Friday, September 29, 2006

One and done

This one started out with a project from Sonia: finding obscure, one-hit wonders that could match up with places in an obscure, one-horse town in Iowa. A comment was made over there to the effect that Norman Greenbaum was the most famous of the one-hit wonders, and this got me to thinking: Greenbaum's a good one, but he can't be the best of the bunch.

The subject of one-hit wonders is always a good one to get music freaks stirred up; back in the day, I actually saw fistfights break out at keg parties over this very subject. For the question is not only one of quality, but what actually constitutes a hit itself. To use our previous example, most people associate Norman Greenbaum with "Spirit In The Sky", but admirers of the old Dr. Demento radio show remember Greenbaum's previous efforts with Dr. West's Medicine Show and Junk Band - who could ever forget "The Eggplant That Ate Chicago"? Also, if one uses the Billboard Top 40 as their guide, then Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead are technically one-hit wonders, since most of their tunes that dominate classic rock radio were never released as singles, or never caught on on AM, which was still important until about 1975.

Going through the Billboard Top 40 from 1965-95, I attempted settling the question of what the greatest one-hit wonder of that period was, and came up with, if nothing else, a list of 40 great songs from the period. I chose the cutoff dates because pre-1965 pop music is a whole 'nother kettle of fish, and after 1995, the proliferation of charts and radio formats makes the question, "What is a hit?" a muddy proposition. One can argue today that the whole concept of "hits" is archaic - who needs Billboard when you have 100,000 friends on MySpace? I've ranked these in order of my preference, which in the end probably tells you more about my tastes than the relative quality of what's being ranked, an ever-present danger when one sees lists of this sort. And the whiteness of this list surprised me - I don't know if that's because the best soul and R&B hits came from those artists with substantial careers or because I lost the thread when soul and R&B became hip-hop and rap and thus missed a lot of good music. Those are subjects to discuss and have your next bare-knuckle brawl over while I spend my weekend at work and try to figure out where to go next. And yes, Norman Greenbaum makes it:

1. Jimi Hendrix, "All Along The Watchtower" (#20, 1968)
2. Buffalo Springfield, "For What It's Worth" (#7, 1967)
3. Cannibal and the Headhunters, "Land of 1000 Dances" (#30, 1965)
4. Free, "All Right Now" (#4, 1970)
5. T. Rex, "Bang A Gong (Get It On)" (#10, 1972)
6. Brewer and Shipley, "One Toke Over The Line" (#10, 1971)
7. Elvin Bishop, "Fooled Around and Fell In Love" (#3, 1976)
8. Easybeats, "Friday On My Mind" (#16, 1967)
9. Thunderclap Newman, "Something In The Air" (#37, 1969)
10. Georgia Satellites, "Keep Your Hands To Yourself" (#2, 1986)
11. Standells, "Dirty Water" (#11, 1966)
12. Castaways, "Liar Liar" (#12, 1965)
13. Dr. John, "Right Place, Wrong Time" (#9, 1973)
14. Blues Image, "Ride Captain Ride" (#4, 1970)
15. Pacific Gas and Electric, "Are You Ready?" (#14, 1970)
16. Desmond Dekker, "Israelites" (#9, 1969)
17. Divinyls, "I Touch Myself" (#4, 1991)
18. Hugo Montenegro, "The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly" (#2, 1968)
19. Crabby Appleton, "Go Back" (#36, 1970)
20. Roxy Music, "Love Is The Drug" (#30, 1976)
21. Marshall Crenshaw, "Someday Someway" (#36, 1982)
22. Warren Zevon, "Werewolves Of London" (#21, 1978)
23. Mott The Hoople, "All The Young Dudes" (#37, 1972)
24. Tony Joe White, "Polk Salad Annie" (#8, 1969)
25. Stories, "Brother Louie" (#1, 1973)
26. Spirit, "I Got A Line On You" (#25, 1969)
27. Thin Lizzy, "The Boys Are Back In Town" (#12, 1976)
28. Midnight Oil, "Beds Are Burning" (#17, 1988)
29. Lou Reed, "Walk On The Wild Side" (#16, 1973)
30. David Essex, "Rock On" (#5, 1974)
31. Frankie Goes To Hollywood, "Relax" (#10, 1985)
32. Norman Greenbaum, "Spirit In The Sky" (#3, 1970)
33. Patti Smith, "Because The Night" (#13, 1978)
34. Focus, "Hocus Pocus" (#9, 1973)
35. Sniff 'n' The Tears, "Driver's Seat" (#15, 1979)
36. Tracey Ullman, "They Don't Know" (#8, 1984)
37. Music Machine, "Talk Talk" (#15, 1966)
38. Status Quo, "Pictures Of Matchstick Men" (#12, 1968)
39. Timbuk 3, "The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades" (#19, 1986)
40. Napoleon XIV, "They're Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" (#3, 1966)