By this estimation, the decade of the One Hit Wonder was the 1970s, as our panel of potentially stranded passengers voted for 18 tracks from that era to take along on their doomed trip. The 1980s came in second, followed by the 1960s and 1990s (in a tie), and then the 2000s.
A quartet of these shooting-star songs received multiple votes in Something Else! Reviews’ latest Desert Island Discs poll: Norman Greenbaum’s 1970 hit “Spirit in the Sky,” the 1998 New Radicals track “Get What You Give,” the Knickerbockers’ 1965 song “Lies” and the Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” from 1997. Elsewhere, we came to no consensus — from Jay Ferguson to Buffalo Springfield, from the Vapors to Mott the Hoople, from Chuck Brown to Autograph. Heck, we even made room for — no kidding — Vanilla Ice.
The arguments on this tiny island are apparently going to be fierce. So, stop, collaborate and listen …
1. JAY FERGUSON, “THUNDER ISLAND” (1978): Though Ferguson had another low-charter, this is his signature song — a good-time record that’s so light-filled you can almost feel the sand between your toes. Listen closely, between the rays of sweet sunshine, the late afternoon shower, the laughter in the wet grass, the undone dress, and the dididit, dididit, dididits for this sizzling assist from Joe Walsh on slide guitar.
2. GARY NUMAN, “CARS” (1979): Some argue that the Cars’ debut was actually the beginning of the 1980s, others the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.” For me, this was it: Gary Numan and “Cars” set the template for the next half decade — from his proto-goth black-nailed dystopia and the herky-jerky synths to those piercingly empty eyes. “Cars” hit again in 1987, and then in 1996, but Numan never charted with anything else.
3. SAGA, “ON THE LOOSE” (1981): With its itchy keyboard signature and arena-rock riff, this song lives up to its title from the first. More particularly, “On the Loose” arrived at just the right time in my life, when the night — the idea of the night — couldn’t have represented more possibility, more freedom.
4. ORAN “JUICE” JONES, “THE RAIN” (1986): Friends of mine know I luxuriate in the campy joys of spoken-word interludes in songs — from “Thriller” to “Look of Love” to “Hot For Teacher.” There is none better: Jones rips off so many delicious put downs during his tell-off monologue that I continually rewound them until I’d learned them all.
5. SNIFF ‘N’ THE TEARS, “DRIVER’S SEAT (1978): The track starts with a pillowy acoustic straight off a psychotherapist’s couch, sounding like every huggable singer-songwriter piffle from the period — then thwack! A drum stick comes down hard, and Sniff ‘n’ the Tears simply floor it. The town is suddenly flashing by like a strobe light, and Jenny is begging you to slow down. But that ain’t happening.
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1. NEW RADICALS, “YOU GET WHAT YOU GIVE” (1998): Up and coming songwriting prodigy Gregg Alexander had released one solo project before forming the New Radicals in the late ’90s. The fairly-obscure bucket hat wearing Alexander became the torch-carrier for the misunderstood, downtrodden and outcasts in 1998 when the New Radicals released this tune.
2. WET WILLIE, “KEEP ON SMILIN'” (1974): I have expected to hear this song in a Five Hour Energy commercial for some time now. Its relatable lyrical content, and powerful wall of sound the chorus presents, keeps this classic rock anthem etched into the memory of every cell in body. There may not be a better pick-me-up tune ever recorded.
3. NORMAN GREENBAUM, “SPIRIT IN THE SKY” (1970): Years back, Greenbaum confirmed it was actually the images of cowboys wanting to die with their boots that inspired his spiritual masterpiece. It was often perceived as a Christian-themed song, which of course was strange being that Greenbaum was a staunch practicing Jew when he wrote it. Regardless of the origins, the tune’s heavy guitar work mixed with hand-claps makes you want to sway the night and day away in harmony with whatever is standing next to you. In this case I guess it would just be the palm trees, but that’d be enough.
4. MOUNTAIN, “MISSISSIPPI QUEEN” (1970): Being from the Mississippi Delta, I always cringe when I hear lyrics that get the geography totally wrong: “Way down around Vicksburg, down Louisiana way, a little cajun lady…” While Cajuns are all over Louisiana, and the country for that matter, there aren’t and have never been any Cajun settlements near Vicksburg or anywhere along the big river. You’ll find them stretched down the rivers and bayous of southwest Louisiana, over 100 miles from the Mighty Mississippi. But Mountain gets a pass on this one.
5. SURVIVOR, “EYE OF THE TIGER” (1982): One of the only songs that makes me want to go jog. Not saying that occurs on a regular basis, but every time those opening notes punch through the speakers I get lost in my shadowboxing routine.
1. THE VAPORS, “TURNING JAPANESE” (1980): Tons of snappy guitar parts plus a killer chorus and you have yourself an instant earwurm.
2. STARLAND VOCAL BAND, “AFTERNOON DELIGHT: (1976): I know, I know … I can hear the groans. Oooh, innuendo! Guess what? When this came out, I didn’t really know what they were talkin’ about. And yeah, the song is kind of awful, but for some reason I’ve always liked it.
3. WALL OF VOODOO, “MEXICAN RADIO” (1982): No, I’ve never considered eating barbequed iguana.
4. JOE TEX, “I GOTCHA” (1972): I loved this one so much that I made a recording of it from the radio with my crummy Radio Shack cassette recorder. Even with that wobbly playback, the sultry funk came burning through.
5. VICKI LAWRENCE, “THE NIGHT THE LIGHTS WENT OUT IN GEORGIA” (1973): The adult themes here were way over my head at the time, but the tension that the story produced pulled me in anyway.
1. BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD, “FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH” (1967): This Stephen Stills-penned single completely nailed the civil unrest of the late 1960s. Today, the lyrics still apply for youth interested in political activism.
2. NICK LOWE, “CRUEL TO BE KIND” (1979): While he may have been a one hit wonder in the US, Lowe proved to be a hugely influential songwriter and producer. His sole hit is a catchy rocker with a memorable chorus. Sing it with me: “Cruel to be kind, in the right measure; Cruel to be kind, it’s a very good sign …”
3. TOM TOM CLUB, “GENIUS OF LOVE” (1982): Artists like Mariah Carey have sampled this dance track, but nothing beats the original. Talking Heads members Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth formed this side project, and they are responsible for introducing dancehall, reggae, and a touch of hip hop to wider audiences.
4. THE VERVE, “BITTER SWEET SYMPHONY” (1997): Yes, the Verve attracted controversy for basing their song heavily on Andrew Loog Oldham’s orchestral arrangement of the Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time.” But its sweeping sound and lead singer Richard Ashcroft’s passionate performance make this one of the finest tracks of the 1990s.
5. GNARLS BARKLEY, “CRAZY” (2006): This still-hypnotic song skillfully blends pop with a touch of hip hop. Danger Mouse’s spacey arrangement, along with Cee Lo Green’s retro soul vocals, created a memorable hit that reflects how R&B and hip hop have dominated the charts today.
1. CHUCK BROWN AND THE SOUL SEARCHERS, “BUSTIN’ LOOSE” (1979): The go-go music anthem still gets me wantin’ to wiggle 33 years later.
2. ARGENT, “HOLD YOUR HEAD UP” (1972): A proggy song with a lot of soul. Rod Argent’s mid-song organ solo is how you do an organ solo in a rock song.
3. BILLY THORPE, “CHILDREN OF THE SUN” (1979): The centerpiece track from a thematic but otherwise awful album of the same name, “COTS” actually made the combination of space sounds and a Les Paul sound cool. A song that’s tailor made for a home theater system.
4. BENNY MARDONES, “INTO THE NIGHT” (1980): Mardones’ voice was every bit the equal of contemporary Steve Perry, but he lacked the band and material. Here, he did match the material, with a chorus that just soars. Good enough to reach the Top 10 twice, nine years apart.
5. DIONNE FARRIS, “I KNOW” (1995): Farris’ funk rock groove and playfully coy vocal was the most irresistible song of the mid-1990s.
1. MOTT THE HOOPLE, “ALL THE YOUNG DUDES” (1972): The Mott-tops gets all duded up for Saturday night. A sardonic and swaggering Ian Hunter glams-up the melodically rich David Bowie-penned song with insouciant but inspired results.
2. THE PLIMSOULS, “A MILLION MILES AWAY” (1983): A manic and mesmerizing pop thrill boosted into the rarified air — say, eight miles high or so — by the Byrds-like arrangement and Peter Case’s 12-string. It’s everywhere at once, yet still packs a transfixing wallop.
3. THE KNICKERBOCKERS, “LIES” (1965): Like many at first, I thought this pop-powered rocker was a new Beatles, and the comparison still holds up in this infectious Mersey-side blast, replete with Lennon-like vocals and Macca’s Little Richard screams and whoops.
4. THUNDERCLAP NEWMAN, “SOMETHING IN THE AIR” (1969): Apparently “we’ve got to get together” so we can “Hand out the arms and ammo …” But this Pete Townshend-produced track smacks of balm more than bombs, making for a paradoxically lulling and irresistibly resonating song often used in movies and TV. (Programming note: the revolution will still not be televised.)
5. NEW RADICALS, “YOU GET WHAT YOU GIVE” (1998): In an odd mix of political rhetoric and pop culture references — couched in “follow your heart” affirmations, yet — frontman Gregg Alexander offers up a boisterous burst of musical exuberence.
1. THE KNICKERBOCKERS, “LIES” (1965): Sounding like a lost outtake from the “A Hard Day’s Night” album, “Lies” gets my vote as the greatest Beatles imitation ever conveyed to vinyl. All the Liverpool band’s hallmarks are covered in spades, from the whooping choruses to the snappy breaks to the cool British inflections.
2. THE SEEDS, “PUSHIN’ TOO HARD (1966): Lead singer Sky Saxon does nothing to conceal how utterly irritated he is on “Pushin’ Too Hard,” as he spits and snarls his way through the two chord kiss-off to an overly possessive girlfriend. Further fueled by galloping keyboards and thrashing drumming, the driving delight screamed punk rock before the genre even came into being.
3. THE BALLROOM FARM, “A QUESTION OF TEMPERATURE” (1968): Garnished to the hilt with squealing fuzz guitars, a sneering warning and hooks to die for, “A Question Of Temperature” spooled back to an earlier age with its grainy approach. Equating sexual lust with the weather, the quirky little nugget is a favorite of the garage rock posse — though, shortly after the single barely scraped the Top 40, the Balloon Farm deflated and vanished into oblivion.
4. STATUS QUO, “PICTURES OF MATCHSTICK MEN” (1968): Certified superstars in their home country of England, but basically forgotten in America, Status Quo is still going strong today. Blending high-pitched Bee Gees styled harmonies with a wiggy psychedelic film framed of gurgling wah-wah guitars, wobbly keyboard fills and acid-inspired lyrics, “Pictures Of Matchstick Men” is a classic of its stripe.
5. PHIL SEYMOUR, “PRECIOUS TO ME” (1981): One-half of the critically acclaimed Dwight Twilley Band, Seymour launched his solo career on a very promising note with this sweet and tasty power pop treat. Sporting a voice akin to a magnetic mix of Buddy Holly and John Lennon, “Precious To Me” shines brightly with ringing licks and fresh as a daisy melodies.
1. AUTOGRAPH, “TURN UP THE RADIO” (1984): When the topic of One Hit Wonders was mentioned, this song immediately started playing in my head. This is a candidate in the truest sense of the term. It’s a great, glitzy, purely 1980s rock anthem. Quick, name another Autograph song. Even I can’t do it without peeking.
2. DRIVIN’ ‘N’ CRYIN,’ “FLY ME COURAGEOUS” (1989): This is a fantastic song. Great riff, great groove, just one of those tracks that wins on every level. Still, I was hesitant to put it on my list because there’s a lot of other good stuff in the band’s catalog … but I couldn’t leave it off.
3. BLACKFOOT, “TRAIN, TRAIN” (1979): This song is easily on par with anything that Rickey Medlocke’s other little barely known band recorded. That cool harmonica, great chugging rhythm and Medlocke’s grungy vocals just perfectly capture the spirit of the train he’s singing about.
4. RAM JAM, “BLACK BETTY” (1977): It’s a silly, almost nonsensical Southern rocker, but every damned time it comes on the radio, I find myself with the volume cranked up and singing along. It’s one of those songs you just can’t escape.
5. IRON BUTTERFLY, “IN-A-GADDA-DA-VIDA” (1968): Laugh it up, but I have great respect for this song, mauled lyrics and all. It’s an important one in the annals of metal, and while you’ll more often find me listening to the Slayer cover, you’ve got to tip your hat to the original. While there’s plenty about the 17-minute version you can snicker at, the riff can’t be denied.
1. NORMAN GREENBAUM, “SPIRIT IN THE SKY” (1970): Normally people don’t like to think about their mortality or their eventual demise, but Greenbaum’s catchy guitar groove made such subject matter enjoyable to hear on the radio.
2. JOHNNY HATES JAZZ, “SHATTERED DREAMS” (1987): For some reason I always associate this song with my freshman year of college… about 8-9 years after it was first popular. But the song still tugs on my sense of nostalgia.
3. DEXY’S MIDNIGHT RUNNERS, “COME ON EILEEN” (1982): “With you in that dress, my thoughts I confess, verge on dirty.” This song should get an award for best EVER use of a fiddle in a non-country pop-song.
4. JOEY SCARBURY, “BELIEVE IT OR NOT (THEME FROM ‘THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO’)” (1981): Catchy song that was considerably more successful and memorable than the show it was featured on and was the theme song for.
5. JIMMY EAT WORLD, “THE MIDDLE” (2001): Infectious and fun and EVERYWHERE on the radio in the early 2000s.
1. THE VERVE, “BITTERSWEET SYMPHONY” (1997): I first heard this song while watching the end of the movie “Cruel Intentions” with my cousin Elizabeth, and instantly fell in love with it. It’s a classic I think will stand the test of time and be around for years to come.
2. DES’REE, “YOU GOTTA BE” (1994): I listened to this song every day during the summer that it was released! One of the quintessential ‘feel good’ songs: After listening to it, you have no choice but to walk with your head up high.
3. A-HA, “TAKE ON ME” (1984): Not only is this a fun song to listen to, but the music video is in my opinion one of the best of all time, and is still talked about today.
4. WILD CHERRY, “PLAY THAT FUNKY MUSIC” (1976): Although the lyrics are often misinterpreted from its original meaning, this song has one of the funkiest melodies. Perhaps out of all the musicians on this list, I’m most surprised that these guys never really managed another hit after this.
5. VANILLA ICE, “ICE ICE BABY” (1990): I know what you’re thinking: Would I really want to be stuck with this song for the whole time on a desert island? Well, why not? Next, to Sir Mix A Lot, my friends and I would try to rap and dance to this song at lunch time during in early grade school.