Why do some bands turn out to be one-hit wonders?

Can anyone speculate why some bands get their big break and get their first hit on the radio, which is destined to be their *only[/] hit? Years later they are known for this and only this one particular song, or sometimes a second hit will follow the first, but will then fade into obscurity as time goes on. How do some bands fall out of favor and miss their chance to possibly become a legendary act?

IMHO, there are a few senarios:

  1. Band/artist (and I use the term Artist loosely) style of music is the “flavor of the week”. Pun intended if you get it. They aren’t original, can’t write music other than copy what style is popular for the time. This happens way too much thank to MTV and the radio stations playlists.
  2. The band may be talented to degree but they come into the scene at the tail end of their music genre and a newer style is playing more on the raido. Blame MTV and radio again.
  3. Band gets lucky with a catchy tune and break into the radio play despite their unformated sound. Think of it, will we ever miss “Who let the Dogs out” or the Thong Song? (to name but a few) I certaintly hope not.

One the other hand technically Jimmi Hendrix was a “One Hit Wonder”. Because I believe only one song of his ever cracked the top 40 charts. So not all are bad bands just not “radio friendly” for their time.

Again, this is only my take and I am sure others could offer more insightful perspectives.

Another factor is that some bands or performers just aren’t that consistently good. Spirit In The Sky, by Norman Greenbaum, is considered a 60’s classic. But when we got a collection of Norman Greenbaum songs, without exception, we found the other 11-odd songs to range in quality between cute, endearing, or trying too hard to be clever, none of which qualities will sustain a major recording career.

A friend of mine put forward what I think is a really good theory about this. Many of these bands might have been around for a long time and were finally able to cobble together a few good songs to put on an album. But these songs are the accumulation of many years of writing and represent the very best material they have.

Once they have a hit song or album they have to put out another album within a year and they simply don’t have the talent to come up with enough good songs in such a short time.

I’m probably way off base on this, but it seems to me (at least nowadays) that many bands/acts just aren’t prepared for success. They get that first big break, their CD sells a million copies base on one song, and one or more members of the band/act immediately go on a drug- or alcohol-induced binge and blow all their money. When they finally come to earth, they can’t recapture that drive that powered them in the first place.

I’m too sexy for this thread.

And what about the bands that should have been one hit wonders? Dammit is a damn good song, but man everything else Blink182 has ever put out sure blows chunks.

I am guessing that many bands that were one hit wonders deserved that fate. And a good lot of them had one hit too many.

Comparing to the output of Mozart, Beethoven, or the Beatles, one hit obviously puts the artist in some other category than “brilliant composer”.

The answer lies in many of the factors mentioned, but there’s also another one, which is there isn’t a heck of a lot of art in a repetitious composition lasting for 2:36 seconds. Compared to a symphony, that’s very, very few artistic decisions. One has to consider that even the “greats” of the last century, the Beatles, only produced a fraction of the output of the best classical composers (and there were three Beatles composing). I think it has to do with pop music being just artistically feeble.

Another factor is that a band may produce a song that is quite different from its regular style, like Looking Glass with its hit “Brandy” or Katrina and the Waves with “Walking on Sunshine”.

Everything else these bands did sounded completely different.

many ‘alternative’ style bands often release one song that gets picked up by radio. i’m not sure how popular these bands are in the states, but in terms of chart success in australia, the mighty mighty bosstones with ‘the impression that i get’ and barenaked ladies with ‘one week’ were both one hit wonders. while i’m not particularly a fan of either band, i do know that they have an extensive back-catalogue.

another example - del tha funky homosapien’s 1991 hit ‘mr dobalina’. as far as i know, he’s never repeated that chart success. despite this, he’s very well respected amongst hip hop fans, particularly for his work with handsome boy modelling school.

i’d imagine this happens a lot - an indie/punk/alternative band will release a song that is unusually catchy or a throwaway novelty hit, and the rest of their material just isn’t that radio-friendly.

and then again, there’re bands that just don’t have the talent to back up their success. often a cover will shoot them to the top of the charts, but their own material isn’t good enough to ensure continued success.

y’see, there was this band called alien ant farm

One thing I’ve noticed on these one-hit-wonder threads is that over time some groups with more than one Top 40 hit are turned into “one hit wonders” because the oldies radio stations or VH1 only play only one of their songs, so people forget they had more than one hit. (In the U.S., Katrina and the Waves had three Top 40 songs, and even Looking Glass managed a second Top 40 effort).

Also, a lot of one hit wonders aren’t one hit wonders at all. I always smile when a-ha or Crowded House are mentioned as “one hit wonders.” They only had one big hit in the US, but they were huge in their home country.

Sometimes, the skies open up, a new type of music becomes popular, and some of those bands already playing that stuff get exposure before others can come along and steal the gig.

The Bosstones were ska long before ska was cool, and they got some radio play. Goldfinger, on the other hand, was a talentless punk band that stole a couple of ska riffs from my friend’s band and rode it to ephemeral fame. (Ahem. Yes, I am biased.)