Today is One-Hit Wonder Day. We take as our text for today’s meditation the Radio and Records Pop 40 from the week of September 19, 1975. It’s an adult-contemporary chart from the now-defunct industry magazine, and I’m going to cross-reference it with the Billboard Hot 100 chart because that’s our true Bible around here.

(To see a bigger image of the chart, which I swiped from the excellent Radio Rewinder Twitter feed, click it.)

Some artists on this list are sometimes considered to be one-hit wonders, but are not. Morris Albert, for example, conquered the world with “Feelings,” but reached #93 on the Hot 100 with “Sweet Loving Man” in February 1976. Batdorf and Rodney also made the Hot 100 twice: “You Are a Song” got to #87, and “Somewhere in the Night” rose to #69 in a three-week run in December 1975. And although “Third Rate Romance” is the only Amazing Rhythm Aces tune to hit the Billboard Top 40, they hit the Hot 100 two other times, with “Amazing Grace (Used to Be Her Favorite Song)” and “The End Is Not in Sight,” both in 1976.

One act on this chart is technically a no-hit wonder as far as the Hot 100 is concerned. Paul Delicato hit Billboard‘s adult-contemporary chart five times in 1975 and 1976 without ever making the Hot 100—one of only four artists from the 60s to the early 90s to have that many AC hits without breaking the big chart. The full title of his hit on the 9/19/75 Pop 40 is “Ice Cream Sodas and Lollipops and a Red-Hot Spinning Top.” Delicato started as a session guitarist and bass player in his native St. Louis, which brought him to the attention of Chuck Berry, Ike and Tina Turner, Albert King, Little Milton, and others. In later years, he performed and produced musical revues in Las Vegas, Branson, and other resort towns.

Cotton, Lloyd, and Christian’s “I Go to Pieces,” made famous by Del Shannon and Peter and Gordon, was their only Hot 100 hit, eventually reaching #66. (A second record, “I Can Sing, I Can Dance,” made Billboard‘s AC chart but not the Hot 100.) Michael Lloyd produced hits for the Osmonds, Shaun Cassidy, Leif Garrett, Belinda Carlisle, and Barry Manilow, among others. He was also music supervisor on the movie Dirty Dancing. Chris Christian had a couple of minor hits as a solo act; the one you might remember is “I Want You, I Need You” from 1981. Darryl Cotton had been a successful musician in Australia going back to the 60s, and would continue to be in the 80s and beyond, also becoming a prominent actor in Oz.

Englishman John Dawson Read made two albums in the mid 70s, A Friend of Mine Is Going Blind and Read On. After that, he raised a family and went into private, non-musical business, but still continued to write and perform a bit. In 2005, he returned to the studio for an album titled Now, Where Were We? “A Friend of Mine Is Going Blind,” inspired by and dedicated to a friend of Read’s who suffered from muscular dystrophy, made #72 on the Hot 100.

Certain groups are so obscure that the Internet knows practically nothing about them. Like East L.A. Car Pool, whose “Like They Say in L.A.” made #72 on the Hot 100. Joel Whitburn says they were led by conga player Jack J. Gold, who also produced their lone hit. Gold had a brief career as a studio musician in the early 70s before becoming an attorney (which he seems to have been doing while playing with East L.A. Car Pool). He was also technical consultant on a couple of movies, and eventually a juvenile court commissioner in Los Angeles County. The legal system played a role in the career of East L.A. Car Pool, as it turned out. They were on the GRC label, which was part of the recording empire of Michael Thevis, who made a lot of money producing porn films in the 70s and laundered it through his record labels, until a business partner informed on him and the whole edifice crashed down. Read more about that here.

There’s one other record on this list that may have caught your eye like it caught mine: “I Believe I’m Gonna Love You” by Frank Sinatra, sitting way up at #3. Although Sinatra would hit the Hot 100 only one more time after “I Believe I’m Gonna Love You” made #47, he hit the Billboard AC chart eight more times, as late as 1984. Pretty much the opposite of a one-hit wonder. 

More and More

(Pictured: a look inside my head, and maybe yours too.)

Certain songs seem to have been in my head forever. Maybe that’s because I grew up in a house where the radio was always on. When I hear those songs now, they come with associations positively ancient, from the beginning of time and possibly before. A lot of those songs date back to the late 50s and the early 60s, to what I have called “time without a calendar,” before I started listening to my own radio stations and could use the record charts to mark my passage through the years. A lot of them call up rainy Saturday afternoons, Mother bustling around the house doing the endless chores required while raising two and later three young boys, those young boys with Lincoln Logs or Tinkertoys spread out across the living room, Dad periodically coming in from whatever he was doing outside, and all of it soundtracked by our hometown radio station, or maybe by WGN from Chicago.

This post is about one of those songs.

Doris “Dotty” Babb was in showbiz early, having performed at Carnegie Hall in the late 1920s, when she was 13 years old. As a girl, she also performed on Broadway and radio. But showbiz was not going to be her life. She was attending business school when she met Art Todd, a fellow musician from her hometown, Elizabeth, New Jersey, and married him the same year, 1941. After Art got home from the Second World War, they relocated to California, where they worked in radio, and played hotels and casinos.

Art and Dotty Todd eventually got a record deal from RCA; in 1953, “Broken Wings” did big business in the UK but nothing at all in the States. In 1958, songwriter/producer Wayne Shanklin brought them “Chanson D’Amour,” and they cut a demo in the style of Les Paul and Mary Ford, who had recorded a string of successful duets going back to 1951. But no record label wanted it until a small label called Era decided to bite. (Even then, one of Era’s owners told the other that “Chanson D’Amour” was, in his words, a “piece of shit.”) Rather than recutting it, Era released the demo as it was.

“Chanson D’Amour” rose to #6 on Billboard‘s Top 100 in May 1958, and was a #1 hit at WOKY in Milwaukee and at WGR in Buffalo. Art believed that its popularity was partly driven by the resistance of some DJs to rock ‘n’ roll, and their preference for more traditional sounds. (In Buffalo, it ran the Top 10 alongside the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” “Twilight Time” by the Platters, Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” and David Seville’s novelty “Witch Doctor.”) “Chanson D’Amour” got its first big boost when it was featured on the TV show Your Hit Parade. Art and Dotty themselves appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and on American Bandstand as well; I have seen a clip of their Bandstand appearance, which featured Dick Clark introducing them from horseback for some reason, but it’s not at YouTube anymore.

Six decades later, it’s easy to hear the appeal of “Chanson D’Amour”: Art and Dotty’s close harmonies, the ever-so-slightly lascivious saxophone (which honks just enough to appeal to rock ‘n’ roll fans of 1958), and “rah-ta-ta-ta-da.”

For all their success in 1958, Art and Dotty Todd never returned to the big Billboard chart, although they continued to record and perform. They were regulars at casinos in Las Vegas and Reno, and in 1980 moved to Hawaii and opened a club there. Dotty Todd died in 2000 at age 87; Art died in 2007 at age 90. Wayne Shanklin, who had written Frankie Laine’s big 1951 hit “Jezebel,” went on to write “Primrose Lane,” a 1959 hit for Jerry Wallace (another song that comes to me with associations from the deepest past). He died in 1970.

In 1953, Art and Dotty’s “Broken Wings” was outdone in the UK by a version by the Stargazers, which went to #1. Their “Chanson D’Amour” was bested in the UK as well, but not until years later. In 1977, Manhattan Transfer took a version to #1. While it imitates Art and Dotty, it doesn’t capture whatever was the indefinable something that made the original insinuate itself into my head years before, when I was too young to know it.

Mike Kennedy, Call Your Office

(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.

Continue reading “Mike Kennedy, Call Your Office”

Glimmers of Recognition

(Pictured: Morris Albert, who looks satisfied with having had just the one big hit.)

September 25 is One Hit Wonder Day. We’ve written about it on and off over the years, whenever I remember to. A variation I find interesting is “One Hit Wonders Who Aren’t, Actually.” There are a number of ways to determine this. You can be an absolutist and say that if an artist made the Hot 100 one other time, you can’t call them a one-hit wonder. You can be a little less dogmatic and draw the line at one Billboard Top 40 hit. You can stick to the Hot 100 only, or you can look at other charts. This post contains a little bit of all three.

—Morris Albert, whose “Feelings” was climbing during this week in 1975, is one of the quintessential one-hit acts. Or he would be, if he hadn’t hit the Hot 100 a second time. After “Feelings” went to #6, “Sweet Loving Man” had a 15-week run on the adult contemporary chart and two weeks on the Hot 100 as January turned to February 1976, topping out at #93. “Sweet Loving Man” is livelier than “Feelings” and would have sounded OK next to the other stuff on the radio at the time.

—The only Debby Boone record anybody knows is “You Light Up My Life,” which was blasting up the charts 40 years ago this week on its way to a record-setting streak at #1. But she hit the Hot 100 two more times and the AC chart eight times between 1977 and 1981. “Are You on the Road to Lovin’ Me Again” was a #1 country hit in 1980, and is quite the dollop of processed cheese.

—Guess Who lead singer Burton Cummings embarked on a solo career with the Top 10 hit “Stand Tall” as 1976 turned to 1977.  But he wasn’t done. “I’m Scared,” a pop tune with a religious edge that doesn’t fit him at all, went only to #61 on the Hot 100 but #10 on the AC chart as the followup to “Stand Tall.” The far-superior “You Saved My Soul” spent a couple of weeks in the pop Top 40 in the fall of 1981.

—One of our favorite one-hit wonders is Liz Damon’s Orient Express, a group from Hawaii remembered for the hypnotic “1900 Yesterday” at the end of 1970. Although it didn’t make the Hot 100, “Loneliness Remembers (What Happiness Forgets)” spent a month on the AC chart early in 1972.

—Deodato scored in the spring of 1973 with “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” a jazz-rock instrumental version of the 2001: A Space Odyssey theme. He just missed the Top 40 with a version of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” which stalled at #41 during the week of September 29, 1973.

—If you are of a certain age, the Doodletown Pipers might spark a tiny glimmer of recognition. They were a made-for-TV vocal group that started with 30 members, was pared to 20, and eventually to nine. According to a very sketchy Wikipedia article (so who the hell knows), they were recruited by entertainment moguls Jerry Weintraub and Bernie Brillstein (among others), and they first appeared on The Red Skelton Show in 1965. The group was a fixture of TV variety shows and the nightclub circuit well into the 70s. In the summer of 1967, they were among the stars of a summer replacement TV show called Our Place, produced by Ed Sullivan Productions, which co-starred the comedy team of Burns and Schreiber and Rowlf, one of the Muppets. That same year, the Pipers’ lone hit song, a cover of Chad and Jeremy’s “A Summer Song” (which is not available at YouTube) hit #29 on the AC chart without cracking the Hot 100. Two former members became halfway famous outside the group: Teresa Graves, who ended the 60s as a Laugh-In regular and starred in the crime drama Get Christie Love! in 1974; and Jim Gilstrap, a session singer who performed on, well, everything.

And that, my friends, is almost certainly far more than you care to know about the Doodletown Pipers.

If this blog ever needed a second tag line, “Far more than you care to know about” would be good.

One Hit ’76

September 25th is One-Hit Wonder Day. I usually forget to observe it, because every day is some kind of day and the good ones get lost in the shuffle. But here, a day late, is a list of one-hit wonders from 1976. It’s not the complete list for the year, but each one is the only chart entry for that artist.

“Junk Food Junkie”/Larry Groce. If I were still teaching social studies, I’d use “Junk Food Junkie” as a snapshot from the Me Decade because it rings so true. Idealism has its limits today, and it did back in the 70s, too. Groce has continued to record since the 70s and has been a host on West Virginia Public Radio since 1983. (Chart peak: #13, March 20)

“Baby Face”/Wing and a Prayer Fife and Drum Corps. The Corps was a studio group assembled by Harold Wheeler, who had been Burt Bacharach’s musical director in the 60s and would go on to a long career working in movies and TV, including many years as musical director of Dancing With the Stars. “Baby Face” is a disco version of a song made famous by Al Jolson in the 20s, if you think that’s something you need. (Chart peak: #14, March 6)

“Wham Bam (Shang-a-Lang)”/Silver. The distilled essence of 70s radio music and one of the glorious frozen moments from the fall of ’76. (Chart peak: #16, October 2)

“I’m Easy”/Keith Carradine. Oscar-winning song from Nashville. (Chart peak: #17, August 7)

“Street Singin'”/Lady Flash. A female trio who backed Barry Manilow during the last half of the 70s. Their lone hit is not as interesting as the story of one member. Lorraine “Reparata” Mazzola had joined Reparata and the Delrons (a group better known for their name than their music) in 1969. Although she wasn’t the original Reparata, she was happy to let people think she was. The original Reparata, Mary O’Leary, sued Mazzola and won her case when Mazzola didn’t show up for court. But Mazzola then legally changed her first name from Lorraine to Reparata, and continued to let people believe she had been lead singer of the Delrons. According to Wikipedia, that is, so who the hell knows. (Chart peak: #27, September 18)

Roots, Rock, Reggae”/Bob Marley and the Wailers. Their only American chart single, from their most successful American album, Rastaman Vibration. (Not counting the back-catalog compilation Legend, which is one of the great success stories in pop music history. (Chart peak: #51, July 17.)

“BLT”/Lee Oskar. Oskar’s harmonica gave War its distinctive sound until he left the band in 1992. He’s been selling his own line of harmonicas ever since. (Chart peak: #59, July 24)

“You to Me Are Everything”/The Real Thing and “Mighty High”/Mighty Clouds of Joy. The question we often ask about one-hit wonders is how they could be so good yet manage to hit only once. In the case of the Real Thing, “You to Me Are Everything” was hamstrung by two competing versions in the marketplace at the same time. As for the Mighty Clouds of Joy, who knows? They were a gospel group who made the transition to pop in the 70s, and “Mighty High” is a rager. (Chart peak for the Real Thing: #64, August 28; for Mighty Clouds of Joy: #69, March 27.

“Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”/Deadly Nightshade. Soap-opera parody Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, premiered in January 1976 and was one of the TV sensations of the year, syndicated around the country and running at all different times. It was supposed to be a comedy and sometimes it was, but it could be strange and disturbing, too. Members of the Deadly Nightshade had been playing together in rock bands since the 60s, but because they were all women, major labels didn’t take their groups seriously. Their disco version of the Hartman theme comes from an album called Funky and Western. (Chart peak: #79, July 31)

“The Game Is Over”/Brown Sugar. This Philly soul trio’s lone hit was written and produced by Vince Montana, who had been a member of MFSB and founded the Salsoul Orchestra—and it’s really good. (Chart peak: #79, March 13)

You can read about many more one-hit wonders if you revisit my Down in the Bottom series from a few years ago, in which I wrote about all of them to peak on the Hot 100 between #90 and #100 from 1955 through 1986.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Rashomon

Although “Birthday” is one of the most familiar songs in the Beatles’ catalog, they never scored a hit single with it. That distinction belongs to Underground Sunshine, whose bubblegum version of “Birthday” reached #26 on the Hot 100 in September 1969. It was a bigger hit in several places, hitting #1 at KIRL in St. Charles, Missouri, and reaching the Top 10 at both WLS and WCFL in Chicago, and also in St. Louis, Washington, San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, Oklahoma City, Omaha, Raleigh, Buffalo, New Orleans, Portland, Birmingham, Edmonton, Clarksburg (West Virginia), Gary (Indiana), and Council Bluffs (Iowa).

Underground Sunshine began as a three-piece band from Montello, Wisconsin, 65 miles north of Madison, made up of two brothers, drummer Frank and bassist Bert Koelbl (brothers who later changed their surname to Kohl) and guitarist Rex Rhode. They were managed by Madison radio personality Jonathan Little. Stories vary as to how they became a quartet. In Do You Hear That Beat?: Wisconsin Pop/Rock in the 50s and 60s, Little told author Gary E. Myers that he wanted the band to add keyboards to get a Doors-type flavor; Bert Kohl told Myers they needed a keyboard to play the solo on “Birthday.” However the need arose, the band ultimately met it within the family—Little’s sister Jane, a senior in high school who was dating Frank Kohl, got the gig. After Underground Sunshine recorded “Birthday” in Milwaukee and Little released it on his own label, he took advantage of his radio connections to get airplay for it. Before long, Mercury Records picked it up for national release on its Intrepid label.

After “Birthday,” Underground Sunshine bubbled under with a second single, “Don’t Shut Me Out.” An album, Let There Be Light (said to have been recorded in seven hours), reached #161 on the Billboard 200 in November 1969. It contained a cover of the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” as well as “Bad Moon Rising,” “Proud Mary,” and “Gimme Some Lovin'” (an eight-minute fuzz-tone guitar/organ freakout), plus an 11-minute psychedelic opus called “Take Me Break Me,” which appears in a short version on the B-side of “Don’t Shut Me Out.”

The seeds for Underground Sunshine’s sunset were planted practically from the beginning, when they made an agreement with a local backer who paid for their equipment in exchange for a 20 percent commission on whatever they made. That was fine for a band playing central Wisconsin bars for $100 a night, but not for a group with a national hit. Their lawyer advised them to break the agreement, which they did—although it cost them Rex Rhode, a close friend of the original backer, who quit only weeks before the band was scheduled to appear on American Bandstand. Rhode’s replacement was recruited via an ad in the Milwaukee Journal, a musician named Chris Connors. According to one member, Connors would play a key role in the band’s demise.

The story, as told to Myers, is a small-town rock ‘n’ roll Rashomon. Jonathan Little blamed substance abuse. Jane said it was partly a culture clash between “pretty innocent Montello High School kids” and Connors’ “Milwaukee ideas and big-time thoughts,” and partly her own distaste for the groupie scene they encountered on tour. “The whole thing was really tacky to me,” she said. Bert Kohl told Myers that Jane’s parents made her quit “because the rest of the band was using pot,” and that after Jane and Frank got married, she made Frank quit. Frank said that weed had nothing to do with it. “We did some pot but none of us are pot-heads,” he said. “How many bands back in the 60s did, in fact, smoke pot?” Frank blames the breakup on conflicts over the fact that Jonathan Little was making more money than the band members, a situation Bert echoed: “The biggest paycheck I ever got was $325, and I was doing an awful lot of work.”

Whatever the reason, Underground Sunshine was over by the end of 1970. By the early 90s, when Myers interviewed the members for his book, they looked back on it fondly. “I had a lot of great opportunities,” said Frank Kohl. “Got to see a lot of the country, got to see a lot of different things.” Bert Kohl said, “Even the way it was done, I would not trade anything for it.”