Top 5 One Hit Wonders (by Claire)

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.)

Get to Know: Aimee Mann (by Claire)

Lets imagine Aimee Mann through the lens of high school: Aimee Mann is that girl who was so cool, she operated outside of the tiered social ecosystem on a higher plane of obscure-show-going, French-cigarette-smoking, leather-jacket-sporting-coolness.  If Elvis Costello is the frenetic young teacher who you keep running into at sweaty clubs in the city, Aimee Mann is snapping her gum in the front row, reeking of cigarettes and writing an essay on Patti Smith. (Joshua, if you’re reading this, we’re doing a series called “Musical High School.” Although it’s going to be hard for Aimee to write that essay when Patti Smith is the guidance counselor)

In bands like Young Snakes and ‘Til Tuesday, Mann dabbled in punk and new wave. As a solo artist, she is a classic singer songwriter. A consistent pleasure to listen to, her lyrics are meticulous, each song a heady combination of story, bite, and clear pop sensibilities delivered in smart, poignant packages.

(Also, remember the girl in “The Big Lebowski” who donates her little toe in the name of the nihilists’ Lebowski-extorting cause? Yeah, that’s Aimee Mann. See what I mean about her level of cool?)

“4th of July,” on Whatever

Aimee Mann captures that moment, long after the embers of your breakup have gone out, when you still take sad pleasure in imagining that, one day, the person who broke your heart will pay for it. Not in some explosive way, no anvils falling on heads followed by spinning cartoon birds (What, that’s not where your head goes post breakup?) It’s a glimpse at what you’ll never see: A person who is mourning the loss of you, even though it’s too late. Mann sets this scene during the 4th of July, rendering festivities and fireworks as nothing but “A waste of gunpowder and sky.”

One summer, I had to wait tables on the 4th of July. I had worked 10 shifts in 6 days, as had the Sous-Chef manning the kitchen, and we both had the grey pallor and sad eyes of people who hadn’t slept, or shaken off a hangover, in several days. One by one the other servers skipped off to a raucous party in the city as we waited on the last two tables. Then, a glimmering moment of hope: We heard fireworks! The restaurant was empty enough that we could race outside to watch them without getting in trouble. Except we were in a courtyard, and the towering circle of apartment building blocked the lights, so we could only hear them. We were like a couple of kids on Christmas who bounded downstairs to find a tree loaded with coal.

After work I drank beer and listened to this song about 20 times. I quit a week later.

“That’s Just What You Are,” on I’m with Stupid

The lyrics to this song read like a form poem: rhymes criss-crossing each line, slant rhymes scattered throughout. Sonically, this song is so light and poppy that it’s easy to miss it’s biting anger, directed at a lover who can’t bother to “be a nicer guy.” I love a seething song delivered with a smile. Mann pulls this task off admirabley.

“Save Me,” on Bachelor No. 2, or, the Last Remains of the Dodo

Have you ever listened to Top 40 radio? Then you’ve heard one of a thousand songs by poptarts du jour on the topic of heartbreak and needing a Prince Charming.

When Aimee Mann takes on these topics, she doesn’t lean on dribbley sadness or damsels in distress. Her damsel is a girl in need of a tourniquet. Her song is dark with a rock and roll edge, yet catchy. Her references are less fairy tale, more hunger strikes and Super Man. She captures loneliness and vulnerability and pairs it with a chorus that will spin through your head for days.

“Little Bombs,” on The Forgotten Arm

“Little Bombs” is laced with rich images, and showcases a few of Aimee Mann’s linguistic gifts: imagery, wordplay, and metaphor. The melody is haunting and complex, yet still carries that trademark accessible, pop-like quality that is Mann’s bread and butter.

My first job out of college was a nightmare, one that I soundtracked with a rediscovered penchant for female singer songwriters. Aimee Mann, Tegan and Sara, Laura Viers, Kate Nash, Patti Smith—they played in the background as I made neat stacks of copies, fielded phone calls, and tumbled towards one long, dark anxiety attack. At the time, I felt like this song described how I felt: explosively sad, but so accustomed to it that the sadness had grown dull and placid, a sentiment best captured in the line “Life just seems to empty out/ Less a deluge than a drought.”

“Phoenix,” on Fucking Smilers

Aimee uses a big, sweeping melody to deliver a big sweeping goodbye to a town and a lover who are both all wrong for her. She conveys exhausted acceptance with her quavering voice, that moves from high to low as she sings “Baby I’ve just had my fill/You love me like a dollar bill/You roll me up  and trade me in.” And she offers some parting wisdom: That love can’t make a bad person better, can’t turn a sour relationship sweet. “Love doesn’t change anything at all,” she sings, a little mournfully, at the end.