Wednesday, August 03, 2011

iTunes Has Failed Me, You And 34 Recording Artists

The picture you are looking at is real.  Just saw it a few minutes ago.  Sounds like a great deal, huh?  You can see a listing for it here at the iTunes page.  But the whole concept of a collection of '80s One-Hit Wonders starts to unravel quickly.  I've written about it, talked about it ad-nauseum on the show and, for some reason, someone missed the lesson.  So, I'm going to take a deep breath and calmly explain for those uninitiated.

I've always loathed the term "one-hit wonder."  Let's break the phrase down to its components, shall we?
  • 'One' -- meaning less than two and more than none.  It's specific.
  • 'Hit' -- meaning to impact.  Which is so much less specific (I actually dedicate a section of the upcoming book to this as well.)  In music, it often refers to charts but this is also ambiguous as there are local, national and international charts for a multitude of genres for radio airplay and sales.
  • 'Wonder' -- meaning to be curious about, to marvel or to be filled with amazement, admiration or awe. 
So, what does that leave us with?  To 'be curious or filled with awe at a recording artist's only (one) charting song.'  One could try to derive that it is being amazed at one artist having a hit but... that would be most musicians.  We'll dismiss that idea entirely.  Yet, there are many examples of true 'one-hit wonders' that fit that previous description.  I don't plan on listing them here.

What I will do, is bring you back to that link I started with above.  '80s One-Hit Wonders, a collection of 35 songs for sale at iTunes for 69 cents each.  I'm not upset about selling songs cheaply.  But I am upset about cheapening songs or the artists themselves.

We'll narrow our scope a bit.  To start off with the first track, we could excuse the listing of Nena's "99 Luftballons" if we were to say our criteria were based solely on the U.S. charts (but it is notable that she had this #1 and two #2 singles in Germany off her debut album.)

Track two is Midnight Oil's "Beds Are Burning."  Using Billboard's U.S. charts, the band scored 3 hits from that album on the U.S. Hot 100, U.S. Mainstream Rock Tracks and U.S. Modern Rock Tracks charts.  Let's give iTunes a break here.  Let's just count the most accepted and universal of the charts, the U.S. Hot 100.  "Beds Are Burning" was a #17 hit.  The preceding single, "The Dead Heart," went to #53.  Just boggles the mind doesn't it.  They even scored a #47 hit on that chart in 1990 with "Blue Sky Mine."  But, the collection is about the 1980s, so we can exclude that one.  We may even have to give another break to the compiler as maybe they are only considering the Top 40.  Heck, that's what Casey Kasem used to count down, right?

Track three is Warrant's "Cherry Pie."  Which was a #10 hit... in 1990.  Ooops!  A bigger 'ooops' is that it wasn't even their biggest hit.  In 1989, "Heaven" would go to #2 on the U.S. Hot 100.  And, if the criteria is Top 40, then Warrant's 1989 #27 hit, "Down Boys," would disqualify them from 'one-hit wonderdom' for that decade.  Yet, they didn't even include a song from the '80s.  Sad.  But, again, let's adjust the criteria in hopes to help iTunes out.  Maybe, they think the decade started with 1981 and went to 1990.  Let's humor them.

Track four is Bananarama's "Cruel Summer" which was a #9 hit on the U.S. Hot 100 in 1983.  Doing pretty good so far.  Until their 1986 #1 single, "Venus," rears its ugly head.  (Nothing can feel more contrarian than putting Venus and ugly in the same sentence.  "Goddess of beauty and love...")  Heck, even 1987's "I Heard A Rumour" went higher at #4.  I don't know how much more I can stretch the boundaries of '80s 'one-hit wonder', do you?

Track five is Cutting Crew's "(I Just) Died In Your Arms."  The 1986 #1 hit seems like a safe bet.  But, if we are thinking Top 40, it fails.  That doesn't hold up even if we said Top 10 as their 1987 single, "I've Been In Love Before," went to #9.

Track six was a #1 hit and safe choice with Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy."  The follow-up single, "Thinking About Your Body," only went to #46 in the U.K.

Track seven is The Human League's "Don't You Want Me."  The 1981 #1 hit seems like a safe choice, right?  If we are looking only at Top 10, (even though the aforementioned "Beds Are Burning" didn't achieve that height) it seems to overlook the group's 1986 #1 hit, "Human," and 1983's #8 hit "(Keep Feeling) Fascination."  'One-hit wonder', just say it with me for a moment.  The whole concept fell apart awhile ago here but I think we can sink the idea around song 7.  But let's belabor the point a little longer.

Further tracks on the album include:

  • Men At Work's "Down Under" (a #1 hit that followed up another #1 hit, "Who Can It Be Now?, and also saw them score a #3 with "Overkill" and #6 with "It's A Mistake"... kinda like this list)
  • Paul Young's "Everytime You Go Away (Single Version)" (a #1 hit but had other hits going to #8, #13, #22 and #45)
  • Irene Cara's "Fame" (a #4 hit but had a #1 hit with "Flashdance...What A Feeling" in 1983, a #8 with "Breakdance" the following year and 3 other Top 40 hits)
  • Tom Tom Club's "Genius Of Love" (a #31 hit and only one on that chart but have 3 other Top 5 hits on the U.S. Dance chart)
  • Ray Parker, Jr.'s "Ghostbusters" (a #1 hit but he also had two #4 hits with 1981's "A Woman Needs Love (Just Like You Do)" and 1982's "The Other Woman" as well as 6 other Top 40 hits)
  • Fine Young Cannibals' "Good Thing" (a #1 hit but, then again, so was "She Drives Me Crazy")
  • Thompson Twins' "Hold Me Now" (a #3 hit but also had a #6 with "Lay Your Hands On Me" and #8 with "King For A Day" as well as 4 other Top 40 hits)
  • A Flock Of Seagulls' "I Ran (So Far Away)" (a #9 hit but also had singles go to #26, #30 and #56)
  • Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy" (a #62 hit but had a #77 in '83 with "Do You Wanna Hold Me?")
  • DJ EZ Rock & Rob Base's "It Takes Two" (a #36 hit but 1988's "Joy And Pain" went to #58)
  • Club Nouveau's "Lean On Me" (a #1 hit but had a #39 with "Why You Treat Me So Bad" in '87)
  • The Dream Academy's "Life In A Northern Town" (a #7 hit but had a #36 with "The Love Parade"
  • The Psychedelic Furs' "Love My Way" (a #44 hit but 1986's "Pretty In Pink" went to #41 and 1987's "Heartbreak Beat" outcharted them both going to #26)
  • Toni Basil's "Mickey" (a #1 hit but she also had a #77 with "Shoppin' From A To Z")
  • Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" (Arguing the merits of Rick Astley is painful.  Sure, this is a #1 hit but, Hello!, so was 1988's "Together Forever" and he had 3 other Top 10 hits)
  • UB40's "Red, Red Wine" (a #1 hit but also had a #28 single with "I Got You Babe" featuring Chrissie Hynde in 1985)
  • Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me With Science" (a #5 hit but had a #62 and #67 hit)
  • The Tubes' "She's A Beauty" (a #10 hit but also had a #35 with "Don't Want To Wait Anymore" in 1981)
  • Corey Hart's "Sunglasses At Night" (a #7 hit but 1985's "Never Surrender" went to #3)
  • J.J. Fad's "Supersonic" (a #30 hit but they also had a #61 hit with "Way Out" in 1988)
  • Berlin's "Take My Breath Away" (a #1 but also had a #23 with "No More Words")
  • Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse Of The Heart" (a #1 but also had a #34 with "Holding Out For A Hero"
  • Martika's "Toy Soldiers" (a #1 but she also had a #18 with "More Than You Know" in '88)
  • Bananarama's "Venus" (hello again ladies... hmmm... funny how they can list a 'one-hit wonder' twice!!!)
  • Toad The Wet Sprocket's "Walk On The Ocean" (1992 #18 hit... ooops)
  • Katrina And The Waves' "Walking On Sunshine" (a #9 but had a #16 with '89's "That's The Way")
  • The Romantics' "What I Like About You" (a #49 hit chosen over the #3 hit "Talking In Your Sleep)
  • Loverboy's "Working For The Weekend" (hmmm... so the other 5 songs that charted higher than this #29 hit didn't count).
Ok, the fact that I went through all 35 tracks on this collection could be overkill but I wanted you to see how insane even trying to call some of these songs 'one-hit wonders' would be.  I'd love to say that if they called them '80s U.S. Top 10 One-Hit Wonders that it would be alright but no matter what criteria you use, this list is a fails on too many levels.  Maybe calling some acts 'one-hit makers' sounded too dull, drab and discardable that they needed to spruce it up a bit.  Then it became hard to fill the category.  It has often been said that 'history is written by the winners' but I would go so far as to say that history is written by the people that write history.  If you pigeon-hole an artist as a 'one-hit wonder', people start focusing on only that hit.  Time will do the rest.  It's sad and disturbing.  And now you know why I avoid the term entirely.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Happy 30th, MTV!!!

So, with that announcement out of the way last week, I can talk about how numerology plays a part in things.  MTV was launched 30 years ago today.  Last week, I turned 40.  Meaning, I was 10 years old when Music Television came into being.  Yes, I spent over a decade celebrating, researching and sharing news and information about that decade.  It only makes sense that I would have to finish work on the book about the decade before the end of the year... I mean, just look at all those 'zeroes'.  They speak volumes to me.  I digress.  This was supposed to focus on a birthday.  So I'll share my experience with the channel. 

I discovered MTV late.  Well, not really late.  I really was 'raised on radio'.  Yet, I was spending the night at a friend's house (I think his name was Matt W. but I won't condemn him) when I first glimpsed a music video.  I was in awe!  I begged my parents to get cable.  That didn't work.  They were late adopters.  I mean, we didn't get our Atari until Ms. Pac-man came with it.  Anyhow, I'd have to steal moments at other people's houses until we finally got Music Television.

I've told listeners before that I was an avid Casey Kasem listener.  There is something about countdowns related to charts and the battle for the top spot that thrilled me.  Ok, it was mainly the trivia that came along before Casey would play the song.  So, watching MTV's weekly countdowns became just as important later on.  But, none more than what happened on July 13, 1985.

Summer vacation was in full swing.  We were on our way up to Idaho to spend time with my grandparents and aunt.  Actually, it wasn't so bad there in their little town as they had this funky dish pointing at the sky with hundreds of channels... including MTV.  (Where I first caught the premiere of Falco's "Jeanny" video.)  Anyhow, here we are on this trip.  For some reason, my family decided to stay a day or so in the itty-bitty town we kept blowing through on every trip to Idaho.  But, I'm content... they have MTV in the hotel.  My brothers and sister were down playing in the pool and I was glued to the television screen watching something called Live Aid.  I don't know how I got away with watching that much uninterrupted TV but seeing some of my 'radio' heroes on stage trying to make a difference meant something... means something to this day.

I was born to be on their music video-related game show, Remote Control.  Never got the chance.  I also waited anxiously for MTV Music News with Kurt Loder.  The man knew his stuff.  Heck, that could be a reason for me taking music journalism seriously.  Hmmm...

There was also something called 120 Minutes that seared a place in my skull.  Alternative music was defined differently back then.  You see, 'alternative' was what wasn't being played on the radio -- making it the alternative to what was out there.  Many genres filled this area (of which some became favorites of mine) but it could all be lumped into the college rock banner as well.  Heck, where else would bands like Public Enemy, Morrissey, Mudhoney, Public Image Ltd., the Ramones, 3rd Base, They Might Be Giants, the Replacements or many others be seen?  It was 120 Minutes that gave me variety and view of what was beyond 'pop.'

I dedicate part of a chapter of the upcoming book to MTV for taking a bunch of musicians and making them bigger than a radio wave.  Breaking artists that wouldn't normally get heard, breaking some that probably shouldn't have been heard or prolonging careers that maybe shouldn't have been -- the network did more to change the trajectory of music than any force during the decade.  It may have also been it's worst enemy.  Many imitators arose (many a local UHF station was launched under the guise of a 'free' music video channel, weekend video shows like Friday Night Videos and Night Flight, Canada's MuchMusic and scores of others) and eventually they changed what the M in MTV stood for.  But, what a run it was.  A history worthy of singing a little "Video Killed The Radio Star" or "Money For Nothing" to celebrate a 30th birthday for it, isn't it?