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