25th October 2020
I’ve visited this theme before and, although the definition of one-hit-wonder is a debatable topic, It always surprises me at the songs on the various lists that are out there. Today’s batch contains one song that you may not have heard of, but the other two are very well known.
When last, or maybe I should say, have you ever heard the Welsh band from the ‘70s, Racing Cars? They had a major hit with a song inspired by the 1969 film ‘They Shoot Horses Don’t They?’ Although their 1977 single of the same name might only have peaked at #14 in the UK; it became a #1 hit in a number of European and Eastern countries.
The band was signed to Chrysalis Records for their debut album, ‘Downtown Tonight’. The single from the album, ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’ struck a chord with the listening public and started its progress up the charts. The promotional tours included opening for Bad Company at Earle’s Court, and at the New York Theatre Royal and the future looked good. Two more albums followed but that first single was the only chart success for Racing Cars and they were soon relegated to one-hit-wonder status.
The band split in 1979 and various members released solo works or joined other bands. They reunited to play a series of gigs across Europe in 2000 and released the album ‘A Bolt from the Blue’. The very last album was ‘Second Wind’ in 2007 after which they only played the occasional tribute concert and special events. The founder, Gareth Mortimer, passed away in 2011 after a battle with cancer.
‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’ will always be one of those songs that depict a particular period in my life. Even if Racing Cars never had another hit, the one they achieved always brings a smile to my face.
The second in our one-hit-wonder category is a song that, as much as I found it annoying, I’d always include in a party-mix in the early ‘80s because it was such a catchy, danceable song. I’m talking about the Lipps Inc. irksome hit of 1980, ‘Funkytown’.
The Disco/Funk group formed in Atlanta as a project started by Steven Greenberg, a DJ who wanted to try his hand at writing songs. He auditioned vocalists and hired Cynthia Johnson making Lipps Inc. a duo. Greenberg chose a changing line-up of session musicians to back Cynthia’s vocals, while he wrote and produced the music.
The album ‘Mouth to Mouth’ was released in 1979 and the second single released from it was ‘Funkytown’ which shot up the charts across the world peaking at #1 in 28 counties across the world. The song reached double-platinum status within a few months.
Lipps Inc. were doomed for one-hit-wonder status when their following singles and albums failed to make much impact. The closest being the single ‘Rock It’ reaching #64 on the American charts, and ‘How Long’ in 1981 that peaked at #4 on the Dance charts briefly.
Here’s the song that we’ve probably all danced to at some time or the other, ‘Funkytown’.
The last of today’s one-it-wonders is a surprise. The Knack’s ‘My Sharona’ went Gold in 13 days of being released and was the #1 song of 1979. The debut album that it came from sold over six million copies worldwide. How could they have gone from hero to zero so quickly? There are a few reasons and they are pretty interesting.
The lead singer, Doug Fieger had been a part of the group ‘Sky’ (another band worthy of a feature), but the lack of chart success saw them disband and Fieger head to LA to start a new group. Within a few months of The Knack’s live debut as a band, ten different record labels were bidding against each other to sign this new act. They chose Capitol and received an undisclosed highest signing fee in the labels history.
When the album ‘Get the Knack’ was released the radio stations honed in on ‘My Sharona’ and soon every radio was blaring the insistent drum-beat and guitar-riff to a point of over-saturation. Familiarity breeds contempt and soon critics were calling The Knack a novelty band, even though the other tracks on the album were all good. A major achievement is that their sound broke the stranglehold that Disco had held on the popular music, and for that they are heroes in my eyes.
Soon, people were accusing the Knack of being arrogant kids, while some criticized the group as misogynistic because of the lust-filled lyrics in its songs. And for others, ‘Get the Knack‘ was seen as the watered-down conclusion of the fading punk movement from a few years earlier, a safe and sanitized version of something that had recently revitalized rock. Their second single release ‘Good Girls Don’t’ was a little risque for the censors and although they reworked the song, it fell short of the Top 10.
The Knack never recovered from the backlash. “How could it have changed so much that we were ‘the glorious, the wonderful Knack’ one minute, and we were this horrible, sell-out, commercial bullshit hype the next minute?” Fieger later mused. “It made me angry.” They released a second album, ‘… But the Little Girls Understand’, released in 1980. It struggled to #15, and the Knack never had another album go higher than No. 53. The Knack broke up shortly afterward and Doug Fieger sadly died in 2010 after a battle with brain and lung cancer.
I am sure that the royalties from their one hit set them up pretty well for life, but it is sad that The Knack weren’t given the chance they actually deserved. Thanks for joining me today for some one-hit-wonders. We’ll look at some more at some stage in the future.
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Words © Andrew Knapp 2020