Sunday, November 17, 2013
Music Sunday: The "One Hit Wonders" Edition, Sixties Style
People tend to laugh at "one hit wonders". They even made a movie about these songs by singers or bands who are never heard from again, "That Thing You Do". Great movie.
But the truth is, some artists with these single hits are actually heard from again, in other guises, or in other bands, or all on their own. Some of them are even known before having that one hit for other things they do. And sometimes, they do only have one hit, but that one song makes an impression that lasts through the decades.
A surprising case in point: The Jimi Hendrix Experience was a one-hit wonder by the criteria generally used to determine hits. Only one single by Jimi Hendrix, no matter who he was working with, broke into the Top 40 in the United States. That was "All Along the Watchtower", which was written and performed by Bob Dylan, but is probably most identified with the cover on the Jimi Hendrix Experience album "Electric Ladyland", from 1968. It only hit number 20 on the US charts, but it was his highest charting single. The highest one of his singles charted otherwise in the US was when "Crosstown Traffic" rose to number 52, also in 1968.
Overall, Janis Joplin was not a one-hit wonder. On the other hand, she only had a part in two singles that hit the Top 40 in her short but illustrious career. In 1971, her cover of "Me and Bobby McGee" hit number one - and that was her only Top 40 hit as a solo artist. But before that, in 1968, she was part of the one hit Big Brother and the Holding Company had, "Piece of My Heart", which went to number 12. Here is a live performance of "Piece of My Heart":
The Buffalo Springfield is considered to have been a hugely influential band in the 60s and beyond, despite the fact that they were only together initially from 1966 to 1968, and only had one Top 40 hit. "For What It's Worth", written by Stephen Stills and released in late 1966, hit number 7 in the US in 1967. The closest the band ever came again to the Top 40 was when, later in 1967, "Rock'n'Roll Woman" went as high as number 44. But both Stills and Neil Young were part of the band, and both went on to have both solo hits and hits with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Still, "For What It's Worth" has remained in the public consciousness despite being the only hit The Buffalo Springfield ever had. This performance is from the old Smother Brothers Comedy Hour, and features bonus silliness from Tommy Smothers:
Another one-hit wonder that reflected the upheaval of the Sixties was "Eve of Destruction", performed by Barry McGuire, which reached number 1 in 1965. I believe I've shared this particular performance of the song here before. It's still odd, and I still haven't quite figured out what the choreographer and set designer were thinking. It probably has something to do with the fact that this was on the television show "Hullabaloo" in 1965:
But, one-hit wonder or not, some songs take on a life of their own and, as shown in this live clip from 2001, Barry McGuire is still performing "Eve of Destruction" and still keeping it relevant:
On the other hand, some one-hit wonders weren't really relevant even when they were a hit. A case in point is Richard Harris's recording of "MacArthur Park" (1968) which reached number 2 on the US Top 40 charts. Yes, the actor, who concluded a long, successful career playing Albus Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films. Well, back in the Sixties he, like a lot of actors, harbored ambitions to be a pop singer. His only hit was "MacArthur Park", written by Jimmy Webb:
This version of "MacArthur Park" has been called the worst song ever recorded and, honestly, it isn't really very good. However, I can't in all good conscience call it the worst. I have, after all, heard Tiny Tim's "Tiptoe Through the Tulips", which, for my money, is much, much worse. Here is a performance of the song on "The Tonight Show" in 1968, the year it hit number 17 on the Top 40 in the United States:
Yikes. And apologies to my friend Terrance, who is a Tiny Tim fan. But, just...Yikes!