4 Bizarre One Hit Wonder Albums (Reviewed)
Artists toil away writing entire discographies they intend to live forever, but they sometimes wind up producing only one song that no one will soon forget. We label them a one-hit wonder and eventually consider them an artifact of a bygone era.
We so focus on the one hit that we rarely consider that it was part of a larger, presumably less good album. It would have to be less good, right? Like, by definition of being a one-hit wonder the other songs the artist produced weren't as memorable?
That makes some sense, but I don't know the definitive answer to the question. That's why I'm going to try to answer it today. I want to know just what the hell was going on with the albums our most famous (and infamous) one-hit wonders came from.
Let's begin with ...
Soft Cell, Famous For "Tainted Love"
If this is your first time hearing "Tainted Love," then you are a baby. Congratulations on being born, baby!
Welcome to Earth! You will die here someday, but at least you can look forward to hearing "Tainted Love" no less than 47,000 more times before that happens. It'll get old after a bit. But then it'll get good again and you won't know why. Because it's good but not good enough, you know? Yeah, you know. You're smart, for a baby.
The Album It Came From: Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret
First, the album cover:
That is a perv locking eyes with you as his friend is either giving or receiving questionable pornography. Something disgusting was or is about to start happening. This scene frightens children in Christian funhouses.
One-hit wonders are usually doomed to an afterlife of being played on listen-while-you-work Lite FM radio stations. Stations where only the most breezy, inoffensive, and unchallenging songs thrive for the next few decades. This can lead to a false perception: that the artists are themselves safe and unchallenging, since our only knowledge of their work is through this one commercial success. Probably the case for some. Not the case for Soft Cell, as evidenced by the album's first track, "Frustration." This poppy New Wave album kicks off with a song about a middle-aged, middle-class Average Joe who hates his life and every drop of dullness he represents. He's a man who wishes he could run off and become a drug addict and fuck everything in sight. It all culminates with the lead singer screaming, "I WANT TO DIE," over and over for the last 30 seconds of the song.
Seconds later, the immortal mega-hit "Tainted Love" fires up, a song about a relationship gone sour. It's universal. It's easy to see why it's a commercial hit. We've all lived "Tainted Love."
Song ends, then we're right into track 3, titled "Seedy Films." Can't possibly decipher what it could be about from the title? Well, let me tell ya!
It's about a person who watches a lot of porn, then one day meets a nice, real-life person they can be with, only to realize that person may have been in one of the many pornos they've jerked off to.
And then there's "Sex Dwarf," which is the title of the album's fifth track, and by sheer coincidence also the title of my upcoming ABC sitcom:
If you think "Sex Dwarf" is about the lead singer of Soft Cell having sex with a dwarf, you're the worst kind of pervert and we don't need your kind around these parts. However, if based solely on the title you guessed that it's about the lead singer of Soft Cell owning a leather-clad and leashed dwarf and parading him about town, occasionally forcing the dwarf to have sex with his chauffeur, well, that's amazing because your guess was 100 percent correct.
The weird sex stuff goes on through every track. Soft Cell's Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret is the musical version of this GIF:
When everyone's looking, it's nice and polite. When the coast is clear, it cums on everything.
Chumbawamba, Famous For "Tubthumping"
I remember watching an episode of one of VH1's many I Love The [Decade]s on which Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine was talking about Chumbawamba's gigantic hit single and sort-of-titular track, "Tubthumping." He offhandedly mentioned that Chumbawamba was made up of a bunch of anarchists -- literal anarchists. They're not people who bought a patch of an encircled "A" at Hot Topic. They believe in the social and political ideology of anarchism. I didn't know that's what he meant until I listened to the album from which their wondrous one-hit originated. Tom Morello's a political guy. I just figured he was using his big political brain to mock Chumbawamba the way a smarty pants would.
It turns out he was factually correct. So, yeah. Good job, Tom Morello!
The Album It Came From: Tubthumper
So Chumbawamba isn't the beer-pounding party band they come off as in their biggest hit. They're actually very serious, angry (sometimes incoherently so), and always looking to fight for something. That kind of thing can be off-putting, especially in pop music. Chumbawamba was a political band masquerading as a pop-rock band. But Tubthumper's carefully organized track order helped the band slip in their political ideology under the guise of some of the most '90s pop-rock ever recorded.
Track order can matter, and it can be used to tell a larger story even when you're not writing an insane concept album about pinball Jesus, whatever mad bullshit Tommy is about. Chumbawamba seems to have fully understood "Tubthumping" was going to be an easily accessible pop song about getting shitfaced, so they made it the first track and packed the rest of the album with politically and socially charged songs of steadily increasing intensity that built to a crescendo in the final track that, when it was finally over, made me realize I had just listened to a protest album that began as a drinking song.
If the album were a wild Friday night, it would begin with a downing of five tequila shots and a beer chaser for each, followed by incoherent rambling about which politicians should be fucked by a cactus, and it would all end with the hazy memory of taking a runny whiskey shit all over a senator's doorstep.
If any of us had heard of Chumbawamba before "Tubthumping," we would have seen their anarchic side. Here's the cover of Tubthumper:
Very '90s. It's bright, a little weird in its abstractness, but mostly harmless. Here's the cover of the album they released three years before that:
Hidden behind that pixelation is a real-life grumpy-looking baby's head as it's being pushed and pulled out of a real vagina, as photographed during a real child birth. It was sold uncensored. The album's title is Anarchy. Here's a link to the uncensored cover if you want to have flashbacks of your ninth-grade health class.
The signs of their anarchism were there, yet somehow we ignored the exploded vagina with an old man creeping out of it.
Manfred Mann's Earth Band, Famous For "Blinded By The Light"
I know Manfred Mann's Earth Band are a definitive one-hit wonder because when I search them on YouTube the first several scrolls down the page consist of nothing but "Blinded By The Light" lyrics videos.
They don't have a song worth standing on its own in a YouTube search besides the one that was a cover of an even more unintelligible Bruce Springsteen song.
The Album It Came From: The Roaring Silence
The Roaring Silence is the album with their one hit song, so I don't even have to check to see if this is their best-selling. It just is. I know this in my bones. And yet, "Blinded By The Light" is the first track. That means there were thousands of people in the late 1970s who heard the album in its entirety one time and then never listened beyond the first track after that. If this indeed happened, there are plenty of reasons.
The running theme you're probably picking up in this column is the vast difference between the style and tone of the hit compared to the rest of the group's songs. When I listen to "Blinded By The Light," I imagine the band in a pickup truck driving from one dank Alabama bar to another, playing shows for good ol' Southern boys. That's not what they are. If a laser could make music, it would make The Roaring Silence. The album wavers between blues-inspired '70s funk rock and the sound of robots blowing raspberries into a microphone.
It turns out these guys are from England, and they were wildly experimental. "Blinded By The Light" was a mirage of Americana because they were singing a song written by a man who is comically American. Bruce Springsteen is a French cartoonist's caricature of working-class America -- always in denim, always with shaggy hair, always with a smudge of engine grease on his face. A funk-less German could sing "Blinded By The Light" and sound like the Constitution came to life and got drunk at karaoke night.
None of this is to say they're a bad band, or even that the album is bad. It was a pretty good listen once I got over the shock of finding out these guys probably didn't sell Confederate flags at their shows. They probably sold, like, crystals and incense and shit. Give it a listen; you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Oh, and he's not saying "douche." It's "Revved up like a deuce." That somehow makes less sense, so go ahead and keep singing "douche."
Eiffel 65, Famous For "Blue (Da Ba Dee)"
This is a great video, guys.
I was lying. I tricked you. I am a rogue.
I remember there were rumors that the guy was saying, "I'm in need of a guy," instead of, "Dadda dee-a dada da." The idea that there might be something gay in it was thrilling to fellow middle school classmates. Faced with mysterious gibberish, people found comfort in applying gayness where there was none. Looking back, that's kind of nice. Still, the song was shit. Though it was incredibly popular, somehow.
There used to be a channel in the U.S. called The Box. It was a 24/7 music video network with no set rotation. Viewers called in and voted for music videos. Whichever got the most votes would play next. I don't want to exaggerate how many times that goddamn song played in a row. If I'm remembering this correctly, and I'm pretty sure I am, I basically had a channel on my TV that played nothing but "Blue (Da Ba Dee)" for a year. That video above. Imagine that video always on, every day, for a length of time that might as well be infinity, every time you flip through the channels.
It was a pre-9/11 world. Things were different.
The Album It Came From: Europop
I should begin by letting you know that Rolling Stone gave this album three out of five stars. That's ... I mean ... what? The reviewer shit on the album for 166 words and ended it all by actually saying, "Like it or not, Europop is the sound of the rest of the world," and then gave it three stars so no one on his upcoming vacation would give him shit. Foreigners can't understand the reviews, but the star-rating system is universal. Anything less than three out of five could get an American deported from most places.
As an album -- look, man. I don't know what you want me to say here. This was a very difficult thing for me to get through. I've felt pain, but never like this. Never like Eiffel 65's Europop. It's an hour of the most perplexing musical choices I've ever encountered.
Every track features the most poorly Auto-Tuned vocals ever recorded. If this were a concept album about a robot with a recording studio in the ocean, I'd applaud it. It's not, though. It just sucks. It never once works. It's always a gargling machine set to awful beats.
Listen to this shit: There's a song on there called "My Console." It's about video games. The Auto-Tune guy opens the song saying, "We're gonna play the game, the PlayStation all day." And then he spends the rest of the song's 4:15 runtime naming video games he likes. I swear to God that happens. Look:
Told you. I'm just as confused as you are. This goes beyond mere "Oh, they're European, the poor things." The chorus is the guy spelling out PlayStation four times in a row. I'm applauding right now.
And then there's "Hyperlink," a song about, I guess, fucking a modem? Whatever. I don't know:
That will be the love song the machines will sing as their techno-tanks crush our bones.
Don't get us wrong: Some supposed one-hit wonders were actually titans of music, unfairly boiled down to one song that got on the radio. Go forth and discover 5 One-Hit Wonders Who Deserve Your Respect! And when you're done rocking out to that, why not discover five more of them?
Also, why does everybody assume musical titans like Radiohead and The Beatles were much, much better at songwriting than Eiffel 65? Before you angrily answer that, consider these 7 Famous Musicians Who Stole Some Of Their Biggest Hits. And if you can handle even more surprises in your pop-fueled life, discover these 6 Hit Songs Written By The Last Person You'd Expect.
And, hey, if you follow Cracked on Tumblr you'll be almost as good at blogging as your 12-year-old niece! Also follow her; she's an amazing blogger!