or too long, the One-Hit Wonder has been the property of VH1-sponsored, eye-rolling “So Bad It’s Good!” irony and condescension. That’s a part of it, sure, but there’s so much more to the one-hitter than Los Del Rio. The OHW encompasses cultural anachronisms, paradigmatic oddities, inexplicable left-field successes, and give-it-all stunners, hits where the artist couldn’t possibly follow them up and some hits where they didn’t even try. Some of them deserve and embrace their One-Hit Wonder status, others would spend their entire careers trying to shed it. The great majority will never grace a Stylus all-time list again.
Who the One-Hit Wonder really belongs to are the people who were around for their fifteen minutes in the limelight. Consequently, the majority of singles on this list were hits between the years of 1990 and 1999, certainly the era in which most of our staff was the most impressionable to the culturally pervasive powers of the one-hitter. Nonetheless, we at Stylus would never purport to create a definitive list of the best One-Hit Wonders, as there are few musical mediums more personally biased. Hopefully, though, this list will be one of the first of its kind to give as much credence to the “Wonder” part as to the “One-Hit” part of the phenomenon.
Note: We probably should make the distinction here of what exactly we consider a One-Hit Wonder. Well, firstly, we're going by US standards here, which is why you might see America one-timers Right Said Fred here despite their incredible and incredulous continued success in Europe. Secondly, we're not holding the success of a band's larger discography against their one-hit wonder status, so bands like The Flaming Lips and the Butthole Surfers are still eligible for their one mainstream crossover despite the critical acclaim and cult fandom they received for their other work. And thirdly, a band really had to have had only one hit to be eligible here—the definition of which is obviously tricky, but one which excludes outright acts like Vanilla Ice, Falco, and Men Without Hats, all of whom are normally considered one-hit wonders but in fact had follow-up singles that performed rather well ("Play That Funky Music," "Vienna Calling" and "Pop Goes the World," respectively). That said, there's still sure to be choices and exclusions that raise your ire, so let us have it if you must. Hopefully there'll be at least a few we can all agree on.
50. The Honeycombs – “Have I the Right?”
“Have I the Right?” boasts a brutal, senseless act of violence for a chorus, as the bass thumps of the drums get married to what is supposedly the sound of the band stomping on the floorboards outside the studio, and Dennis O’Dell has to put on his best carnival busker’s voice to make himself heard. Which he does, and it’s fucking terrifying. “rrrrggghhhCOME! RIGHT! BACK! I JUST! CAN’T! bear IIIT!” Someone attempts to play guitar during this, but it’ll take a few listens for you to realize that. Joe Meek takes ‘60s beat pop and pushes it to its absolute limit, making this a love song in that it sounds like an insanely furious orgy of fumbling, snogging, and fondling in a delightfully sweaty candy-floss factory.
[William B. Swygart]
49. The Flying Lizards – “Money (That’s What I Want)”
Deborah Evans sounds petulant, robotic and faintly aristocratic on this famous deconstruction of the old Motown favorite, while the "Random Brothers" squeak out counterpoint behind her. The world's most rickety guitar twangs and plucks away as someone slams a door repeatedly, and the track is interrupted twice for the UFO from Space Invaders. And that's just on the single edit, to say nothing of the double-length album version. This became a hit, evergreen fodder for ‘80s compilations and a dance craze—all because for a little while there, jerky and quirky were cool, even if the Flying Lizards were Fluxus/Dada shit-disturbers. David Cunningham may well have been surprised at the response his brainchild got, but our charts are the richer for it.
48. Lord Tariq + Peter Gunz – “Déjà Vu”
Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz aren't terrible rappers, they're just not very good. That's what I realized when I recently revisited this '98 summer jam. But that beat: a snippet of Jerry Rivera's "Amores Como El Nuestro" (which Shakira shamelessly riffed on "Hips Don't Lie") raising the curtain for pronounced snares and the sparkling seduction of Steely Dan's "Black Cow." The intro's Spanish Harlem, the drums are the grit of the Bronx, the sample is the flair of uptown Manhattan, the sing-along chorus is Big Apple pride, and "Déjà Vu" is one of the best New York City anthems ever.
47. Love and Rockets – “So Alive”
Evidently it took Daniel Ash a whole decade to completely unlearn the lessons he was taught during his tenure with Bauhaus, but the wait was worth it. Love and Rockets’ “So Alive” is as great a song as “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” but for the exact opposite reasons—“Bela” was unbelievably chilling and distant, “So Alive” became a monster hit because it was so immediate and warm—in fact, it was fucking hot. Ash’s slithery moan, complemented by “Walk on the Wild Side”-borrowed backing vocals and the smokiest production set to wax since Marc Bolan first crawled out of his cage, lists a cadre of some of the darkest come-ons of the 80s, but the song is still best summarized in the four word chorus—“I’m alive / So alive.” Somehow, I think Bela would’ve approved of the sentiment.
46. L7 – “Pretend We’re Dead”
The compressed guitar hook would give our own Nick Southall the heebie-jeebies, but rarely have content and form met with such devastating effect, grinding the chorus’ leaden irony into listeners’ heads until we become the zombies that Reaganomics could never quite create. In the year that teen spirit started to smell, “Pretend We’re Dead” was a creepy letter from the front, with nary a wasted moment or hint of subtlety. Ah, youth.
45. Natural Selection – “Do Anything”
I love this song so much that I’ve written about it twice. The ascension of Prince’s “Cream” to the top of Billboard Hot 100 in the fall of 1991 kept this PG-13 rated slice of slather-pop at Number Two, which, I suppose, is appropriate. “Do Anything” is far from dirty, but it sure sounds like it—this is the aural version of teens suddenly discovering they could do far more than just make out (but not much more). A year after Madonna made ridiculous spoken-word pillow talk cool again, her backup singer Nikki Harris does it again. “Are you qualified?” she asks the young man with the slithery falsetto, as if she thought he really wasn’t. At least “Do Anything” suggests that its creators are willing to learn.
44. The Chakachas – “Jungle Fever”
Due to being the last decade in which hit songs were still allowed to not have words, the ‘70s produced the greatest number of totally anonymous one-hit wonders—Hot Butter’s “Popcorn,” Walter Murphy’s “A Fifth of Beethoven,” and Apollo 100’s “Joy” among them. The best, however, were the Chakachas, whose “Jungle Fever” further proves its ‘70s relic status by fusing arguably the decade’s two greatest exports—funk and porn. If the song is only really remembered today for providing the soundtrack to Heather Graham blowing Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights, that’s appropriate—in fact, “Jungle Fever” is the exact aural approximation of Heather Graham blowing Mark Wahlberg. If one of them spoke Spanish, anyway.
43. Luscious Jackson – “Naked Eye”
Luscious Jackson had been percolating on “120 Minutes” for a few years, but this leadoff single to Fever In Fever Out broke the all-girl group into the mainstream. Singer Jill Cuniff speaks the verses using one of the more memorable Fashion In The 90’s voices (second, of course, to Madonna ca. “Vogue”), then brings it down to coo out the vampy chorus. Like so many groups in the Buzz Bin era, Luscious Jackson found themselves defined by their striking video, and it’s fitting that the video finds the characters engaging a cloak-and-dagger scheme, clad in fashionable powder-blue dresses. 1999’s Electric Honey would later spark some recognition with the track “Ladyfingers,” but Luscious Jackson’s best days had left them behind; in 2000 the band broke up.
42. The La’s – “There She Goes”
One hit wonders inevitably invite nostalgia; the transitory nature of the band’s success ties them irrevocably to a particular moment in time. Some songs, however, like the La’s “There She Goes,” seem written with nostalgia in mind. The jangly lead guitar line of this 1988-recorded, 1990-charting hit hearkened back to the early ‘80s indie rock of acts like R.E.M., but, like the best nostalgia, forgot all the dark, scary, and uncomfortable parts. Even the subject matter seems ready-made for remembrance. After all, “There She Goes,” assuming normal walking pace, will rapidly become “There She Went,” with nothing left but a fond memory, or as the song says, “The feeling that remains.”
41. Tornadoes – “Telstar”
Possibly the most anachronistic #1 single in US history, and certainly the least explicable. “Telstar,” simply put, doesn’t sound like anything—I mean, technically it sounds like surf rock for space cowboys from the future, but that wasn’t exactly a genre with counterexamples, especially back in the ‘60s. Still, if originality was the only thing “Telstar” had going for it, it probably wouldn’t have made this list. Rather, “Telstar” burns fresh in our memory because the song is so haunting in its otherworldliness, feeling like a stolen transmission from a parallel dimension, trying to tell us something of importance but without the necessary decoder. I doubt we’ll ever figure it out, honestly.
40. Mark Morrison – “Return of the Mack”
How can someone return who you’ve never before met? That’s the question Mark Morrison answered—or, more accurately, didn’t—on his enduring ’97 smash. Over plush keyboards, fake turntable scratches, and a rhythm track that will be around ‘til time immemorial, Morrison relates his griefs with an ex who he’s returned to—what? Gloat in her face? Point out he’s still surviving, even thriving? Nope, he’s really returned to show what sleek R&B grooves and odd vocal cadences he’s developed since being dumped. One of the rare British R&B tracks to mean anything stateside (and did it ever), this is one seriously sinuous and sexy “Mack.” Success has always been the best revenge, anyway.
39. Dave Brubeck Quartet – “Take Five”
A little-known fact: "Take Five" was not composed by pianist Dave Brubeck, but rather by saxophonist Paul Desmond. Following the song's massive success, Desmond went out to start his own group, and fearing that he would use the sonic blueprint of "Take Five" to great future success, Brubeck contractually prohibited him from using a piano in any of his future musical endeavors. As a result, "Take Five" was forever relegated to one-hit wonder status, best remembered (and wrongfully accredited to Brubeck) for the title's clever nod to its time signature. It should instead be treasured as the finest indication of Desmond's possibilities, whose sax had the slink of a Cheshire cat, the gliding ease of a seagull, and the voguish symmetry of a dry martini.
38. Right Said Fred – “I’m Too Sexy”
Something tells me that revisionist historians will try to teach our children that MTV played nothing but revolutionary, groundbreaking acts during the fertile commercial market of the early '90s. But I was there; true, you had Nirvana and Dr. Dre, but you were just as likely to see Richard Marx wildin' out in Wrigley Field or Right Said Fred shaking its tush on the catwalk. And the fact is, "I'm Too Sexy" is far more indicative of its time than any of the canonized acts still relevant today, reflecting our country's fascination with songs about models, implied homosexuality, catch phrases, and mesh tank tops. Granted, "My Humps" may have digested this song and shitted it back out, but "I'm Too Sexy" remains frozen in time, daring you to revisit it with a fresh set of opinions if you're at all willing to oblige. If Jay-Z can get away with quoting it in 2001, you at least owe Right Said Fred one more listen, even if it's completely private.
37. Quad City D.J.’s – “C’mon Ride It (The Train)”
The winner of 1996’s Pazz & Jop Critics Poll, singles division, beating (among others) “1979,” “Common People,” and “Wonderwall,”—and it deserved it. Christgau mentioned it in his accompanying essay, calling it “a dance ditty as dumb and wondrous as ‘Macarena’ itself,” but he was wrong; it’s even better. This was the moment bass music finally, completely jumped the shark, and these were the perfect guys to do it, since they’d already created both 95 South’s “Whoot, There It Is” and 69 Boyz’s “Tootsee Roll.” One of those perfectly big dumb rap records that’s more popular with pop audiences than black ones (see also: D4L’s “Laffy Taffy”), this “Train” chugged away as quickly as it came, but thanks to football stadiums everywhere, Quad City DJ’s will never want for anything again. God bless America.
36. Donna Lewis – “I Love You Always Forever”
Many songs promise eternity, few have the conviction to back them up. You could call “I Love You Always Forever” and you’d be totally right, and you’d also have pinned down the reason why the song is so powerful—Donna sings like a girl so confident in the power of love that she seems to be blissfully unaware that the emotion could possibly carry any negative consequences. It felt like the first time for Donna, and on the pop charts it was, unfortunately for her, it turned out that the public’s love was far more fickle than hers. After all, that’s the problem with first love—it can only really happen once.
35. Blue Cheer – “Summertime Blues”
Remove the novelty guitar whee! and the wonky white dork blues vocals and you've got something approximating a slightly soggy Motörhead. It's too bad this smack-glazed fuzzy rawk is working in the service of Eddie Cochran's lame teenage pud-pounder "Summertime Blues." If this were an instrumental, it would be even more recognizable as one of metal's foundation stones, a primitive punked-up hard rock boiler with a fresh coat of stoner jizz. As it stands, it's more of an odd fence-straddler between rock's chocolate malted and Wild Turkey periods. Oh, and a really great argument in favor of not trying so damn hard to have a hit.
34. The Count Five – “Psychotic Reaction”
A figment of rock writer imaginations: Lester Bangs so loved “Psychotic Reaction” that he imagined a whole career of important records for the scraggly San Jose troupe, but a second single as brilliantly off-balance as “Psychotic Reaction” would’ve been just as large a stretch. The Count Five leaned their shoulders hard into garage rock and escaped with the holy grail of 60s psych: blues vocals, chilly electric guitars, and Vaseline-smeared harmonica leads. “Psychotic Reaction” is made better by the lack of Count Five apologists: most other artists on this list have a mob of supporters claiming their albums “were actually pretty good,” but you’ll hear no such testimonies about the Five. Bangs dreamt of albums; in my dreams, every fuck-all suburb in America produces one Count Five, and every Count Five writes one “Psychotic Reaction.”
33. Nada Surf – “Popular”
Now they're on Barsuk and all sensitive and stuff, but Nada Surf will hopefully always be remembered for this snarky, vicious anti-nostalgia trip that smartly pre-empted emo by singing from the perspective of Johnny Footballhero and giving just about the worst advice possible, often while yelling ("Wash it at least every two weeks / ONCE EVERY TWO WEEKS!"). It helps that the chorus rocks out like a motherfucker, with Matthew Caws injecting just the right amount of Costello-esque self-knowledge and loathing. As the end of the song bears down and hammers home over "I'll never get caught / I'm popular," those of us in high school at the time knew that "Popular" was more than a novelty—it was the truth.
32. LaTour – “People Are Still Having Sex”
Released the same year Magic Johnson announced his HIV-positive status, LaTour's epically stupid ode to love in its most fluid form could be taken as insensitive, at the very least. But while most of the world was still coming to terms with the pervasiveness of the disease, dance music was already moving on. It had no choice, really—AIDS hit the dance community so early and so hard that further dwelling on it would have been superfluous, not to mention counterintuitive to the musics inherent positivity. Cheesy rallying point though it may be, someone at the time needed to remind us that once a dam is burst, it cannot be so easily stopped-up.
31. Black Rob – “Whoa”
Little known fact: Black Rob was black; otherwise he would have just been Rob, and all things considered that probably would have gone down as one of the worst and least creative rap names ever. So good decision. Still, “Like Whoa” is, at least on its surface, actually one of the worst and least creative rap singles ever released … and yet it’s also one of the greatest. Through the cinematic strings and symphonic percussion that somehow became the de facto rap soundscape of 2000, Black Rob submits the end game for lyrical minimalism: everything is like whoa to Black Rob, it’s simply a matter of to what degree it is whoa. Is it very whoa? Somewhat whoa? Highly whoa? “Whoa” was so “whoa” Black Rob never did anything remotely “whoa” ever again.
30. Butthole Surfers – “Pepper”
In the proud tradition of one-hit wonders by bands with long, semi-productive underground careers, "Pepper" is one of those blessed examples where their Big Pop Moment is actually fantastic—although not the same way, say, "Whirling Hall of Knives" was. As opposed to their old work, it's a fantastically produced, steady altrock grind (the chorus is practically 3D at times) and Gibby Haynes gives a wonderfully deadpan performance of lyrics that are mostly gibberish, but cool sounding gibberish nonetheless. The video is also immortal, thanks to Haynes' "performance" next to a bunch of riot cops and some of Erik Estrada's best work to date. They were all in love with dyin', they were doin' it in Texas...
29. Oran “Juice” Jones – “The Rain”
Co-produced by Russell Simmons, "The Rain" could have stood solely on the strength of its Kraftwerk-meets-Harold Faltermeyer backing track. However, everyone knows it for its final two minutes, the most vicious beatdown ever delivered on wax. Music videos that portray lyrics literally usually don't work, but this one was an enthralling car crash. That apartment! Each backdrop was more ridiculous than the last—the glass cube walls, the medieval knights' helmets, the insane graffiti. Jones was probably right when he sang, "I'll never be the same"; he must have had problems getting dates after this song.
28. Pras – “Ghetto Superstar”
For “Ghetto Supastar (That is What You Are)” ex-Fugee Pras snatched a hook from the Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers collaboration “Islands in the Stream,” and built on it with a pop rap dream team. So successful was the collaboration that Pras seemed barely necessary, and proved himself such by never repeating the single’s success again. Mya’s sweetly sung hook, both redefining and improving on its source material, gave the track its endless replayability, and the co-production of fellow Fugee Wyclef Jean was funky enough to get the beat bumping out of cars and house parties everywhere in the late ‘90s. Even Pras’ verses were overshadowed by Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s vaguely political, mostly paranoid rhymes. Who knew Pras’ greatest talent was his superfluity?
27. Cornershop – “Brimful of Asha”
The great culture wars of the ‘90s wanted Beck’s “Loser” for this spot, but his melding of hip-hop and, well, anything, turned out to be strangely prescient. Instead, it was Beck’s genre-splicing successors that ended up as footnotes, and Cornershop’s Tjinder Singh makes for better fine print anyway: Singh was among the first to suggest that British Indian transplants would turn into a cultural force moving into the 21st century. Singh lays claim to the ‘90s most hip-swingingest chord progression on “Brimful of Asha” while paying dues to Indian film and music, ticking off names—Mohammed Ruffi, the Bolan Boogies—that blended into soupy, exotic verse for American audiences. “Everybody needs a bosom for a pillow” was an oddly desexualized mantra for such a snaky hit, but “Brimful” wasn’t the first time actual sex took a backseat to film and radio, it just was one of the only times the latter actually seemed more fulfilling than the former.
26. The Church – “Under the Milky Way”
Transplant an Aussie band to an L.A. studio and you may get INXS, but there’s always the possibility that the results will be more ethereal, like this thing of beauty. The Church were a second-tier act with Beat pretensions until Waddy Wachtel and Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar added spritz and muscle to their jangle. “Under the Milky Way” is adolescent miserabilism thawing, of “loveless fascination” (whatever that means) with heaven and earth even though life is cruel and long. Bassist-singer Steve Kilbey’s bemused, almost hesitant vocal rumbles beneath conventional twelve-string strumming until the bagpipe solo exposes him to sunlight.
25. Rob Base & DJ EZ-Rock – “It Takes Two”
A friend of mine had a car whose tape player was broken, so that one tape was stuck in it and played continuously. That tape was the single for "It Takes Two." Surreal though the idea may be of driving around for hours to this song, it makes sense. It's deliciously off-balance—the apropos-of-nothing "scary" intro, the unpredictable verse lengths, that "1-2-3" breakdown that comes out of nowhere. The best parts are when the main drums drop away randomly, revealing the crisp break from Lyn Collins' "Think." Any inebriated thirty-something should be able to quote the first verse from memory; any DJ worth his salt should have this record handy at all times—two copies, of course.
24. Sinead O’Connor – “Nothing Compares 2 U”
If nothing else, this article has reassured me that I do, in fact, love this song for reasons other than that tear running down the cheek in the video. Not that there’d be anything wrong if it were otherwise, but even without that Sinéad is harrowing, flicking between trying to hold herself together and her urgent, desperate anguish, demanding to sprawl across the canvas; this ain’t your everyday ballad. There is no big moment, no key notes to hit, just awesome, gutting, raw frailty. The backing’s just sat there, regardless, bringing the sighs and gentle sways that you only notice cos you’ve hit that point of loneliness that chills you so far down, because the thought strikes you that this might actually be…it. A one-hit wonder for one big reason—how the hell can you expect anyone to follow this?
[William B. Swygart]
23. Nena – “99 Luftballoons”
A spastic synth line acts as Nena’s fanfare, but it’s quickly replaced by a punky new wave chug for what is possibly the most gleeful vision of the apocalypse in pop history. “99 Luftballons” (that’s neun-und-neunzig, Anglophones) was released in both English and German versions, but the track sounds so much better in its original German recording, being a transmission direct from the frontline of the Cold War. The English remake helped clarify the story of the “99 Red Balloons” inadvertently setting off World War III, but whether you understood the lyrics or not, the song made imminent destruction sound almost fun. If this is what the West had, it’s little wonder those in East Germany rejected Communism before the decade was out.
22. Adina Howard – “Freak Like Me”
As nasty as she wanted to be, Adina repped hard for all the around-the-way girls who weren’t afraid of their sexuality, or expressing it. Riding a jeep-rattling groove like the pro she was, she sang the joys of “tak[ing] you around the hood on a gangsta lean” ‘cause it was “all about the dog” in her. With whining G-funk synths backing her up, she sang the joys of freakiness with an élan few could (or would) match, making a grand entrance onto the pop and R&B stages. Of course, she’d never again hit this high—really, how could she? For one brief moment, however, Adina Howard was the freak of a nation.
21. White Town – “Your Woman”
When I was in grade school, I was afraid my friends would call me names for liking this song—there were no guitars and it seemed to suggest that I might be a woman. But my friends liked the song too! And since we were all reasonably sure that none of us was a girl, “Your Woman” became one of the strange indulgences of my teenage years. Unlike fellow Indian Brit Tjinder Singh of Corrnershop, White Town mastermind Jyoti Mishra made things that were decidedly un-sexy—violins, black and white film—seem erotic, possibly dirty. My friends and I? We were none the wiser.
20. M/A/R/R/S – “Pump Up the Volume”
A one-hit wonder in the truest sense—a confluence of talents that struck paydirt once and never saw the need to even try for #2. The brainchild of members of M/AR/R/S, the Colourbox, and a couple of dance DJs, “Pump Up the Volume” is one of pop music’s greatest collages—a cut and paste record from a time when such a concept was revolutionary, and one of the only ones to still sound totally fuckin’ banging today. That it would top the UK charts is almost a given, that the American public was actually advanced enough to send this record to the top 20 is significantly more impressive.
19. Ini Kamoze – “Here Comes the Hotstepper”
Vaguely threatening braggadocio became college party lubricant and Prêt-à-Porter soundtrack courtesy of producer Salaam Remi (of Nas and Amy Winehouse fame). No one knew the Jamaican patois-laced lyrics past the first verse. Instead, people responded to the "Na, Na Na Na Na" refrain taken from "Land of a Thousand Dances," made famous by Wilson Pickett. Taana Gardner's "Heartbeat" supplied the beat, with a catchy vocal cry panning left and right; Ice Cube used the same snippet on "Friday." Columbia and EastWest both capitalized on the hit with albums in 1995, forcing Kamoze to compete against himself; his career never recovered.
18. Soft Cell – “Tainted Love”
Thing is, this song’s been kicked about so many times as some kind of generic signifier for filthy sex with filthy people that it’s really quite easy to forget: Marc Almond—how bloody good? His whole performance seems an object lesson in the art of being perfectly cool—he sets the agenda, you stick to it. No part is being played, no pose thrown on; Marc Almond is a man entirely in touch with his sexuality, and with an expert knowledge of exactly how to use it. Contrast this with Marilyn Manson’s tedious cock-waving rehash, and the joys of this version become that much more obvious. It’s the little details that Almond uses for stringing you along and pulling you all the way in. Every second is sensational.
[William B. Swygart]
17. Primitive Radio Gods – “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hand”
The BB King loop (which ate up all the profits) kicks the hell out of the Ray Charles one on "Gold Digger," but that's not why this is so powerful, or why the moments that shouldn't work (like Chris O'Connor singing the loop himself) still resonate. Somewhere in that murk of drum machine and piano atmospherics O'Connor hit the pop Philosophers Stone, transmuting one guy fiddling around the studio and his mystical white guy mumbly bullshit into something that perfectly and powerfully evokes the emotion its title depicts. In the blues, "I've been downhearted, baby, ever since the day we met" is something to lament and struggle against; here, he might as well be singing to the whole wide world.
16. Mazzy Star – “Fade Into You”
History has since revealed Generation X to be an entire group of people inescapably obsessed with Door #3: vainly introspective, painfully aware, and yet somehow completely emotionally and illogically confused. It’s true. No one had any clue what they really wanted. Reality bites, so perchance to dream-pop? An enduring respite from the sludge and slurry of the Great Early 90s Morning-After, Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” doesn’t fade, it melts. There’s a quiet resignation to Hope Sandoval’s sublime performance, a resignation borne not out of surrender but rather assuredness: she knows exactly what she wants. “I want to hold the hand inside you / I want to take a breath that’s true.” And that’s why so many people love some obscure ethereal pop song by some even more obscure ethereal post-shoegaze dream-pop duo and nothing else by them since. Sometimes that happens.
15. Gary Numan – “Cars”
It seems barely conceivable that this is from 1979. Numan’s brutally clean futurist lines couldn’t possibly have been born that long ago, could they? The drums sound like they’re being operated by some kind of torturer, setting the snaps at the exact point you’re getting over the previous ones—and perhaps they’re the reason why Numan never found his way into US hearts again. Those beats and the continuous synth whine, pitching up and down throughout, sets the club going, but behind it all is a shell of man whose hunt for perfection will not be complete until the rest of the world is totally shut off. In the U.S., he never touched the charts again; in the UK, “Cars” was followed by another three top 10 hits in the next 12 months. So it goes.
[William B. Swygart]
14. Junior Senior – “Move Your Feet”
This Danish duo used a groove, a little Casio line and some bell chimes one summer in '03 to take over the world. “Move Your Feet” is on the funky side, but refrains from aligning itself along genre lines and instead focuses on the 120-odd BPM booty shake. Crafted by a male duo that employs the classic Big-Gay-Guy-meets-Little-Straight-Guy aesthetic, the two nicely split up the vocal duties so nobody’s left out: Junior takes the choruses and Senior takes the, uh, other choruses. Which brings us to the next point: no real verses, just mutated, rapped counter-choruses, and bridge after bridge after bridge, which means improved fluidity between sections and thus even MORE booty-shaking. Last, but certainly not least, it’s got one of the better 8-bit videos featuring evil squirrels, dancing food and exploding dolphins that the world has seen.
13. LEN – “Steal My Sunshine”
The sunshine Len stole for this track was the best few bars of the Andrea True Connection’s disco hit “More More More,” and it worked a treat. They turned that break, almost an afterthought on the original track, into a glorious hazy loop, and, covering it with inane chatter and impossibly feel-good lyrics, perfectly captured that warm, lazy feeling you get when late summer still seems like it could last forever. Len became the best friends you could ever want, and distilled all the good times you never had with them into four almost utterly nonsensical, deliriously happy minutes of fame. Only the most stone-faced could fail to crack a smile while recalling lines like, “L-A-T-E-R that week” or “Well… does he like butter tarts?”
12. Spacehog – “In the Meantime”
I'm not sure what the royally-named Royston Langdon does on a day-to-day basis. It's possible that he's still keeping the Spacehog dream alive, waiting for the day Koch Records develops a Britpop department. Or he's just content to play Mr. Mom for Liv Tyler. Most likely, he's just rocking a shit-eating grin, knowing that every five minutes, someone's trying to play the lead riff to "In the Meantime" in the dark recesses of a Sam Ash. The Buzz Bin created a slew of great basslines (see: "Believe," "Cannonball"), but "In the Meantime" just might be the "Stairway to Heaven" for the four-string set.
11. The Folk Implosion – “Natural One”
When the Shins rode a fortunate soundtrack placement to rock stardom, we forgot just how hard this game can be. Folk Implosion contributed “Natural One” to the Kids soundtrack and rode the resulting wave of good fortune to precisely nothing. Lou Barlow was always a fussy, snotty little shit, and fussy, snotty little shits are not supposed to write basslines as smooth and elastic as the one employed by “Natural One,” the only song that ever made his band’s name sound apt. “Natural One” is more aggressive than I remembered, with little stamps of Guitar Center distortion and a sneaky lead written for suburbia’s funny, creeping little ninjas. We all crept.
10. Tom Tom Club – “Genius of Love”
"Genius of Love" isn't a hip-hop song. It's sunshine (synth)pop; squiggly keyboard effects skipping over a disco bass and handclaps vacuum-sealing hard drums. And yet there's no other song, with the possible exception of "Rapper's Delight," that is so joyously representative of the ebullient, neon pastiche of early-80s downtown New York hip-hop. It's not just Tina Weymouth breathily reminiscing weightless, cocaine-fueled Saturday nights, or Chris Frantz infamously shouting out James Brown. It's two people so in love with each other and the times they're living in that it's contagious. Because every time this jam plays on the loudspeaker a subway turns into art, cardboard is rolled out onto a sidewalk, boomboxes magically spring up from the ground like crabgrass, and I've got a smile on my face from ear to headphone-covered ear.
09. Craig Mack – “Flava in Ya Ear”
“You won’t be around next year, my rap’s too severe.” Haha bwooooy! With one opening line Big snatched “Flava in Ya Year” right out from under Craig Mack’s nose, a remix verse so ill it left its original track and artist completely obsolete. Why would anyone listen to the original “Flava in Ya Ear” when you can just listen to the remix? It’s approximately 1,000 times better than the original; even Craig Mack’s verse is better. Now, if you accept that argument Craig Mack’s “Flava in ya Ear” is a one-hit wonder that ought to have its hit status rescinded. That’s interesting.
08. Wreckx-N-Effect – “Rump Shaker”
"Rump Shaker" isn't one of those transcendent hits that lights up a party. It's more of a cultural reference ("remember Cross Colours?" etc.) one smilingly suffers through. As the video explains, the chorus is literally about camcorders and butts. The lyrics abound with gems like, "Now since you got the body of the year, come and get the award / Here's a hint—it's like a long, sharp sword." What drives the tune is the haunting horn sample the Neptunes (on their first production!) jacked from Public Enemy, who in turn lifted it from Lafayette Afro Rock Band's "Darkest Light."
07. Modjo – “Lady (Hear Me Tonight)”
With Chic’s remarkable “Soup for One” riff as a foundation, Modjo added singer Yann Destagnol’s minor-key meditations on love and the night literally lifted off. The Parisian duo, consisting of Destagnol and producer Romain Tranchart, crafted the single with an eye to the French club scene, though both had worked with rock music and rock overtones are found in the song’s distinctly minor-key melody. Lyrically, “Lady” is a declaration of an ambiguously requited infatuation or love, but the instrumentation is all longing and tension without resolution. This one will always just be that house/disco “LAY-deh!” cut to a lot of people, but to others Modjo are the patron saints of getting shot down at the club.
06. Deee-Lite – “Groove Is in the Heart”
Airplay hasn’t worn one note of this buoyant classic, nor have deejays stopped spinning it every time they catch me dancing to it. This unlikeliest of collisions (Bootsy Collins? Q-Tip? Day-glo clothes?) seemed even more serendipitous as follow-up singles stiffed on the pop charts, but Deee-Lite made retro-futurism sound like a great idea; it’s not their fault their other ideas were merely good.
05. New Radicals – “You Get What You Give”
To come up with something as perfect as "You Get What You Give," you simply have to be a student of classic pop music and its accompanying narrative. Gregg Alexander did his homework, and possibly too well: he had to know that there was more reward in leaving 'em wanting more and that "one-hit wonder" isn’t a derogatory term if the one hit was pretty much perfect. The result is an amber-frozen classic with too many hooks, and even though he released a follow-up single, it looked like he didn't have his heart in it. Alexander has supposedly gone on to do ghostwriting, which only adds to this song's legend; we're left with the impression that he's got a thousand more under that silly-ass hat of his and maybe one day he'll come back with an updated rap.
04. The Cardigans – “Lovefool”
“Dear, I fear we’re facing a problem”
Uh, do we have to do this now babe? The game’s on.
“Lately I have desperately pondered, spent my nights awake and I wonder.”
Shit, is this going to be one of those state-of-the-union kind of things? I’m not really in the mood.
“Love me! love me! Say that you love me!”
Fine, I love you, now can I watch the end of the game please? You’re in my way.
“Just say that you need me”
Baby, I need you. I need you more than air. Now can you turn the TV back on?
“Mama tells me I shouldn’t bother…”
Don’t get me started on your mother!
“I can’t care about anything but you.”
(massaging temples) You’re going to be in my head all fuckin’ day, aren’t you?
03. ? and the Mysterians – “96 Tears”
? and the Mysterians’ evergreen "96 Tears" sports very little surface evidence to immediately suggest its iconic place in the mid-60's canon. A tinny, organ wiggle limbers up way high in the mix and a simple, almost lazy drum pattern frames Mr. Mark and his dubious proposition, with virtually no delineation between chorus and verse. You don't even need to flip the numbers to get the gist of his gab, though, thanks to his almost clinical description of body placement and the humpy-backed meanderings of the organ line. The fact that a song constructed to reflect mutual leg-and-liplock made it to No. 1 means that Americans are either a) way more perceptive than we normally give ourselves credit for or b) way more oblivious than we normally give ourselves credit for.
02. Stardust – “Music Sounds Better With You”
Thomas Bangalter was half of Daft Punk and Alan Braxe was (to international audiences) just a minor French house-head when they teamed up to create this slice of filter-disco perfection (and inadvertently launch a thousand filter-disco 12-inches in the process) in 1998. Built around a guitar lick from Chaka Khan’s “Fate” and swirled with string, “riffs” (ahem) while Ben “Diamond” Cohen’s voice is led in and out of the mix, this is repetitive, yes. But when it’s a deliciously disco-y loop this lovely, it’s best to just give your body up and dance to it, as that’s clearly how God intended it. Easy, breezy, beautiful.
01. Skee-Lo – “I Wish”
As far as I'm concerned, a song is truly a one-hit wonder if you can be pretty certain that you'll never hear something like it ever again. And in spite of the fact that 75% of all rappers have names that include "Lil'" or "Young," could you possibly imagine something like "I Wish" in today's climate? The fact that it places #1 on our list only confirms its power: other than "Mo Money, Mo Problems," can you think of a song that spoke to so many despite the fact that only a portion of our population could truly relate to it? We'll never know if Skee-Lo ever got with Ioshi, felt okay with being a "Stay in School Jam" staple or regretted forfeiting any chance at staying power in order to invent emo-rap, but he should know that despite being the least gangsta rapper ever, no one did a better job of making listeners feel his pain.
By: Stylus Staff
Published on: 2007-03-26