One Hit Wonderland*

  • 11/22/2008 04:32:00 pm
  • By Mark Gibbings-Jones

*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.

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