One hit wonders UK
The one and only
One hit wonders. UK music would not be the same without them. The burning question is – would it be better, or worse? Love them or loathe them, here’s my take on The best one hit wonders, UK. And the worst. So many hits made it into the official charts company listings. Not only that 80s one by Chesney Hawkes…
Top of the flops
Ah, one hit wonders of the UK singles chart. Who knew that Martine McCutcheon was at number one for 2 weeks in 1999? Not me, until I started researching this piece. Mercifully, I’d also forgotten Glenn Medeiros and his only hit single, ‘Nothing’s Gonna Change my Love for You’, which held the top spot for 4 weeks in mid-1988. That’s 4 weeks of my Top of the Pops peak viewing time I’ll never get back. (Maybe it should have been renamed ‘Top if the Plops’ for that 4 weeks, thinks the childish part of my brain…)
Anyway. One trick ponies – who can we count among those one hit wonders in the UK? Some surprised me; songs that I was sure were one-off hits for certain acts were actually just one of several. The most unexpected example, for me, was undoubtedly Robson and Jerome. Yes, we all remember ‘Unchained Melody’ (whether we want to or not), which was at number one for 7 weeks from May 1985, but did you know that the ‘Soldier, Soldier’ stars also had 2 other number ones? In November 1985 – for 4 weeks, no less. They followed this with another, a year later, which was at the peak for 2 weeks. Who knew they made so much chart history? Not me (and I’m a Geordie, like Robson, if that makes any difference).
Perennial wedding favourite ‘Come on Eileen’ wasn’t Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ only number one hit, either; they’d scored another, 2 years previously, in 1980. ‘Geno’ apparently spent 2 weeks at the top then. I can’t recall ever having heard that one. But I was only 6 at the time, so perhaps that explains it.
Often, one hit wonders of the UK could be described as novelty singles. From ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, released in the mid-1970s, via the Spitting Image ‘Chicken Song’ of 1986. Then Right Said Fred said ‘I’m Too Sexy’ in the early 1990s, before 1997 brought us both the ‘Teletubbies’ ditty and ‘Barbie Girl’. Yeah, thanks 1997. All but Right Said Fred reached the top spot. Fred had to be content with number 2.
There are a lot more where those unique anthems came from, but many were penned for a specific reason. As a charity single, a Christmas song or for a film. Some were written as sporting chants; others specifically to dance to – in a very precise, strictly choreographed pattern.
Band Aid had one of the most memorable charity singles ever, firstly in 1984, when the original topped the chart for 5 weeks. 5 years after, Band Aid II managed 3 weeks at the peak. The 1980s were big for fund-raising records – USA for Africa scored a number 1 for 2 weeks with ‘We are the World’, right in the middle of the decade. 2 years later, in 1987, Ferry Aid managed 3 weeks at the chart’s pinnacle. The ditty raised money in the wake of the Zeebrugge disaster, when the Herald of Free Enterprise capsized.
Kicking balls & throwing shapes
More cheerily, some novelty songs were made simply to dance to – Whigfield’s ‘Saturday Night‘ (1984), the ‘Macarena’ in the 1990s, then ‘The Ketchup Song’ in the early noughties. All those one hit wonders of the UK had in common that they inspired scores of people to hit the dance floor. To throw very specific, highly synchronised shapes.
From throwing shapes to kicking balls, some one-hit-wonders are still hugely popular with sporting fans at present-day fixtures. New Order’s 1990 hit ‘World in Motion’ is still oft-heard whenever England are due to play, as is ‘Tubthumping’ by Chumbawamba (1997). The most relevant example right now, though, has to be 1996’s ‘Three Lions’, which more recently re-entered the UK charts during England’s most successful World Cup campaign for decades. (I guess we can’t strictly call that a one-hit-wonder, then.)
Some songs are released to coincide with a film in which they feature, and can be huge hits. In 1982, ’The Eye of the Tiger’, from Rocky III, reached number one, as did Berlin’s ‘Take my Breath Away’, from Top Gun, in 1986. That was rapidly followed by ‘Stand by Me’ (from the film of the same name) and ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop us Now’ by Starship, in 1987, from ‘Mannequin’. ‘Show me Heaven’- from another Tom Cruise film, ‘Days of Thunder’ – scored 4 weeks at the top in the first year of the the 1990s.
Festive one hit wonders
Christmas rounds off each year nicely, and also rounds off this list of novelty song choices. Not every yuletide one-trick-pony is particularly festive, however. A case in point being the acapella ditty ‘Only You’, which grabbed the coveted Christmas numero uno in 1983. It enjoyed 5 weeks in the spotlight, before The Flying Pickets sank into oblivion. ‘There’s no-one quite like Grandma’ wasn’t especially festive, either, but it was a massive surprise hit for Christmas 1980 – presumably because everyone had to buy it for their Nan. I know I (or rather, my parents) did. The Christmas hit phenomenon has been immortalised in novel and celluloid form as well as vinyl. Nick Hornby’s book ‘About a Boy’ tells the tale of a man who lives on the royalties from his father’s one and only hit tune – which, fortunately for Hugh Grant’s character in the film version, happened to be a Christmas song.
It’s a classic
Not all one-trick acts are novelty songs; there are many more which are good, great – or even absolute classic. This piece was inspired when I happened to hear House of Pain’s lively anthem ‘Jump Around’ on the radio. It wasn’t a huge hit here, reaching number 8 in 1992, although it fared better across the pond, achieving 3rd place. I love that tune and am happy to hear it any time.
Across the pond
How songs perform, chart-wise, here in the UK isn’t always reflected in the US Billboard. I was surprised that some lists I stumbled across classified A-ha’s ‘Take on Me’ as a one-hit-wonder, when I recalled those boys from Norway having successive, massive hits over here. The animated, sketch-style video, in fact, was apparently what catapulted the band to the top of the Billboard across the Atlantic.
Another song I’m pretty fond of is ‘My Sharona’, released in 1979 by the Knack, which peaked at number 6 here, but managed to secure the top spot stateside. American artist Billy Ray Cyrus had a big hit with ‘Achy Breaky Heart‘ both here and in the US. Although he didn’t get to number one in either, the song endures (possibly because it’s profoundly irritating). Cyrus’s daughter Miley, aka Hannah Montana, is far more famous than he these days.
Defining the decade
Some real decade-defining tracks were but one hit wonders. In the 1970s, Wild Cherry had a number 1 in the US (number 7 here) with ‘Play that Funky Music’, a song that still pops up on pretty much every funk compilation album. Synth hot-hit ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ took us into the 1980s, though I had to look up who even performed it (Bruce Woolley). Toni Basil’s ‘Mickey’ was so fine in 1982, and is a tune favoured by compilers of 80s hits albums. Even though it didn’t quite reach number one (it peaked in second place). 1982 also brought us ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’, which roared for 3 weeks at number 1, before its artists Tight Fit disappeared into obscurity. Thankfully, some might say.
In 1983, Men at Work were ‘Down Under’ up top for 3 weeks; in ’84 Nena’s ’99 Red Balloons’ was a stratospheric, worldwide smash. 1985 saw ‘na na na na 19′ being released by Paul Hardcastle, and it topped the list for 5 weeks. ‘You Spin me Round‘ by Dead or Alive only managed a week, but is very much fondly and clearly remembered, judging by the airtime it still gets. In fact, 1985 seems to have been THE year full of one-hit wonders, with Jennifer Rush and Feargal Sharkey scoring number ones with ‘The Power of Love’ and ‘A Good Heart’ respectively.
From yum to yuck
By 1986 I was in the full throes of my first massive crush – on Nick Berry from ‘Eastenders’, who hit the top spot with ‘Every Loser Wins’. Not one that I ever hear it these days, unlike ‘The Final Countdown’ by Europe. That, incredibly, actually spent less time at number 1 – 2 weeks for the latter as opposed to 3 for the former.
Rick Astley – who apparently has released a more recent album – had a huge 5 weeks at the top of the charts in 1987 with ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’. Few people have forgotten him (alas, some might add). Most will have forgotten his Stock, Aitken and Waterman peer Sonia, who had one big hit in 1989. She’d completely slipped my mind, until I saw a sign advertising her performance at my local holiday park a short while ago…
Something of a Scottish anthem, The Proclaimers’ ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)’ peaked just outside the top 10 – at number 11 – in 1988. It’s hard, now, to believe that this song, still heard so often now, didn’t even make the top ten. Although it made number 3 in the US – and number 1 in New Zealand.
1990s: Time for the guru?
With the dawn of the new decade, the 1990s, came a new musical direction. ‘Groove is in the Heart’ was one of the first big dance hits of the decade, while over in hip hop Robert Van Winkle, aka Vanilla Ice, swept into the UK charts and took pole position. The indie era was dawning, too; EMF’s ‘Unbelievable’ being one of the first big hitters in late 1990. It was followed swiftly in 1991 by ‘Can You Dig It?’, the Mock Turtles’ highly popular track – the only one of their songs to chart, and merely at number 18. Chart success, it seems, isn’t always any indicator of endurance.
The subtitle of this piece, Chesney Hawkes’ ‘The One and Only’, spent 5 weeks at the top in early 1991. The world had not yet had quite enough of cheesy pop after all, it seems. Everyone appears to remember Chesney; Coronation Street even named a major character after him.
A landslide victory
No-one has forgotten Professor Brian Cox. They may well have done before, but the affable Mancunian has stolen hearts and minds on the small screen, people loving the fact that he once played keyboard for D:Ream on ‘Things Can Only Get Better’. The ditty was used by the Labour Party during their election campaign in 1997. Perhaps it even helped them to get their landslide win, who knows? It stayed at the top for 4 weeks in early 1994, after which D-Ream may well have faded into oblivion, had Tony Blair and New Labour not taken the song to their hearts.
By the end of the 1990s, things had something of a Latin flavour, with Ricky Martin ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca‘ for 3 weeks in July 1999, swiftly followed by Lou Bega’s ‘Mambo No. 5’ which spent a fortnight at the top a couple of months later.
By the time we reached the year 2000, I was 26 and my interest in new music was already waning. Simon Cowell was poised to take the music world by storm (a dire, dark, threatening type of storm in my book, at that). As I can’t really speak of music from that point on with any authority, I’ll stop right here. (Although I do watch stuff on YouTube, of course, and even have a couple of Alexas).
Suffice to say that the world of music would not be the same without those one hit wonders of the UK in the 80s and 90s. Better, perhaps, maybe worse; suffice to say it would definitely be different. For me, variety is the spice of life. One good song is still a good song, and the rich tapestry of music history may well be somewhat less colourful without those one-off hits and misses.
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