HERE’S the second half of my list of those bands and singers who had tons of pop smarts but, for some strange reason, only one pop hit. But before we get to them, here are a few of the surprising things I learned while researching this list.
Beck, a guy I thought had a handful of Top 40 hits, is technically a one-hit wonder, while Del Amitri, the Scottish band I remembered as a one-hit wonder, actually had three Top 40 hits. Go figure. Missing Persons never had a Top 40 hit, not even with “Words.” Elvis Costello had two. Was (Not Was) — remember “Walk The Dinosaur”? — actually had another Top 20 hit. Los Lobos had another Top 40 hit I’d forgotten about. And Rickie Lee Jones’ follow-up single after “Chuck E.’s In Love” reached #40, so she missed being a one-hit wonder by thismuch.
On that note, here are some more artists who deserved another moment in the pop spotlight. For each, I’ve singled out a Shouldabeen Hit that I would have promoted if I were in charge of the record company.
Inexplicable One-Hit Wonders (Part II)
Bryan Ferry, “Kiss and Tell” (#31, 1988). The suave Roxy Music frontman took what worked on the band’s excellent “Avalon” LP and ran with it, producing lots of sophisticated, seductive music as a solo artist. “Kiss and Tell” got a boost from its use in the “Bright Lights, Big City” soundtrack, so why didn’t “9 1/2 Weeks” do the same for “Slave To Love,” a Shouldabeen Hit? And while we’re on the subject, Roxy Music had only one Top 40 hit, “Love Is The Drug” (#30, 1976). Why did it take a revamped, Natalie Merchant-less 10,000 Maniacs to make “More Than This” a pop chart success?
Fountains of Wayne, “Stacy’s Mom” (#21, 2004). A MILFtastic, Cars-cribbin’ song that couldn’t be denied a place in the Top 40 (it has handclaps, for cryin’ out loud.) But the band had already released two albums of perfect power pop before “Stacy’s Mom” caught everyone’s attention. Shouldabeen Hit: “Troubled Times,” a midtempo beauty from their 1999 sophomore album.
LISTEN: Troubled Times
Jimmy Eat World, “The Middle” (#5, 2002). For 15 years, they’ve played consistently great emo-pop-alternative-rock or whatever the hell you wanna call it. Every album has had at least two or songs crying out for radio play, like “Always Be” (which never was). Shouldabeen Hit: “Here It Goes.” It’s catchy, it’s danceable — Christ, it has “hey heys” and “ooh oohs!” What more do these guys have to do for another hit?
LISTEN: Here It Goes
Garbage, “Stupid Girl” (#24, 1996). The Top 40 chart treated them like, well, you know. With Butch Vig’s production knowhow, Shirley Manson’s awesome voice, and some of the best melodies in rock, the band deserved another chart hit or five. Shouldabeen Hit: 2007’s “Tell Me Where It Hurts,” an epic, post-hiatus track that sounds like Chrissy Hynde fronting a modern-day Ronettes.
Haircut 100, “Love Plus One” (#37, 1982). Don’t laugh. Seriously, stop laughing. There was more catchy pop where this ditty came from. Even after lead singer Nick Heyward left, the band went on to make a worthy follow-up album, “Paint and Paint.” Too bad just about no one in the world ever heard it. Shouldabeen Hit: “40-40 Home,” a horny (not that way) song about a children’s game … or something.
LISTEN: 40-40 Home
Luscious Jackson, “Naked Eye” (#36, 1997). Auto-Tune? Not these girls — they were often off-key, totally offbeat and awful good when they wanted to be. It’s obvious what the Beastie Boys saw in them. (Member Jill Cunniff put out a solo disc last year with a Shouldabeen Hit called “Lazy Girls,” a phrase that kinda describes Luscious Jackson’s laid-back sound.) Shouldabeen Hit: “Ladyfingers”
New Radicals, “You Get What You Give” (#36, 1998) A Rundgrenesque song that had the country singing along. But a fatigued Gregg Alexander didn’t feel like singing along anymore, so he broke up his “band” before the second single was even released. I was anything but fatigued, and still think “Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too” is one of the best pop CDs of the ’90s. Shouldabeen Hit: “Flowers”
Sinead O’Connor, “Nothing Compares 2 U” (#1, 1990) It’s kind of a crime (or the work of the Vatican) that her only Top 40 hit was actually a Prince song. Or it could all be her fault — she is kinda loopy. But when her passion and her talent are working in tandem, the results can be powerful. Shouldabeen Hit: “Jealous”
Liz Phair, “Why Can’t I” (#32, 2004). Phair-weather fans of the indie rock goddess freaked when she announced she was working with the Matrix (Avril Lavigne’s poppeteers) to co-write and produce tracks on her fourth album, in hot pursuit of her first Top 40 hit. Her desperation paid off — but only once. She stayed the course, though, and her 2005 follow-up album was just as radio-friendly (even if radio wasn’t friendly back.) Shouldabeen Hit: If “What Makes You Happy” had been a hit 10 years ago, she wouldn’t have had to call up the Matrix.
LISTEN: What Makes You Happy
Semisonic, “Closing Time” (1998). I’m bendin’ the rules for this one — this inescapable song apparently never charted on the Hot 100, but it did hit #11 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Airplay chart and #1 on the Modern Rock chart and #4 on the Adult Top 40 chart and #13 on the Left-Handed Twentysomethings Mainstream Rock chart. Confused? Anyway, there’s no denying this was the band’s one hit. And they deserved more. That’s what I was getting at. Shouldabeen Hit: “Chemistry,” which sounds like “Private Eyes”-era Hall & Oates, and I mean that as a compliment.
Talk Talk, “It’s My Life” (#31, 1984) Brainy and beautiful music that soared above the synth-pop competition in the ’80s. They started out ordinary and rather bland, but got weirder and starker with each successive album — were the Guys Who Would Be Radiohead taking notes back then? Shouldabeen Hit: “I Believe In You.” OK, there’s no way in hell this would ever be a hit, but it’s an amazing song (and the most uptempo one on the band’s “Spirit Of Eden” LP, if you can believe that.)
Utopia, “Set Me Free” (#27, 1980). Todd Rundgren’s side project, a band that started off prog-rockin’ but progressed to really just making more Todd Rundgren music. But that was a good thing. Shouldabeen Hit: “Bad Little Actress,” or, depending on my mood, one of a half-dozen other tracks off their self-titled 1982 album.
LISTEN: Bad Little Actress