The seemingly endless wealth of lists of the greatest one-hit-wonders in rock music history stretches from the luxurious offices of VH-1 to the shack on a mountainside in West Virginia in which a blogger expounds daily on a consistently changing stream of topics grows ever more irritating as a result of misinformed persons whose list is co-opted and spread from one person to the other like invasive kudzu that is slowly choking Dixie. One can perhaps forgive the hillbilly blogger for describing a band as a one-hit-wonder that actually produced more than one charted song, but certainly VH-1 should know better, right? The sad fact is that much of what you have read about so-called one-hit-wonders in books, on web sites and on the repetitively ignorant VH-1 specials is ludicrously incorrect. The facts suggest, indeed, that most of those relegating artists who have actually have long and successful careers have engaged in not even a cursory attempt at actual research.
Nena. The Hit: 99 Luftballons.
The album on which 99 Luftballons appeared was a college radio station mainstay for at least half a year before the single became a runaway hit. Album-oriented college stations placed songs like Kino and Rette Mich into heavy rotation and so those in the know knew of the appeal of this German band well before mainstream radio audiences caught on. While it is true that Nena never produced another hit in America, the band never stopped producing monster hits in Germany and throughout Europe. The xenophobic disdain for considering songs that were hits on a global basis except for America would have viewers of VH-1 and readers of one-hit-wonder lists convinced that Nena disappeared into obscurity following the inability to chart in America after 99 Luftballons. The message is clear: if your songs are hits in 50% of the countries in the world, but not in America, then it’s not really a hit record at all. Nena may only have had one top 40 hit in the U.S. and the U.K. but Nena the band and Nena the solo singer have never stopped producing top ten hits in Germany, Austria and Sweden. The alumni of American Idol should have such a career as this one-hit-wonder.
A Flock of Seagulls. The Hit: I Ran.
It’s really quite amusing that VH-1 considers A Flock of Seagulls a one-hit-wonder for their iconic 80s New Wave hit I Ran. VH-1 is the sister station of MTV and once upon a time, kids, MTV played music videos that helped to break down the wall between new and exciting music and mainstream American radio. A Flock of Seagulls looked different and sounded different and quickly caught the attention of viewers who stayed glued to MTV for hours at a time. I Ran certainly played in heavy rotation, but the truth is that not just two, but three songs by A Flock of Seagulls were in heavy rotation. More than that, this one-hit-wonder actually charted no less than three different hits to reach the American top 40 such as Space Age Love Song and Wishing. The band with the wildest hairdos of the early 80s landed eight different songs in the U.K. hot 100.
Devo. The Hit: Whip It.
Placing Devo into the pile of one-hit-wonders is truly a sign of utter ignorance. Yes, Whip It was the band’s biggest hit by far, but placing Devo in the same league as those guys who sang Macarena is just plain rude and unforgiving, especially for an institution like VH-1 which should, I reiterate, know better. While Devo never again cracked the top 40 chart, they landed six songs in the top 30 on the Hot Dance Play chart. They also managed to place six songs in the U.K. hot 100.
Big Country. The Hit: In a Big Country
Everybody remembers the band’s biggest hit and the mondo weirdo little video that went with it. VH-1 and others apparently didn’t stick around long enough to hear the three other Big Country songs that broke into the U.S. top 40. The number of hits that Big Country experienced in the U.K. is too extensive for me to even bother counting, but I will clue those who castigate Big Country into the same heap as Toni Basil and her genuine one-hit-wonder Mickey in on the skinny that the band hit the U.K. top 10 with four different songs. Kinda sorta gives new meaning to the term one-hit-wonder, don’t it?
Sinead O’Connor. The Hit: Nothing Compares 2 U.
A year or two before O’Connor’s alleged one-hit, several hits were blaring from cars whose radios were tuned to college radio. Mandinka hit number 26 on the alternative charts. While Sinead never again produced a song to land on the standard U.S. top 40, she did get into the top 30 on both the alternative and dance charts in America a few more times. As for this one-hit-wonder’s hits in England, well perhaps it’s better to let her 24 songs that climbed into the U.K. hot 100 tell the story.