So Consequence of Sound has posted a list of The 100 Best One-Hit Wonder Songs, and before we dive in, we should point out that they’ve really tried to do their best in the face of history. I’m sure there are those out there who have been outraged some way or another at the arbitrary nature of the “one-hit wonder” designation over the years. I know I have thrown a fit to see Madness’ “Our House” called a one-hit-wonder in the States without mentioning their 30 or so Top 40 hits in the UK.
If American chart success is a judge, the CoS writers says, Beck would be a one-hit-wonder along with Radiohead. No, what we’re really gunning for are artists who really only have one bona fide hit to their name, and afterwards pretty much disappeared into the ether.
The Vapors’ “Turning Japanese” is definitely one of those. Released in a flood of new wave/post-punk fervor, it’s a catchy earworm that would both define the band and then entrap them. They never had another hit and ironically had chosen this as their second single, worried that they might become a one-hit-wonder. Whoops!
And while the ‘70s and ‘80s are seen as the height of the one-hit-wonder, the 1990s sure are worth reconsidering. We didn’t know it then, but the music industry was just about to collapse with the arrival of Napster and the Internet, and the rise of electronica brought with it a cornucopia of one-off downtempo/triphop tracks, college-rock/post-grunge anthems, and this single from Toronto’s finest, Len:
(Ah, 1999. Just before the world imploded.)
You can listen to Consequence of Sound's list on Spotify, if you so choose:
So what happened to the one-hit-wonder? YouTube. Where else can you find novelty hits, parody songs, and pop cultural touchstones these days? The major labels certainly aren’t releasing them. That might be good for users, but it’s gonna be hell for pop historians attempting to assemble a comparable list in the future.
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.