If you’re going to end up being a One Hit Wonder, it’s always good if that one hit is really a hit. Such is the case for Dishwalla, whose one big hit hit the top of Billboard‘s Alternative Rock chart on this day in 1996. “Counting Blue Cars” would end up being one of the decade’s most popular modern rock songs … and garner a death threat or two for the band’s singer!
Dishwalla are a southern California band started in the early-’90s, by singer/keyboardist J.R. Richard and guitarist Rodney Cravens, who is the only constant member of the band to this day. Their first hint of success came in ’94, with them contributing a song – “It’s Going To Take Some Time” – to a Carpenters tribute album. It also found its way onto their debut album for A&M Records, Pet Your Friends, a record memorable for its cover as well as content. They used a 1948 Life magazine photo of a teen girl running with her pet deer.
The second single, “Haze” drew almost no attention anywhere, and A&M had probably all but forgotten about them with the album gathering dust nearly a year after its release. Then came the blue cars.
The third single was one of the most instantly-catchy, crunchy post-grunge singles of the decade and dealt with the singer talking to a small child who refers to God as a “her.” As allmusic put it, it was one of the band’s “well-crafted songs with rich guitar textures.”
Richard says the song came around after he had a similar talk to an unnamed small kid. “From that younger perspective, I think we take things in a much more honest way because we’re not being biased by how we’re supposed to think. God,” he adds, “being an omnipotent being could be a male or female.”
Seemingly innocent enough, but enough to rile up a number of Evangelicals who thought it rather blasphemous to suggest God could be a “her.” “It did end up being one of those songs that really affected people, both positively and negatively,” the writer says. “I never thought I’d ever have a song I’d get death threats for writing!”
A&M weren’t overly pleased with it too initially, but for a different reason. They hated the title, since they assumed people wouldn’t know what “Counting Blue Cars” was an would skip over the album. They needn’t have worried. Pet Your Friends went gold domestically. And while “Counting Blue Cars” peaked at #15 on the overall singles chart, it had staying power! It spend 48 weeks on the chart, was picked by Billboard as the Mainstream Rock song of the year for ’96 and was named the Most Played Song on Radio by ASCAP two years running, in ’96 and ’97.
Amazingly, Dishwalla have kept going to this day, and have put out four more albums with almost no hint of any follow-up success.