One-Hit Wonders: A Philosophical Exploration

One-hit wonders exist in every art form. There are novel one-hit wonders (The Secret History, A Confederacy of Dunces). There are poetry one-hit wonders. (Quick! Name a poem by Robert Frost that doesn’t start with “…Whose woods these are I think I know.”) There are movie one-hit wonders (“Fletch” — the only funny Chevy Chase movie ever [1])! There are probably painting and sculpture one-hit wonders, although I can’t be bothered to think of any right now [2]. But the area where the art form of the one-hit wonder most excels is, of course… music. And musical one-hit wonders can be divided into three categories…

1) THE ANNOYING ONE-HIT WONDER

This Dead or Alive song – “You Spin Me Round” – is a pretty good example. It’s a catchy little tune, but clearly, we didn’t want to spend the rest of our lives hanging out with a guy with a half-shaved head, Chinese robe, and eye-patch. Fare-thee-well, Dead or Alive.

Likewise, the Fine Young Cannibals song below – “She Drives Me Crazy” – is pretty goddamn annoying as well. Granted, it’s a much better song than “You Spin Me Round”; in fact, it’s almost a great song. But the reason it succeeds — the reason it got stuck in our heads, as well as the reason that it steadily moved up to number one on the charts — is the same reason that it fails: the singer’s incredibly annoying falsetto. His falsetto is what makes the song great; without it, it’d just be another blah song. Unfortunately, the falsetto also makes you want to punch the singer. In the face. This is not a recipe for long-term career success. So much for you, Fine Young Cannibals.

But the ne plus ultra of the Annoying One-Hit Wonder, as far as I can tell, is “The God Song” by Joan Osborne. After this song came out, everyone in America wanted to hit Joan Osborne on the head with a shovel. As far as I can tell, this was the entire point of the song, which features lyrics like “What if God was one of us/ Just a slob like one of us,” and “Nobody callin’ on the phone/ ‘Cept for the Pope maybe in Rome.” If Sarah Palin’s personality was a song, that song would be this one [3]. But again, the awful annoying dumbness of the song and its lyrics was all part of the plan… to get this song stuck in our collective heads, and to move some records. Joan’s irritating nose ring may have been part of the plan too, but I can’t confirm that for sure.

Clearly, there was nothing to do after hearing this song other than to go out and personally kill Joan Osborne. And I’m guessing that that’s what happened, because we haven’t heard from her since.

All one-hit wonders contain messages for our lives, and the Annoying One-Hit Wonder is no exception. In the case of Dead or Alive, that message is: hey, maybe tone it down a little, fella. In the case of Joan Osborne: maybe it’s better to be ignored than to become a national joke [4].

THE MORAL: Not all attention is good attention.

OTHER EXAMPLES: “So Happy Together” by The Turtles, “Wooly Bully” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, “Mambo No. 5? by Lou Bega, “Mony Mony” by Tommy James and the Shondells, almost any “bubblegum” song, and the horrendous “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred. Plus, of course, “Who Let the Dogs Out?” and the unforgivable “Macerena.” And let us not forget “Tubthumping” by Chumbawumba or however you spell it. …And let us also not forget that these categories are somewhat fluid. In a different frame of mind, “Tubthumping” might charitably be considered a Category Three, or “Inexplicable” O.H.W.

More From Thought Catalog

  • Julie

    What exactly is “he/she” about Tracy Chapman? Cheap, shitty joke, bro.

    • Student

      I think it's about the sound of her voice. I distinctly remember having an argument with my brother over whether the singer of Fast Car was male or female. Based on the vocals.

    • Oliver Miller

      He/she has an ambiguous name, and he/she has an ambiguous voice, as mentioned below, and in the video for “Fast Car,” he/she looks like a guy/girl with ambiguous dreadlocks. It wasn't even that much of a joke. I started writing about Tracy Chapman and realized that I actually DID NOT KNOW if he/she was a guy or girl. …After I finished writing this article, my friend Tiffany pointed out that Tracy is, in fact, a girl.

      • http://twitter.com/magalinahag magalina hagalina

        A simple google search could have told you her gender, yet you could not take the time to do that. Gender ambiguity is totally hilarious, dude!

      • Oliver Miller

        1) Gender confusion *can* be hilarious, viz., “Some Like It Hot,” Bugs Bunny cartoons, etc. 2) Why would I want to ruin everything by doing a Google search?

      • http://twitter.com/bitterfierce & grey

        Bugs Bunny, Jerry and Joe are fictional male characters from half a century ago who disguised themselves as women in order to manipulate their audiences' expectations regarding sex and gender roles for comedic effect.

        Tracy Chapman is a contemporary artist and woman of color with five Grammys and an additional eight nominations under her belt (most recently in 2010).

        You, Oliver Miller, are a white, male blogger who—through criminal abuse of punctuation—not only implied that neither you nor any reasonable person could possibly ascertain the gender of such an “ambiguous” person, but that even here, on the internet, it was beneath you to take five seconds to do so.

        At least you gave props to a good song. That might have been enough to get me past the rest of the paragraph. Unfortunately, even with Tracy Chapman, depictions of women in the media, and notions of African-American beauty off your radar—even given your apparent inability to recognize or own your privilege—even the idea of a music editorial that seems largely written by somebody who doesn't know much about music—nothing in this article is as unforgivably offensive as its violation of the cardinal rule of humorous writing: it's completely fucking unfunny.

      • Oliver Miller

        Jesus… Christ.

    • Ashke

      She's got a sort of masculine voice, a bit of an androgynous look, and a name that could go either way. So I get it, but you're right too. That and the joke about Joan Osborne's “pig face” are kind of shitty and unnecessary.

  • Will

    Do you actually know anything about music? Wonderwall and Hey Ya! as one hit wonders? Seriously?

  • http://twitter.com/AWE5OME Alanna DeRogatis

    Insulting Soundgarden and Pearl Jam? Seriously?

    • Oliver Miller

      I will definitely stand by insulting Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, though. Here are some of the lyrics to Black Hole Sun, by the way: “Times are gone/ For honest men/ And sometimes,/ Far too long/ For snakes.” …Uhhhh, what? I would respond to your “Seriously?” and raise it with at “Jesus Christ, SER-ious-ly????”

  • Student

    Outkast – definitely not a one-hit wonder. At all.

  • Annoyed

    Yeah… Outkast is about the furthest thing from a one-hit-wonder.

  • Andre 3000

    Outkast has several top 40 pop hits. They have won 6 grammys.

    “The Way You Move,” immediately replaced “Hey Ya,” as the #1 pop song in the country. So even if “Hey Ya,” was their first hit (which it wasn't) the fact that they immediately followed it with a #1 hit should be a pretty clear indication that they are not a one-hit-wonder.

    • Oliver Miller

      In the interest of not receiving 14 more comments like this, I'll admit that Outkast was a suspect choice for that category of O.H.W.

  • ricard

    Pulp is gr8

  • Sdfgf

    I don't really think Confederacy of Dunces counts as a OHW. The author killed himself bro…

  • Shwax

    Based on what you consider a one-hit wonder v. not and what you consider a good one-hit wonder/song in general v. a bad song, I don't really see where you have the standing to write this article. It's unfortunate because, at least in the first section, you provide some good/entertaining points but just because you think every pre-millennium band had only one decent song doesn't mean that people who lived then didn't think they had lots of good songs, many of which were played on the radio at that time. Likewise, many people still like many songs by many of the artists that you dismiss.
    Let me put it into words you can understand: If Elton John had only done “Tiny Dancer”, then your youth wouldn't have been blessed with Disney's the Lion King soundtrack that you (and many others) undoubtedly love(d).

    • Oliver Miller

      Though I admire any comment which posits that I liked “The Lion King” soundtrack, I respectfully disagree. Also; I'm older than you think I am.

  • Tiffany

    Dead or Alive had “Brand New Lover.” It was at least a big of a hit. Still sounds pretty good too. That entire Dexys Midnight Runners album was great actually. He cried through an entire song. We just weren't ready.

  • K_arch122

    Tracy Chapman….”Give me one more Reason”….great song….Also the version with Eric Clapton….

  • wackomet

    'The Thinker' is by Rodin who may have revolutionized the entire medium of sculpture

    • Oliver Miller

      *Starts getting a headache, cradles head in hands* …Yes, but the point was that most people couldn't name another sculpture by Rodin, ahhh, I give up.

      • wackomet

        i don't think i totally understand your idea of what a one-hit wonder is

        but you know, do you

  • Ronokki

    Half the bands you mention aren't even one hit wonders by the definition that they only had one hit song. DO SOME FUCKING RESEARCH!!!

  • champ

    this could have been a great article. some parts of it were good, but it was hampered by the fact that you are a fucking awful writer with stupid opinions.

  • Aaron

    Robert Frost is a one hit wonder? I pretty much can't think of a single American poet who is less of a one hit wonder than Frost. He's the anti-one hit wonder.

    I'm not even sure that “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is his main 'hit.' What about “The Road Not Taken” or “Nothing Gold Can Stay” (did you read The Outsiders)?

    “Fire and Ice?”

    • Oliver Miller

      “Nothing Gold Can Stay” is such a bad poem though. But I realize that has nothing to do with what you're saying. I mean, I guess a better one-hit wonder poet would be… Vachel Lindsay? But he seemed too obscure for the purposes of making my point.

      • Aaron

        “Nothing Gold Can Stay” is a bad poem? I would be interested to hear why.

        Anyway, if Frost is a one-hit wonder, I can't imagine how many popular poems a poet would need in order to move out of the one-hit category. Seems like the non-one hit wonder poets would be a very small category. Maybe just Emily Dickinson or something.

      • Oliver Miller

        Actually, I misremembered the poem as being worse than it was — I just looked it up and it wasn't as bad as I thought. Still, it's kinda whiny, especially the last line. And Frost's thesis seems to be, “Boy, sunrises and sunsets should last all day, that'd be pretty!” Perhaps it would, Mr. Frost, perhaps it would. Or maybe it'd just be annoying. Plus, sunrises lasting all day would mess with the tides and owls would be confused as fuck.

      • stella

        you make no sense whatsoever. you need to re-take 9th grade english.

      • Aaron

        There's no accounting for taste, but I think Ponyboy would disagree.

  • Loko Lang

    Aren't “My Favorite Game” and “Erase and Rewind” by the Cardigans hits? When they came back with a new album they had “I need Some Fine Wine and You Need to be Nicer.” (now you might out some unnecessary humor on the long title but I don't care) perhaps research could have saved your face and reputation.

    • Oliver Miller

      Holy fucking pedants, Batman. And I love “I Need Some Fine Wine and You, You Need to Be Nicer.” It's one of my favorite songs, in fact. My point is that most people only remember them for “Lovefool,” unless you're a fan of the Cardigans, which I happen to be. (See the “Fan/Non-Fan” discussion included in Part Two.) AND IT'S MEANT TO BE A HUMOROUS COLUMN ILLUSTRATING THE VARIOUS TYPES OF ONE HIT-WONDERS AND WHAT THE IMPLICATIONS OF THOSE TYPES MIGHT BE, NOT AN EXACT FUCKING REFERENDUM ON EVERY SONG AND BAND LISTED IN THE COLUMN AND THE RELATIVE WORTH OF ALL THEIR SONGS/STATUS AS A BAND, SORRY FOR THE ALL- CAPS, BUT JESUS CHRIST, PEOPLE. …Ahem.

  • Lola

    This is illogical. You can't compare “one-hit wonder” songs with art or poetry, for god's sake. “The Road Not Taken” is the most iconic of his poems, but that doesn't mean he never produced any other poetry worth mentioning – they're simply lesser known, which is not at all fit the definition of “one-hit wonder”. How many poems can the average person cite in the first place? And Rodin has had multiple famous pieces – again, “The Thinker” is his MOST famous but it isn't the “only” famous one. The Burghers of Calais comes to mind. When 99% of people only recognize a handful of art pieces or poems at all, then it just comes down to the limitations of their knowledge, doesn't it.

    • Lila

      It's funny that you keep mentioning “The Road Not Taken.” The poem that he quotes at the beginning of the article is actually “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening”. Your error simply proves that Frost did, in fact, write a number of other well known poems. My personal favorite of his is “Not to Keep” which, clearly, the author of this post didn't read.

  • Lola

    So what I mean to say is, iconic works are in themselves a definition of one-hit wonder so you can't place it in the context of their body of work. I'd define “one-hit wonder” more as a single success that was never followed up by anymore good work. And “Road Not Taken” and “The Thinker” are obviously not the only successes that Frost and Rodin ever had, obviously, only the *most* successful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bee-Goode/100001676566533 Bee Goode

    how can u not luv fletch part 2: “fletch lives”?

    • Oliver Miller

      I only ever saw part of it on “Showtime.”

  • http://twitter.com/Alcords A C

    Wow…you are a fucking idiot. I guess they let anyone submit articles on thoughtcatalog now. I should submit one about lame TV shows that are too overrated like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Arrested Development and 30 Rock.

  • http://twitter.com/Alcords A C

    Wow…you are a fucking idiot. I guess they let anyone submit articles on thoughtcatalog now. I should submit one about lame TV shows that are too overrated like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Arrested Development and 30 Rock.

  • Ange

    Blur and Oasis are huge in Britain and were defining bands of the 90's. they're not one hit wonders. GET A WORLD VIEW!!

    • Oliver Miller

      Go back and read the column again more carefully, and don't double-post.

    • izzy

      I never heard of Blur before this article, and I can't name any other Oasis song aside from “Wonderwall.” Oh, also, I'm British. What's the point of any of that? I don't know. What's the point of your double-post?

  • http://twitter.com/AngeLOLZ Angela Luffman

    Blur and Oasis were huge in britain. they were the defining bands of the 90's. get a world view

    • Oliver Miller

      Go and back read the column again more carefully, and don't double-post.

  • Aaron

    I wonder if Thought Catalog would publish my essay where I conduct a philosophical investigation of one hit wonders such as The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Ernest Hemingway, and Picasso.

  • Gary Mac

    Oliver Miller may have set a new standard in carelessness…. Tommy James & the Shondells outsold the Beatles in singles in 1968 & 1969 with hits like Crimson & Clover, Sweet Cherry Wine, Crystal Blue Persuasion & Ball Of Fire. 23 Gold Singles, 9 platinum or Gold Albums & 110,000 records sold. Hardly one hit wonders & hardly a bubblegum band!

    • Oliver Miller

      Yawn. The point is not that someone sold a lot of records, but what we remember them for. For instance, Bobby Brown, just to pick a totally random example, sold well over 20 million records. Do you remember any of his songs except for “My Prerogative”? No; probably not. Anyway, I give up — carry on, music nerds.

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