One-Hit Wonderful: Part Three – The Bands Play On

So, with the modest resurgence of one of my childhood favorites in the music business with Red Hot Chili Peppers‘ “Dark Necessities”, I’ve – once again – found myself digging back through the old catalog of my favorite songs of yesteryear. In doing so, I’ve uncovered more one-hit wonders that deserved better.

So, let’s go for the hat trick and take a look at three more underrated classics from pop music’s past.

Semisonic – “Chemistry”

Awhile back, I briefly talked about how Semisonic frontman Dan Wilson wrote and produced Adele’s best work. That said, he and his band still did great stuff on their own beyond “Closing Time”. Oh, it was an important milestone for indie music for my generation, but there was so much more.

Their third studio album, “All About Chemistry”, was much more mature yet playful (read: had a lot more coded sex talk) than previous outings. Most of the time, it was trying to sneak helpful lessons about safe and healthy sex for the teens that were buying up their music at the time. For example, “Get A Grip” was a silly, light-hearted story about how healthy and normal regular masturbation is.

However, it was the title track “Chemistry” that sticks with me. It’s a tale about playing the field (experimenting, to use the chemistry analogy) to find the one that won’t burn you out or hurt you. That’s an important lesson considering how many unhappy relationships we see due to people staying together for the sake of some outdated idea of what faithfulness should be.

If people aren’t adding to your happiness, they shouldn’t occupy space (or at least AS MUCH space) in your life. It’s only going to make you both miserable. That’s the moral to take away from this little number.

Dexy’s Midnight Runners – “Jackie Wilson Said”

As great as the hit song “Come On Eileen” is, I feel the message of youthful abandon in the face of darker times was lost on most listeners… mostly because we had difficulty understanding the lyrics.

However, if you were already familiar with Van Morrison, you didn’t have to guess what their cover of “Jackie Wilson Said” was saying; you already knew.

See, Dexy’s – like other acts born from the U.K.’s Northern Soul movement – was heavily influenced by lesser known or sadly forgotten American Soul artists. Here, they fly their colors proudly by directly referencing a great name from Soul’s past.

Add to that how the vocals are – in my humble opinion – much better than those of Van Morrison’s original, and you have the makings of an undervalued gem.

Deee-Lite – “Picnic In The Summertime”

Did I mention how much I F***ING LOVE Deee-Lite?

But damn, if you thought “Power Of Love” was a departure from the norm for Deee-Lite, “Picnic In The Summertime” is a whole different beast altogether.

There’s no deep message or meaning here; it’s just a really happy song about enjoying the little joys of life set to a more urban sound than what they traditionally were used to.

Honestly, I respect the decision to experiment with a new sound every now and again. It keeps things fresh and interesting. It’s just a shame that the public at large wasn’t more receptive at the time.

One-Hit Wonderful: Part Two – The Search for A Second Hit

So, I promised during my breakdown/recap of my #UnpopularMusicOpinionHour tirade on Twitter in January that I would revisit this topic. At last, the time has come to encourage you to rediscover the lesser known works of artists that just couldn’t stick around longer.

In Addition, I’d like to hear some thoughts from the field this time. I want to hear what songs you remember from artists OTHER than their one big hit that you think are worth listening again. I may just analyze a few of them for a trilogy. But enough time wasting. Let’s get to the tunes.

Michael Sembello- “Automatic Man”

Here’s a fun fact about Michael Sembello’s smash hit “Manic” from the soundtrack from the movie Flashdance – it was never meant to back a dance film. It was meant for a horror movie; hence, it’s hurried tempo and panicked tone. But, as it turns out, genre films are a key source of inspiration for Sembello. At least, that the idea you get when you hear “Automatic Man.”

“Automatic Man” is such a delightfully upbeat and silly story of a mechanical humanoid built to dance and seduce, that you have to just sit back and enjoy for all of it’s Velveeta-like cheesy glory. With the 80’s nostalgia wave we’re currently under combined with the heavy increase in sales of older albums, I can totally see stuff like this becoming a thing again. And that’s a good thing because, as I’ve said in the past, this world needs more fun.

Deee-Lite – “Power Of Love”

Deee-Lite is one of those dance acts that should have stuck around longer to keep the world grooving for the good of the collective human heart. In fact, their appropriately titled hit “Groove Is In The Heart” is a more than adequate defense of that statement.

While their follow-up is a bit of a departure in style from their big hit (which might be a major factor in its failure to find a pop music audience), “Power Of Love” certainly follows the same spirit as “Groove Is In The Heart.” It’s a happy, easy-to-dance-to jam that combines the visual aesthetics of the 70’s with the dance/house sound of the 80’s and 90’s. Both the song and the video seek to add a splash of color to a grayed-out world.

Also, if I may devolve into hopeless romanticism, I could watch the art and fashion of Deee-Lite frontwoman Lady Miss Kier unfold in front of me all day every day and it would not be a wasted life. It’s okay, Miss Kier; I forgive you for trying to sue Sega for Space Channel 5.

Chumbawamba – “Amnesia”

Going back the Twitter hashtag storm that inspired this revisit, followers may recall my insistence that Chumbawamba, the band responsible for “Tubthumping”, deserved much better treatment – and for good reason. Their career stretched 15 years before AND after the release of their hit and during that time, they constantly experimented with their sound in the name of art. In fact, their pop success was largely an accident that came from wanting to screw around with their record label.

That said, if you’re like me and seem to remember their follow-up “Amnesia” from somewhere, you probably watched a lot of music countdowns on VH1 growing up. I wish I could explain what it is about this song that makes me gravitate to it. It seems to recreate the feeling of drifting hazily and lost in your own head space while still remaining surprisingly fast paced. Most people need to channel the sounds of Pink Floyd to get that effect, but not Chumbawamba.

One-Hit Wonderful: Great Songs From Artists OTHER Then The One They’re Famous For

It never comes up much in conversation, but I love music. I’m the type of person that, if the mood takes me, I’ll start zoning out and mouthing the lyrics to music playing in the background.

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you know I try introducing people to interesting music I find using #MusicMonday. Seeing as how I missed it last week, I’m going to make it up to you all now by talking about the aspect of music I like to study most; the one-hit wonder.

I like studying and learning about single hit artists and bands because they serve as good examples of how trends can change quickly and/or how good art can go wrong. While I research these musicians, I often find songs that I feel should have been better received.

So today, I’m going to share with you some great tunes from great artists that only the most devoted fans have heard. The goal being that you can’t really get to respect the range and scale of a person until you experience their full body of work.

A-Ha – “Crying In The Rain”

In all honesty, A-ha’s hit single “Take On Me” always bothered me a bit. I think it may have to do with vocalist Morten Harket’s high pitched chorus and loose grasp of English (in case you didn’t notice, “take on me” is bad grammar).

I can’t make the same complaint about their beautiful cover of The Everly Brothers’ “Crying in the Rain” which I dare say is even better than the original.

As the case with the original, the song is the story of a man that knows he can never be with the one he loves and is too proud to show her his heart breaking. In this case, the act of letting his tears blend in with the raindrops running down his face is symbolic of masking his sadness.

This is the perfect song for a vocalist like Harket. His tone is specially designed to ache with emotion. You could honestly believe that he has actually experienced the heartache he’s singing about. It also helps that his deeper tone drives home the stoic nature of our protagonist.

I would never personally hide my feelings from someone I loved, but if I had to, this is the song that would play in my mind.

A Flock of Seagulls – “Space Age Love Song”

For the record, almost all of the singles A Flock of Seagulls released before they started trying to ride the coattails of Duran Duran were amazing. It was really hard to choose just one other than “I Ran (So Far Away)” to showcase here.

I could have gone with the dark and panicked tones of “(It’s Not Me) Talking” or the melancholic heartache of “Wishing (If I Had A Photograph of You)”, but I decided to go with the upbeat romance of “Space Age Love Song”.

The title says it all, it’s a touching love song made in the spirit of 80’s futurism and science fiction and it sounds like it. I want to compare it to an 80’s new wave version of Daft Punk’s “Digital Love” – in fact, the two sound very similar in many respects.

If I ever live to see the day when interstellar vacations become commercially available to the working class, I will play this song to my girlfriend while drinking red wine and circling the moon. Of course, the wine will be hard to drink in microgravity…

Sir Mix-A-Lot – “Posse on Broadway”

Here’s the thing you need to know about Seattle, Washington-based rapper Anthony Ray, AKA Sir Mix-A-Lot, and his hit single “Baby Got Back”; Mix isn’t always trying to bait listeners with sex or buck the system (the song is actually a criticism of the narrow standard of beauty promoted by the fashion industry). Sometimes, he just likes to have fun.

Mix likes to occasionally brag in his music like most rappers as evidenced in “Beepers” and sometimes he just goofs around and pokes fun at himself à la “My Hooptie”. That said, “Posse on Broadway” is a nice mix of every aspect of his music.

It starts out as your standard brag rap about how cool Mix and his crew are, but it also serves as a love letter to his home of Seattle as well as a declaration of being responsible with power. It would be easy for them to just waste their clout on frivolous things (and they certainly have more fun than more most people should), but they try to do good as well. They try to get people to stop smoking cocaine, they treat everyone to dinner, and they even save a girl from her abusive boyfriend.

If you like this song, you should also listen to the Godzilla Remix. This is a song for when you and your friends want to make an entrance.

Restating The Goal

As I said, the point of this exercise is to encourage exploration of the art of music. It’s too easy to just listen to the dreck that gets pumped out by pop music radio stations.

I like to think of music in terms of gourmet cuisine versus snack foods. A bag of chips (mainstream pop music, in this analogy) is addictive by nature but provides little in terms of good nourishment. The proper meal (the little-known music that was made by people and not committee driven statistics), however, is better for you and must be savored and enjoyed. It’s perfectly normal to enjoy both, but you can’t just suck down Cheetos contently without negative consequences.

Do a little exploring into artists that you gave a miss before. You may be surprised at what you find.