(For One-Hit Wonder Day today, here’s something rebooted from posts that originally appeared in 2007 and 2008.)
Imagine that you are a musician, and through a combination of hard work and luck, you score a hit record. For 12 or 14 weeks, you’re on the radio. Old friends are calling you up; promoters want to get you on concert bills; in the back of your mind you think, “This is what it’s like to be a star.” As all records do, yours eventually slides down the charts, but not to worry. You’ll be back. But you never get back. The fact that people don’t forget your record is a small consolation, but all things considered, you’d probably rather be Paul McCartney. You’re a one-hit wonder.
If you had to be a one-hit wonder, the 60s through the 80s was probably the best time to be one. Boomer nostalgia and the proliferation of oldies-based radio formats conspire to keep lots of records alive that would otherwise have disappeared into the void. Those factors also keep musicians working as musicians, when in past times they might have had to take up less glamorous careers to pay the mortgage.
We have noted here before that many artists people think are one-hit wonders really aren’t. It comes down to how you define “hit.” Lots of people go by “only one song anyone remembers,” but that’s really not enough for geeks such as we. Some people think it means only one hit in the Top 40, even if that artist had other hits between #41 and #100 on the Hot 100, or hits on other charts. Some say one hit in the Hot 100 and that’s all. At this blog, I think I’ve probably defined them in all of these ways at one time or another. As years go by, I get less dogmatic about it, but at least I have some standards. As Professor O’Kelly noted just today, some people don’t.
On the flip are two artists who hit the Top 40 once and the lower reaches of the Hot 100 at other times.
Cymarron was a country/pop trio that recorded enough songs to fill an entire best-of CD, but put only two into the Hot 100. There are some lovely songs on that best-of, but “Rings” is the loveliest by far. If you could persuade a pretty girl to marry you on the beach by sweet-talking her that way, you would. It hit #17 on the Hot 100 in August 1971 and #6 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart, and was successful enough to inspire a few radio stations to play a followup single. “Valerie” squeaked to #98 in October.
As September turned to October in 1966, one of the top songs in the country was “Black Is Black” by Los Bravos. While you might take them for a Hispanic garage band from California, they were actually a multinational group from Europe—four Spaniards and a West German. They sang most of their songs in English, and “Black Is Black” was a worldwide smash. The followup single, “I Don’t Care,” made the UK Top 20. But for Los Bravos, “Black Is Black” was their only American hit. Right?
Well, that’s what I thought, too. It turns out, however, that Los Bravos put two other songs into the Hot 100. Both were from Spanish movies in which the group starred as themselves. In December 1966, “Going Nowhere,” from Los chicos con las chicas, lasted a couple of weeks on the American chart, peaking at #91. It feels like a heavier version of the Buckinghams, with some fuzztone guitar and a bigger beat. In the summer of 1968, “Bring a Little Lovin’” was more successful, although how it missed climbing higher than #51 in so bubblegum-friendly an era, I dunno. That film, originally titled Dame un poco de amooor. . . !, was released as Bring a Little Lovin’ in the English-speaking world.
The lead singer of Los Bravos was the West German member, Michael Kogel. After Los Bravos split, Kogel changed his name to Mike Kennedy—what better choice for a West German in the 1960s?—and embarked on a solo career. In 1972, he became what Los Bravos was not—a legitimate American one-hit wonder—when “Louisiana” made the Hot 100. In April, it would peak at #62, right between “Morning Has Broken” by Cat Stevens and “I’ll Take You There” by the Staple Singers.
And that’s all I know about Mike Kennedy and Los Bravos, but it’s more than I knew when I started out. It’s probably more than you knew, too, unless you’re Mike Kennedy.