Monday, April 15, 2013

The Top 500 One-Hit Wonders of the Rock Era: The Ground Rules

Initial and current popularity of the song and the artist, complexity of the song, number and quality of future releases.  Other factors taken into consideration include how much input the artist had into the One Hit Wonder:  songwriting, instrumentation, production, etc.  In other words, the more talented the artist, the more complex the song, the more popular the song, then and more importantly now, and the better their subsequent releases were, the higher the ranking.

To be eligible, an artist must have either had only one Top 100 hit or they scored a big hit and either never hit the Top 20 before or after that or never had more than one other Top 40 hit.  Some organizations who construct similar One Hit Wonder lists eliminate an artist if they had two Top 40 or Top 100 hits.  However, these songs are only minor "hits" that the majority of the people do not ever hear.  By setting the bar at Top 20 hits, this list includes artists who essentially never tasted widespread success after their "One Hit Wonder".  

This does exempt groups like EMF ("Unbelievable"), which is not eligible to be called a "One-Hit Wonder" because "Lies" was a hit in 1991, reaching #18.  Similarly, A-Ha, which has enjoyed great worldwide success, landed the Top 20 hit "The Sun Always Shines on T.V." in addition to their smash "Take on Me".  Michael Murphey ("Wildfire" in 1975) was headed for status as having one of The Top One-Hit Wonders of the Rock Era* until he landed at #19 with "What's Forever For" in 1982.  

Then you have an artist such as Berlin, which had the minor hit "No More Words" before their #1 "Take My Breath Away", and then nothing after that.  They are a judgement call.  In Berlin's case, "No More Words" was a big enough hit, in fact one of The Top Unknown/Underrated Songs of the Rock Era*, that they are classified as having two hits.  Stephen Bishop never hit the Top 20 after his Top 15 song "On and On".  But he had three other Top 40 hits, enough success to be excluded from One Hit Wonder status. 

Some artists, while perhaps having only one "hit" as defined by the industry, are nonetheless recognized as major stars and contributors to the Rock Era or to music in general, and can hardly be defined as One Hit Wonders.  One example would be Getz & Gilberto, who combined for one of the landmark albums of all-time, Getz/Gilberto.  Stan Getz did hundreds of albums in his career and won multiple Grammys.  Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez and Janis Joplin are others.  The inability of an organization to gauge popularity of an artist or their music doesn't make them "One Hit Wonders".  

Artists who were part of a successful group and only had one Top 20 solo hit are also a judgement call.  Essentially, if the artist in question did an album occasionally away from the group, then continued on with the group does not fit the category.  An example here is Ace Frehley of Kiss, who had the Top 20 hit "New York Groove".  Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane and Starship only had one Top 10 hit, "Hearts".  But obviously, his contributions to one of the best groups of the Rock Era are so great that he doesn't fit the category.  Len Barry's only solo Top 20 hit was "1-2-3", but he scored a big hit as lead singer of the Dovells with "You Can't Sit Down".

An artist who only had one big hit in collaboration with another separate artist isn't eligible as a One Hit Wonder.  Brooklyn Dreams comes to mind.  They scored a Top 5 song with Donna Summer with "Heaven Knows" in 1979 and were never heard from again.  The group reached the Top 5 largely because of Summer, and without her, they couldn't maintain that success.   There are numerous other examples of artists whose only big hit was largely the result of collaboration with and major contributions made by an established star.

There are several cases where an artist would classify as a One Hit Wonder in the United States or Great Britain, Canada, or another country.  But if they exhibited significant worldwide success, to include them as a One Hit Wonder would not only be incorrect; it would be offensive.  Shirely Bassey only had one big hit in the U.S.--"Goldfinger", but certainly great success in England and with her exposure in other James Bond movies.  Take That, which only had one major hit in the United States, have nonetheless been superstars in Europe. 

Similarly, Stanley Clarke & George Duke, teamed for three albums with one big hit--"Sweet Baby".  But each is a significant success on their own in the field of jazz and cannot be called a One Hit Wonder.

If an artist that had only one big hit isn't here, it doesn't mean they're not a One Hit Wonder--just that their song wasn't good enough to rank among The Top 500 One-Hit Wonders*.

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