What do Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” and The Four Tops’ “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” have in common?
Well, frankly, not a lot besides being, at one point, the most popular song in the country, the latter topping the charts during this week in 1965.
If nothing else, the fact that two such tonally juxtaposed songs could both achieve such widespread pop success demonstrates the unpredictable, tumultuous and downright fickle evolution of pop music.
There have been few constants during the art form’s evolution, except this — there always have been one-hit wonders.
As long as popular music has existed, there have been songs so perfectly catchy and fleeting that the artists who wrote them exist like supernovas, burning the brightest of all before going dark forever.
One-hit wonders are a musical stalwart.
Yet despite holding this important place in the pop music hierarchy, to be referred to as a “one-hit wonder” seems like a pejorative.
I know this because I was recently outraged to find The Verve and Ben Folds Five, two of my favorite bands, listed among a group of one-hit wonders from the 1990s.
What about “Lucky Man?” Did they forget about “Best Imitation of Myself?”
One-hit wonders, my left foot.
The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that there ought to be no shame in being a one-hit wonder.
Only in music and other mainstream art do we expect fellow humans who create something so perfect and successful to regularly produce other such similarly brilliant works.
No one is strolling into Facebook’s headquarters and asking Mark Zuckerburg what else he’s working on.
No one congratulated Jonas Salk for curing polio then, five minutes later, asked if he had anything for sinus infections.
No one pestered Henry Ford for a Model T with a CD changer and power steering.
Musicians ought to be proud of writing even one song that resonates so profoundly with people.
If given a choice between writing a note-for-note perfect song like Semisonic’s “Closing Time” or toiling away in rock ’n’ roll purgatory, I’d be happy to choose the former and so would you.
There’s nothing wrong with making a living doing what you love but looking down your nose at a band or artist who, if only for a moment, achieved the kind of success many only dream of, feels like sour grapes.
If you think writing a song like “How Bizarre” is so easy, I suggest you try it sometime.
This week’s playlist is a celebration of those bands and artists who, like some species of bees, seemed to sting us once really hard then ceased to exist.
Maybe comparing hit songs to bee stings isn’t the best analogy. I mean, no one is allergic to Kajagoogoo’s “Too Shy.” Not medically, anyway.
• Len, “Steal My Sunshine” — Gotta love an artist who takes the time to spell “later.”
• The New Radicals, “You Get What You Give” — I’m not sure what the “dreamer’s disease” is but it doesn’t sound like there’s an antidote.
• Del Amitri, “Roll to Me” — It might be impossible not to like this song.
• Harvey Danger, “Flagpole Sitta” — Good luck getting this song out of your head.
• The Outfield, “Your Love” — The song that “Jessie’s Girl” wishes it was.
• Deep Blue Something, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” — One of the 20th century’s great choruses.
• The Verve Pipe, “The Freshmen” — One of those songs so good you wish you had written it.
• Semisonic, “Closing Time” — Perfect. In every way.