Nothing gold (or even platinum) can stay. This is my last blog post, at least for the time being. Because the goal of this project was to analyze and share music I am passionate about with readers, I’m concluding this phase of my blog by telling you some of my all-time favorite one-hit wonders. There’s no underlying connection between these songs besides my love for them. So sit back and enjoy some awesome music!
Tip: Click on the song titles to listen to these one-hit wonders in all their glory!
- “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” by Looking Glass (1972, Billboard #1): This song has a legacy within my family. My aunt had this single on record when she was a teenager, and she played it so relentlessly that my uncle stole it and threw it out the window. I can see why she loves “Brandy.” It’s a sweet feel-good song with a compelling story about a woman who is surrounded by sailors who pine after her but cannot commit. The structure of the lyrics is reminiscent of a folk tale, sparking many legends about its source material. Fans even attributed to “Brandy” to a famed real-life New Jersey woman who spent her life waiting on a dishonest sailor who promised he’d return to her. But songwriter Elliot Lurie insists that he came up with the song’s plot out of thin air, but named the titular character after his ex-girlfriend Randy popped into his head. The lack of significance behind the name didn’t stop parents aplenty from naming their children after “Brandy.” In fact, the name Brandy skyrocketed from the 353rd most popular American female name in 1971 to the 82nd most popular name in 1973. I hope those Brandys had better luck in the romance department. Even my uncle couldn’t do right by the original Brandy.
- “99 Luftballons” by Nena (1983, Billboard #2): I have been waiting and waiting for the chance to talk about this song, and the time has finally come! I think I can confidently say this is the only non-English Neue Deutsche Welle anti-war song about UFOs in the midst of the Cold War and growing civil unrest in Germany to make the Billboard Hot 100 in the US. Guitarist Carlo Karges felt inspired to write the lyrics after witnessing the way that a mass of balloons on the horizon resembled UFOs while attending a Rolling Stones Concert. The song describes a dystopian scenario in which the military mistakes floating balloons for spacecraft, causing war and chaos that destroys the plant. Despite it’s German lyrics, the song resonated with people of all languages and found international success. The line that resonates the most with me is “99 Jahre Krieg Ließen keinen Platz für Sieger,” or “99 years of war left no place for winners.” While anti-war people are often accused of being unpatriotic, does a country really “win” when they spend years wreaking havoc and sacrificing soldiers for the sake of political gain? Obviously these issues are more complex than a weekly blog post can dissect, but I always love seeing the world embrace art with a message beyond the typical “let’s dance and fall in love and live in the moment.” This song is a winner both lyrically and melodically in my book! Nena recorded an English version to accommodate their international fans, but sadly the lyrics were completely different, and the song didn’t even chart here in the States.
- “Flagpole Sitta” by Harvey Danger (1997, Billboard #32): The tone of this song is so much fun, and I could scream along to the chorus all day long. There are plenty of one-hit wonders that question systems of power, but this song is actually a critique of how Seattle grunge counterculture became mainstream and “commodified” during the 1990s. It’s specific to its time, but the judgments the band holds against their peers still hold true for the youth of today. Drummer Evan Sult described how the song is reminiscent of being young and wanting to be a part of something bigger than yourself while simultaneously feeling skeptical of both the groups around you and your own potential. As someone in my early twenties in the midst of a political hellscape and international pandemic, I feel an intense longing to collaborate and make lasting change. But I, like other people in my generation, don’t trust any of the systems that are meant to help me (ACAB, anyone?). The song also identifies the ways in which people allow “outward signifiers stand in for real kinds of rebellion” by only expression their ideas through personal presentation rather than tangible action. One of the examples Harvey Danger provides for fashion-forward useless rebellion is tongue piercing. Unfortunately, a large chunk of listeners misinterpreted the intention of the lyrics and actually pierced their tongues because of the song. Oh, the agony and the irony!
- “1 Thing” by Amerie (2005, Billboard #8): The drums in this song are a revelation. Ziggy Modeliste is a funk legend, and I spent far too much time this week watching all of his performances instead of actually getting work done. Let’s just say it was for research purposes. He’s just not the kind of musician where you can multitask while listening! He’s too commanding. Anyway, Ziggy and his bandmates in the Meters provide “1 Thing” with a hefty sample from their song “Oh, Calcutta!” Producer Rich Harrison orchestrated this ingenious fusion of go-go and R&B. Harrison and Amerie had a ton of trouble getting their record label, Columbia, to take the bait and release the song. In fact, they were scheming to take the song from under Amerie’s nose and give to infamous song-stealer Jennifer Lopez. In the end, Amerie had to leak the song herself. Boy, am I happy she did! While this is Amerie’s only hit, it has become legendary in the world of music. Rolling Stone and Pitchfork have both named it one of the best songs of the 2000s, and Twitter has also sung its praises more recently. I don’t blame them. This song is still as fresh to the ears as it was when it came out. Funk never goes out of style. The lyrics feel almost secondary to the one-of-a-kind instrumental. They tell the well-known story of holding onto a romantic interest in spite of any red flags because they have something indescribable that holds you captive. I keep coming back to this song more than a decade after its release even though Amerie hasnt released a full studio album since 2009. Clearly I can relate to clinging onto something that’s run its course.
I guess this is goodbye (or maybe see you later.) Thank you for letting me share my love of music with you. It’s been so much fun, and I’ve learned a great deal both about these songs and about blogs in general. As always, I’d love to hear if this post reminded you of any of your own favorite songs, be they one-hit wonders or not!