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.

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