A Flaming One-Hit Wonder That Burned Out Quickly

A “Turntable Talk” contribution

Dave from A Sound Day blog has a great recurring feature titled Turntable Talk, for which he invites fellow bloggers to contribute their thoughts about a given topic. This time it was “Wonderful One Hit Wonders.” Following is my submission.

Thanks for inviting me back to Turntable Talk. When I saw the topic, one of the first one-hit wonders that came to my mind was Venus by Dutch rock band Shocking Blue. I’ve always loved that late ‘60s tune and thought it would be a good pick for this post – except it turned out Shocking Blue weren’t really a one-hit wonder.

Yes, it’s fair to say the group is best remembered for Venus. Plus, it was their only hit in the U.S., U.K. and Australia. But not so in their home country The Netherlands where in addition to Venus, a no. 2, Shocking Blue scored eight other top 10 hits, including a no. 1 (Never Marry a Railroad Man).

This poses the question what’s the definition of a one-hit wonder. According to Wikipedia, music journalist Wayne Jancik in The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders defined a one-hit wonder as “an act that has won a position on [the] national, pop, Top 40 record chart just once.” Wikipedia also notes, “one-hit wonders are usually exclusive to a specific market, either a country or a genre; a performer may be a one-hit wonder in one such arena, but have multiple hits (or no hits) in another.” I guess Shocking Blue would fall under that second more refined definition.

To me, a true one-hit wonder is an artist or a band who had one top 40 hit only, no matter in which music market(s). They also should have been around at least for a few years, so they had a real opportunity to score another hit. Some examples fitting that definition include Tommy Tutone (867-5309/Jenny), Zager & Evans (In the Year 2525), Norman Greenbaum (Spirit in the Sky), The Youngbloods (Get Together) and Ace (How Long). While each of the aforementioned one-hit wonders would have been a great to highlight, I decided to go with the God of Hellfire: The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Fire.

Fire was co-written by Brown and Crazy World of Arthur Brown keyboarder Vincent Crane, and is also credited to British songwriters Mike Finesilver and Peter Ker. The tune first appeared in June 1968 as a single in the UK and on the English rock band’s eponymous debut album. Fire topped the charts in the U.K. and Canada and climbed to no. 2 in the U.S. Elsewhere, it reached no. 3 in Belgium, Germany and Switzerland, no. 4 in The Netherlands and no. 7 in Austria.

The album was produced by Kit Lambert, the manager of The Who. Pete Townshend was credited as associate producer. After three years during which The Crazy World of Arthur Brown had been, well, on fire, sharing bills with the likes of The Who, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Small Faces and Joe Cocker, they burned out and broke up in 1970. While the band reunited in 2000 and remains active with the now 80-year God of Hellfire, they never came anywhere close to repeating the success of Fire – nowhere in the world, after so many years, making them a true one-hit wonder with a pretty cool song!

Following are some additional tidbits on Fire from Songfacts:

Growing up in England after World War II, Brown spent a lot of time around people whose lives were destroyed by the war, many of whom suffered from PTSD or other difficulties. When he started making music, instead of writing about girls, cars or relationships, he came up with a concept of an inner journey, developing a story about a man who faces his demons, heading into a figurative fire. Along this journey, he encounters the “God of Hellfire,” who shows up in “Prelude/Nightmare,” the first track on The Crazy World of Arthur Brown concept album. As the man enters the inferno, he finds himself deep in a psychedelic trip, which is described in the second track, “Fanfare/Fire Poem.”

As he falls into an abyss, the character returns, telling him: “I am the god of hellfire, and I bring you… Fire.”

This marks the beginning of the song “Fire,” where our hero is taken to burn. While it works best within the concept of the album, it also serves as a standalone track, as the lyric on its own can be interpreted as a story about a man facing up to his past. Running 2:52 with the ear-catching spoken intro, it was a tasty, digestible slice of a much more complex work.

Brown often performed this song while wearing a flaming hat…Brown got the idea for his flaming helmet after spotting a crown with candles in his Paris hotel. He was experimenting with makeup, costumes and other theatrical elements at the time, and when he tried on the crown, it sparked his imagination [Don’t try this at home – CMM].

Pete Townshend played a part in this song. The Who guitarist saw Brown perform at the UFO Club in London, and got Brown a deal with Track Records, the label owned by Townshend’s manager, Kit Lambert, to record The Crazy World of Arthur Brown album. Lambert produced the album and Townshend, who later covered “Fire” as part of his 1989 musical The Iron Man, is credited as associate producer. Townshend and Brown worked together again when they appeared in the 1975 movie Tommy, where Brown played The Priest.

Somehow, two other songwriters ended up listed on the credits to this song: Michael Finesilver and Peter Ker. Some sources say it was over a lawsuit claiming their song “Baby, You’re a Long Way Behind” was too similar to “Fire,” but there appears to be no record of that song, which doesn’t show up on writer’s credits for either Finesilver or Ker. The connection could be with an artist called Elli (Elli Meyer), who released a single called “Never Mind” in 1967 that was written by Finesilver and Ker and featured piano by Vincent Crane.

There you have it. BTW, did I mention that one of my previous shock rock picks, Boy Meets Girl, also were a one-hit wonder with Waiting For a Star to Fall? And you thought I would never ever mention that bloody tune again!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

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It’s Only A Cover But I Like It

The Rolling Stones done by other artists

Cover versions of songs can be intriguing and sometimes even better than the originals. An example of the latter I always come back to is Joe Cocker’s incredible rendition of With a Little Help From My Friends. There are also other great covers of Beatles tunes. Fellow blogger Hanspostcard is currently dedicating an entire series to this topic, titled Under The Covers: Other Artists Covering Beatles Songs. In part, it was his great series that inspired the idea for this post. Since I already wrote about covers of Fab Four tunes, I decided to focus on another of my all time favorite bands: The Rolling Stones.

While I figured it shouldn’t be very difficult to find renditions of Stones tunes by other artists, I only knew a handful of covers and wasn’t sure what else I would find. It turned out that seven of the 10 covers I ended up selecting for this post were new to me. My picks span the Stones’ music from the ’60s and early ’70s, which is I generally feel is their best period. All tunes were written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Let’s get to it.

The Grass Roots/Tell Me

Kicking it off are The Grass Roots, an American rock band that has been around since 1965. Their debut studio album Where Were You When I Needed You from October 1966 featured a few covers including Tell Me, a tune that first appeared on The Rolling Stones’ eponymous debut album in the UK released in April 1964. The U.S. version, which had a slightly different track list, appeared six weeks later.

Mekons/Heart of Stone

In 1988, British post punk rock band Mekons released their seventh studio album So Good It Hurts. It included this nice rendition of Heart of Stone, a Stones tune that first came out in December 1964 as a U.S. single. It also was included on the U.S. and U.K. albums The Rolling Stones, Now! (February 1965) and Out of Our Heads (September 1965), respectively.

The Who/The Last Time

After Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had been busted and imprisoned on drug charges in 1967, their friends The Who went to the studio to record a single intended to help them make bail: The Last Time, backed by Under My Thumb. Even though everything was done in a great rush, by the time the single hit the stores, the Glimmer Twins already had been released. Since John Entwistle was away on his honeymoon, he gave his okay to proceed without him. Pete Townshend ended up overdubbing the bass parts. Initially, The Last Time was the first original The Rolling Stones song released as a single in the UK in February 1965, yielding their third no. 1 hit on the Singles Chart. It came out in the U.S. two weeks later, reaching no. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Alexis Korner/Get Off Of My Cloud

Alexis Korner, who has rightfully been called “a founding father of British blues,” had a major influence on the British music scene in the 1960s. His band Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated was a breeding ground for UK musicians who at various times included artists like Jack Bruce, Graham Bond, Ginger Baker, Cyril Davies, as well as then-future Rolling Stones members Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts. Get Off Of My Cloud became the title track of Korner’s 1975 studio album. Originally, the Stones released the song as the follow-on single to (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction in September 1965, matching that tune’s previous chart-topping success in the U.S., UK and Germany. Get Off Of My Cloud was also included on the Stones’ fifth U.S. album December’s Children (And Everybody’s) released in December that year.

Melanie/Ruby Tuesday

Ruby Tuesday has been among my favorite Stones tunes for a long time. I also think the cover by American singer-songwriter Melanie is among the most compelling renditions of Stones songs. Melanie’s great version first appeared on her third studio album Candles in the Rain from April 1970 and was also released as a single in December of the same year. The Stones recorded the original for their 1967 studio album Between the Buttons that appeared in January and February that year in the UK and U.S., respectively. The song also became the album’s lead single and another no. 1 hit in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. In the UK, it climbed to no. 3 on the Singles Chart.

Molly Tuttle/She’s a Rainbow

While I’ve featured Molly Tuttle’s version of She’s a Rainbow before, I simply couldn’t resist including it in this post as well. Similar to Ruby Tuesday and Melanie, the tune represents both one of my favorite Rolling Stones songs and one of the greatest renditions I know. Tuttle, an incredibly talented acoustic guitarist, included it on her most recent album …but i’d rather be with you, which came out in August 2020. She’s a Rainbow first appeared on Their Satanic Majesties Request, a studio album the Stones put out in December 1967. Two weeks after its release, it also became the record’s second single.

Bettye LaVette/Salt of the Earth

Here’s another really cool cover: Salt of the Earth by American vocalist Bettye LaVette, who has touched many genres, including soul, blues, rock & roll, funk, gospel and country. She recorded Salt of the Earth for an album titled Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook and released in May 2010. The soul and gospel vibe is perfect for this tune, which the Stones included on their Beggars Banquet album from December 1968.

Larry McCray/Midnight Rambler

Larry McCray is an American blues guitarist and singer, who has been active since the ’80s and released his debut album Ambition in 1990. I had not heard of him before. His cover of Midnight Rambler is included on a Stones tribute album from August 2002, which is called All Blues’d Up: Songs of The Rolling Stones. I haven’t listened to the rest of the album yet, but based on the track list and other participating artists, it surely looks intriguing. The Stones recorded Midnight Rambler for their studio album Let It Bleed that came out in December 1969. According to Wikipedia, Keith Richards has called it “the quintessential Jagger-Richards song.”

Santana/Can’t You Hear Me Knocking (feat. Scott Weiland)

Now we’ve come to Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, a gem from what I consider to be the best Stones album: Sticky Fingers released in April 1971. Carlos Santana covered the tune on his 21st studio album Guitar Heaven from September 2010, a compilation of classic rock covers featuring many guest vocalists: In this case, Scott Weiland, former lead vocalist of Stone Temple Pilots. Weiland who had struggled with addiction and other health issues for many years died in December 2015 from a drug overdose.

The Pointer Sisters/Happy

I’d like to wrap up this post on a happy note, literally, with a great rendition of Happy by The Pointer Sisters. It was included on their sixth studio album Priority, which came out in September 1979 and was their second foray into rock. Their first was predecessor Energy from November 1978, which among others featured one of their biggest hits: Fire, the Bruce Springsteen tune. Originally, Happy appeared on what many Stones fans consider the band’s best album: Exile on Main St. from May 1972. Happy, backed by All Down the Line, also became the record’s second single in July 1972.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube