Some time ago, I wrote about the phenomenon of the one-hit wonder, a designation used within the music industry to refer to a musician or band known almost exclusively for one hugely popular hit single. The phenomenon of the one-hit wonder undermines the Romantic image of the artistic genius, supplanting it with the image of the idiot savant, an individual with an extraordinarily narrow area of expertise or brilliance. Hence, the existence of the one-hit wonder is a postmodern phenomenon, destabilizing the traditional understanding of what constitutes genius, (re)defining it by the vagaries of consumer culture.
Although occasionally one-hit wonders can be considered “novelty songs,” some do not display such ad hoc characteristics. One-hit wonders have no identifiable characteristics other than they must conform to the material requirements of the 7” 45 rpm single—that is, the time restriction. In its more pejorative formulation, one-hit wonders are characterized as “flukes,” that is, anomalies, the evidence being an empirical one: the individual musician or band was never able to repeat its success. Hence one must conclude Time is the final judge, but certain one-hit wonders have shown a remarkable durability, remaining as popular as songs by bands whose work consumers have endorsed repeated times. The late, lauded auteur Ingmar Bergman—always uneasy with fame—once remarked, “No one remembers those who built Chartres,” by which he meant, among other things, the thing that endures is the art, not the artist, and while the names of the artisans who built that grand cathedral are not remembered, their artwork is, a testament to their resilience, their commitment, and their dedication to an idea greater than themselves. One-hit wonders are proof of the same idea, that the work remains long after the artist is forgotten.
“Best of” lists are, of course, merely an expression of individual taste and aesthetic judgment, and as such they cannot appeal to any sort of empirical verification. The keyword here is taste, and with that in mind, here’s my current and updated list of the ten best one-hit wonders, confined, arbitrarily and capriciously, to hits in the United States during the years 1960-82. Ask me to repeat this exercise in six months, my list most likely will be different. As Ralph Waldo Emerson one remarked, “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
6. Jonathan King – Everyone’s Gone to the Moon (1965)
5. Wall of Voodoo – Mexican Radio (1982)