THE SATURDAY MORNING SONG CHRONICLES - PAGE 20
-- Paul B Allen III: September 21, 2019
A “One-Hit Wonder” is an artist who has had only one recording that placed within the “Top 40” of an official "Pop Music" chart, like the one at Billboard magazine. There are others as well, like Cashbox magazine (now online instead of a printed version), but Billboard magazine reigns supreme as the granddaddy of them all when it comes to music and the charting of it.
So, you don’t have to reach #1 to have a “hit record.” Land in the Top 40 and you’re good.
Many of us may discount or even feel badly for the “One-Hit Wonders” but that is completely wrong thinking. To hit the Top 40 charts even once is to breathe rarified air, and it can be life-changing, financially speaking.
Also, you can tour for the rest of your life with that “one-hit” as did my friend, Bobby “Boris” Pickett with his song, “The Monster Mash.” On tour, Bobby would come out on stage, and in his “mad scientist” outfit, he would glare ominously at the audience for a moment, and then he would say, very slowly, “And now -- for a medley -- of my hit.” That always brought huge laughs from the audience, and from me. Every time.
But you get the idea. One Top 40 hit creates a lifetime of opportunities. So, if you have ever looked down on a “One-Hit Wonder,” don’t. They are smiling all the way to the bank with their royalty checks that will come 6 times a year, every year, for the rest of their lives. (That is if they wrote the song. Once or twice a year if they were the non-writing artist.)
I have been thinking about “One-Hit Wonders” since my awesome Cousin Sandra mentioned the subject in her comments on last week’s Saturday Morning Song Chronicles. And, as I began to approach this subject, it hit me for the first time ever that my musical career has been strongly impacted by “One-Hit Wonders.” Yet another revelation gifted me by the Chronicles.
For example, in my first band, Raw Sugar, started by my younger brothers, Corey and Milo (a sax player and a drummer respectively), whenever we found ourselves in trouble on a gig, we would call on the one song we knew would work every time. Nobody dancing? The audience is just glaring at us like Bobby used to glare at them? I’d turn around and look at the fellas (Gary Miles, Victor DeLeon, Steve Gutierrez, Manuel Vasquez, Corey and Milo Allen), and they knew that look meant we were going for it! And from wedding receptions to Native American Casinos, everybody would hit the dancefloor the minute the band started playing and I would sing, “Hey—Do it now! Yeah, yeah!” Man, it was on and crackin’.
Thank you, Rob Parissi, for writing and performing “Play That Funky Music,” one of the greatest hit songs of all time. It was Wild Cherry’s only Top 40 song and it went to number 1 on Billboard’s Pop charts. It sold 2.5 million records in the USA alone!
Rob, if you are reading this, I wanted to let you know that you and your iconic song saved us and our gigs more times than I can count. I’ll bet it had the same effect for other garage bands all over the world! Thank you!
Do you remember the song, “Forget Me Nots” by vocalist and pianist extraordinaire Patrice Rushen? "Forget Me Nots" received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. It was also later used in the movie Men in Black with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. I loved the song and I loved this artist.
I was very new on the music scene at that time, and Ronnie Laws (who used to be part of the Earth, Wind & Fire horn section, and with whom I had co-written “Always There”) and I were exiting the Total Experience Recording Studio in Hollywood. It was owned by Lonnie Simmons, who also started Total Experience Records. Ever heard of The Gap Band? They were on his label. Lonnie was a cool guy and he hung out at the “Total” a lot. (Lonnie just passed on Feb 6th of this year. R.I.P. Lonnie. You are missed and your contributions to the music industry have been immeasurable.)
The Total Experience was one of the hottest recording studios in Hollywood, and as luck would have it, as Ronnie and I were walking out of it, this petite, gorgeous woman was walking in. She was looking down but as we were about to pass each other, she looked up.
“Ronnie!” She blurted out in surprise. Ronnie looked at her. “Patrice!” They hugged each other and were all smiles. They appeared to be two old friends who had not seen each other in quite a while. Ronnie introduced me to Patrice, and I felt as if I were standing in the midst of music royalty. This petite woman who looked as if she could not have weighed more than 90 lbs. soaking wet had suddenly become a two-ton heavyweight, musically speaking, because “Forget Me Nots” was a Top 40 hit, going all the way to number 23, and it became one of the most played songs ever. (Radio, TV, Movies, etc.)
Patrice shook my hand, smiled beautifully, and told me that she was happy to meet me. Then she turned back to Ronnie and forgot I was there. All I could do was smile and try to figure out how I came to be here with a hot musical star who was blowing up everywhere, and who was on the radio at any time of the day or night you tuned in. I was still a kid at the time. “Buddy, you’re a long way from San Bernardino,” I thought to myself.
A song by another “One-Hit Wonder” got me my first manager as a singer. And I didn’t even get to sing the song! .
There was an ad in a paper, or on the radio. This management company was holding auditions at a recording studio. It was right at the time that I had decided I wanted to truly become a professional singer, so I went to the audition in hopes of getting a manager.
The auditions were being held in Moreno Valley, California a half hour drive from San Bernardino. (A half hour drive doesn’t seem like your destination would be very far away, but a half hour on the freeways of California can take you 30-40 miles under the right traffic conditions. Under the wrong conditions you may only travel 3-4 blocks in that amount of time.)
As I recall, about fifty people showed up. The deal was that each singer was to bring a karaoke tape to sing to. The way karaoke cassette tapes were generally set up was that you would have on one side of the tape a demonstration version of the particular song with a professional vocalist singing that song. On the other side, you would have all the music but no lead vocal, so that you as the vocalist could sing the song with a beautiful (most of the time) arrangement. My tape didn’t have a lead vocal side, just music on both sides, one with background vocals and the other side without.
The studio engineer, with the owner of the management company standing near, would cue up the tape, get you situated in the vocal isolation booth, and then he would start the song and you would sing.
They were only going to choose one person to sign. I thought with all those people there, many who looked like stars already, that I would not stand a chance.
About halfway through, it was my turn. I handed the engineer and manager the karaoke tape of a tune by Billy Vera and the Beaters, their only hit song called, “At This Moment.”
I went into the vocal isolation booth, put on my headphones, and stood at the mic, just waiting for the music to start. When it did, I began to sing. After ten or twenty seconds, the engineer and manager stopped the music and told me to wait for a moment. I watched from the booth (unable to hear them talking), as they examined the tape more closely. Then, they turned the tape over and inserted it into the machine. We tried it again.
I started singing. The engineer and the manager were looking at each other with strange expressions on their faces. They stopped the tape again. They kept looking at the tape and shaking their heads. They seemed extremely puzzled. They popped the tape back into the machine again and I started singing once more.
After another twenty or thirty seconds, I could see them pointing at me and laughing. They stopped the tape and told me to come out of the vocal booth. I thought, “Man, you must have really screwed up. They let everybody else do their whole song and they didn’t even let you finish the first verse... and, they're laughing at you!"
When I came out the manager took me aside and said, “All those delays were because when you started singing, we didn’t realize it was you. We thought it was the side of the tape with the professional vocalist singing, so we flipped the tape and still heard the same voice. It was prefect each time. We finally realized that neither side of the tape had a vocal and that we were hearing you!” He was shaking his head and chuckling again. He continued, “That’s it. No matter what, I’m signing you, but I have to be fair and let all these other people finish their audition, so will you wait, please?”
I left that night knowing that the stars were beginning to align.
I have continued to love and to sing, “At This Moment” ever since. Billy Vera, wherever you are, thanks for helping me take my first step as a professional vocalist.
Finally, it wasn’t until I started doing research for this article that I had a second revelation. I realized that I myself, as a song writer, am also a “One-Hit Wonder” though it has happened to me twice. My songs, “Always There” by Incognito, and “Such A Good Feeling” by Brothers In Rhythm (who took my lyrics from “Always There” and laid different music underneath them), have both been “Top 40” hit records in America and Europe, with “Such A Good Feeling” named as one of the “Top 100 Greatest Dance Singles of All Time.”
I, like the other artists mentioned here today, have had other songs on the charts, but none of them were Top 40 hits. I’ll take it, just as happily as I believe the “One-Hit Wonders” mentioned here today will. We are proud to have our names and our music written indelibly into the annals of music history. We are each ecstatic to stand on stage and say, “And now, for a medley of my hit.”
Enjoy these historic videos and, if you have the time and inclination, tell us about some of your favorite “One-Hit Wonders.”
Thanks for being a part of today’s Saturday Morning Song Chronicles. I hope to see you back again next week.
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