September 25 – Bobby Wonders Why This Was His One Hit

September 25 is designated “National One Hit Wonder Day” so in honor of that we look at one of the best examples of that from the 1980s. Don’t worry, this day shows your dreams can come true – but maybe also become your nightmare! Bobby McFerrin was at #1 on Billboard this day in 1988 with “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

The bumper-sticker philosophy knocked Guns’N’Roses out of the top spot and also went to the top in Canada. Quite a shift in gears there – from one of the few heavy metal #1s to a wacky, acapella one driven by whistling! He got the idea from a philosophy espoused by Indian spiritualist Meher Baba, who counted Pete Townshend among his followers. “It’s pretty neat philosophy in four words,” McFerrin says. One which won McFerrin Grammys for Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Pop Performance by a Male. One would think this would be a wonderful thing, but McFerrin might have had regrets. He’s a pretty well-respected jazz pianist and singer, who’d won three-straight Best Jazz Vocal Performance Grammys before (by now he’s collected 10 Grammys in total) and had worked on records for the likes of Al Jarreau, Herbie Hancock and Chick Correa. But after this song, he has largely been written off as a novelty act – a rich one though, given the revenue from this gold single and its use in commercials and the Cocktail movie.

It wasn’t that movie’s only cheery contribution to the top of the charts. A few weeks later the Beach Boys had a remarkable comeback with their first #1 since the ’60s with “Kokomo” off the same soundtrack.

September 24 – Did Renee Turn Around When She Heard Song?

Most lovelorn teenagers listen to sad pop music. Michael Brown decided to make sad pop music instead! His New York band The Left Banke hit the American top 40 this day in 1966 with their biggie, “Walk Away Renee.” The song would make it up to #5, and #3 in Canada…not bad for a debut by essentially a high school band.

The Left Banke had formed the year before, with Brown on keyboards and their main writer, and four others including singer Steve Martin – no, not the “wild and crazy guy” – who later added his real last name, Caro to avoid confusion. Bassist Tom Finn had a girlfriend, Renee, whom 16 year-old Brown had the fortune or misfortune of being infatuated with. He wrote the song for her, as well as their two latter, less successful hits, “Pretty Ballerina” and “She May Call You Tonight.” Brown said besides the lovely but unavailable Renee, he was also inspired by the Mamas and the Papas sound-wise on the song.

Luckily for the Left Banke, Michael’s dad, Harry Lookofsky (don’t ask me…Lookofsky’s son Brown?) was a talented violinist and he took control of the band, managing them and producing their record. He played the violin on the string-heavy selection and got his classical music friends to add other strings and flutes, creating one of the better examples of classical-tinged pop or “baroque rock.” Surprisingly, some of their other racks came closer to the Byrds or Buffalo Springfield in sound, but “Walk Away Renee” was the one people fixed on.

Not surprisingly, given the kids’ age and their small record label, it wasn’t an instant runaway hit. In fact by the time it hit the charts, Brown had replaced the others (his thing for Renee may have hastened the bassist’s departure one might think) with new musicians including Michael McKean, who years later we’d come to know as an actor. When the song started zooming up Billboard though, he got the original quintet back together to tour a little and put out one more album, which didn’t generate much interest or follow-up hit singles. They packed it in briefly, but reconvened, put out one more album in the ’80s and have worked together more years than not since. Steve Martin Caro passed away recently at age 71. Renee, meanwhile is apparently Renee Fladen-Kamm, who went to the West Coast to teach singing and arts. Perhaps one of the song’s she teaches her students is the one Rolling Stone list among their 300 greatest songs of all-time, the one written about her.

September 21 – Riley Taught The PTA A Thing Or Two

A country song, a “novel”, influenced and inspired by a novel made into a TV show… one of the more interesting songs of the ’60s hit #1 fifty years ago. And from then on, “Harper Valley PTA” would be a codeword for conservative hypocrites.

Not quite 23 years old, aspiring Nashville singer Jeannie C. Riley became the first female to have a song top the regular Billboard charts and the country ones at the same time … and it did the same in Canada and Australia too, for good measure.

The 1968 song was written by Tom T. Hall, an aspiring novelist who never quite made it as that, but had plenty of success writing country music tunes (including his own 1973 hit “I Love” and the theme for so many of us, “I Like Beer”!) but he says of “Harper Valley PTA” “this is my novel.” A novel, no, but it packs a lot of story into less than 4 mnutes. The song deals with a small town single mom who’s chastised for being a bad influence by the uptight school PTA… and her turning the tables on them.

Mrs. Johnson, you’re wearing your dresses way too high/ it’s been reported you’ve been drinking and runnin’ around with men…” the second verse begins, a letter to the mother from the school board. She in turn went to the school meeting and pointed out the hypocrisy of the members like Bobby Taylor who’d asked her out seven times and Shirley Thompson with the gin on her breath…before calling them out on it and calling it a “Peyton Place”. The latter was no coincidence as the song and the theme seem to borrow heavily from the massively-popular 1950s novel (which also deals with a single mother in a staunchly conservative town) which had been made into a TV show around the time Riley recorded this one. Surprisingly enough – or maybe not- “Harper Valley PTA” itself was later made into a film and an NBC sitcom which ran for three years with Barbara Eden starring as Mrs. Johnson. Among the cast was Fannie Flagg, who’d go on to write the book and screenplay, Fried Green Tomatoes.

As for the humble 7” single that hit #1 in 1968, it at the time set a record by jumping 74 spaces on Billboard in one week and went on to sell an incredible six million copies . Riley won a Grammy for best female country performance for it and was nominated for Record of the Year. Although she’d go on to have five more significant country hits in the ’70s, none of them had the appeal or crossed over onto pop/rock radio. In the late-’70s she became a Born Again Christian and has since kept singing but limited herself primarily to the Christian music market.

By the way, if you listen to it and say to yourself, “wait, it’s ‘Ode to Billie Joe”... but it’s not,” you’re not alone. Many figure that Hall pretty much fit his lyrics into the Bobby Gentry hit (which also eventually was made into a movie) the year before, but despite the similarities, Hall never credited her in the writing credits nor, from all reports was ever confronted by her over it.

September 19 – The Band Of Gold Was 7″ In Diameter & 45RPM

Happy birthday to a fine One Hit Wonder of over 50 years back. One whose done a lot more since than many realize. Freda Payne is 80 today.

Freda grew up in Motown – Detroit – and was musical at a young age, attending the Detroit Institute of Musical Arts. At the time she mostly liked jazz and some torch singers, with Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holliday being favorites. She broke into the recording business doing commercial jingles in the early-’60s and spent a good deal of the decade doing stage musicals. She put out her first album, jazz-influenced After the Lights Go Down And Much More, in 1964 to little notice.

People who did notice her musical abilities and voice were the trio of Holland-Dozier-Holland, the primary songwriters at Motown for much of the decade. They’d left the company after one too many dispute with Berry Gordy Jr. and started their own record company, Invictus. She was one of their first signings and her first single, “The Unhooked Generation” was only their third release. After the fourth Invictus record, the Chairmen of the Board hit “Give Me Just A Little Bit More Time,” came Freda’s next one…the one which would make her career and help keep Invictus afloat for awhile.

But she hadn’t wanted to sing “Band of Gold.” She apparently felt it was immature and suited to a teenager, not a woman in her late-20s with serious musical aspirations. They won out, getting her to record the song they’d written in their finest Motown-sounding tradition. It turned out to be a perfect match. The song sounded a lot like the Supremes, whom would have probably done it had Holland and Co. stayed on at Motown. (Coincidentally, her sister Scherrie joined the Supremes in 1973.) “Band of Gold” had some future star-power on it besides Freda. Joyce Wilson and Telma Hopkins, who soon joined Tony Orlando as Dawn sang backing vocals and Ray Parker Jr. was on the guitar. It earned Invictus their first gold record at home, where the song got to #3, but was particularly huge in the UK, where it spent six weeks at #1 in 1970.

After that, she quickly seemed to disappear. She had one more minor hit, the follow-up to “Band of Gold,” the anti-war “Bring The Boys Home”, which made it into the top 30 in the U.S. However, as far as hit records would go that was about all for her, and she left Invictus in ’73 to go to ABC Records. There she refashioned herself more in the image of a disco singer, doing a duet with another popular ABC act, Tavares, among other things but nothing really clicked there for her. This was likely discouraging for her and she actually went 15 years, from ’79 to ’94 without recording.

Although she did help out Belinda Carlisle on her cover of “Band of Gold” in ’86, she spent most of the decade concentrating on acting after a brief run hosting a TV talk show in ’81.

She seems to have been making up for lost time lately. Since adding her voice to a 25th anniversary edition of “We Are The World” in 2010 (that one for assisting Haitian earthquake victims) she’s written a memoir, released albums, including one last year which had a duet with Johnny Mathis on it, and acted on stages. One imagines, remembering her childhood, the highlight of that was this past summer when she got to portray Ella Fitzgerald on Broadway in Ella, First Lady of Song. A pretty good resume for a “one hit wonder”!

September 18 – The Complaint That Went Gold

Seldom has anyone turned a jeer into gold for them better than Rob Parissi. Parissi was the singer and leader of Ohio band Wild Cherry, a rock band which developed a strong following in the Pittsburgh, PA area in the early-’70s. By the mid-’70s, disco was ruling the airwaves and at a live show, a table of Black men were yelling for dance music and apparently said something to the effect of “are you White boys gonna play some funky music?” They didn’t, but the phrase stuck with him and he turned it into a song (borrowing heavily from a funky Ohio Players bassline) which got them signed to a record deal almost instantly. “Play That Funky Music (White Boy)” hit #1 in the U.S. this day in 1976, and was a top 5 hit in Canada and Australia as well.

So successful was the platinum-selling single that Billboard ranked it as the 73rd biggest single of all-time in 2008 and it remains one of the most played songs on “oldies” stations to this day. Lightning didn’t strike twice though; none of the subsequent singles from the band’s remaining three albums did much on any chart. Parissi went on to produce Gary US Bonds comeback album, Dedication and then work in radio. An incorrect assumption about the record is that it’s Donnie Iris (“Ah Leah”) singing…it isn’t. Iris was a member of the band briefly, but joined Wild Cherry after this song was recorded.

September 17 – The Curious Case Of ?

File under “Q”? One of the more enigmatic and difficult to file One Hit Wonders made the U.S. top 40 for the first time this day in 1966 with a song that’s become a rock staple. The song, “96 Tears”, the band, ? & the Mysterians.

? and the Mysterians were a band from Michigan, comprising mainly of Hispanic sons of migrant farmers. There was Robert Martinez on drums, Bobby Balderrama and Larry Borjos on guitars, Frank Rodriguez on the Vox organ that made the song so distinctive and most prominently, a guy who was probably Robert’s brother, Rudy Martinez. Although he claimed to be called ? and be from Mars, where he’d been born about 10000 years ago. Rudy/? was the sunglasses-wearing lead singer who wrote the tune. He said he chose “96” because it has “deep philosophical meaning” to him, though he apparently hasn’t chosen to elaborate on what that is.

The band had started in 1962, and eventually got signed to a small indie label, Pa-Go-Go. This song was one of the first they recorded, and Pa-Go-Go put it out as a single in some markets – largely their homestate of Michigan. Initially it was the B-side to “Midnight Hour”, but as often happened back then, DJs there and across the border in Windsor, Ontario flipped it over and began playing “96 Tears” instead. Soon it went to #1 in those markets. That caught the attention of Philadelphia label Cameo Parkway, who bought the rights to it and distributed it more widely.

That was a mixed blessing for the band. On the one hand, it made them stars, briefly at least, with the song being a smash. On the other hand, although they got a couple of albums recorded with Cameo, by 1968 the Feds had shut the company down for “stock manipulation.” The Mysterians lost a lot of money due them, their contract and momentum that they never regained.

But a smash it was. It’s appeal stretched well beyond Detroit-Bay City, with it hitting #1 nationwide, and in Canada. It made it to #7 in France and barely scratched into the top 40 in the UK. At home, it was the fifth biggest song of ’66. As Peter Watts of The Times put it, people loved the organ-driven rock and “ignored the slightly sinister revenge fantasy of the lyrics”. It’s largely credited with being one of the seminal songs that influenced numerous garage rock acts years later. Bruce Springsteen played it in concert once in 2009 on a dare from an audience member and in Britain, garage-rock loving The Stranglers had a top 20 hit with it in 1990 with a slightly muscled-up version of it.

96 Tears” was clearly ? & the Mysterians moment in the sun, but it wasn’t strictly their only hit. The follow-up, “I Need Someone” did make it to #22 in the U.S., and although it wasn’t a major hit for them, their song “Can’t Get Enough Of You Baby” was made into a 1997 hit for Smash Mouth. Meanwhile, ? & the Mysterians are still around. Maybe that singer really is a 10 000 year-old Martian.

August 4 – Forgotten Gems : Lotus Eaters

Summer’s in full effect for most of our readers – New Zealand excepted of course – so what better time to remember, a nice summery tune about summer love and “seeing the flowers scream their joy”? This month’s Forgotten Gem is “First Picture of You” by the Lotus Eaters, which was rising up the British charts this day in 1983.

People a little more literate than yours truly will know “lotus eaters” were mentioned in Homer’s classic novel, Odyssey; a race of people who lived on an island and ate only lotus fruit. When visitors happened upon them and partook of the fruit, they’d forget about their past and want to stay. Interesting premise, and one of note enough to have resulted in at least three bands using the name – the band currently known as Keane, who began under the name “Lotus Eaters”, an American experimental trio and this Lotus Eaters, a band from Liverpool. (And then it was the subject of an R.E.M. single as well).

They began in 1981 when Peter Coyle and Jem Kelly met. Both had been in other bands in Britain, and Coyle’s old band, the Jass Babies, had appeared on the influential John Peel radio show.. This was very useful as he used the contact to get the new band invited and in 1982, they did a Peel Sessions show, playing several tracks including this one. Kelly had been the guitarist in a band called Wild Swans, and to put together a whole band, the drummer, bassist and keyboardist from them were recruited, although by the time they got to the recording studio, session musician Alan Spenner (who’d toured with Roxy Music) had taken on the bass.

The radio appearance went well and quickly got them signed to Arista Records, who had them record “First Picture of You” quickly, then work on the rest of the album. They had some good help – Nigel Gray produced the record. Gray had co-produced the first three Police albums, being included in two of their Grammy wins.

Coyle describes the song as “a beautiful song, because it is deep and real and romantic, and people see and feel it.” He adds “it was written in the depths of winter when it was very cold!”

The song caught on and became a hit before the band even got to play a public show. It would peak at #15 at home in late-August of ’83, and soon became popular in widely-strewn markets like the Philippines, Spain and Toronto, Canada, where it clocked in at #52 for the year of 1984 on influential new wave station CFNY. The song had a nice, current-sounding breeziness that put a few in mind of Tears for Fears on a happy day. Some thought them “the next big thing” in the UK, where they even were on the cover of an issue of Melody Maker.

Alas, nothing else they did matched the widespread appeal of the single, and they went on to be truly a One Hit Wonder. They broke up in 1985, but re-formed in 2002, and are still active to this day…in some ways. They had an album out in ’02, then according to Coyle, recorded a full album in ’09 but for unspecified reasons, Kelly delayed its release so now Coyle is generally the only original Lotus Eater performing. He seemed to have the more interesting life of the pair during the hiatus years. He formed a dance team, opened a night club, went to university and put out a couple of solo albums… one with the memorable title I’d Sacrifice Eight Orgasms With Shirley McLaine Just To Be There. Kind of makes Foreigner 4 seem a little dry by comparison!

Coyle/Lotus Eaters still tour at times, in 2019 with fellow-’80s not-quite-forgotten sensations When in Rome and Real Life. Asked why there’s so much nostalgia for the ’80s and bands like his, he has an answer. “Music was the central component of our lives in the ’80s. It meant something to us. Music is less central (to young people’s lives) now. The revival is in part to remember how crucial music is to who we are.” And here, we are happy the Lotus Eaters broke through with one hit from that musical decade.

August 2 – People Got Together Over Youngbloods…Eventually

The masses turned onto one of the 1960s defining tunes this day in 1969… a song which had a Hippie-friendly message that (sadly) still seems highly relevant today. The Youngbloods hit the U.S. top 40, 53 years ago with “Get Together.” Of course, some listeners already knew the song. It had been released originally two years earlier, but more or less flopped, but was performed live by an array of popular artists including Joni Mitchell, the Stone Poneys and even Johnny Cash and had become fairly popular in ’68 when several Public Service Announcements had utilized it.

It was something of a long way coming for The Youngbloods. They’d formed as a duo four years earlier, with two folk singers who had regional popularity in the Northeast (and then curiously found it in Canada before the rest of the U.S. warmed to them.) There was Jesse Colin Young, a guitar and bass player who actually sang lead vocals on the hit, and Jerry Corbitt, a guitarist and pianist who sang a number of their tunes. Along the way they added drummer Joe Bauer, and multi-instrumentalist Lowell Levinger, and got signed to a branch or RCA Records.

They put out their debut, self-titled album in the “Summer of Love” – 1967. they had a few originals and several covers of old Blues numbers originally done by the likes of Mississippi John Hurt. This song had been written close to a decade earlier by Chet Powers, a curious entertainer who often went by Dino Vallenti and was in the Quicksilver Messenger Service. The Kingston Trio were first to record it, then the Jefferson Airplane did. But it remained reasonably obscure. However, Young loved the song.

That song struck me in a deep and spiritual way,” he’d later say, “I knew that it would be with me the rest of my life.” And it would seem he was right. And with a lot of others too. With its catchy pro-peace chorus and lines like “smile on your brother now/ everybody get together/ try to love one another right now”, it fit the times and mood of the youth perfectly…and seems just as important today.

Although released as a single in ’67, it scraped up to only #62 at home for them and could have been forgotten were it not for the ads in got used in the next year. RCA sensed its popularity after that, put it out again and this time it rose to #5 and earned them a gold single. In Canada, where it was a top 40 hit the first time around, it climbed to #6.

However, four more Youngbloods albums failed to generate anything close to as popular as this one, and save for a brief reunion tour in the mid-’80s that was the band was done by 1972.

The hit however, lives on. Still an Oldies radio staple, it’s also been kept in the public eye (or ear) by use in other media. Several TV shows like The Simpsons and Cold Case have featured it as have Vietnam-era movies like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Forrest Gump. However, its most famous re-use may have been in 1995 when Pepsi used it in a commercial featuring Pepsi and Coke drivers bonding – briefly – at a diner over a Pepsi.

July 29 – People Weren’t Tired Of Rocky’s Line Of Retro Sound

One of the first One Hit Wonders of the ’80s had his one hit evoke the ’50s on this day. Rocky Burnette hit #8 on Billboard with “Tired of Toein’ The Line”, from his first album, The Son of Rock and Roll.

It was a good name for the record; Rocky was the son of early-rock pioneer Johnny Burnette who was a friend of Elvis and had a top 10 in 1961 with “You’re Sixteen” (the song made into a hit by Ringo Starr the following decade.) The Memphis-born and raised Rocky was the American part of a sort of late-’70s rockabilly revival (along with Brits like Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds), perhaps spurred on by a dislike of prevailing disco of the era. Rocky says he wrote this one in about 20 minutes, though it’s credited as being co-written by Ron Coleman, an older bassist who’d worked with the Everly Brothers two decades prior. The album credits were frustratingly vague, but Rocky is listed as being the “primary musician” on it, and among the other credits are his cousin Billy Burnette and the aforementioned Edmunds, both on guitars. The song was quite different than most of what was dominating the airwaves, especially in America that summer, and it did even better in some other places, like Canada (#4), New Zealand (#3), and Australia where it got him a gold record and went to #1.

Despite that, his label, EMI America didn’t put a lot into promoting him or his follow-up album, and he never got back on the charts, spending a good part of the ’80s and ’90s playing both with his dad’s old band and with Dwight Twilley. Rocky is still working and put out a new album, Rock Solid, late in 2019.

July 19 – Pilot Flew Big Hit Over From Scotland

Pilot were flying high! The Scottish band hit #1 in Canada this day in 1975 with their iconic single, “Magic.”

To North Americans it is the most-famous song for the band which many consider a one-hit wonder; the single was also top 5 in the U.S. and went gold in both countries. At home in the UK, however, it got to #11 but they soon had a much bigger hit with “January” (a #1 there and Australia.) “Magic” was off Pilot’s debut album; they’d end up putting out four from ’74 to ’77 before splitting up, with occasional reunion’s since.

“Magic” was indeed that, a perfectly catchy and well-produced single that has lived on on retro radio stations, movies like Herbie Fully Loaded and in ads ranging from Pilsbury rolls to pharmaceutical meds. The spot-on production is no surprise – Alan Parsons was in the studio in control of the dials. The catchy chorus (which shows up four times in the song) was distinctive, and the playing spot-on. It was written by David Paton (who played guitar and sang the lead vocals) and the keyboardist, Billy Lyall. Paton had been in the Bay City Rollers briefly (before they became teen idols) and he and Ian Bairnson from Pilot worked on Kate Bush’s debut album before essentially disappearing from the scene. They might have disappeared, but the song hasn’t. Nor did the title. Within a decade of their hit, Olivia Newton John and the Cars each also had top 10 hits titled “Magic”, all of them different from each other.