Saturday, 22 November 2008

One Hit Wonderland*

*Apols to Tony Hawks, and to anyone annoyed by overuse of the word 'concept'. You'll see.

As you may very well not be aware, aside from being an increasingly irregular contributor to BrokenTV (which is a bit of a shame, because he's the only one), BrokenTV's Mark X is also the conceptual mastermind behind an entirely new concept that has taken (at least twenty-nine people on) the internet by storm (legal notice: internet may not have been taken by storm. Conceptual concept may not entirely be 'new', although all reasonable evidence suggests that it is). This concept being The Song Wars, the central tenet of which is that the free market should decide who the best person on the internet at liking music is, and that from that point on it is they, and they alone, who can dictate what everyone else should like. It's a shamelessly Keynesian approach to music criticism admittedly, but we're sure Mrs Thatch would agree with it, if only she were still in full possession of her marbles.

The contents of the conceptual nutshell are as follows: Twenty-nine people are taking part, grouped into groups of seven or eight. For any given week, apart from the first few and the last one, one person from each group will choose a musical 'theme', such as "Songs with numbers in the title" or "Songs that are appropriate for our economy taking a nose dive", and each group member is expected to put forward a song fitting in with the chosen weekly theme. At a given time, a streaming link to each thematic track is put up on the Be Excellent To Each Other forum, and members of the public vote for the three songs they like the best. At the end of the week, the scores are totted up, and points allocated accordingly.

After ten weeks it becomes a knockout between the top two players from each group, and then some other stuff happens. It's still a bit vague, because we're only up to week eight of the group stage, but all of this doesn't really matter right now. Suffice to say, it's a brilliant and groundbreaking concept, and while you may argue that it's stealing elements of both Adam & Joe's Song Wars from 6Music and Mark & Lard's Cheesily Cheerful Chart Challenge from Radio One When It Was Good, it isn't, so there.

BUT ANYWAY, this isn't about that. Well, not completely. Recently, a topic of "One Hit Wonders" was chosen (for Group A, if you're really that interested), leading BrokenTV's Mark X to wish he'd submitted the fantastic "Hobo Humpin' Slobo Babe" by maligned Swedish genre-straddlers Whale instead of the track that he did submit, which in turn posed a further, a very pertinent question. What exactly does constitute a One Hit Wonder? BrokenTV's Mark X claims that anything reaching the UK Top Twenty can justifiably be classified as "a hit", while other quite staggeringly wrong people are willing to claim that the 'hit' in question should chart more highly. But... who is right? There's only one way to find out!


That's right. Here's how we've rolled for the following analysis:

* A list of fifty acts regarded, both correctly and incorrectly, as One Hit Wonders has been compiled. Some taken from the BeEx Song Wars Group A Week Eight Poll, some culled from the brain of the BrokenTV collective, but the majority from Channel Four's "50 Greatest One Hit Wonders" poll.

* For each act, the performance of their "One Hit Wonder" hit has been measured against the popularity of their next most popular track.

* The data chosen reflects not on the respective chart positions of each artist, but rather on the number of plays they've accumulated on in the last six months. This has the clear benefit of measuring the actual popularity of each record. After all, if you're going by chart positions, "Mr Blobby" by Mr Blobby (highest chart position: No 1, in peak-sales period December) gave better unit in the singles chart than Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (highest chart position: No7, in the less-peak month of November). Going by six-month listen-numbers, the score is Nirvana: 152,615, Mr Blobby: 109. So, despite Mr Blobby selling more singles with his best-known hit, the Nirvana track is over 1,400 times more popular, thereby dispelling the hit parade as a worthwhile reflection of actual worth.

* With the system meaning that only records people still listen to are worth including, tracks categorised as 'one-hit wonders' that no-one listens to any more have been dispelled from the survey. And really, even though some tracks have got to number one in the last thirty years, the fact less than twenty scrobblers have listened to Rene and Renato in the last six months means they genuinely aren't worthy of inclusion in our survey.

* It's worth noting that some records classified as being the "one hit" of certain artists aren't even the their most listened-to track. This goes some way to proving that Channel Four don't know shit about shit, but the fact Balls Of Steel still stinks up their weeknight schedule makes this something of a moot point.

* Numbers. We've taken the aggregate total of plays for Hit One (the "One Hit" attributed to each act) from, including any wrongly-tagged plays in their listed "Top 15" on the "last six months" chart, and compared them to their second most listened-to track, which is recorded as "Hit Two". The plays for Hit Two, divided by plays for Hit One, and expressed as a percentage gives an overall OneHitWonderousness percentage. In each case, the lower the percentage, the greater the case for them being a true One Hit Wonder. After all, if your biggest hit scored one hundred times the number of listens for your next biggest hit, then well... perhaps that "Ultimate Collection" compilation isn't going to be a viable concern after all. Conversely, for well-regarded bands who almost accidentally spewed up a chart smash, they're more likely to attain a higher percentage figure, and leave with their artistic integrity very much intact.


Tsk. So terse. Here are our findings for the top fifty oft-wrongly-credited-as-one-trick ponies:

Admittedly, that really isn't wholly legible, and we blame our restrictive 460 pixel width template for that. We can only offer to make up for this by offering the same in an equally unhelpful barchart:

Not that much clearer, is it? In any case, the executive summaries for the above can be expressed with the following bullet points:

* If you're not concerned with what could justifiably by described as 'popular' acts, Denise LaSalle is has the most rounded career of all OHW artists.
* If you are, it's Alphaville.
* If you really are, and are taking the rest of their six-month chart into consideration, it's They Might Be Giants who have the best overall career plan out of the above acts. This is pretty demonstratively true, even without the benefit of maths.
* No, t.A.T.u. don't count for this. They've had three top ten hits, you berks. And we've just received the Russian edition of their new album - while it's a bit sketchy, once the English language version arrives, they will very much be 'back', don't you worry. With a bit of fleshing out, "Fly On The Wall" could be their next pop smash.
* Yes, we have accounted for tracks recorded under the names of both "The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band" and "The Bonzo Dog Band".
* Chesney "Turned On Wrexham's Christmas Lights In About 2002" Hawkes really is the UK's King Of One Hit Wonderdom, whereas The Weather Girls take the global crown.
* OR DO THEY? We're willing to accept evidence to prove us wrong with all the above. Register your own counter-claims in the comments section. Personally, we've had backed Skee-Lo to top the chart, and we were very wrong.


10 .:

Anonymous said...

Alphabeat? (below the line chart thing) Shouldn't that be Alphaville?

Mark X said...

Boh. Now corrected.

Transparent attempt to get people to watch 1991's BBC2's Liquid Television said...

Listening viewers may almost barely be interested to learn that Istanbul (Not Constantinople) gained a music video in 1991's BBC2's Liquid Television's S1's ep 5, easily found here and there.

Mark X said...

Places such as here: in fact. There's also a lovely video made for Depeche Mode's PIMPF in one episode. While I haven't rewatched LiquidTV recently (although having now found that link, I may do soon), I do recall that most of the British contributions to it were awful five-minute-filler-on-Channel-Four-in-1986 fodder.

Incalculably expensive floating 3D computer graphic neglecting basic principles of narrative said...

You're almost certainly thinking of the bits by Candy Guard, you meanie. I can't remember a Depeche Mode item though, and watched the whole set of Overkill rips quite recently. Possibly it was under a different name; Liquid Television's end sequence meticulously credited the contributors but the section titles weren't always precise. Alternatively, you may have seen it on Rapido or something and became confused by Normski's soothing hollering.

Mark X said...

It seems I am thinking of the bits by Candy "Pond Life" Guard. It always seemed to me that, in amongst the almost impossibly cool pieces of animation like The Specialists, Stick Figure Theatre, Dog-Boy, ├ćon Flux or the brilliantly bold move of showing Max Fleischer's 1927 work "Koko's Earth Control" in full, only with an especially disturbing reworked soundtrack, the Candy Guard stuff seemed alone in putting forward the British equivalent of cutting-edge animation. If you ask me, each segment was interminably dull, and seemed to go on for ever, only present at the insistence of the BBC, who were co-producing the series*. It's quite a surprise to visit the (surprisingly comprehensive) Wikipedia entry for Liquid Television only to discover that only four pieces of Candy Guard animation were actually used. 1992-me could have sworn it had been at least three times that.

(*Wikipedia has it that the Beeb only co-produced season one. Shurely a mistake, as season two is certainly the one I remember being promoted as part of Def II, with the extended number of episodes for that season (ten, as opposed to the six in each of the seasons bookending it) suggesting I'm correct. Certainly it's only S2 that has any notably British content.)

In any case, having just skipped through quite a bit of my recently ("recovered from the loft legitimately-taped-from-BBC2-in-1992 copy of") Liquid Television, it's still astonishingly great, even if the segment with Depeche Mode's PIMPF seems to have somehow removed from history in order to prove me wrong on an unpopular television blog's comments section. Despite playing host to shows like Wonder Showzen in recent years - which I'd argue only made it to air because it features more OMGWTF-"shocking" moments than you could shake a Sarah Silverman at - there's no way any MTV channel would broadcast something as wonderfully avant-garde as Liquid Television now. And as for the concept of mid-evening BBC Two ever having broadcast such a show... well, that just doesn't even compute. I'd wager that even the marvellous Adult Swim would baulk at a show like Liquid Television now. This lends all the more power to my theory that there should be a "+16 years" timeshift channel for BBCs One and Two on digital TV. There should be room on Freeview. It's not as if anyone's actually watching GemTV or Price-Drop TV, is it?

Slightly relatedly, talking of slightly annoying 1990s Channel Four-issue British animation, I've recently discovered that Friday night disappointment-fest Crapston Villas actually got a Troma label release in the USA. What *were* they thinking?

Jub Jub Jub said...

>It seems I am thinking of the bits by Candy "Pond Life" Guard

I always end up thinking these bits are by Mimi Pond (the writer of the first The Simpsons ep, about a year before it was any good). Cuh. Their scribbly prosaicness is indeed jarring in Liq Tel -- contrast, for example, the similarly workaday domesticity of Thomas and Nardo which manages to co-star a walking cannibal house -- but the prog was all about tossing unalike things together for effect, so I can't begrudge the C Guard contributions.

>Max Fleischer's 1927 work "Koko's Earth Control" in full, only with an especially
>disturbing reworked soundtrack

tomandandy, there. What was that late-night (I think) ITV prog of a few years ago which was this sort of thing all the way through? A sort of music video compendium, except the vids were recut cartoons, public information films, etc. Liq Tel tops itself twice in this arena with 1.03 (Black Hula, a jolly cartoon music video about cultural genocide) and 1.02 (Joy Street, a lavishly precise fake 1930s musical short in the Harman-Ising anthropormorphised-objects-sing-and-dance-displeasingly genre).

>(*Wikipedia has it that the Beeb only co-produced season one. Shurely a mistake

Yes it is. The end creds for both S1 and S2 clearly name the Beeb. I can also definitively state that, contrary to all sources, S2 *was* shown on BBC2, because I watched it. (I'm uncertain about S3. The only short I can specifically remember is, by chance, the final ever, The Invisible Man in Blind Love, which could easily have been shown as part of something else, possibly featuring Rolf Harris.)

>the segment with Depeche Mode's PIMPF seems to have somehow removed from history
>in order to prove me wrong on an unpopular television blog's comments section

I was *convinced* the rips were wrong, because they omitted the MK Brown shorts. (You'd know them instantly if you saw them.) In fact, these were on The Tracey Ullman Show, alternating with the proto-The Simpsons for almost several weeks before The Simpsons barged everything else out, including Tracey Ullman.

>there's no way any MTV channel would broadcast something as wonderfully
>avant-garde as Liquid Television now

Interestingly, if your loft tapes happen to coincide with Overkill's rips, you'll also have MTV's 1994 Animation Weekend (or a prog from it at least; 30m is slightly shorter than a weekend, even with the exchange rate). This post-dates Liq Tel and keenly demonstrates the station changing direction from showcasing bonkers international cartoons to finding commercial spin-offs. Aeon Flux was tricky to duplicate, but chiefs quickly spotted what ver kids liked (Beavis and Butthead, mostly) so in the Animation Weekend we have what's effectively a half-hour advertisement for the astonishingly meritless Brothers Grunt. (They're an inbred tribe who live in a lavatory! They hatch on an elder's back! Look, we're flying the camera up someone's unswept nose! Haw haw haw!)

>It's not as if anyone's actually watching GemTV or Price-Drop TV, is it?

Your brilliant plan would founder because of rights, tragically. At least half of the Liq Tel contributors are inconveniently still alive, for example.

>Friday night disappointment-fest Crapston Villas actually got a Troma label release in
>the USA. What *were* they thinking?

"Lloyd's ordered a starter. Quick, stick another DVD out."

Mark X said...

Somewhat belatedly, I've got around to watching much of Liquid Television properly. In much the same way that wrong people give their opinion on Monty Python's Flying Circus, there are quite a few parts in there that don't really work. For example, the Dogboy segments are little more than annoying*, and Winter Steele leaves me cold. There's a spurt of interest in the fact they were precisely 25% of What Was On Television for the huge non-Sky/BSB/cable majority of viewers on a weekday evening, but that soon fades.

(* Me dismissing about a hundred people working hard to generate a few minutes of television, there. Well, it's their fault for reminding me of Lazytown.)

Lots of it is brilliant, however. "Stick Figure Theat(re)" is an idea that shouldn't really work more than once, but does, the minimalism of "The Specialists" works well, and... well, this could take ages. The amount of work that goes into each show is staggering, what with Flash/Shockwave having not been invented at the time. Looking at the credits for s2e06, the segment for "The Specialists" alone uses forty-one artists. Compare that to the "it'll need three blokes in a shed? We can't afford to pay for that!" approach likely to be taken should such a show be pitched nowadays. "Is it like Wallace and Gromit?" "No." "Get out."

Oh, and that Depeche Mode track is there, but used as backing music to a CGI animation of an egg being tricked by a snake. S2E03, about 7m42s in. Just after Thomas and Nardo.

Mark X said...

"What was that late-night (I think) ITV prog of a few years ago which was this sort of thing all the way through?"

Not sure. Night Network would probably have pre-dated the one you're thinking of by about fifteen years, but would quite possibly have included such things. I genuinely can't think of any ITV programming from this decade that might have done something like this. The late 1990s did see late-night ITV having "Comedy Central Special Delivery", which crammed in abridged episodes of Doctor Katz, Politically Incorrect, and other Comedy Central shows of the era into a sixty minute slot, so it could have been that.

The entire Google database only lists two hits for "Comedy Central Special Delivery" (well, three now), so there's no more detailed info on the show than the fact it exists. With Comedy Central and MTV both being tentacles of the giant Viacom squid, it's possible it was from there. Tomandandy certainly have MTV and VH1 listed on their Wikipedia CV, so it could be the most likely source. Surely ITV wouldn't have had the nous to show such a thing unless they were part of a syndicated package.

Mark X said...

"Interestingly, if your loft tapes happen to coincide with Overkill's rips, you'll also have MTV's 1994 Animation Weekend (or a prog from it at least; 30m is slightly shorter than a weekend, even with the exchange rate)."

From what I remember, the MTV animated shows were highly variable in quality. The only one I can remember really enjoying was the brilliant dual-reality superhero-noir show, The Maxx. That went out at the same time as "The Head", which I found annoying more than anything, although I can't really remember why. Other shows such as Daria and Celebrity Deathmatch were the animated comedy equivalent of a Snow Patrol album to my ears and eyes, although the latter did warrant an outing on Friday night Channel Four, so must have done something right. All I can recall of the Brothers Grunt is the MTV idents that either led to the series, or span off from it.

Another thing that seems to be thrown up by me typing "MTV cartoons" into search engines is the pseudo follow-up to Liquid Television, Cartoon Sushi - - which also featured Stick Figure Theat(re) and Bill Plympton shorts along with some Robin shorts (possibly which attracted the attention of Thom Yorke and chums), a "short about a dog that kills his family so that he can see the big city" and The Many Deaths of Norman Spittal (who, of course, everyone should really remember as Mr Bignose from Oink!). Annoyingly, despite being familiar with Robin and Spittal from elsewhere, I don't think I've ever seen any of Cartoon Sushi, as I wasn't living in a Sky-enabled house at the time. To the internets!

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