd on lead vocals the song became a million seller, and Lloyd would later gain the distinction of having the most songs covered by Bryan Adams such as “Straight from the Heart” in 1983. The original by Hot Chocolate (1973) went to #7 in the UK but did not chart in the US.
Nick Gilder was born in London England (Dec. 21, 1951) and his family moved to Vancouver B.C. when he was ten. As a lead singer he was with the band ‘Sweeney Todd’ who would have a Canadian #1 with “Roxy Roller” in 1976 but the song failed to hit in the US only reaching #90. So they are a ‘Canada only’ one hit wonder but this does not qualify for my criteria of having a US top 40. Nick would leave Sweeney Todd and incidentally be replaced by a 16 year old Bryan Adams (sorry can’t find a clip). Singing solo Nick would have a #1 in the US and Canada with “Hot Child in the City in 1978. In addition to being his only US hit song it at that time held the distinction of taking the longest time from chart entry to reach #1 at 21 weeks. This feat has been surpassed over a dozen times since with the record holder that will never be beat ” All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey which took nineteen years to make it to #1 (2000-2019).
Amii Stewart is a big name in Italy but she had her only US chart topper in 1979 with “Knock on Wood” as it reached #1 on the R&B chart and #28 on Billboard’s Hot 100. This song was written by Steve Cropper with Eddie Floyd who recorded it in 1966 at Stax Records in Memphis and was a big R&B hit but did not reach The Hot 100. Covered over 90 times by many of the big names in the industry including David Bowie, Cher and more recently by Country artist Sammy Kershaw.
References; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page, Secondhandsongs.com,
https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/whats-on/music-nightlife-news/birmingham-singer-lol-mason-dies-16683103, https://www.insider.com/best-one-hit-wonders-2018-5, https://www.allmusic.com/album/book-early-mw0000793197, https://thegoodolddays.club/honeymooners-hucklebuck/, https://www.billboard.com/music/iron-butterfly, https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-lists/rolling-stone-readers-pick-the-top-10-one-hit-wonders-of-all-time-14391/a-ha-take-on-me-3-12830/, https://www.insider.com/best-one-hit-wonders-2018-5#macarena-by-los-del-ro-1995-34, https://www.officialcharts.com/archive/, https://medium.com/cuepoint/the-complete-list-of-true-one-hit-wonders-21a953ecc455
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