Beyond One-Hit Wonders
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because you’re still not ready to say goodbye to the ’80s and ’90s.
By Beau Dure
“One-hit wonder” conjures up those underdog bands who enjoyed the warmth of the spotlight and ubiquitous airplay for a hot minute. But it can be an uncritical way of glossing over strong careers by musicians whose whole body of work deserves a listen.
A “hit” is a nebulous term, anyway. Plenty of songs and bands can influence pop culture without making a mark on Billboard’s Top 40 chart. One example: Led Zeppelin’s 1971 classic “Stairway to Heaven,” a staple for guitar players and classic rock stations, didn’t hit a Billboard chart until 2006 — when it was a “Hot Ringtone.”
In popular conception, yes, these three bands were “one-hit wonders.” But let’s dig a little deeper.
You know it for “Take On Me” and the clever, technologically advanced (for the time) semianimated video with the guy with the nice smile fighting his way out of a comic book and into a live woman’s heart. We all remember that 1985 hit, but we forget the band’s title theme for the 1987 James Bond film The Living Daylights, and we fail to recognize its global success. A-ha drew 198,000 fans at Maracana Stadium in Brazil in 1991. Just two years ago, band members were made Knights First Class of the Order of St. Olav, which we’ll have to assume is a pretty big deal in Norway.
Also released in 1985, its underappreciated song “The Sun Always Shines on TV” has more of a rock edge than you’d expect, and it hit No. 20 on the U.S. charts. The band retired from music in 2010 with a tour cheekily titled “Ending on a High Note” in a nod to the heights to which Morten Harket can stretch his voice. In this live performance of the song some 30 years later, the keyboards still sparkle, and Harket’s voice has warmth with just a hint of European sophistication.
Its first album, The Crossing, is brilliant throughout, and it yielded the song you’re likely to recognize, “In a Big Country.” Big Country went through a few different styles after that — not all of them featuring guitars imitating bagpipes — and remained popular in Europe through the 1980s, continuing to record through the 1990s.
Tragically, troubled lead singer and guitarist Stuart Adamson disappeared in 2001 and was found dead in December, having taken his own life. The remaining three members did a full-fledged reunion a few years later and recorded a new album with Mike Peters, of fellow ’80s British band The Alarm, on vocals. Today the band is soldiering on with new singer Simon Hough.
This overlooked track comes from 1995. “You Dreamer” is a searing, sympathetic and occasionally witty plea for those who’ve fallen onto hard times to get their lives back on track. Adamson’s earnest voice is in great form and is now sorely missed.
Part rock band, part performance art concept, Devo took its name from the concept of “de-evolution,” a rather depressing idea that mankind is actually regressing. Rather than whine about it, the band often acts like robots doing twisted punk rock songs — like a more cynical, less human version of Blue Man Group.
Band members have scattered into different projects through the decades, but the classic lineup (minus drummer Alan Myers) recorded Something for Everybody in 2010 and has made a few concert appearances in recent years. Sadly, Myers died in 2013, as did guitarist/keyboardist Bob Casale in February, but the band plays on, having done a couple of shows with Arcade Fire this past August.
Here’s a live performance of the band’s unofficial theme song, and no, it’s not “Whip It.”