We Been Researchin’ Songs

It’s One-Hit-Wonder Week, apparently, which means we’re approaching the first anniversary of the birth of this feature, which explores the one-hit wonders whose lone Hot 100 entry peaked near the very bottom of the chart. We’re working on the Number 91s, and what better way to honor the entire one-hit wonder concept than to remember some of the most egregious barf ever to creep onto the radio somewhere?

“Ma! He’s Making Eyes at Me”/Lena Zavaroni (7/27/74, four weeks on chart). She had become a star in Britain after winning a TV talent show at age 9. She next caught the attention of American celebrities like Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra, and Carol Burnett, and eventually performed at the White House, and on the Jerry Lewis telethon. Her American record deal was with Stax, signed as the label was flailing at everything and anything, and on the verge of extinction. “Ma! He’s Making Eyes at Me” charted before she turned 11. Zavaroni had a modest career on British TV, but battled anorexia all of her life, and died in 1999 at age 35.

“No Charge”/Shirley Caesar (6/14/75, five weeks). This is a soul/gospel version of the chart-topping country song Melba Montgomery squeaked into the Top 40 in the summer of 1974, a weeper about a boy who tries to give his mother a bill for all the things he’s done around the house, only to get one in return from Mom marked “paid in full.” In 1976, J. J. Barrie would take his own version of it to Number One in the UK. Shirley Caesar’s version, thanks to its soulful swing, is the least sappy of the three.

“When You’re Young and in Love”/Choice Four (9/13/75, four weeks). This song had been a minor hit for Ruby and the Romantics and the Marvelettes before two versions of it ran the charts almost simultaneously in 1975. The Choice Four’s version, which hits a nice little slow-jam groove, slightly outperformed that of Ralph Carter, which appeared in this feature back at Number 95. The Choice Four also cut “Walk Away From Love” before David Ruffin made a hit of it early in 1976.

“We Been Singin’ Songs”/Baron Stewart (10/11/75, six weeks). Another fabulously obscure artist of the sort this series seems to bring out. Stewart worked with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks before Fleetwood Mac, and played with the much-hyped Bernie Leadon-Michael Georgiades Band and on Beach Boy Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue. He also recorded at least one album on his own. You can get a taste of “We Been Singin’ Songs,” and Stewart’s idiosyncratic style, at the 5:15 mark here.

Right about now you may be thinking, “Jim, you promised us egregious barf. Lena Zavaroni sucked, but the rest of the stuff was passable. Where’s the barf?” It’s on the flip.

“I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”/Terry Bradshaw (4/3/76, five weeks). According to Bradshaw in his 2001 autobiography, he met a record executive on a plane who bet him $100 he could get Bradshaw a recording contract. He eventually made four albums, but he didn’t take the advice of a Pittsburgh DJ who advised him to keep his songs to 90 seconds so that radio stations could use them to time up to the network news—his version of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” runs 2:47. He sounds a little like Glen Campbell, but the question remains of whether the whole thing was necessary. Bradshaw says, “Probably the best thing I can say about my singing career is that I didn’t get physically hurt.”

“The Fonz Song”/Heyettes (5/15/76, six weeks). Happy Days foisted a lot of music onto the charts in 1976—the Top-Ten theme song by Pratt and McClain, solo records by Anson Williams and Donny Most (already discussed in this feature), and an entire album by this anonymous studio agglomeration, which is nicely torn apart here. If you’ve forgotten what a cultural hero Fonzie was in the mid 1970s, just listen to “The Fonz Song,” which got quite a bit of airplay despite being awful enough to make you pray for your own death.

“Up Your Nose”/Gabriel Kaplan (2/5/77, three weeks). I didn’t realize it until I read this, but Kaplan was the first standup comic—before Roseanne, before Jerry Seinfeld—to become a sitcom star. “Up Your Nose” is based on a catch-phrase from Welcome Back Kotter, another rage of 1976, incorporates Kaplan’s Howard Cosell impersonation, and name-checks Mean Joe Greene and Bradshaw. None of that changes the fact that it represents four minutes of your life that you’re never going to get back.

“Makes You Blind”/Glitter Band (12/11/76, six weeks). They were Gary Glitter’s backing band during his 70s tours (although they apparently do not appear on any of his records), and they scored a few hits without him. Trevor Horn of Yes was a member for a while in the 80s, and there’s a version of the band intact today. “Makes You Blind” represented an attempt at breaking away from the glam-rock sound that had made them famous, and became a popular dance track.

“Flame”/Steve Sperry (7/23/77, three weeks). Sperry was from Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, and cut a rockabilly single called “That Ain’t So” in 1960, on the Cuca label up the road in Sauk City. “Flame” was released on Mercury, and was later covered by Bobby Vinton. And that’s all I know.

Coming in the final installment of the Number 91s: an all-star benefit project that predated Band Aid and USA for Africa by seven years, a cult-movie actor making a cult record, and other stuff you won’t remember.

5 responses

  1. I would have bet money that no one could write a post that coherently included Terry Bradshaw, Lena Zavaroni and Gabe Kaplan. I’ll pay off in beer someday.

  2. Is it just me or did Gabe Kaplan used to look like John Oates long lost brother?

  3. I don’t think it’s entirely accurate to say that Gabe Kaplan was the first to turn his standup routines into a hit TV sitcom. Virtually every time Bob Newhart was seen talking on the phone during ‘The Bob Newhart Show,’ he was mirroring one of his famous standup (or sit-down) routines.

    Time had fortunately erased any recollection of that awful Heyettes album cover from my memory, so thanks a *lot* for bringing that double-cheesy image in the YouTube link back to mind. Was there ever better proof that the London Records label had completely lost its way?

    1. Correct about Newhart, although he had a TV variety show and a movie career between his standup days and his 1970s sitcom. Fortunately TV seems to have moved on from the late 80s/90s phenomenon of giving development deals to random standup comics–for every Roseanne, Tim Allen, or Seinfeld, there were half a dozen people you never heard of in shows you never watched.

  4. I had that Heyettes track on the hyped-on-TV Fonzie Favorites compilation, the cover of which doubled as a 12×12 color portrait of Mr. Winkler in his greasered glory, complete with fold-out stand in the back. In fact, I might have replaced it over the years, I’ll have to check the LP shelves. (In related news, there’s another cut on that album called “The Fonzarelli Slide” that imagines a meeting between the Happy Days gang and the Sweathogs. Mr. Kot..uh, Kaplan’s catchphrase is incorporated.)

    I’m trying to figure out where I’ve heard Lena Zavaroni’s name before…could just be from browsing Top Pop Singles over the years. Somewhere in a parallel universe there’s an oldies reissue 45 that pairs “Ma! He’s Making Eyes at Me” with “Long Haired Lover From Liverpool”. But not on Stax…my imagination ain’t THAT freaky.

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