One-hit wonders: a phenomenon, part I

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.

Criteria-ey things

  1. Plain and simple, they only have one hit and then bury their musical heads back in the metaphorical sand.
  2. They have one hit in the UK but more in other countries, whether that be in their home country or wherever else.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

take_on_me___a_ha

‘Take On Me’ by a-ha (album version)

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.

black velvet

‘Black Velvet’ by Alannah Myles

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.

Advertisements

Funk off, mate- we’re all beautiful.

As promised, my original post about gender stereotyping, in all its glory! No edits; all my confusion at actually having written this is clear to see! The original post resides with my friend Chloe, who runs a brilliant blog about fashion DIYs and reviews along with general life, and you can find her here. Enjoy, m’lovelies!

P.S- Correction- one edit. I have indeed recently decided on pansexual rather than bisexual. You see the former here and the latter version on Chloe’s blog. Do what you like with is info, I just thought I’d be honest!

The issue surrounding gender stereotyping and other such issues have always been quite close to my heart, but I never thought that I would end up feeling strongly about them as to write an article (or blog post, whatever you wish to call it) about it! However, through both positive and negative incidents in my life, I formed a strong opinion and this is what prompts me to do this. To sit at a computer at 11:30pm and try and organise my opinions, memories and arguments into something vaguely cohesive and hopefully interesting. It will hardly be an essay of sociological issues, but I hope that it gives you, dear reader, an insight to my experiences and thoughts. The conclusions I leave to you- I do not expect to swerve your thoughts, only to give you another point of view.
I had two polarising schools of thought on gender when growing up; my father’s side of the family, who possessed more conservative views when it came to gender, and sexuality for that matter. Girls must wear pretty dresses and have long hair, play with dolls, and generally thought of as delicate little things. Boys are the rough-and-tumble ones, must be seen in masculine colours and, of course, MUST HAVE SHORT HAIR. Because God forbid that they were “mistaken for a pouf.” To add context to these views, these people were born and bred in Devon, where intolerance is rife in a country which has shown itself to be much more progressive in recent years (gay marriage, anyone?!).
Then, on the opposite side, there is my mother’s side, whom I believe I draw most of my views from. These people are the strong, independent women that Beyoncé sings about. Everyone can look and be how they want to be, because no one should be worried about how society wants to label them.
And so, with a bit of context out of the way, I come to the crux of my point.

I, like many people, have a shaved head. The unusual thing about this is that I am a woman(ish)- I prefer to be thought of as androgynous/gender fluid but am generally perceived as female by family and peers- I haven’t really talked my feelings through with anyone except close friends, and even then only a bit. But I was astounded at the reactions that I overhear on this subject; even the positive ones could sometimes end up being back handed or inwardly insulting.
I’ll use for my example the one that I received first, namely a woman sat near me at the salon where I had it done. She was watching me avidly as my stylist got the clippers out and got to work-
“You’re being so brave.”
Why? Why should having shorter hair be considered brave? Bravery is going to fight in a war for the good of your country, or fighting a terrible disease. Not having an unusual flipping haircut. HAIR GROWS BACK, for God’s sake. I don’t like it, no worries, it’ll be back soon. Is it because she thought I’d be judged, because I appear to be female? This seems likely, and also incredibly wrong. From birth, society stamps girls with a need to have long hair- and become incredibly attached (emotionally, I mean!) to their long hair. I certainly can’t say this is true of everyone, I know several people who slipped through the radar, and I applaud them. I’m not demanding that every woman chops off their locks, I only point out that we shouldn’t encourage the ‘short hair is for boys, long hair is for girls’ stereotype.
I have two sisters, and the first thing they said to me upon seeing my hair (or lack thereof) was, “You look like a BOYYYY!!” And this is what we need to change; Children need to be taught that any hairstyle can be for any gender- and gender identity should not be forced upon them.
I’ve been on this Earth for 20 years, and I’ve had to close my ears to a LOT of ignorance towards my appearance, and that’s made me more outspoken than ever; the more I receive the backhanded comments, the more I proclaim “It’s all good! It’s all good and fine and dandy!” Because although I don’t care what you think of me, I do care how you carry that belief forward. An example of some of the things I have experienced:
“LOL, that’s a dyke’s haircut.”
“I can’t tell whether that’s a really pretty boy or a really ugly girl.”
“But the long hair made you look so FEMININE.”
Firstly. Can we just stop using the word dyke, like RIGHT NOW. Horrible and offensive, so stop or leave, please. I have no problems with being called a lesbian- I’m pansexual, so I guess they were half-right(ish). But stereotyping a whole group of people to one (in retrospect, extremely bad- it was a Beatles bowl cut) hairstyle isn’t okay, they come in all shapes and sizes like EVERYONE ELSE. C’mon guys, it’s 2018. I thought we’d established this.
The second one- again, no problems with sort-of being called male; I feel somewhere in between the two gender binaries. However, I am concerned with their potentially narrow view of what females and males look like. Gender identity is a spectrum, not a set of boxes with appearance tick-lists.
And the last- just no. HELL NO. Don’t you DARE go there. I’ve explained myself clearly enough on this issue- to think that this came from a member of my family breaks me a little inside. This, in short, is why I feel I cannot talk to my family about how I feel yet. Simple narrow-mindedness.

So, to conclude. We don’t need a revolution, or a surge of huge gestures. We only need to stop the gender stereotyping that is pressed upon children from birth. All that needs to be done is to stop telling children “This is for boys, that is for girls,”- because everything is meant for everyone. We need to stop worrying “but this might make me look like a girl/boy.” Like what? Beautiful, independent, a wonderful example of a human being? If that’s the only thing holding you back, then don’t worry about it. You look how you want to look, a little ambiguity never hurt anyone, and it certainly won’t change the opinions of the people who matter.
We need to be proud of who we are, and accept that everyone is equal in their rights, whether it be the small issue of a haircut or the huge issue of marriage. Not everyone fits into the gender binary, and what’s between our legs doesn’t define our appearance or our gender. Some people will never question theirs and others will spend their lives doing so. So most of all, we need to be compassionate to people who don’t fit into society’s ‘boxes’.
So this is the voice of an androgyne. And I say we are all beautiful.