Henry Oliver reminds himself of eight songs from the Now That’s What I Call Music collection that hit once and never again.
The very term ‘one hit wonder’ is contentious. Excluding straight-up novelty songs, call any song a one hit wonder and you’ll have that artist’s superfans chasing you down the street with pitchforks. So, for this purposes of this piece of online content, I’m using the definition previously used on this website by Calum Henderson:
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.
Okay, so that’s that settled, right?
One of my favourite things about trawling through Now That’s What I Call Music is that the compilations (now playlists) represent a pretty accurate snapshot of their year in hits. They’re not forward-looking, not looking for tomorrow’s classics, nor are they nostalgic. They just are what they are. They’re a time and a place, for better and for worse. So here are my eight favourite one hit wonders from the Now That’s What I Call Music collection (with a couple of cheats thrown in).
Natalie Imbruglia ‘Torn’ (Now 2)
Natalie Imbruglia’s ‘Torn’ was huge and probably still gets played three times a day on the Breeze, but even though she managed to turn this one hit into a legit career (ever seen her on Zach Galifianakis’s short-lived talk show? It hasn’t aged well), she never came close to matching it and 99% of the people who know who she is only know this song.
I remember hearing this song everywhere when it came out and not realising its genius until one day in 1998, newly moved to Auckland, when I was strolling through the aisles of Rendalls (90s kids will know) and ‘Torn’ rang through the store. For the first time, I heard the song behind the sickly sweet production (which I now kinda like). Irresistible melody + evocative emotionality = everything you could want from acoustic-guitar-singer-songwriter pop
Stardust ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ (Now 3)
You surely can’t argue that an artist isn’t a one hit wonder when they only ever released one damn song. While Stardust’s ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ didn’t top the charts in 1998 (it reached #8), the only single from the side project of half of Daft Punk was a bona fide hit for a certain type of listener. It was like Daft Punk but with a little more MOR disco in the house mix. In fact, it kinda sounds like it could, with the odd production tweak, have appeared on their Random Access Memories album from 2013. Take a listen and then try and stop listening. It can just go round and round in your head, unimpeded by annoying things like changes and build-ups. (Side note: if you have a video of Havoc and Newsboy singing this dressed as old men from one of those Havoc series, please send it to us.)
Afroman ‘Because I Got High’ (Now 9)
One of the things I love about the pop music industry is how no matter how cynical and calculated and predictable you can sometimes think things are, every once in a while something truly weird can just burst through the cracks and take over the world. And in 2001, Afroman’s ‘Because I Got High’ did just that. In New Zealand, this ridiculous song about getting stoned and not doing stuff topped the charts for three weeks! Apparently, Afroman was inspired to write the song when he actually, IN REAL LIFE, was going to clean his room, got high instead and then didn’t end up cleaning his room. Anyway, he made a song about it, put it on Napster and it went viral before we called it that. Howard Stern asked him to play it on the radio, then it was on a bunch of stoner movies, then it topped the charts in seven countries, including New Zealand. Amazing!
Crazy Frog ‘Axel F’ (Now 18)
Speaking of ridiculous – it doesn’t get more ridiculous than this. A recording of a 17-year-old imitating a two-stroke engine gets discovered by an animator who makes a character called The Annoying Thing which becomes Crazy Frog who, in 2005, releases a cover version of the Beverly Hills Cop theme song. It goes to #1 in New Zealand (of course!) and annoys parents all around the world (as pop music should). The 2000s! What a time to be alive!
Amerie ‘1 Thing’ (Now 18)
It pains me to include this because it’s just such a great (and I use ‘great’ here in the most pretentious sense) song. If you were on almost any dancefloor 2005-8, you heard this song. I wish this was the start of a big career. A huge career. A historic career. It just wasn’t.
MGMT ‘Kids’ (Now 29)
Okay, okay, MGMT aren’t one hit wonders – they are three hit wonders. ‘Kids’, ‘Electric Feel’, and ‘Time to Pretend’ are all undeniable bangers and while none of them topped the charts here, they were all slow burners that found their way onto commercial radio and didn’t leave for months. I saw MGMT at the Powerstation on that tour and I’ve never seen a crowd go wilder for only three songs and then just stand there in silence the rest of the hour. Still crazy that all this happened to a Pitchfork-core band that has since very much retreated back into psych-pop indie territory, even cutting ‘Kids’ from the setlist for a while.
La Roux ‘Bulletproof’ (Now 31)
To be completely honest, I didn’t know if La Roux was a one hit wonder, or if I was just unaware of any other singles breaking through. I liked the album enough, but there wasn’t another song as good as ‘Bulletproof’ on it and none of the duo’s singles broke the charts here. Plus, look at this Google search predictive text:
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Anyway, if you’re in need of a jolt of synth-pop energy, this is it!
PSY ‘Gangnam Style 강남스타일’ (Now 40)
PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’ is everything great I said about pop music above with bonus globalisation! PSY, a mildly political rapper from South Korea, released his sixth album in 2012 with an infectious slice of social satire, ridiculing the vacuous wealth of the residents of a district in Seoul. Still, I’ve heard this song a hundred times (I’m a parent) and you don’t need to know what it’s about to see why kids everywhere love it. Seven years later and children are still running around school discos going “heyyyyyyyyy sexy lady”. It’s hilarious and terrifying.
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This content is bought to you by Now That’s What I Call Music New Zealand and Universal Music. You can listen to and talk about all the Now That’s What I Call Music New Zealand compilations on Spotify and Facebook.