Glimmers of Recognition

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(Pictured: Morris Albert, who looks satisfied with having had just the one big hit.)

September 25 is One Hit Wonder Day. We’ve written about it on and off over the years, whenever I remember to. A variation I find interesting is “One Hit Wonders Who Aren’t, Actually.” There are a number of ways to determine this. You can be an absolutist and say that if an artist made the Hot 100 one other time, you can’t call them a one-hit wonder. You can be a little less dogmatic and draw the line at one Billboard Top 40 hit. You can stick to the Hot 100 only, or you can look at other charts. This post contains a little bit of all three.

—Morris Albert, whose “Feelings” was climbing during this week in 1975, is one of the quintessential one-hit acts. Or he would be, if he hadn’t hit the Hot 100 a second time. After “Feelings” went to #6, “Sweet Loving Man” had a 15-week run on the adult contemporary chart and two weeks on the Hot 100 as January turned to February 1976, topping out at #93. “Sweet Loving Man” is livelier than “Feelings” and would have sounded OK next to the other stuff on the radio at the time.

—The only Debby Boone record anybody knows is “You Light Up My Life,” which was blasting up the charts 40 years ago this week on its way to a record-setting streak at #1. But she hit the Hot 100 two more times and the AC chart eight times between 1977 and 1981. “Are You on the Road to Lovin’ Me Again” was a #1 country hit in 1980, and is quite the dollop of processed cheese.

—Guess Who lead singer Burton Cummings embarked on a solo career with the Top 10 hit “Stand Tall” as 1976 turned to 1977.  But he wasn’t done. “I’m Scared,” a pop tune with a religious edge that doesn’t fit him at all, went only to #61 on the Hot 100 but #10 on the AC chart as the followup to “Stand Tall.” The far-superior “You Saved My Soul” spent a couple of weeks in the pop Top 40 in the fall of 1981.

—One of our favorite one-hit wonders is Liz Damon’s Orient Express, a group from Hawaii remembered for the hypnotic “1900 Yesterday” at the end of 1970. Although it didn’t make the Hot 100, “Loneliness Remembers (What Happiness Forgets)” spent a month on the AC chart early in 1972.

—Deodato scored in the spring of 1973 with “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” a jazz-rock instrumental version of the 2001: A Space Odyssey theme. He just missed the Top 40 with a version of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” which stalled at #41 during the week of September 29, 1973.

—If you are of a certain age, the Doodletown Pipers might spark a tiny glimmer of recognition. They were a made-for-TV vocal group that started with 30 members, was pared to 20, and eventually to nine. According to a very sketchy Wikipedia article (so who the hell knows), they were recruited by entertainment moguls Jerry Weintraub and Bernie Brillstein (among others), and they first appeared on The Red Skelton Show in 1965. The group was a fixture of TV variety shows and the nightclub circuit well into the 70s. In the summer of 1967, they were among the stars of a summer replacement TV show called Our Place, produced by Ed Sullivan Productions, which co-starred the comedy team of Burns and Schreiber and Rowlf, one of the Muppets. That same year, the Pipers’ lone hit song, a cover of Chad and Jeremy’s “A Summer Song” (which is not available at YouTube) hit #29 on the AC chart without cracking the Hot 100. Two former members became halfway famous outside the group: Teresa Graves, who ended the 60s as a Laugh-In regular and starred in the crime drama Get Christie Love! in 1974; and Jim Gilstrap, a session singer who performed on, well, everything.

And that, my friends, is almost certainly far more than you care to know about the Doodletown Pipers.

If this blog ever needed a second tag line, “Far more than you care to know about” would be good.

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5 responses

  1. My definition of “one-hit wonder” is:
    –Only one top 40 single and
    –Artist must have aimed at mainstream pop/rock success (not underground rock, jazz, etc.) Cause on no planet are Jimi Hendrix, Merle Haggard, or Dave Brubeck a “one hit wonder”).

  2. I love the deadpan explainer here: “…which co-starred the comedy team of Burns and Schreiber and Rowlf, one of the Muppets.”

    I’m now applying that to other random combinations, and having a high ol’ time doing it:
    “… which co-starred the comedy team of Proctor and Bergman and Kool-Aid Man, the rotund, disruptive sugar-water pitchman.”
    “… co-starring the mime team of Shields and Yarnell and Jack, third-billed of the Pep Boys.”
    “… which co-starred TV’s Coy and Vance Duke and Magilla Gorilla, the cartoon simian.”

    Don’t mind me.

  3. The more I learned about Billboard’s methodology back in the day and how most people perceive current music on the radio, the stricter my definition of “hit” became. Mine’s top 15…and depending on the week, 11 or 12.

    The late, great Buzz Bennett used to say that there are really only seven hits at any given time. The rest are songs that were hits, but aren’t as popular as those seven now, and songs that haven’t been hits yet…some of which will, but most of which won’t.

    Because the charts aren’t cumulative, but rather a snapshot of a given week, a record that peaks at #25 had 24 other records that did better—on its best week. And most people—even in the heyday of Top 40—couldn’t keep 25 records in their brain. Every other week of that record’s chart life, going up or going down, was by definition worse.

    And in terms of sales, there is way less difference between a #25 record and a #60 record than there is between a #1 and a #10.

    As for the Easy Listening/Adult Contemporary charts–back in the day, it was wildly unreliable. In 1965, Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” made #6 on the Easy Listening chart…and was on that chart for seven weeks. Here’s Billboard’s description of the chart at the time:

    “Not too far out in either direction, the following singles, selected from the current Hot 100, are the most popular middle of the road records. Rank here is based on relative standing in the Hot 100.”

    Trouble was, I can’t recall or even picture an MOR station in 1965 playing “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, which was #39 on the Hot 100 the week it peaked at #6 on the Easy Listening (then called Pop-Standard) chart. But songs they did play weren’t on that chart and were higher up the Hot 100…like the Seekers’ “I’ll Never Find Another You” at #4, Petula Clark’s “I Know A Place” at #7, The Righteous Brothers’ “Just Once In My Life” at #9 and Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual” at #17. So even Billboard’s stated methodology didn’t really stand up.

  4. There are only a handful of Brazilians who have had hit records in the U.S. (almost all of them one hit wonders, except Sergio Mendes). You’re going to write about two of them in the same post and not even mention that they’re Brazilian? You may have to dedicate an entire post to Brazil’s contributions to the golden age of top 40 as punishment/penance.

    Not sure whatever happened to Morris Albert, other than that he dated, dumped, and broke the heart of Cherie Currie when she was in the Runaways (she doesn’t name him in her autobiography, but she gives enough info to figure out it’s him). Deodato went on to produce Kool & the Gang at their “Ladies Night”/”Celebration” peak. He also had some big dance hits, I remember “S.O.S. Fire in the Sky” being very popular in the L.A. clubs in the early-mid 80’s. I listened to it recently…there’s a decent-to-good song buried in there somewhere beneath all the dated 80’s extended-dance-mix garbage piled high in the production.

    I just listened to a pretty good interview with Burton Cummings on Alec Baldwin’s podcast, “Here’s The Thing” (it’s the latest episode.) There was a keyboard in the room, and he sang a lot of snippets of his hits with the Guess Who, including “These Eyes”, “Share the Land”, “Undun”, “Clap For the Wolfman” and my personal favorite, “Rain Dance”. Still sounds damn good, especially for a guy his age. Good interview too.

  5. Re the Doodletown Pipers, someone connected with the group came up with the clever idea of advertising its upcoming appearances on TV in the mid- to late 1960s in a magazine that refused advertising. They’d take a picture of their group members reading a recent issue of Mad magazine and send the photo to the publication’s office along with a note plugging their upcoming TV appearances. Incredibly, Mad allowed this free promotion several times in its letters section, apparently to show readers how popular its comedy was among entertainment industry types. In any event, the guest shot that got them the biggest audience by far was one in John Wayne’s 1970 patriotic variety special Swing Out Sweet Land. It was one of the highest rated specials ever as well as one of the most critically derided, as it attempted to tell America’s history via a bad conglomeration of weak acting, singing and alleged comedy (e.g., Dean Martin played Eli Whitney so that he could get in gags about creating the cotton gin). They were the sort of group your parents wanted you to listen to instead of rock and roll, much like the Young Americans, Up with People and other groups I shudder to mention lest I have nightmares about them.

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