A-Ha, Dexys, Madness, and The Correct Definition Of One-Hit Wonder


A-Ha, Dexys, Madness, and The Correct Definition Of One-Hit Wonder

When it comes to music, there are many things that frustrate me…

… Established bands releasing covers as singles

… Paperless ticketing

… Drum solos

… The Video Music Awards

At the top of this rundown of vexation is when artists are referred to as “one-hit wonders” when they’re really not one-hit wonders.

It’s sloppy, ignorant, and lazy scholarship. 

It’s like ill-using “irony” or not knowing the meaning of “literally.”

The misapplication of “one-hit wonder” irks me because the phrase has negative connotations.  Using it inappropriately can besmirch an otherwise good artist.


This recently happened in a post on a USA Today blog about Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III being demoted to second string.

Later in the article, the author speculates that Griffin will become “the NFL’s version of Dexys Midnight Runners.”

In other words, the author is calling Griffin a “one-hit wonder.”

Assess Griffin’s talents how you will, but Dexys Midnight Runners are not one-hit wonders! 

Sure, “Come On Eileen,” which went to number one in 1982, is the band’s only top 20 hit in the U.S., but Dexys had seven top 20 hits in the U.K.

Beyond that, they’ve made some good music.  Check out the album containing “Come On Eileen,” Too-Rye-Ay, it’s solid.

Dexys Midnight Runners’ Other Great Songs
"The Celtic Soul Brothers"
“Let’s Make This Precious”
“Plan B”
“There, There My Dear”

Yes, Dexys only had one chart-topper in the U.S. but they are much better than your typical “one-hit wonder.” 

The unflattering cognomen doesn’t apply to them and many other acts that have compiled a respectable musical corpus but haven’t experienced chart success.

So What Exactly Is A One-Hit Wonder?
If we go by how many Top 40 or Top 20 hits an artist has to their credit then we run into problems.  That system doesn’t really speak to an artist’s output.

If we only count acts that have cracked the Top 40, but not the Top 20, then Rush, Korn, Frank Zappa, Iggy Pop, The White Stripes, and Roxy Music are all one-hit wonders. 

But those acts are not one-hit wonders.  They are influential artists with a huge catalog of great songs.

If we only count acts that have cracked the Top 20 then Jimi Hendrix, The Clash, The Grateful Dead, Talking Heads, Kings of Leon, T. Rex, and Smashing Pumpkins are all one-hit wonders. 

But those acts are not one-hit wonders.  There are legends, icons, and superstars that have changed the face of music.

We usually think of one-hit wonders as artists who had fleeting careers—blink and you missed them.  Yet, there are several bands that have technically never even had a “hit” but are the cornerstones of popular music.

Artists that have never had a top 40 hit include Bob Marley, Phish, Leonard Cohen, Morrissey, The Ramones, Pixies, and Iron Maiden.

Here’s further proof that the charts are an inaccurate measurement of an artist’s output…

>>Bob Dylan has never had a number one single.
>>Lil Wayne (64) and the Glee Cast (51) have more Top 40 singles than The Beatles (50).
>>Mariah Carey is tied with Elvis Presley for the most weeks at number one (79).
>>Rihanna (13) has more number one singles than The Supremes (12), Madonna (12), and Whitney Houston (11).
>>Drake (91) has as many if not more Hot 100 entries than James Brown (91), Ray Charles (80), Aretha Franklin (73), and The Beatles (71).

One Song
Obviously, we can’t only use chart success in determining “one-hit wonders.”  It creates too many problems, exceptions, and paradoxes.

We also must be careful to assume that a one-hit wonder is an artist whose entire career is based on the popularity of one song.   

After all, where would Weezer be without “Buddy Holly,” Everclear without “Santa Monica,” Sinead O’Connor without “Nothing Compares 2 U,” or A-ha without “Take On Me?” 

Heck, where would KISS be without "Rock and Roll All Nite?"

Going back to A-ha, they are NOT a one-hit wonder.  In fact, they’ve reunited to release their tenth studio album and are preparing to collect concert tickets via a European tour.

A-ha had three top 20 hits in the U.S. and eight number one singles in their native Norway.

To define the term “one-hit wonder,” and to keep its negative connotations, we must say that it applies to artists who are artistically, commercially, and historically known for just one song.

If we use just the main singles chart, the Billboard Hot 100, then there are hundreds of one-hit wonders including the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Buffalo Springfield, Lou Reed, Randy Newman, Kate Bush, Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, and Liz Phair.

Using my definition, which is infinitely more accurate, than there are actually very few one-hit wonders. 

That makes sense since most acts can parlay the success of one hit into another.  And truth be told, most artists actually have enough talent to put together a decent music career.

Still, not everyone can be U2, Coldplay, or Taylor Swift.

>>Brewer and Shipley, whose only Top 40 hit is “One Toke Over the Line,” have released 11 studio albums and are still performing live.  Therefore, they are not a one-hit wonder.

>>A Flock of Seagulls released three straight top 40 singles in 1982—one of them being
“I Ran (So Far Away).”  They’ve also won a Grammy Award.  Therefore, they are not a one-hit wonder.

>>Madness is best known for “Our House,” which peaked at #7 in 1982, but they sent “It Must Be Love” to #33 in 1981.  Therefore, it’s madness to call Madness a one-hit wonder.

Also, Madness owned the charts in their native U.K.  From 1979 to 1986, they charted twenty Top 20 singles.  If you’ve heard Madness then you know they are far more substantial than any one-hit wonder.

Actual One-Hit Wonders
Steam – “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" (1969)
Zager and Evans — “In the Year 2525” (1969)
Mountain – “Mississippi Queen” (1970)
Starland Vocal Band — “Afternoon Delight” (1976)
The Vapors — “Turning Japanese” (1980)
Tony Basil – “Mickey” (1982)
Michael Penn – “No Myth” (1990)
Lou Bega — "Mambo No. 5" (1999)
Baha Men — “Who Let the Dogs Out?” (2000)
Daniel Powter — “Bad Day” (2005)

My Recommendation
I recommend the author of the blog post drop the Dexys reference; it doesn’t make any sense (the band is not a one-hit wonder).

In its place, I’d suggest referencing The Georgia Satellites.  Their only hit was “Keep Your Hands to Yourself.”  It went to #2 in 1986. 

Who’s Cooler: The Beatles Or The Rolling Stones?

BeatlesStonesWho’s Cooler: The Beatles Or The Rolling Stones?

As a writer, I don’t like to use the word “cool”—unless, of course, I’m writing about temperature.

I think it’s lazy; there’s always a better word.

Nonetheless, “cool” is part of our lexicon and our culture, but what exactly does the word mean?

It’s easier to cite examples of cool then it is to create a definition.  For example, Elvis Presley (before he started making movies), Jimi Hendrix, Joe Strummer, Morrissey, Kurt Cobain, and Jack White are cool.  Pat Boone, Milli Vanilli, and American Idol contestants are not.

To further complicate matters, one can evolve in and out of “cool.”  Neil Diamond is certainly cooler now than he was in the 1970s.  Time has not been so kind to Ozzy Osbourne, David Lee Roth, and Dave Matthews.

We can parse the word “cool,” and argue over who deserves it as an honorific title, until the cows come home.  I hope we do since it strengthens my claim of not using the word when I write (I seldom use it in conversation either).

Beatles or Stones
There is one avenue, a battle really, where we don’t need to spend any time defining the word “cool.”  That’s rock and roll’s age old question of who is cooler: The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?

The question has been the subject of books, broken up friendships, and caused many a sleepless night (fans arguing until sunrise).

It’s time to ask the question again as both bands find themselves in the news.

In The News
The Beatles drummer Ringo Starr is being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist. The Beatles were inducted in 1988.  The other three have also made it based on their solo careers.

In 2015, the Rolling Stones are touring and re-issuing their 1971 classic album, Sticky Fingers.  Their tour begins May 24 and ends July 15.  The Rolling Stones in San Diego is their first tour stop while Quebec is the last.

The last time a Rolling Stones tour hit North America was 2013.

Cool Reputation
More times than not when this question is asked The Stones come out on top.  That’s because the usual metrics used in determining “cool” are in the Stones’ wheelhouse.

The Stones are bad boys who sing about sex, drugs, and partying.  For example, The Beatles have an album called Let It Be while the Stones have one called Let It Bleed.

For some reason, such decedent and deviant behavior attracts the label of “cool.”

If you asked this question on the Rolling Stones Facebook page, or on the Rolling Stones Twitter account, you’ll definitely find thousands of fans that will agree.  That should surprise no one.  It probably won’t surprise anyone if causal rock fans pick the Stones too—being cool is the band’s reputation.

Old Fogies
There are, however, a few things we need to consider before anointing either band as the coolest.

The Beatles were around for a decade.  The Stones are going on 53 years.

It’s always easier to be cool in the short run.  For example, we’ve all met what we thought was a super cool person at a party—we spend a few minutes with them over the course of an evening and we think they’re Lenny Kravitz.  Then we spend an entire afternoon with them and realize they’re lamer than our parents—they’re Billy Corgan.

The Beatles broke up in 1970 and therefore never had the embarrassment of releasing “Harlem Shuffle” or performing “Love Me Do” in their sixties.  The last image we have of The Beatles is the “Fab Four” in their late 20s performing on a rooftop.  That’s a pretty cool image.

The Stones have been suffering through jokes about their age for the past two and half decades.

“Old” generally repels “cool.”

Beggars Banquet
The Stones really didn’t become the “Stones” until December of 1968 when they released Beggars Banquet.  If you check the Rolling Stones archive you’ll find that the opus contains the classic tracks: “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Jigsaw Puzzle,” “Street Fighting Man,” and “Salt of the Earth.”

Their earlier stuff was really good but they didn’t really find their iconic big stadium, bluesy rock sound until Beggars Banquet.  The LP was released a month after The Beatles released The White Album.

Although the two bands were contemporaries their heydays were not congruent.  The Beatles hit their zenith from 1966 to 1969 while the Stones hit theirs from 1969 to 1972.

Sgt. Pepper’s
In 1967, in response to The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Stones released Their Satanic Majesties Request.  It was a blatant attempt to capitalize on the success of Sgt. Peppers.

Not cool, man.  Not cool.

Bad Boys
Finally, The Beatles were actual bad boys but were cleaned up by their management.  The Rolling Stones were middle class kids going to art school billed as bad boys.  A role they eventually grew into.

For example, in 1967, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Brain Jones were all charged with drug offences (Richards would go on to be arrested four more times).

The Answer
As you can see, to answer our original questions we must ask even more questions.  Do you take each band in its entirety?  Do you compare their heydays?  Do you ignore the 1980s and beyond?  Do you count Bill Wyman?

To make everything easier just consider the following…

Regardless of who is cooler, we all agree they both bands are pretty cool.  Now, almost all of The Beatles’ songs were about love.  It’s not easy to sing about love and be as cool as they were.

When singing about love it’s real easy to become trite, maudlin, and/or saccharine.   That never happened to John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

The Stones sang about love too but they sang a lot about sex and drugs.  It’s easier to sound “cool” when singing about that stuff.

And that’s why the answer to our question should be The Beatles.  But let’s not give an answer just yet.

The Cool Answer
My two favorite bands are The Beatles and the Stones.  I also think they’re the two greatest rock bands of all-time.  I list them as 1 and 1a.

So when it comes to cool why can’t we do the same thing?  After all, that’s the cool answer.

By the way, the coolest member of either band is, by far, Stones drummer Charlie Watts.

Six Famous Rock Stars Who Do Not Sing

Carlos SantanaSix Famous Rock Stars Who Do Not Sing

“Carlos Santana is the most famous rock star who does not sing.”

That’s part of the opening sentence to Chris Willman’s review of Carlos Santana’s new book, The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light.  To learn more about the autobiography visit Santana’s Web site.

Is Carlos Santana the most famous rock star who doesn’t sing?  And by “sing” I mean lead vocals—Santana is frequently credited with singing backup.  There are a lot of rockers who don’t sing but few that are famous and even fewer that are as famous as Carlos Santana.

Below, Musicology-101 looks at Carlos Santana and five other rock stars who are very well known but eschew crooning.   As you’ll soon learn, Willman is on to something.  Of course, we’ll leave it up to you to make the final decision but Carlos Santana is definitely one of the most famous rock stars who does not sing.

Angus Young
AC/DC’s lead guitarist, Angus Young, may not be a household name, but his schoolboy-uniform and duckwalking are as synonymous with rock and roll as drugs and sexy groupies.  Young and AC/DC have sold more than 200 million albums during their hall of fame career.  Their 1980 opus, Back in Black, is one of the bestselling albums of all-time having sold more than 50 million units.  AC/DC may be known for using three-chords but Young is still widely regarded as one of the genre’s greatest guitarists.

Carlos Santana
Carlos Santana is one of rock’s greatest guitarists and successfully fused it with Latin music.  One or the other would have been enough to get him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but accomplishing both has made him a legend.  While Santana does sing backup, he does all his talking with his axe.  Santana’s 1999 album, Supernatural, is probably what prompted Willman to call Carlos the most famous non-singing rock star instead of “one of the most.”  The album sold more than 30 million copies and captured nine Grammy Awards.

Currently, Santana, both the man and the band, are in the middle of a residency at the House of Blues Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.  On March 8, 2015, Santana begins the “Corazon Tour” in St. Petersburg, Florida.  Less than two weeks later the group plays the first of three shows in Mexico.  Carlos and company return to the House of Blues in late May.

Eddie Van Halen
Let’s ignore the little lead singing Eddie Van Halen has done during his illustrious career (lead vocals on “How Many Say I” from Van Halen III).  After all, his guitar work speaks volumes—Van Halen has sold more than 80 million albums and Guitar World readers named him the greatest guitarist of all-time.  Eddie’s fame doesn’t stop there.  He appeared in an episode of Two and Half Men and was married to an actress (Valerie Bertinelli).  Within his own generation he’s the “most famous rock star who does not sing,” but when you start including rock fans from other eras he probably falls behind Santana.

Jimmy Page
Jimmy Page was the lead guitarist for one of rock’s most influential bands, Led Zeppelin.  He’s consistently in the top five when it comes to “greatest guitarists of all-time” lists.  If there was a Mount Rushmore for rock guitarists he’d be on it.  Page is probably Santana’s biggest threat to Willman’s honorific of “most famous rock star who does not sing.”  While every rock fan knows Page (and his riffs), he’s much more of a mystery than Carlos Santana.  For example, Carlos Santana has a Twitter page, Page does not.

John Bonham
John Bonham is the second member of Led Zeppelin on our list and the only drummer.  His death in September of 1980 caused the band to dissolve.  Bonham is arguably the greatest drummer in rock and roll history.  He inspired generations with his beats, innovations, and ability to find a song’s groove.  Just as everyone who picks up an axe tries to play “Stairway to Heaven,” everyone who picks up a pair of drumsticks tries to play “When the Levee Breaks.”

Saul Hudson plays a sweet guitar.  So sweet he has to go by the name Slash.  Whether in Guns N’ Roses, Slash’s Snakepit, Velvet Revolver, or as a solo act, Slash has melted faces with his proficient guitar shredding.  Besides being a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Slash frequently finds himself high on rundowns of rock’s greatest guitarists.  If Guns N’ Roses had endured a little longer, Slash may have very well ran away with the title of “most famous rock star who does not sing.”  He’s still the most famous rock star who wears a top hat.

U2 Should Be Considered One Of The Greatest Rock Bands of All-Time

U2 Innocence Experience TourU2 Should Be Considered One Of The Greatest Rock Bands of All-Time

If you haven’t done so already you should start doing it now.  I’m talking about calling U2 one of the greatest rock bands of all-time.

I don’t mean putting them in a category that’s as broad as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (where 108 groups have been inducted).  I mean they should be in the argument for the greatest rock band that ever stepped onto a stage.  They’re on par with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, and Pink Floyd.

If rock and roll had a Mount Rushmore, their likeness should be carved in the stone facade (although the logistics of that would be incredible).

U2 deserves such lofty consideration because they’ve consistently been one of the top rock bands of the last 35 years—ever since they released their debut album, Boy, in 1980.  To demonstrate the importance of that album, its opening track, “I Will Follow,” is the band’s most played song in concert.

None of the aforementioned titans of rock have reigned as long as U2.  The Beatles were around for less than a decade.  Led Zeppelin rocked for about a dozen years.  The Who are still touring but they’ve been a different band since the 1980s.  Only The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd have managed to post careers longer than U2’s.

U2 just released their 13th studio album, Songs of Innocence.  The album was free to download if you were one of iTunes’ 500 million customers.  According to the digital music retailer, 81 million people listened to the album while 26 million downloaded it.

In addition to all of those amazing numbers, Rolling Stone magazine named Songs of Innocence the top album of 2014.

Rolling Stone’s 13th studio album is Goats Head Soup–the LP that saw the Stones morph from rock force into rock farce.

Pink Floyd’s 13th studio opus is A Momentary Lapse of Reason.  It might as well have been called “A Momentary Lapse of Quality” as it’s not the band’s finest work.

When Songs of Innocence was released, U2 was approaching the 35-year mark (counting from the release of their debut album).

The analogous Stones album was Bridges to Babylon.  A pretty good effort but nowhere near as relevant as Songs of Innocence.

Pink Floyd was dissolved when their 35th anniversary rolled around.  The milestone occurred between the band’s final two albums, The Division Bell and The Endless River.  The last title was based on material recorded during the making of the former.  Both albums were excoriated by critics.

So, the Irish band is still relevant after 35 years.  That’s about as big of a deal as U2’s twitter account having 352,000 followers.  Neither accomplishment makes them worthy of the title of the greatest rock band of all-time.

That’s true but U2 has all the other things a band needs for entry into the Valhalla of Rock.

U2 has sold 150 million records.  That puts them behind every group in this article but The Who.  There is a caveat to U2’s album sales.  For the last fourth of their career fans have stopped buying recorded music.

U2 has 22 Grammy Awards on their mantle—no rock band has more.   They’ve won Album, Record, and Song of the Year twice.  All total, they’ve earned 47 nominations.

U2 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility.

U2 is responsible for the highest grossing concert tour of all-time (“The 360° Tour”) and are the world’s number one live act.

U2’s next concert series, “Innocence + Experience Tour,” begins May 14 in Vancouver, British Columbia.  The trek visits Madison Square Garden four times.  U2 is in New York on July 18, 19, 22, and 23.

U2 reminds me of The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd.  All three bands can play all night and not perform all their hits.  Chances are good that if you attend a U2 concert you won’t hear all of their popular songs.

On top of all that they have the intangibles: cool factor, genre bending, epic philanthropy, and a Sgt. Pepper’s type album (The Joshua Tree).

They’ve written great songs that have been covered by a bunch of great artists.  They are better live than they are recorded.  And even though they have a distinct sound their songs don’t all sound the same.

They are commercially successful, adored by critics, award-winning, and insanely popular.  Characteristics shared by all the other bands mentioned in this article.

If the band continues on their current path, and they’ve given no indication of slowing down, the question won’t be “Is U2 one of the greatest bands of all-time.”  The question will be “Who’s the greatest rock band of all-time after U2.”

Katy Perry Will Set Record For Most Watched Super Bowl Halftime Show Of All-Time

KatyPerrySuperBowlKaty Perry Will Set Record For Most Watched Super Bowl Halftime Show Of All-Time

I think it’s one of the most overrated gigs of the year.  It’s especially overrated if you’re a hardcore football fan. 

I’m of course talking about the halftime show at the Super Bowl.  Football fans spend all season using halftimes to go to the bathroom, reheat nachos, and/or watch another game.  But for the Super Bowl we all of sudden must endure several minutes of a performer who has nothing to do with the sport, game, or the two teams playing.

This year, the stage for the Super Bowl halftime show has been handed to Katy Perry.  Super Bowl XLIX is scheduled for Feb. 1, 2015 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Phoenix, Arizona.

I’ll be honest; I don’t watch the Super Bowl for the halftime entertainment.  I watch it because I love football.  In fact, I don’t even go to Super Bowl parties anymore because I don’t want to be distracted from the game.

While I eagerly await the Super Bowl to crown a new NFL champion, many await the Big Game to experience a larger-than-life spectacle.  The NFL’s ultimate annual contest is the world’s biggest sporting event and that makes its halftime show, contrary to my opinion, relevant, important, and newsworthy. 

In the wake of the infamous wardrobe malfunction of 2004, the NFL booked a plethora of veteran rockers used to playing large stadiums: Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Prince, Tom Petty & the Heartbreaks, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and The Who.

In 2011, with the image of Janet Jackson’s nipple nearly forgotten, the league decided to go back to attracting younger audiences.  To that aim they tapped The Black Eyed Peas, Usher, Madonna, LMFAO, Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé, Destiny’s Child, and Bruno Mars (they also threw in Slash and the Red Hot Chili Peppers for good measure).  In other words, Katy Perry’s selection wasn’t a matter of “if” but a matter of “when.”

Her selection was immediately greeted with open arms.  ABC News posted an article listing 5 reasons why Katy Perry was “the obvious choice.”  Their reasons are: her costumes are always out of this world, her sets don’t disappoint, she’s promising animal involvement, she loves her fans, and her Twitter presence alone will create a stir.  It’s a favorable write up but those aren’t reasons.  They’re descriptions. 

The Katy Perry love affair continued on CNN.com.  They ran down three reasons why Perry will “kill it.” 

The first is “she’s got energetic, exuberant pop.”  Hard to argue with that statement as Katy Perry has nine number one hits to her credit.

CNN’s second reason is “everyone from your grandma to your 3-year-old nephew knows her music.”  I disagree.  In the 1960s everyone knew what The Beatles sounded like, even those that didn’t like them.  Nowadays, you can be a major pop star with nine number one hits and few people outside of your immediate fan base know what you sound like. 

The news network’s final reason is the best: “She gives a show-stopping performance.”  No one can argue with that.  Say what you will about her music (and her aesthetic), but the girl can flat out get it done on stage.

I’d like to say that on Super Bowl Sunday she needs to deliver the performance of a lifetime but that’s not true.  It was true 20 years ago but not anymore.  The bigger train wreck you are the more attention you’ll get.  During her halftime performance, Perry can lip sync and fall off the stage and her celebrity will only increase.

Bottom line, Perry checks a lot of boxes for the NFL.  She’s young, popular, and safe—unless you object to cleavage and songs about chicks kissing one another.  She’s a social media über star; Katy Perry’s Twitter account has over 60 million followers—the most of any celebrity. 

As we learned from ABC News and CNN, the singer is a media magnet.  She forgets to cover her mouth during a sneeze and it’s all over the internet.  There will probably be more ink about her performing at the Super Bowl then there will be about the two teams actually playing in the game.

Her immense celebrity will make her recognizable to older football fans—they may not know her music but they will at least know her name. 

Male football fans may prefer a hard rocking band like Bon Jovi, or country music superstar Kenny Chesney, but at least with Katy Perry they’ll get some eye candy.

Where she’ll really pay huge dividends for the NFL is her ability to attract young women.  While a lot of chicks love the NFL I’m sure the league’s smallest demographics are girls/women in their tweens, teens, and early twenties. 

If you’re going to have a huge halftime show you might as well use it to draw viewers that might not otherwise check out the game.  Sure, the Super Bowl is a pop culture event that transcends sports, but booking Katy Perry might be enough to entice some people to skip the mall and watch the Big Game instead.

That’s why for the third time in four years the Super Bowl halftime show will set a record.  In 2012, Madonna attracted 114 million viewers.  In 2013, Mars broke that record with 115.3 million pair of eyeballs.  In 2014, look for Katy Perry to break the 117 million mark.