In Defence of One Hit Wonders

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There are few things in music that are looked down on as much as One Hit Wonders. This idea that people can suddenly be thrust into the spotlight with an otherwise unassuming song, revel in their fifteen minutes of fame, and then descend back into obscurity never to be heard from again. It’s a perennial industry punchline. A scary story that artists tell each other: “work hard or else you might end up like them!”. When most people think of One Hit Wonders their mind goes to silly guilty pleasure tracks, but they have so much more to offer.

I’ll let you in to a secret; of my top three favourite songs of all time, two of them would be best described as One Hit Wonders. One of them is ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ by The Only Ones. The unique lyrics, the soaring guitar and extraordinary drums that seem… well, out of this world. The whole track feels so effortless, and yet packs more into 3 minutes than any other song I know. The other is ‘Send Me On My Way’ by Rusted Root. A large part of my love for it is down to the nostalgia surrounding its inclusion in the soundtracks of Ice Age and Matilda, but even looking past that the song is just euphoric. It doesn’t matter that half the lyrics are nonsense when the bass is so damn good and it features a tin whistle and tribal drums. What really makes these songs a couple of my all time favourites is that they each, in their own way, spread such unbridled joy. No matter how bad things may be they can always make my day brighter.

I’m a big advocate of quality over quantity, and when you think about it aren’t One Hit Wonders merely an example of it in its purest form. There are plenty of acts that were big back in their day thanks to a string of hit singles or albums, but have since, for whatever reason, fallen by the wayside as time goes on. By comparison some of the best known and best-loved songs of all time are One Hit Wonders. Every family party, every school disco (do they still do those?), every “cheesy” club night at uni, you have the same few usual suspects make an appearance at every stage of your life. Some of these songs have been going strong since the early sixties and still end up being beloved by the next generation time after time. OHWs always seem to endure.

Another key part of their appeal is that they eschew from today’s celebrity culture. These are songs that usually grab our attention and become part of our culture simply because they are good songs. It’s not like the latest track from a big name star that breaks streaming records and tops the charts the world over just because of who released it. Half the time the only reason you know who’s behind a OHW is to make it easier to find and add to your playlist, or to make yourself look clever in case in comes up as a question in a pub quiz. The artist doesn’t matter in a sense, all that matters is the music.

I’m not saying artists shouldn’t aspire to create a consistent high-quality body of work, nor do I want people feeding into the current climate of never-ending throwaway filler tracks or following perceived hit formulas to pander to playlists. All I’m saying is that there are worse things than making enough to retire on thanks to one super-hit with lasting appeal. One Hit Wonder shouldn’t be an insult. Lets be honest, some of these songs have the potential to outlive all of us! Does it matter that I couldn’t name any more songs by Rusted Root or The Only Ones, or does is it more important that the ones I do know are some of my all time favourite pieces of music? If you ever see me skipping either of them on shuffle you must have found my evil twin, as I wouldn’t dream of it.

These songs are called “wonders” for a reason, they’re wonderful, and don’t you let anyone tell you otherwise.