The One After the One-Hit Wonder

Success can be so fleeting. Just ask these artists

The One After the One-Hit Wonder
They did their best, but they guess their best wasn't good enough

For something most people spend most of their lives striving for, success is actually pretty fucking dull — and for proof, we need look no further than the discographies of countless recording artists whose biggest hits often tend to rank among their least interesting efforts. Never mind gold and platinum certifications, I say — I would much rather spend time digging into the stuff that was poised to be a smash, only no one showed up to complete the transaction.

With that in mind, I'll be spending today taking a look at ten singles that followed smash hits from artists who turned out to be one-hit wonders. As often tends to be the case with one-hit wonders, there will be scribblings in the margins along the way — but all in all, I suspect most of these songs will either be brand new to you or barely remembered tracks on albums you purchased because of that one hit, barely listened to, and have long since discarded.

Let's begin.

"Ain't No Crime," Positive K
Anointed by the scepter of Big Daddy Kane, Positive K broke through in a big way with 1992's The Skills Dat Pay da Bills. I'm being generous with "big way," given that the album ventured no higher than No. 50 on the R&B charts and barely scraped the lower rungs of the Top 200 Albums chart, but the album did spin off a certified hit single in the No. 14 "I Got a Man." A classic back-and-forth hip-hop track that finds K's attempts to woo continually rebuffed by the young lady he wishes to take home, it was an easy sell for program directors who'd already made hip-hop safe for the suburbs with acts like Young MC, MC Hammer, and Digital Underground. Unfortunately, even though Positive K was not without talent or an inventive streak, that was absolutely all the Hot 100 wanted to do with him; his follow-up single, "Ain't No Crime," didn't even chart. It did peak at No. 16 on the rap chart, but that was pretty much it; he's continued releasing singles and albums, but most of those releases have gone largely unnoticed. This may be a shame: "Ain't No Crime" really ain't bad.

"The Kid's American," Matthew Wilder
Some flames burn for a long time; others burn hot and fade out fast. Matthew Wilder belongs solidly to the latter camp — the leadoff track and first single from his debut album, 1983's I Don't Speak the Language, turned out to be his signature (and only real) hit. I'm talking, of course, about "Break My Stride," which is one of those songs you absolutely know even though you may not know who wrote and recorded it; a Top 5 hit, it seemed likely to be only the first in a volley of hits from the only singer-songwriter brave enough to take a rowboat to China. This turned out to be decidedly not the case — his follow-up single, "The Kid's American," sputtered out at No. 33 — but don't feel bad for Wilder. As you may already be aware, he went on to do some pretty impressive stuff, including producing No Doubt's Tragic Kingdom and co-writing the soundtrack to Mulan, effectively creating the template for similarly quickly hit-afflicted artists like Robbie Nevil. That being said, this song kind of sucks; it isn't hard to see why radio turned its back on Matthew Wilder as quickly as it did. (Also, he may not have been made for the video age.)

"Halo," Deep Blue Something
Some artists are exiled into one-hit wonderdom in senselessly brutal fashion, left to toil unfairly in obscurity until future generations come around to the notion that subsequent efforts really should have been more popular. Other artists have a hit that's so annoying and/or annoyingly pervasive that they're generally thought of as not only a one-hit wonder, but effectively a one-single act. (See: Bega, Lou.) I think we can confidently file Deep Blue Something in the latter camp; despite notching a Top 5 hit with "Breakfast at Tiffany's," their debut LP was clogging used CD shelves before the year was out. Perhaps understanding on some level that the jig was already up, Interscope execs just moved one down on the track listing when they picked the follow-up single, the mercifully brief "Halo." This song, like everything else the band has released since, failed to chart.

"Mona Lisa Smiles," Jane Child
I don't know a lot about maintaining a career as a recording artist, but I know this much: When you score a No. 2 hit with a dance-pop hit like Jane Child did with "Don't Wanna Fall in Love," you absolutely do not want to take several years to deliver the follow-up, and you also do not want it to sound absolutely nothing like the song people think of when they see your name. Give credit to the maniacs at Warner Bros. for letting Child do whatever the hell she wanted with her sophomore LP, Here Not There, but all parties involved had to know that there was no radio format on Earth where "Mona Lisa Smiles" was going to find a home. In fact, it smacks of some A&R executive throwing up their hands and saying "Fuck it, fine, give her what she wants." It would take nearly a decade for Child to return with her next LP; more than 20 years later, that third outing remains her most recent full-length effort.

"Still Got This Thing," Alannah Myles
Canada's answer to Pat Benatar, Alannah Myles topped the American charts — for two weeks, no less! — in 1990 with "Black Velvet," a vaguely bluesy number seemingly designed to play on the jukebox during any contemporaneous film or TV scene taking place in an allegedly tough pool hall or bar. U.S. program directors' love affair with Myles proved brutally short-lived, as her follow-up single, the hopefully titled "Still Got This Thing," failed to chart. (It did go Top 30 in Canada and New Zealand.)

"Keeper of the Flame," Martin Page
For the most part, it's relatively easy to drop the Billboard Top 40 into era-defined buckets, but there are always outliers — and Martin Page's "In the House of Stone and Light" is a prime example. Like a sort of Peter Gabriel with training wheels, Page blended adult contemporary stylings and vaguely exotic flourishes into an easily palatable hash, and was rewarded with a Top 20 single for his efforts during an era whose Hot 100 was largely inhospitable to songs one might hear while on hold with their bank or booming through the rolled-up windows of an administrative assistant's sedan. The magic did not last — follow-up single "Keeper of the Flame" died at No. 83 — but don't feel too bad for Martin; he was already flush with mailbox money after co-writing "We Built This City" for Starship and "These Dreams" for Heart. (He also co-wrote "Fallen Angel" with Robbie Robertson, which is not a bad calling card.)

"Gravity," Brenda Russell
It's only fair for me to note that in point of fact, Brenda Russell scored a Top 40 hit with "So Good, So Right" roughly a decade before she released her defining single, 1988's "Piano in the Dark." (Because I want to, I will also note that "Piano in the Dark" features a prominent vocal assist from Joe "Bean" Esposito, who was notably interviewed by yours truly and forever Friend of Jefitoblog Jason Hare on account of his deathless classic "You're the Best," but that is technically neither here nor there.) Anyway, Brenda Russell is incredibly talented — arguably too talented for any chart in any format on any planet — so it only stands to reason that her moment in the commercial sun was relatively brief. That said, "Gravity" is also a lumpy microwave burrito of a follow-up single; it's difficult to understand what label execs were thinking when they tabbed this as the next step in their plan for Russell's global domination. Alas and also alack.

"Rhapsody in Blue," Deodato
Okay, this motherfucker is fascinating. Not only did he have an outlandishly successful (albeit meteorically brief) career as a purveyor of singles that discofied well-known songs, he also produced and played with an eclectic slew of artists that includes Kool and the Gang, Roberta Flack, Fun Lovin' Criminals, and Chuck Mangione. All of which is to say that Deodato is a hell of a lot more than the clown who gave us a novelty disco spin on "Also Sprach Zarathustra," although he didn't really do a great job of demonstrating that with the follow-up single, which was a disco spin on "Rhapsody in Blue." This is kind of funny for the first three minutes; unfortunately, the full track is more than eight minutes long. I dunno, maybe Tony Manero might have been on board. Me, I'd rather listen to a less funky treatment, which is something I hardly ever say about anything.

"Rock It," Lipps Inc.
There are some artists whose first big single is just so damn perfect that they've doomed themselves to one-hit wonderdom from the start, and I think I'd have to put Lipps Inc. in that camp. Could a person possibly improve on "Funkytown"? Friends, I submit that the only true answer to that question is a hearty "no." Unfortunately, the group's label was obliged to try and keep the party going anyway, which they did with "Rock It," a song that had already failed to chart the year before and rose no higher than No. 60 in the wake of "Funkytown." It's fine for what it is — I guess I can envision people roller-skating to it — but its predecessor cast a long, boogie-friendly shadow that it absolutely failed to escape.

"Are You Lonely for Me," The Rude Boys
It was released in late 1990, but I would still argue that "Written All Over Your Face" by the Rude Boys is a perfect single for early 1991 — it sounds like a Z. Cavaricci suit come to life, and yet it also fit comfortably into playlists alongside Amy Grant and Jesus Jones and "Voices That Care." That track went to No. 1 on the R&B charts and so did its follow-up; unfortunately, Top 40 program directors were really only interested in "Written All Over Your Face," as "Are You Lonely for Me" — and all subsequent Rude Boys singles — failed to chart on the Hot 100. In retrospect, I can't say as I blame those program directors; "Are You Lonely for Me" is fine for what it is, but what it is sounds like about a billion other slickly produced slow jams from the era. I think I'm going to turn this off and play "Written All Over Your Face."