Back in September I discovered a satellite radio channel that was all one-hit wonders, and it inspired a column of some of my favorites. People seemed to like it, except to this day I still get new comments smugly informing me that I must be an American because t.A.T.u. are global superstars with a string of huge hits outside the United States.
For the record, I am an American. This is a site based in the United States, they had one hit here, and I listened to their other songs. They’re nowhere near as good. So there.
Anyway, I regret to inform you that I’ve been listening to the one-hit wonder station again, so it’s time for another five songs by bands that were never seen again. In the United States. Get off my back.
Wild Cherry — “Play That Funky Music”
This song is not by KC and the Sunshine Band.
No, really. It’s a common enough misconception that it’s bordering on a Mandela Effect situation, but it’s true. It’s the one hit by Wild Cherry, a band that has neither KC nor the Sunshine Band involved.
That bit of trivia aside, it’s really indicative of one-hit wonders as a genre. Objectively speaking, it’s not especially great, but it’s so profoundly catchy that it’s stood the test of time and transcended even the musicians that made it. It has that magical combination of hook and energy that makes you want to listen to it even if you really don’t want to listen to it.
May we all be so lucky to create something like that, if for nothing else than for a lifetime of royalties.
Chumbawamba — “Tubthumping”
As someone who goes by “Danny,” I should hate this song. But I do not. I unashamedly love this song.
Back in college, I was listening to music on my computer when something strange happened with WinAmp (which was like iTunes before MP3s became things you could buy). No matter what song I played, it instead would play “Tubthumping.” It would claim to be playing the intended song, but the sound coming out of the speakers? “Tubthumping.”
I found out, many years later, that it was a prank. Someone installed a WinAmp plugin that would play “Tubthumping” instead of whatever song you requested. But it backfired. I just let it play and listened to that one Chumbawamba song over and over until my dorm neighbors wanted to kill me, including the prankster.
That’s right. I win even when I don’t know that there’s something to win.
The Knack — “My Sharona”
When someone asks what power pop is, this is the song to play for them. It’s definitely a pop song—it doesn’t really have the rock trappings or instrumentation—but it has rock’s driving beat and aggressive energy.
In fact, “My Sharona” may be the only pop song ever recorded that one could headbang to. Seriously, try it! Not a thrash metal head-bang, none of that circular stuff, but a solid melodic death metal head-bang. One of those two-stroke, half move down then full move down head-bangs.
See? Totally works.
Republica — “Ready to Go”
It’s certainly not as common as “Play That Funky Music,” since the song isn’t as common as “Play That Funky Music,” but you could be excused for having thought this song was by Garbage. Both are groove-based techno-pop bands with an extremely ’90s alternative sneering attitude and a female vocalist with an accent.
So why is “Ready to Go” the go-to scene-setting song for the mid-’90s burgeoning hacker scene, in the same way “Fortunate Son” or “Run Through the Jungle” are the go-to songs to emphasize that your movie takes place during the Vietnam War? Presumably because it’s cheaper. Garbage had many hits and are still around whereas Republica… is apparently still around too?[OK, Gokhman note. Fun fact: When a high-school-aged Gokhman started at the school newspaper, he got the bright idea to do album giveaways to gain traction. He went to the local rock radio station, and this Republica album was one of the first albums he was given].
Tommy Tutone — “867-5309/Jenny”
I’m gonna be honest with you here: I absolutely love this song. Like unironically love it. But the reason I’m including it here is because I recently had the chance to interview the man who co-wrote the song, former Tommy Tutone guitarist Jim Keller. He’s a really cool guy who still makes music when he’s not the manager for famed composer Philip Glass.
I don’t get the chance to interview a lot of musicians who wrote songs that are still played 40 years later, so out of curiosity I asked him what he thought when he heard it. You always hear the story of a young musician pulling over when they hear their song on the radio for the first time, but you never hear about the musician who hears it decades later in the grocery store.
He told me that he doesn’t even hear it anymore. He’s heard it and played it so many times it’s just white noise, though his friends and family occasionally text him that it was playing somewhere. But what really makes him happy is that it’s become a bar band staple so he hears it covered in dive bars walking around his Brooklyn neighborhood. Often, he’ll stop in to listen and introduce himself to the band.
It just shows you that, sure, he’s a one-hit wonder, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have an impact. That hit is still making people happy after all this time.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis and tweet column ideas to him at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.