COLUMN: Looking Deeper Into One Hit Wonders
Published: Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 21:10
Halley’s comet is a meteor that can only be seen by the human eye every 75 to 76 years for a short period of time. Discovered by its namesake, Richard Halley, the comet has been immortalized in song and romantic comedies as a metaphor for a short-lived relationship. One-hit wonders are not unlike the comet. They burst onto the milky night sky of pop culture as a shining light destined for the stardom of, say, Michael Jackson, after his first hit at the tender age of 12 with “I’ll Be There.” But then they don’t. They fade into the cosmos never to be heard from again. Until about 10 years later, that is, when the band appears in a 45-second montage with comedians commenting on how much they used to love it on some show entitled, “I Love the [insert appropriate decade here]” on VH1.
While most of these bands arguably only have one good song—Panic! at the Disco, for example—and other artists have more hits than they deserve (Ke$ha, I’m looking at you), many of these artists are accomplished musicians, singers, and truly great songwriters, who in the public conscience, are written off as one-hit wonders.
One of these artists, Blind Melon, would certainly be featured on “I Love the ’90s,” as it took part in the rock revival that dominated the airwaves during that decade.
If Kurt Cobain and Nirvana were considered the sonic embodiment of teenage angst and alienation with their soft-loud, verse-chorus song structure, which was borrowed from the seminal punk band, The Pixies, then Blind Melon was the visual and lyrical embodiment. In 1992, it put out its debut, self-titled album. It didn’t make a ripple in the alternative pond, however, until it released its second single. “No Rain” was a quirky song, whose video featured a tap dancing third grader in a bee costume, who is rejected by everyone until she meets the band in an open field (which included the lead singer, Shannon Hoon, high on LSD and naked). The song and many others on the album featured sincere lyrics about life’s hardships, as on “Change,” and trying to get your dream, as on “Tones of Home.” These lyrics were supported by Hoon’s singular voice that could make the most depression-soaked lyrics—“And I don’t understand why I sleep all day / And I start to complain that there’s no rain”—sound at once sunny enough for pop radio and as heart-breaking as they were intended.
Similarly, the band’s music was different too. It drew inspiration from ’70s psychedelic bands like The Grateful Dead. This helped the band soften its sometimes-heavy lyrics with light guitars and mandolins.
Arguably, the best trick in this group’s bag is the song “Mouth Full of Cavities” from its sophomore release, Soup. In the song, it kept its introspective lyrics, but added intricate guitars—rebelling against the bring-punk-to-the-people attitude of that time—and a supporting female vocalist that made it a haunting soul-searcher. When my guitar teacher heard this song, he said, “Well, I guess they’re not a one-hit wonder after all.” Mission accomplished.
A more modern one-hit wonder is the band Fountains of Wayne, who hit it big in 2003 with its song “Stacy’s Mom.” The hit single and many of the band’s other songs bubble over with ripe images, like “Stacy, do you remember when I mowed your lawn? (mowed your lawn) / Your mom came out with just a towel on (towel on).”
“I could tell she liked me from the way she stared (the way she stared) /And the way she said, ‘You missed a spot over there’ (a spot over there).” While not the musicians that Blind Melon or fellow one-hit wonder and ’80s hair metal band, Winger are, they rely on power-pop that is undeniably catchy. Fountains of Wayne could have been the equivalent of a Taylor Swift—that’s music critic talk for really good songwriter and insanely famous—if only they had dated 10 starlets in 2003.
Often one-hit wonders seem to be weak flames that burn out with even the smallest burst of wind. In contradiction to this common misconception, some one-hit wonders are supernovas—stars that may not burn off long, but which can emit more light than the sun in its entire lifespan when they do burn. These bands are sublunary supernovas.