Ten Thousand Years

Reruns, foreseeable future, yada yada yada. This post is a list of the top-ranking one hit wonders for each year from 1955 through 1986, with a couple of hyperlinks added.

1955: “Let Me Go Lover”/Joan Weber (four weeks at Number One)
1956: “Moonglow/Theme from Picnic“/Morris Stoloff (three weeks at Number One)
To which William Holden and Kim Novak dance, in a scene that was pretty hot for 1956. The story is told that Holden was so nervous about the scene that he had to get drunk to complete it.

1957: “Rainbow”/Russ Hamilton (one week at Number 3) Hamilton was British—from Liverpool, actually; the flipside of this, “We Will Make Love,” was the hit in the UK. Hamilton’s Wikipedia entry says “it was due to the U.S. mistaking ‘Rainbow’ to be the A-side.” I’d bet on squeamishness over the A-side’s title.

1958: “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”/Laurie London (four weeks at Number One)
1959: “Sea of Love”/Phil Phillips (two weeks at Number Two)
1960: “Alley Oop”/Hollywood Argyles (one week at Number One)
This was the first song played on WLS when they went to the rock format that would last for 29 years.

1961: “Mexico”/Bob Moore (one week at Number 7) I don’t believe I’ve ever heard this. Moore was a session player in Nashville; this was from an album of south-of-the-border-flavored tunes.

1962: “Party Lights”/Claudine Clark (one week at Number 5)
1963: “Dominique”/The Singing Nun (four weeks at Number One)
Another reason why the British Invasion had to happen.

1964: “Popsicles and Icicles”/Murmaids (two weeks at Number 3)
1965: “The Jerk”/Larks (one week at Number 5)
1966: “Psychotic Reaction”/Count Five (two weeks at Number 5)
1967: “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead”/Fifth Estate (one week at Number 11)
Early evidence of the influence wielded on pop music by weed.

1968: “Fire”/Crazy World of Arthur Brown (one week at Number Two)
1969: “In the Year 2525″/Zager and Evans (six weeks at Number One)
1970: “In the Summertime”/Mungo Jerry (one week at Number 3)

1971: “Sweet Mary”/Wadsworth Mansion (one week at Number 7) One of my all-time favorite one-hit wonders.

1972: “Sunshine”/Jonathan Edwards (three weeks at Number 4)
1973: “Dueling Banjos”/Weissberg and Mandel (four weeks at Number Two)
Just nosing out “Playground in My Mind” by Clint Holmes, which did a mere two weeks at Number Two. It was the 70s, and we couldn’t help ourselves.

1974: “The Entertainer”/Marvin Hamlisch (two weeks at Number 3)
1975: “Rockin’ Chair”/Gwen McCrae (one week at Number 9)
Gwen was married to George McCrae, whose “Rock Your Baby” hit Number One in the summer of 1974. They’d be the answer to the greatest trivia question ever—name the only husband-and-wife one-hit wonders—were it not for George’s “I Get Lifted,” which spent a couple of weeks in the Top 40 in early ’75.

There’s more on the flip.

Continue reading “Ten Thousand Years”

Listen Here

It’s One Hit Wonder Day today—a day for celebrating performers who hit the charts but one time and never again. And at this blog we’re celebrating performers who just made it. Earlier this week, we wrote about 13 records that records spent a single week on the Hot 100 in the anchor position and then fell out again, barely leaving a footprint on the sands of history. But there’s another, rarer achievement: peaking at Number 100 and holding the position for more than one week. Between 1955 and 1986, only six records managed the feat.

“Listen Here”/Brian Auger & the Trinity (2 weeks, from 10/10/70). That the prodigiously talented and creative Auger missed the American charts in the 60s is one of the bigger failures of mass taste from those days—his version of “This Wheel’s on Fire,” recorded with Julie Driscoll, got a little airplay in 1968 without denting Billboard. By the 1970s, he’d moved into funk and fusion almost exclusively. If you’re a fan of the B3 or the Fender Rhodes, his stuff is not to be missed. “Listen Here” was cut down to 3:34 from a 9:22 original, and I’m guessing it didn’t lose much—the long version is mostly improvisations on the same big riff.

“Don’t Ever Take Away My Freedom”/Peter Yarrow (2 weeks, from 4/8/72). Recorded after Peter, Paul and Mary had split, this song was strong enough (or Yarrow, or his label, had enough influence) to get Yarrow the opportunity to sing it on American Bandstand in May 1972.

“Hello Stranger”/Fire and Rain (3 weeks, from 6/30/73). This is a version of the song that had been a hit for Barbara Lewis in 1963 and would be a hit again for Yvonne Elliman in 1977. Fire and Rain was a husband-and-wife duo, Manny Freiser and Patti McCarron; Manny performed in the 80s under the name Ian Messenger. More here.

“Dance Little Lady Dance”/Danny White (2 weeks, from 2/26/77). This is apparently a cover of a song that was a big hit in Britain in 1976 for Tina Charles. White, from New Orleans, was a former member of Huey Piano Smith and the Clowns. When you Google this record, it turns up on several aerobic dance compilations.

“For Elise”/The Philharmonics (2 weeks, from 3/12/77). From an album called The Masters in Philadelphia, this is a disco version of Beethoven’s Fur Elise. It’s not exactly a surprise that somebody would try such a thing, given the success of Walter Murphy’s “A Fifth of Beethoven” only a few months before. The album also features Brahms’ Lullaby, which is given a mid-tempo R&B swing, and the 1812 Overture with some reggae touches that must be heard to be believed. While the album seems to have no connection with Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia hit factory, this stuff sounds like it could have been from there, and I’ll wager some of the same musicians were involved.

“Discomania”/The Lovers (2 weeks, from 5/14/77). If you got a horse, you ride it: the same team who created and produced the Ritchie Family and scored with “The Best Disco in Town” late in 1976 tried it again with “Discomania,” which is another medley of disco songs. Apart from that, there’s little comparison. Although the medley numbers are well chosen, as they were on “The Best Disco in Town,” “Discomania” is saddled with an annoying main theme in which the singers don’t sing so much as yelp, and you probably won’t be able to endure the whole six minutes at the link above.

(Parenthetical observation: From 1978 until 1986, the end of the period we’re studying, no records peaked at Number 100, for a single week or otherwise. Perhaps this points to a change in chart methodology. Similarly, that no record peaked at Number 100 for more than one week before 1970 might also point to a change in methodology at that time. Someone who’s even more geeky for record charts than I—and until I started writing this blog, I didn’t know such people existed, but they do—might be able to say for sure.)

Here endeth our observance of One Hit Wonder Week. We’ll revisit the topic again on some future day, however, because that’s what we do around here.

Recommended Reading: A blog that’s new to me, 30 Days Out, has been writing about the Warner Brothers Loss Leaders, the series of two-buck-apiece samplers that are still taking up a lot of space on my shelves. Today’s post features Supergroup, the one I played more than any other. Over at The Vinyl District, Jon previews a new book about Casablanca Records that looks like a must-read.

“For Elise”/The Philharmonics
“1812 Overture/The Philharmonics (out of print)

Lifted a Bit Too Far

Last week, we pointed out that Edward Bear should be one of the classic one-hit wonders of all time, but they aren’t. The 1973 hit “Last Song” was a Number-Three smash, but the group scored two other hit singles in the States, one of which, “Close Your Eyes,” squeaked into the Top 40. And so they are deprived of true one-hit wonder status. Another artist with a similar profile is the R&B singer George McCrae. His achievement is even greater than Edward Bear’s, for his biggest hit, “Rock Your Baby,” went all the way to Number One in the summer of 1974, not only in the States but in the UK and around the world. Here he is, lip-synching it in the 70s:

“Rock Your Baby” is the only George McCrae record anybody remembers, but it’s not his only chart hit. We’ll get to the details after a brief detour, because “Rock Your Baby” was also the first significant hit for the Florida-based TK Records label. Its founder has an interesting history of his own.

TK was founded by Henry Stone, who had been in the record biz since the late 40s. He spent much of the 60s as an independent distributor for major labels such as Atlantic, although he also owned his own labels. In the 70s, they turned out a handful of well-remembered R&B hits. “Funky Nassau” by Beginning of the End and “Clean Up Woman” by Betty Wright were on the Alston label (“Al” for Steve Alaimo, “ston” for Henry Stone); “Why Can’t We Live Together” by Timmy Thomas and “Let’s Straighten it Out” by Latimore were on Glades.

Harry Casey and Richard Finch worked in the warehouse at TK. They started writing songs, and “Rock Your Baby” was one of them. They intended to record it, but it was pitched too high for Casey to sing, so McCrae was drafted. Weep not for Casey and Finch, however—their group, KC and the Sunshine Band, would turn out OK. And they weren’t the only ones. Stone’s stable included McCrae’s wife Gwen, whose “Rockin’ Chair” was a smash in the summer of 1975, Peter Brown (“Do You Wanna Get Funky With Me” and “Dance With Me”), Bobby Caldwell (“What You Won’t Do for Love”), and Anita Ward (“Ring My Bell”), as well as artists more obscure, including Little Beaver (“Party Down”) and Jimmy Bo Horne (“Dance Across the Floor”). TK was briefly home to “Weird Al” Yankovic, whose Queen parody “Another One Rides the Bus” was the label’s final single release in 1981.

After “Rock Your Baby” did a week at Number One in July 1974, McCrae followed it with “I Can’t Leave You Alone,” which made the Top 10 on the R&B chart. The next year, McCrae’s “I Get Lifted” would return him to the Top 40. During its run on the Hot 100, it was listed with “I Can’t Leave You Alone” as a double-A-sided record—and “I Can’t Leave You Alone” is by far the stronger of the two songs. The pair spent three weeks at Number 37 in March 1975, and 15 weeks in the Hot 100 altogether.  (“I Get Lifted” had a second life 20 years later when Snoop Dogg sampled it for “Gin and Juice.”)

After a few more hits on the R&B chart and two more visits to the Hot 100, McCrae faded out of radio sight, but he’s still singing, and reportedly has a new album on the way. One thing he’s not, however, is a true one-hit wonder.

Cross-Promotional Note: Check Popdose for a new edition of One Day in Your Life today.

“I Get Lifted”/George McCrae (buy it here)

On and On and On and On

In my e-mail interview with John Picard, better known as Mister Zero of the Kings, we covered a lot of topics. (Scroll down  to see ’em.) Like any writer would, I tried to cut the material down to the best stuff. And like most writers will at one time or another, I looked at the pile of cuts and decided they were too good to throw away. What follows are some random answers to random questions.

jb: One of the hookiest things about “The Beat Goes On” is the lyric, and phrases like “Hey Judy, get Trudy” and “Me and Zero request you in the Mercedes.” Did either you or [bassist and co-writer] Dave [Diamond] really have a Mercedes?

Zero: I had two old Benzes, a ’65 220 and a ’64 220S. Both were that old kind you see in movies shot in Europe, the big boxy cars with the small fins on the back. When the ’65 gave out, I wasn’t really looking for another, but saw the ’64 in a garage lot on the way to a gig. It looked pretty good, and I think it was $800, so I bought it. That was the one the song [mentions], we had a lot of fun in it, it really did have a smooth ride. I do remember it had a four-speed manual transmission with the shifter on the steering column, and it would always fall out of first gear if you didn’t hold it there. And the speedometer was this crazy sort of barbershop pole thing that I loved.

jb: Did it help you get girls . . . or is a hit record better for that?

Zero: Playing in the band helped more than the car. Having a hit just made it easier further from home!

jb: “Switchin’ to glide” is another cool phrase. How did that come about?

Zero: “Switchin’ to glide” was a line I came up with when I was thinking about how my dad used to coast down hills sometimes when we were on family vacations. I think we were in Allegany State Park, and there are long hills there, and we kids thought it was cool that he would put the car in neutral and coast for what seemed like miles. I was probably in the Benz driving around and kinda spacing out on that, and thought about doing that in the sky in an airplane, and the phrase “switchin’ to glide” just came to me. I didn’t know it would make it into a song. I told Dave about the idea and it just happened to fit with something he was working on. Of course trying to glide in a powered airplane is not a good idea there, kids!

jb: The radio biz has changed a lot since the early 80s, and not always (or usually) for the better. Talk a little about radio and the role it played in your career.

Zero: Yes, I think radio has changed. It is much more of a business now, run by corporate bean-counters and consultants. It has always been dominated by major label acts, which is fine, but the labels seem to be followers of fashion instead of champions of creativity. I remember the days when you would hear cool new songs on the radio and they would have an arc of life on the playlist. I suppose this is still true, but the quality of the music has diminished to my ears. Very “same-y.” And everything is in a box now—this demographic of people has to like this, and those people will like that. And a whole generation of people now refuses to pay for music, so the whole business is suffering. We consider ourselves very lucky to have had a real hit on the radio, but the great thing about those days was the fact that the audience, the listener, had a big part in it. Those ringing phones were the barometer of success—they couldn’t be ignored because this was no test market, or focus group, this was reality, and people were saying, “We listen to your station because you play this great music.” And then wonderful things could happen, based solely on the quality of the music and the audience reaction to it. I fear that organic interaction is a thing of the past. Not to mention the fact that a lot of current stuff sucks!

. . . There is a huge AM station in Toronto called CFRB 1010. . . . I remember they had a DJ named Wally Crowter, an older gent who had been there forever and was beloved by his audience. One day he played [our song] “If We Don’t Belong Together” and said something like, “Now that is a good song!” My old buddy Mike’s mother was a loyal listener to Wally’s show and I will tell you now that Mike’s mom never looked at me the same way again. I wasn’t just some wannabe kid in a band—the Kings were the real thing because Wally said so. And again, that was the power of radio, and I fear that is in the past.

More on American Bandstand: I would have to say that our appearance on American Bandstand was due to our U.S. manager, Randy Phillips, and his hard work. He came to Canada on his own dime and found us and said, “Do you guys have any idea of what is happening for you in the U.S. right now? Your songs are climbing the charts. I can help you make money.” As I said before, we were so green, and, well, Canadian, that we didn’t have a clue about the opportunity right in front of us. Randy’s connections and not-taking-no-for-an-answer ethic were key in keeping the flame on at the [record] label, and also in getting us gigs like Bandstand.

Continue reading “On and On and On and On”

Look Around, No Disappears

Life is what happens while we’re making other plans. For the Kings, the failure of their second album and the decision to leave Elektra Records put them back on the road in Canada. Years went by, members got day jobs, but they also continued to play and record when opportunities arose. And 29 years after “This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ to Glide” blasted onto American radio and into rock history, they’re looking back with a new DVD documentary Anatomy of a One-Hit Wonder: The Kings’ “This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ to Glide,” which is available through the Kings’ website. In part 3 of my interview, Mister Zero of the Kings (who produced and directed the DVD) talks about good tunes you never heard, gigs you may have missed, and the legacy of their most famous record. (Scroll down for parts 1 and 2.)

jb: It was 1995 before you made Unstoppable, and 2002 until Because of You.

Zero: Unstoppable was basically financed by me from my day job working on movie sets here in Toronto. It was a real labor of love that took a year-and-a-half to make in fits and starts, but it is a great record full of great songs. Because of You was made with the support of Bullseye Records of Canada, an indie label run by a friend of ours, Jaimie Vernon. He had a U.S. backer with enough money to do it right, so we were able to do it in a proper studio and do it every day for a month, not just on weekends or what-have-you. Again I think there are a lot of quality songs on there, and we are quite proud of it.

jb: The DVD features over an hour of videos, and some of those tunes are indeed fabulous. Which are the ones you’re proudest of, or best represent what the band is all about?

Zero: You do know that songwriters think that all their songs are great and should be hits, right? In our case we have some that are not great, but we do have lots that really are great, and if we hadn’t fallen from grace the way we did, maybe they would have been hits. Some are on the DVD, and some we never did make a video for. One called “Shoulda Been Me” is one of those; it’s just an obvious hit song. I remember playing it when we opened for the Beach Boys. The audience had never heard it, and at the end they gave it a big hand. I remember thinking, “You know, that thing could go!” It did get some play here [in Canada], but because it was our own indie thing, it didn’t do what maybe it could have. One song on the DVD that got a lot of airplay here in Canada was “If We Don’t Belong Together,” which is a ballad that Sonny Keyes and I wrote. The MOR stations loved that one. . . .

Other songs that I like on the DVD are “Parting of the Ways,” “Your Old Boyfriends,” “Bad Side of Town,” and “Partyitis.” A personal fave is “Cosmic Groove.” I think the lyric I did in that one is spot-on. And it’s a nine-minute jam-fest with lots of me showing off on guitar. As a player I’m not great, but I have fun.

jb: On the DVD, you tell about your first American show, where you opened for Jeff Beck, and the disaster it turned into. Surely the gigs got better, though.

Zero: We did play a few more dates with Jeff Beck, and they turned out better, but it wasn’t a great fit. We also opened for Eric Clapton once, and it was like the Jeff Beck thing—here we are again opening for a guitar god and the place is full of guitar players, and I’m the first axe man of the night. No pressure there! I think that might have been the show where my guitar strap was on wrong, and I walked out and dropped the bloody thing! So I went to my spare and it was out of tune! Shit! After the show, Eric Clapton went up to Dave and said, “Hey, great singing, man,” which was incredible, but he didn’t say “boo” to me!

jb: I know there’s YouTube video of some recent Kings gigs, like the Andy Kim Christmas Show last December.

Zero: The show with Andy Kim was a lot of fun. It was sold out and packed, which is always good, and we got to meet and hang a bit with Lawrence Gowan, who plays with Styx now, Ron Sexsmith, a super songwriter, Andy Kim of course, a very nice guy with some iconic huge hits, and also Alex Lifeson from a little Toronto band called Rush. I think the finale might be on YouTube as well. Everyone is up doing “Rock Me Gently,” Dave is close to the front stage left singing backup, and I’m behind, faking it on a guitar that isn’t plugged in! It’s pretty cool. [Watch it here.]

Continue reading “Look Around, No Disappears”

Lunatics Anonymous

When the Kings and producer Bob Ezrin brewed up “This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ to Glide” in 1980, they did so in the privacy of the recording studio. Getting it out to the world was the next step. Copies began hitting music director’s desks in the summer of 1980, but it had to hit the right desks before it could take flight. In part 2 of my interview with Kings guitarist and songwriter Mister Zero, we talk about the way the record broke nationwide, playing American Bandstand, and making a followup album. (For part 1, scroll down.)

(The DVD Anatomy of a One-Hit Wonder: The Kings’ “This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ to Glide” is available through the Kings’ website.)

jb: I remember hearing “Switchin’ to Glide” all by itself on some radio stations. I’m guessing that a short version was a necessary evil, since radio stations were going to be reluctant to play a six-minute record by anybody in 1980, let alone a six-minute record by bunch of unknowns. How did the whole segue end up on so many stations?

Zero: The record company logically thought that we wouldn’t have much chance of getting the segue played, so they released “Switchin’” on its own. It made a bit of noise, but not much. From what I remember, our camp was pressuring the label to put the segue out, and they finally did. Then we started to see success with influential FM stations like the Loop in Chicago, WRIF in Detroit, and WMMS in Cleveland. They found out that the Kings got great phones. People wanted to hear that weird song again, it was very fresh and new-sounding. With that kind of encouragement, the promo department at Elektra got into high gear and really started going. . . .

A biggie happened when we were at the Elektra office in New York. They told us we’d been added on WLS, and they broke out the booze. Being as green as we were, we had no idea of the significance, but we never turned down a party. It so happened that WLS was one of the largest AM stations in the U.S. out of Chicago and they played us a lot. We eventually got to #9 on their chart, with a piece of music over five minutes in length! We also landed CKLW out of Windsor, Canada [just across the river from Detroit], another powerful AM station with massive U.S. coverage. AM stations can reach out over huge areas, especially at night, so millions of people were now being turned on to the Kings.

After that a lot of key stations in major markets got on the bandwagon from New York to Texas to California, and the phones kept ringing with requests for the Kings. That kind of buzz is what led our future manager, Randy Phillips, to our door.  In case you didn’t know, he is now the CEO of AEG Live, one of the biggest music companies in the world. And he hasn’t taken our calls in 20 years! Love the music biz!

jb: So in January 1981, the Kings got to be on American Bandstand.

Zero: That experience was great, going to the ABC studio in Hollywood and seeing the set. They did a bunch of shows in one day, so you had to wait your turn. The show they taped before us had Kool and the Gang doing “Celebration,” which was something to see. We shared our episode with Nick Lowe and Rockpile, who did “Teacher Teacher” and one other song. We performed “Switchin’ to Glide” and “Don’t Let Me Know,” and if I do say so myself, we blew those Englishmen off the stage.

jb: I can remember playing tracks from your second album, Amazon Beach, on the radio in 1981, but it didn’t produce another hit and it wasn’t around for long. Ezrin produced that one too, but what was different for you guys on that record?

Zero: The demos we sent the record company were received very well, and everyone was enthusiastic about the project. We had eight originals and two covers in mind, the covers being our killer versions of “California Girls” and the old Animals track “When I Was Young.” So we started out with good intentions, but things started to go wrong almost from the beginning. We had learned so much from Bob Ezrin on our first album that we started applying his methods to our latest songs, and consequently, I don’t think he had as much “producing” to do. So we felt that he started making changes that weren’t needed, and then our songs were different than we envisioned. And because he was working with KISS at the same time, we felt he was spread too thin. The studio we were in was unpleasant compared to [Nimbus 9]; we were stuck out in an industrial area instead of being in the heart of the city and the vibes were lousy. Then we started running out of time, and we had to scrap the two cover songs, which was a real shame.

Continue reading “Lunatics Anonymous”