Saturday, June 13, 2009

Ten Great Songs From One Great Year

Two-Hit Wonders

For a change of pace, I decided to put together a list that hasn’t been done very often. We are all well aware of the one-hit wonder. But what about those who’ve surpassed that ignominy and actually had some staying power?

Enter the two-hit wonder. Now, some of you will look at this list and say, “wait a minute, I know more than two songs from these artists!” So in order to make this list uniform, I based my list on artists who have had two (and only two) songs that reached the Billboard Hot 100’s top 40 – otherwise known as Casey Kasem’s list (until he stopped playing the Billboard list).

Some of these songs were from the same album; some were from bands that although they only hit the top 40 twice still had a huge following. Yet others were surprise hits even for their artists.

I did keep this list to artists who have not been on the charts in over 15 years, in case they should stage a remarkable comeback. A number of them still record, but are outside of the mainstream.

Crowded House – Don’t Dream it’s Over, Something’s So Strong

Created out of the former group, The Split Enz, brothers Neil and Tim Finn began Crowded House, along with Paul Hester, Eddie Rayner, Nick Seymour, Peter Jones, Craig Hooper, Mark Hart, Mitchell Froom, and Matt Sherrod. While they were very popular in their native Australia, didn’t make it big in America until they released their eponymous first album in 1986. Due to the success of these two singles (“Don’t Dream it’s Over” hit #2 and “Something So Strong” #7), the band won the MTV Music Video award for “Best New Artist.” However, their follow up album, Temple of Low Men failed to produce at top 40 hit. While they continued to record until 1996, the band’s popularity continued to wane. However, as nothing is forever in rock and roll, the band reunited in 2007 (without Hester who had taken his own life following a long battle with depression).

Robbie DupreeSteal Away, Heart Rod Hearts

When Dupree hit the airwaves in the spring on 1980, he was often mistaken for Doobie Brother’s front man Michael McDonald. Unfortunately, he lacked both the repertoire and the staying power that McDonald had. After reaching #6 with “Steal Away”, he returned to the charts in July with “Hot Rod Hearts”, which climbed to #15 and had a very similar sound. Dupree's final single to make the Billboard charts, "Brooklyn Girls", peaked at #54 in May 1981 and was taken from his second album Street Corner Heroes, which was critically acclaimed but did not sell very well. In 1987, Dupree contributed the song "Girls in Cars" to Piledriver: The Wrestling Album II, a collection of theme songs for World Wrestling Entertainment (then known as the World Wrestling Federation). The tag team Strike Force (Tito Santana and Rick Martel) used "Girls in Cars" as their entrance music.

Blue Öyster Cult – Don’t Fear the Reaper, Burnin’ For You

The band is one of the pioneering bands in heavy metal music, both for its hard-edged musical assault and its use of sci-fi and occult imagery and subject matter and they have sold 14 million albums worldwide. Even though they spell their name with an umlaut (the two dots over the letter “O”, which is a symbol found only in the Jacaltec language of Guatemala), the band’s origin is New York. Regardless of their place in rock and roll history, the band only charted two top 40 hits – 1976’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” (#12) and 1981’s “Burnin’ For You” (which barely made it, topping out at #40). The band is still active today.

J.D. SoutherWhen You’re Only Lonely, Her Town Too

Souther is probably better known for his songwriting credits than he is for his own records. He was greatly influenced by fellow Texan Roy Orbison, whose sound he tried to emulate. Following his move to Los Angeles in the late 1960s, he met a young guitarist from Detroit named Glenn Frey. They bonded over their Detroit roots and a common love of country and R&B music. In short order, they began working together while sharing a small apartment in Los Angeles' Echo Park area (their downstairs neighbor was Jackson Browne with whom both Souther and Frey would collaborate on numerous projects). Together, they formed the band Longbranch Pennywhistle, which lasted one album. Frey then went on to create The Eagles and Souther went to work with the critically acclaimed (but not popular) Souther Hillman Furay Band (with future Poco legends Chris Hillman and Richie Furay. Souther is probably best known for his well-crafted songwriting abilities, especially in the field of country rock. He co-wrote some of the biggest hits for the Eagles, including "Best of My Love", "Victim of Love", "Heartache Tonight", and "New Kid in Town.""How Long", which appears on the Eagles "Long Road Out Of Eden" was written by Souther and originally recorded on his first solo album in 1972. His biggest hit as a solo artist was his 1979 Orbison-influenced song "You're Only Lonely" from the album of the same name, which reached number 7 on the Billboard charts. A collaboration with James Taylor called "Her Town Too" from Taylor's Dad Loves His Work album reached number 11 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart.

Gloria Gaynor – Never Can Say Goodbye, I Will Survive

Gaynor was a singer with the Soul Satisfiers, a jazz/pop band, in the 1960s. Her first solo single was "She'll Be Sorry/Let Me Go Baby" (1965). However, her first real success came in 1975 with the release of her album Never Can Say Goodbye, which established her as a disco artist. This album was so instrumental in introducing disco music to the public, that many later believed that Gloria Gaynor had been the first artist to record disco music. "Never Can Say Goodbye" became the first song to top Billboard magazine's dance chart. So, in that sense, she was the first. For the next few years, Gloria Gaynor would only enjoy a few moderate hits. However, in late 1978, with the release of her album Love Tracks, she climbed the pop charts again because of her song "I Will Survive". The lyrics of this song are written from the point of view of a woman, recently dumped, telling her former lover that she can cope without him and does not want anything more to do with him. The song has become something of an anthem of female emancipation, and is still a staple of office parties and karaoke nights. The song was awarded the only Grammy Award for Best Disco Recording in 1980. In January 2008, The American Diabetes Association named Gloria Gaynor the Honorary Spokesperson of the 2008 NYC Step Out To Fight Diabetes Walk.

Climax Blues Band – Couldn't Get it Right, I Love You

The original Climax Chicago Blues Band, later to become known as the Climax Blues Band was formed in Stafford, England in 1968 and continued until 1988. The original members were guitarists Peter Haycock and Derek Holt, keyboardist Arthur Wood, bassist Richard Jones, drummer George Newsome and vocalist/harmonica player Colin Cooper. In 1970, the band shortened its name to the Climax Blues Band due to pressure from the American band Chicago Transit Authority (later just “Chicago”). The band released at least eighteen official albums and has had Top 40 hits in the UK with "Couldn't Get It Right" and with "I Love You". Both songs were big American hits as well; "Couldn't Get It Right" reached #3 on the Hot 100 in 1977, and "I Love You" reached #12 in 1981. Although Holt's penned I Love You was one of their biggest hits , the rest of the band are said to have disliked the song. The song gets over 20,000 radio hits a year in the US and has recently been included in Kevin Smith's 2008 film Zach and Miri Make a Porno. After a short period of inactivity, Climax Blues Band minus Peter Haycock but featuring guitarist Lester Hunt (formerly of Hunter, Demon) recorded the album Drastic Steps and went back to touring extensively around UK, Europe and America to great acclaim. Derek Holt and John Cuffley eventually left this line up which soon became established as Colin Cooper / George Glover / Lester Hunt / Neil Simpson (bass guitar) / Roy Adams (drums) in the early 90s, releasing the live album Blues From The Attic in 1993 and Big Blues in 2004, the latter purely dedicated to the music of Willie Dixon and the most resounding return to the blues that got the Climax Blues Band underway back in the 60s.

Berlin – No More Words, Take My Breath Away

Berlin was formed in Orange County, California in the late 1970s. Their first single, "A Matter of Time," was released in 1980 on I.R.S. Records and featured replacement vocalist Virginia Macolino on lead vocals after Terri Nunn had temporarily left the band to pursue an acting career (Nunn at one point auditioned for the role of Princess Leia in the movie “Star Wars.” They were then signed to independent label Enigma Records where they had their first significant hit: the controversial synth-driven "Sex (I'm A...)" (1982), which was banned by some radio stations due to its graphic lyrics. Later they had two other hits: "The Metro" (which stalled at #58, but was an MTV regular) and "No More Words" (#23 in 1984), whose subsequent video saw Terri Nunn and bandmates re-enact a Bonnie and Clyde-style car chase and shoot-out. "Take My Breath Away" (from the movie Top Gun) became their best-selling single in 1986 and a huge international hit (1 in many countries, including the U.S.), but also their last hit. The classic version of Berlin was featured on the VH1 show, Bands Reunited where all members (except for Rob Brill) agreed to not only reunite as friends but as a band. They played one show at The Roxy in California to a sold-out crowd.

Dan Hill – Sometimes When We Touch, Can’t We Try

At one point Hill was working for the Ontario Provincial Government, delivering office supplies, while performing at the Riverboat at night, before releasing his first LP, Dan Hill. His wife is lawyer Beverly Chapin-Hill, with whom he wrote the songs "Can't We Try?” and "(Can This Be) Real Love". Although some sources have incorrectly stated that he was married to American country singer Faith Hill, her surname came from her first marriage to an unrelated Nashville record executive named Daniel Hill. In 1977 Hill recorded the ballad "Sometimes When We Touch." He also wrote the lyrics and was assisted in the music by Barry Mann for the album from the same year, Longer Fuse, and it was released as a single. It was Hill's biggest hit, peaking at #3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Another one of his hit songs was "It's A Long Road" which he recorded for the 1982 action movie First Blood. In 1985, he was one of the many Canadian performers to appear on the benefit single "Tears Are Not Enough" by Northern Lights. Although he had many hits in his native Canada, further singles did not fare as well in the United States, where, after "Let The Song Last Forever" in late 1978, he went almost a decade without cracking any of Billboard's singles charts. In 1987, Hill returned to the Billboard Hot 100 with the Top 40 hit "Can't We Try", which peaked at #6 and was a duet with the then-unknown Vonda Shepard, best known as a regular in the television show Ally McBeal from season 2-5 in which she played a resident performer at the bar where the show's characters drank after work.

Andrew Gold – Lonely Boy, Thank You For Being a Friend

Andrew Gold has the singular distinction of being the first human voice to be 'heard' on the surface of Mars: his rendition of the theme from the television series Mad About You, entitled "Final Frontier," was used as the wake-up call for the Mars Pathfinder space probe in 1996. Gold began writing songs at the age of 13, and by the early 1970s was working as a musician, songwriter and producer for many well-known stars, including Linda Ronstadt, Art Garfunkel, and James Taylor. He was a member of the Los Angeles band Bryndle alongside Kenny Edwards, Wendy Waldman and Karla Bonoff. He played a major role as multi-instrumentalist and arranger for Ronstadt's breakthrough album, 1974's Heart Like a Wheel. Among other accomplishments, he played the guitar solo and the majority of other instruments on the album's first track, "You're No Good," Ronstadt's only No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1975 he began recording as a solo artist, releasing four studio albums. His single "Lonely Boy" has appeared in several movie soundtracks, including Boogie Nights (1997). Although "Lonely Boy" was the bigger radio hit ((#7 in 1977), "Thank You for Being a Friend" gained new popularity as the theme song for the popular 1985–1992 NBC situation comedy The Golden Girls (although that version was not performed by Gold but by Cindy Fee). That song hit #25 in 1978.

Suzanne Vega – Luka, Tom’s Diner

Suzanne Vega is best known for her highly literate lyrics and eclectic folk-inspired music. Two of her songs (both from her second album—Solitude Standing, 1987) reached the top 10 of various chart listings, internationally: "Luka" and "Tom's Diner". "Luka" is written about, and from the point of view of an abused child—at the time an uncommon subject for a pop hit. While continuing a focus on Vega's acoustic guitar, the music is more strongly pop-oriented and features fuller arrangements. The song peaked at #3 in 1987. The a cappella “Tom's Diner” (which originally only went to #58) was used as the reference track in an early trial of the MP3 compression system, earning her the distinction of being the Mother of the MP3. It was later a hit again, remixed by two British dance producers under the name DNA, in 1990. Originally a bootleg, Vega allowed DNA to release the track through her record company, and it became her all-time biggest hit (it climbed to #2). The song takes place in Tom's Restaurant at 112th Street and Broadway in New York City. Exterior shots of the same restaurant appear in the television sitcom Seinfeld as the eatery where Jerry, George, Elaine, and Cosmo hang out. The DNA remix of the track was so popular that it inspired many cover versions—the best of which were eventually collected by Vega on an album titled Tom's Album. In August 2006, Vega became the first major recording artist to perform live in the Internet-based virtual world, Second Life. John Hockenberry of public radio’s The Infinite Mind hosted the event. The following month, she performed in Central Park, as part of a benefit concert for The Save Darfur Coalition. During the concert she highlighted her support for Amnesty International, of which she has been a member since 1988. Suzanne still writes, records and performs on stage regularly.