My music collection wouldn’t be complete without these one hit wonders, and over years of listening they’ve become bands I claim to like, even though I really only like their one song. I’ve almost ended up at Tom Tom Club Shows hundreds of times before remembering that I only know “Genius of Love,” and that going to a band’s show for one song is a choice that rarely works in my favor (although when it does, it really does. Be risky about shows, kids! Just maybe try to listen to two or three songs first.)
Lessons for if you don’t want to be a one hit wonder, based solely on this list: Don’t put punctuation in your band name. And don’t be in the 80’s.
“Genius of Love,” by the Tom Tom Club
I get a weird kick out of music that references other music (recent Ke$ha and Maroon 5 odes to Mick Jagger excluded). When done by an artist I like, it’s like getting a quick peek at their record collection, and sharing a fan moment with someone usually relegated to the other side of that equation. “Genius of Love” references quite a few musicians, even repeating James Brown’s name enough times that the “James BROOOWN, JAMES Brooown” line always gets stuck in my head. If one hit wonders are the one-offs that I can’t imagine my music collection missing, than “Genius of Love” is the music industry’s ultimate one hit wonder. It’s sampled in a hilarious number of (mostly rap) songs, including two of my 90s favorites: “Return of the Mack” by Mark Morrison, and (obviously) “Fantasy” by Mariah Carey. Fun trivia fact: This song was only included in “Stop Making Sense” so that David Byrne could slip away to change into his giant suit.
“Groove is in the Heart,” by Deee-Lite
“Groove is in the Heart” is a magical collage of music. First, there’s Dee-Lite, a dance band that put out what would become the original house music, featuring the notoriously slinky vocals of Lady Miss Kier. Bootsy Collins plays bass guitar, a very young Q-Tip raps, Tina Turner plays the tambourine, funk legends Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley join in, and the whole song revolves around a Herbie Hancock riff. The song features more than 9 samples, one of which is the theme song to Green Acres. Throw in some funny fake French dialogue, an acid trip of a music video, and a ludicrously catchy chorus, and you have one of the world’s most perfect dance songs, prominently featured on many top dance song lists. If you’re looking for something to do, I highly recommend wasting an hour on Wikipedia tracing the various bizarre musical roots of this song, while watching the video on repeat.
“Take on Me,” by A-ha
The three of us were the kind of silly drunk that only budget booze and being eighteen years old can conjure. We were made sillier by our Halloween costumes. Rahnia and I had paced the local discount store for hot glue guns and clothing we could tear and glue into something festive. She was a librarian maybe, or something that required a perfect slash of red lipstick and glasses perched seductively at the end of her nose. I was a fairy, covered in plastic blooms from a beheaded bouquet and yards of gauzy fabric, with big maribou wings stuck to my back. I don’t remember what the third girl wore. In a move that seemed genius, we ditched the last in a series of parties to blast this song and jump on Rahnia’s bed. The song played again and again as we soared through the air, laughing and tumbling, acquiring bruises we would only find hungover the next morning. I was very sure that the world would be a sorry place without the musical stylings of A-ha. Though I have long since retired vodka housed in plastic jugs and homemade fairy wings, I stand by that statement. Life is more fun with A-ha playing, a bed to jump on, and laughing friends to break your fall.
“Voices Carry,” by ‘Til Tuesday
Aimee Mann rocks a platinum, Flock-of-Seagulls ‘do, and her menacing yuppie boyfriend doesn’t like it one bit. He also doesn’t like her rat tail, her cool cuff earrings, her band full of po’faced, long haired guys who look like they’ve forgone the trendy 80s fashions and gone straight for the trendy 80s downer pharmaceuticals. Menacing yuppie boyfriend wants her to be quiet yuppie arm candy. Don’t speak up! Don’t play in your band! Hey, wear these ugly earrings I bought you.
I’ve listened to a lot of Aimee Mann breakup songs. A lot. Almost daily. Mann has a cannon of musical heartbreak. “Voices Carry” stands out though because it’s so raw. Even in a sea of new wave musical stylings, there’s no polish, no clever images and wordplay. That’s not to say it’s not a well written song, it is—it’s just not hiding anything. And Mann seems so incredibly vulnerable: the warble in her voice as she sings “When I tell him that I’m falling in love/ why does he say” as she launches into “Hush hush/keep it down now/voices carry.” The resoluteness when she sings “I try so hard not to get upset/ Because I know all the trouble I’ll get.” In the video, menacing yuppie goes from cartoonish villain in an 80s movie to truly violent, shoving Mann on two separate occasions. It’s hard to watch.
80s Aimee Mann, you’re too cool for all this nonsense. Stay away from scary yuppies. Sing your heart out while you’re sitting in the audience at Carnegie Hall. Don’t pay attention to the shocked old lady or mean boyfriend knudging you. Sing on, Aimee Mann. Keep that cool cuff earring. I’m even warming up to the rat tail.
“What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes
How weird is it that this song is called “What’s Up?” when Linda Perry screams (from the tops of her lungs, no less) “What’s Going On?” over and over again? According to Wikipedia, the title was to stop people from confusing this with Marvin Gaye’s classic “What’s Going On?” I would like to meet the person who would confuse Linda Perry and Marvin Gaye. I have a lot of questions for them, like did they also confuse Taylor Swift and The Cure (Love Song) or when they heard the Counting Crows version of Uncle John’s Band, did they think that guy with the dreadlock filled Bam-Bam ponytail was Jerry Garcia?
When I first heard this, I remember thinking it was really cool that the singer was so angry, and blunt about it, and how I’d never really heard a woman be that aggressive in a song. I thought that was a good thing, and it was something I would go on to seek out in other (better) songs. Now this song sounds pretty dated, and Linda Perry’s vocals are kind of grating. But I dig her combat boots and socks, and the band’s overall early 90s anti establishment look and message. (Fun 90s trivia: Linda Perry is now dating the woman who played Darlene on Roseanne.)