Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published July 8th 2020
2 hits are always better than 1
Some time ago, I did a column on one-hit wonders. However, subsequent research has told me that so many songs classified as one-hit wonders tend to fall into three categories: 1) they are one-hit wonders in the USA but have hits elsewhere (and the USA dominating online stuff means that is the way things tend to be defined);
2) they have one mainstream hit, but then have a number of hits in other genres of music; or 3) they are genuinely one-hit wonders. This last category, it turns out, is surprisingly small.
However, the list of two-hit wonders is a little easier to get a handle on. Many bands who have that first hit that really resonates then follow it up with a second lesser hit before fading into chart obscurity. I say, "chart obscurity," because quite often these bands maintain a devoted following, sell-out decent-sized halls, have reasonable album sales, all that sort of thing which means they can maintain their lives as professional entertainers even if the fickle chart-bothering public might forget about them.
This column started with a discussion on The Rembrandts with a friend (they are on the list), and this led to us talking about other bands in the same situation. It struck me later how many of the bands that I had considered one-hit wonders had a second hit and thus this column was born. Simple rules: two charting hits (top 40) in at least 2 charts that I can find, and only two songs. I have to like both hits. And if a band or artist had only two charting singles but a number of charting albums, I won't include them (and that does include a number of prog rock and heavy metal bands).
Now, quickly as far as I am concerned Quiet Riot had 3 charting singles, Ultravox had 4 and The Proclaimers had 3 as well.
So, ten two-hit wonders! In order of name of the artist.
'Take On Me' (1984)
'The Sun Always Shines On TV' (1985)
Often cited as one-hit wonders, their immediate follow-up also hit the charts around the place (and, in fact, at the time I preferred it; nowadays, I like them both pretty much equally), from the wonderful Hunting High And Low album. They did continue to have hits in their home country of Norway, did a decent James Bond theme to an under-rated film (The Living Daylights) which failed to really chart, and despite a couple of hiatuses, are still touring to this day. I actually own five of their albums, and they are consistently really good.
B. Bumble And The Stingers
'Bumble Boogie' (1961)
'Nut Rocker' (1962)
Two instrumentals from a piano-led band that are simply incredible. Considering Duane Eddy, The Shadows, The Ventures and a few others had a series of charting hits with instrumentals, I would have thought this band with some amazing musicians could also have had decent charting careers. But it was not to be. Research indicates they were a little old and did not look like teen idols. Pity because these two are such good tracks. Especially 'Nut Rocker', which is awesome.
'The Way' (1998)
'Out Of My Head' (1999)
Both tracks come from their huge album All The Pain That Money Can Buy (I own it it is a great album) and, despite still a going concern and releasing music, they have not really bothered the charts since. Both of these songs are really good tracks, and in fact I think only two songs on the whole album did not resonate with me. I also bought their next album The Harsh Light Of Day (2000), but that didn't do much for me and I let things go with the band. But for a while in the late 90s, these two tracks were everywhere.
'Radar Love' (1973)
'Twilight Zone' (1982)
This Dutch band had two successful singles, except in their Dutch homeland where they had a long string of hits. They started in the 1960s and they are still releasing music to this day. But these two songs, released almost a decade apart, for some reason really hit the zeitgeist in various other countries around the world. Not sure why; they have released a heap of great tracks over the years. And, yes, 'Radar Love' has a great bass-line.
'Black Horse And The Cherry Tree' (2005)
'Suddenly I See' (2005)
Scottish Tunstall does a great stab at the American music sounds here with two glorious tracks. I only know these two songs of hers, and they are really good, but I was not into that sort of music, especially in the mid-00s, and so never bought the album and just enjoyed these tracks. She is still releasing music and touring to this day, but her lack of further chart success is actually surprising, judging by the quality of these two tracks, and the quality of other songs out at the moment.
Morris Minor and the Majors
'Stutter Rap' (1987)
'This Is The Chorus' (1988)
This parody band had these two charting singles, then about ten years later another Christmas one that didn't quite make the charts (and was actually okay). The first song is a parody of The Beastie Boys, the second is a parody of the manufactured music of Stock, Aitken and Waterman. Both were popular for about a week, and then faded from view. Not sure why they were decent parodies, and if 'Weird Al' Yankovic has taught us anything, it's that good parodies stand the test of time. Maybe a little too much "of their time". But two hits. I like them, especially the second one.
'One Night In Bangkok' (1984)
Two hit singles from this versatile singer, and they both come from musicals (Jesus Christ Superstar and Chess respectively). Head still releases albums to this day, and one of his daughters even sings with him at times. He is also an actor. That's about all I know. But the fact is he did the first versions of these two songs and he did a singularly impressive job of each.
'Just The Way It Is, Baby' (1990)
'I'll Be There For You' (1995)
A decent amount of time between their two hits. I was at university the first time when the first track was released and it was huge in those circles; the second found fame as the theme song for the TV sitcom Friends. This is the band that started this list because of a discussion I was having with some-one who had just introduced her kids to the TV show. The show ended in 2004 16 years ago! Okay, yes, I am making myself feel old again, so I'll just say that these tracks are both great and The Rembrandts are still making music, their last album having been released in 2019.
'Little Miss Can't Be Wrong' (1992)
'Two Princes' (1993)
Spin Doctors started their career with these two mammoth hit singles, and never had another look in despite still going today. There is no denying the two songs are by the same band. I quite like these songs, but every other song of theirs I've heard sounds like these two, which is possibly why they have not bothered the charts since. Still, these two songs are great.
Ugly Kid Joe
'Everything About You' (1991)
'Cats In The Cradle' (1993)
The first song was one of those strange pre-grunge tracks that tried to mix hard rock and fun/comedy, and yet appeal to a pop audience; the second was a pretty straight-forward cover of a depressing song originally done by Nillson. The band was sort of big, but then they dropped off the radar. As far as I can tell, they broke up in the mid-90s. However, it wouldn't surprise me if they've re-united as most bands of that era seem to have done recently.
Two-hit wonders, twenty songs, 10 artists. Charts are funny things, though. Back in the last century, they indicated what the people who buy the most music spent their money on. However, today, with YouTube, Spotify, downloads and, I think, how many times you look at the title on Google, we get a chart that seems to favour music liked by people with no taste, those under the age of 10 years, and those whose music is sponsored by various companies. Charts today mean so little as to what is actually good music I think it's time we got rid of them altogether. Charts certainly don't reflect what is actually "good". So lists like this will become more and more of a thing of the past, something we tell our kids about ("Yes, people had to go to shops and buy music for it to be deemed popular, not be forced to listen to it by 2,876 Spotify playlists curated by an illiterate Eastern European with hearing issues.").