Calum Henderson dives deep into the New Zealand music archives to discover our greatest one-hit wonders – and the not-quite-as-successful songs by the same artists.
What exactly is a one hit wonder? Everybody knows the term, but it seems none of us can quite agree on how to define it. In the strictest sense, the label should probably be reserved for artists who only ever made the singles chart (or top 20, or top 10…) once. More commonly, though, it gets used to describe an artist who had one single that was disproportionately bigger than all their others. Sometimes it’s applied when only one song has endured the test of time while others, although they were hits at the time, have faded into obscurity.
But then… what even is a ‘hit’? The more you think about it the more meaningless the whole sarcastic concept of ‘one hit wonders’ becomes. Why are we mocking musicians for only making one hit single anyway? That’s one more hit single than most artists will ever make; who cares if they never make another.
Probably we should just get rid of the ‘one hit wonders’ tag altogether – bury it next to the other bad musical concept of ‘guilty pleasures’. But before we do, let’s see which New Zealand artists best fit the description.
Patea Maori Club
‘Poi E’ hit the top of the New Zealand singles chart in 1984 and its reputation as a New Zealand classic – it’s never too far from any conversation about a new national anthem – has only grown in the decades since. It’s the only Patea Maori Club song most New Zealanders know, which is a shame because their follow-up single ‘Aku Raukura’ is arguably even better. That song made it to number 10, and the group had two other charting singles, but only one hit has really endured in the national memory.
Second-biggest song: ‘Aku Raukura’
Monte Video and The Cassettes
‘Shoop Shoop Diddy Wop Cumma Cumma Wang Dang’ is a song so annoying it’s hard to believe it was recorded in New Zealand. Colin Meads must have been overseas in 1982 or else he’d have driven up to Auckland from the King Country and doused the tapes with Roundup. The man behind the Monte Video moniker was Murray Grindlay, a veteran musician, producer and jingle-writer whose most recent credit was last year’s suspiciously Byrds-sounding National Party campaign ad. ‘Shoop Shoop’ peaked on the New Zealand singles chart at #2; its even-worse follow-up ‘Sheba (She Sha She Shoo)’ failed to chart.
Second-biggest song: ‘Sheba (She Sha She Shoo)’
Deane Waretini is probably New Zealand’s purest one hit wonder. His sole entry into the New Zealand singles chart was recorded in a garage in Henderson with session musicians paid in KFC. It became the first number 1 sung in te reo. It was ‘The Bridge’, one of 1980s’ biggest hits. Waretini is still around – he starred in Māori TV’s Now Is The Hour as recently as 2012 – but though he released a string of singles in the aftermath of ‘The Bridge’, none of them managed to nudge the top 40.
Second-biggest song: ‘Growing Old’
Misfits of Science
Rap duo Misfits of Science are another example of a pure one hit wonder, getting to number 1 on their first and only foray on to the New Zealand singles chart with 2004’s ‘Fool’s Love’. What happened? Their follow-up ‘MmmHmm’ has a video, and it appeared on Kiwi Hit Disc 68 (between Fast Crew and P Money). But it never charted, and if Discogs is to be believed it was never even released as a single. Still, we’ll always have ‘Fool’s Love’, and its video’s impressive array of early-2000s replica sports apparel.
Second-biggest song: ‘MmmHmm’
Otara Millionaires Club are New Zealand’s most commonly-cited one hit wonders for their 1995 international megahit ‘How Bizarre’. Overseas this designation is probably fair enough, so they make the list – albeit with a huge asterisk beside their name. Let’s be clear: any New Zealander who claims OMC were one hit wonders deserves to be thrown in a skip. They had three other singles make the top 40 here, and ‘Land of Plenty’ made it to number four. It’s a beautiful song, and the whole How Bizarre album is well worth revisiting.
Second-biggest song: ‘Land of Plenty’
This seems harsh, right? Fur Patrol were one of the great bands of the ’00s Kiwi music boom, but think: can you name a Fur Patrol song other than ‘Lydia’? Most New Zealanders couldn’t. Fur Patrol’s rock contemporaries – Tadpole, Stellar*, the feelers [sic], Zed – generally all had at least two equally big hits. ‘Lydia’ was better than any of them, a stone-cold classic, and it towers over the band’s four other charting singles (none of which breached the top 15) in the national memory. Technically, perhaps unfairly, that qualifies Fur Patrol as a one-hit wonder.
Second-biggest song: ‘Andrew’
Reality TV has provided New Zealand with a procession of textbook one hit wonders – New Zealand Idol’s Ben Lummis, Michael Murphy and Rosita Vai all hit number one, as did X Factor winner Jackie Thomas (Beau Monga was denied the top spot in 2015 by Wiz Khalifa). But while you’d have to go out of your way to hear any of their hits these days, there’s still a chance a stadium DJ or nostalgia-frenzied house party could throw up ‘Tonight’ – and you just know it would go off. The original Popstars managed to hit the charts a second time with ‘Number One’, which reached #12.
Second-biggest song: ‘Number One’
Southside of Bombay
If you judge a New Zealand one hit wonder on how often they get played at the rugby, Southside of Bombay are among our most elite. ‘What’s The Time Mr Wolf?’ barely snuck onto the singles chart upon its original release in 1991. It wasn’t until it was featured on the soundtrack to Once Were Warriors in 1994 that it became the ubiquitous hit we know and love to belt out while someone’s getting treated by the physio. They made it to number 39 with their only other single.
Second-biggest song: ‘All Across The World’
Netherworld Dancing Toys
Think of Netherworld Dancing Toys as the original Six60 – a rare example of a Dunedin pop band which didn’t want a bar of the so-called Dunedin Sound and made it all the way to the top of the charts as a result. These guys charted five other times (three singles and two EPs) during the ’80s – the most of any artist on this list – but none of those have stayed the course the way the horn-driven ‘For Today’ has.
Second-biggest song: ‘The Real You’
A shooting star across New Zealand’s ’80s pop skies, Coconut Rough burned bright and left behind one massive hit. ‘Sierra Leone’ was the band’s first single and it earned them ‘Most Promising Group’ at the 1983 New Zealand Music Awards as well as an opening spot for The Police at Western Springs. They broke up the next year, with only one other single to their name – securing their legacy as a classic Kiwi one hit wonder.
Second-biggest song: ‘As Good As It Gets’
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