Statement: One hit wonders may be one of the most interesting concepts on Earth.
Hello, I’m Ebony, and I’m a music nerd.
Let’s go for some real talk here; defining a one-hit wonder, or indeed the artist of one, is quite tricky. Just think- does it count if they had another hit in another country? Does it count if they had another hit that barely scraped the barrel of the Top 40/Hot 100/similar national musical ranking? Or would one define it as the artist only being remembered for one song, even if they had other successes? And so, we get to my point: there are different types of one-hit wonders, including ones you would never have thought of classifying as such. This is why I’m here; to point out these oddities, and to tell you how they ended up as such.
So, on this journey I’m about to drag you on, I’m hoping to give you something new to listen to, maybe open your ears (??) to a new artist’s previously unknown work; after all, as long as someone makes music, there will always be someone to listen to them. Case and point, Insane Clown Posse. Oh, and I may even make you think about it. How jolly exciting.
- Plain and simple, they only have one hit and then bury their musical heads back in the metaphorical sand.
- They have one hit in the UK but more in other countries, whether that be in their home country or wherever else.
- They have one heckin’ big hit in the UK, and perhaps one or two others that hover at the bottom of the charts like a depressed wasp.
- They have the main hit, and other modest successes, but only one has remained in the public consciousness- usually reserved for older hits.
A side note: bonus points for making your follow up hit/image intertwine with your successful hit- it’s a common trick that some use to stay relevant. An example of this is Sir Mix-a-lot’s follow up to ‘Baby Got Back’ was ‘Put ‘Em On The Glass’, a song about, not ass, but- you’ve guessed it- boobs.
So, I’ll give you some examples to light to illustrate, mkay? For ease, and to make this all consistent, we’ll be using the UK charts as that’s where I’m from. Let’s do us a comparing, lads.
Stats: UK, No.2; US Hot 100, No. 1; Norway (home country), No.1. Now stop shouting and hear me out, you horrible lot. Let’s review the criteria: Definitely had hits in other countries- I’m given to understand that they pretty much ran Norway until a couple of years ago (in that it was positively raining a-ha singles over there) and until Ylvis and the ear-garbage that was ‘What Does The Fox Say’ they were Norway’s biggest musical export of all time. They have other hits in the UK, and quite high up, too; ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’ actually surpassed ‘Take On Me’ and made it to No.1. So that leaves us with ‘Take On Me’ being the only hit to toodle about in the British consciousness. Now, some of you might cry, “I KNOW/REMEMBER ‘THE SUN ALWAYS SHINES ON TV!!” or even “um, what about their awesome James Bond soundtrack?” to which I reply, yes so do I! And yes, it’s a fantastic Bond theme! I’m not denying these things, only pointing out that these haven’t stayed in pop culture in the same way, i.e. when did you last hear them on the radio?
All of this leads to the question: why? Why is ‘Take On Me’ the only one that lingers on? I am hesitant to make any kind of sweeping statement, but I would point to the number of samples/covers that have accrued over the years as partly responsible. People listen to ‘Feel This Moment’ by everyone’s favourite travelling Kodak salesman, Pitbull, and think, “ooh, I’ve heard this tune before, though it had less… random unwanted sounds.” They look it up, rediscover the wonders of those three charming Norwegian boys, and proceed to boogie on. I mean, there are 80 covers (78 verified) of this song, and whilst Mr. Worldwide’s awkward, just-chucked-into-the-chorus sample (honestly, the only thing that could make it worse is random vuvuzela noises) is the only sample to be taken as of yet, I’ve no doubt someone will attempt it in the near future. Hopefully with a better outcome. And so, for the final portion in our a-ha extravaganza, we must take a look at how the success of ‘Take On Me’ had on the rest of their career. Well, the only thing they did that related to ‘Take On Me’ was ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’, which is, in regards to the video, a sequel. A-ha went on to have several more hits in their native Norway, as well as a few more over here, though none caught anything close to the success of ‘Take On Me’ and have been largely forgotten. A few that I would recommend are ‘I’ve Been Losing You’ and ‘Manhattan Skyline’, and if you have the time and interest, do go and listen to their albums, they’re somewhat underappreciated and rather gorgeous. A-ha split amicably in 2010, and each member was given a Knighthood of the 1st Class of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav for their contribution to Norwegian music. They reformed in 2015 to tour and write new material- their 10th studio album Cast In Steel was released in late 2015. To conclude, these lovely gentlemen best fit into our criterion number four, and in my opinion ‘Take On Me’ was a good launch pad for the band’s career but they did not need to cling to it to hold on to their success. They were a one-hit wonder in the most niche of senses, and I highly recommend them to anyone who loves some soulful, poetic synth pop.
Stats: UK, No.2; US Hot 100, No.1; Canada (home country), No.10. I have a distinct feeling you’re more likely to agree with me on this one. Let’s have a peek at the criteria, then: definitely had other hits that charted in multiple countries, so she’s not really a fit for the first one. Now, in the UK, Ms. Myles had two subsequent hits- ‘Lover Of Mine’ and ‘Song Instead Of A Kiss’, within three years. However, they didn’t reach single digits, let alone hit status, and buzzed around the bottom of the charts like our aforementioned melancholy wasp before dropping off and being promptly forgotten. Therefore, I think we’ve a good fit for criteron number three. It does however seem odd to me that her biggest hit didn’t really make too much of an impact in her lovely home country of Maple-Syrup-Land, at least when it initially charted; her follow-up hits actually did significantly better, and she continued to enjoy modest success way into the latter half of the nineties. This is somewhat of a wonder and a success in itself, as the musical landscape during the mid-nineties was everchanging and many artists came and went, leaving a small imprint and excellent musical fodder for people like me who enjoy investigating such things. Well done Alannah.
So, we come to the important question: why has ‘Black Velvet’ stayed with us and stood the test of time? Well for starters, the single won the lovely Ms. Myles won her a Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance, and the preceding and following promotion of it because of this likely planted it in the public consciousness; it received a Millionaire Award from ASCAP in 2005 for over 4 million radio plays. I’ve mentioned above the speed at which the trends of the nineties moved, and normally in these sorts of instances longevity can be attributed to the song going against the trend of the time; however, the trend for the early nineties was… the nineties trying to discover what the decade was going to be about, like a confused teen trying to figure out their identity. The single couldn’t go against a trend because no trends had formed yet, only a series of flukes and novelties. The only further reason I can fathom is that it’s simply a beautiful song; it’s minimalist, the vocals are exceptional and the subject is inspired and somewhat unusual for the time- the life of Elvis and his impact on the world. It’s simply aged well! The last, and possibly most specific reason it’s continued to bounce around in pop culture, is its appearance in GTA San Andreas, therefore creating a whole new generation for which this song brings a sense of nostalgia.
Alannah has kept herself busy, continuing to churn out new material; her last single was released in 2014, from her newest album 85bpm. I can’t say I’m the biggest country fan but it seems to be a well put-together album. The sound is somewhat stripped down in comparison to ‘Black Velvet’ but it’s been nearly 30 years so I think it shows she has adapted with the times and grown as an artist- I’d recommend you give it a listen, and I’m by no means a country fan, but I am a fan of powerful female vocals. To conclude, this wonderful lady had her five minutes in the spotlight; but she doesn’t appear to have tried to rehash the ‘Black Velvet’ fame at all and seems happy where she is and with what she does. If you like powerful female vocalists, go and investigate. She’s a treasure.
And there you have it, my lovelies. I think I’ve demonstrated, at least partly, that the idea of a one-hit wonder is fluid, odd and fascinating. Next time, I’ll be giving a run-down (or at least attempting to) of artists that fit more into criteria one and two.