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It’s a Sin to Live So Well – “Flagpole Sitta” by Harvey Danger

16 Jul

The plethora of one-hit wonders that exist in the wide world of 20th and 21st century music is indicative of just how hard it is to hit success twice as a band or musician. It is somewhat analogous to striking gold twice. This makes the multi-level houses of gold that could have been constructed by the Beatles or Michael Jackson all the more impressive. That said, this section is about one-hit wonders, and we are going back to the 1990s, an era that spawned long lists of the one-off greats for this song.

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Before we get into “Flagpole Sitta,” let me clarify that a one-hit wonder does not mean that the band broke up directly after the release of the song. On the contrary, as is the case of Harvey Danger, the band played together for 15 years, released three albums, and performed a large amount of shows. A one-hit wonder indicates that a band/singer found wide-ranging chart success with only one track, and that was “Flagpole Sitta,” the alt/punk classic that exposed the mainstream alt/punk/grunge scene, as impacted by Seattle grunge bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden.

“Flagpole Sitta,” and, in larger part, the album it is housed on Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone is a true indie success story. Initially released on an independent label based in Oregon called Arena Rock Recording Company. “Flagpole Sitta” was recognized as the awesome song it is, and it started seeing airplay all over. The band had sent demos of all the songs on the album to music industry professionals, including Slash records, in 1996, and Slash ended up re-releasing the album, cementing the album and its lead track as a 1990s staple and, now, best hits collection item.

What makes the song so good? It’s angry. The song doesn’t let up. It starts with a rising guitar riff that blends into Sean Nelson’s pleading vocals. The chorus is a amalgamation of yelling harmonies and a crashing instrumental. The lyric reflects the potency of the rhythm effectively; it is a catharsis of frustration and candor (“been around the world and found that only stupid people are breeding”). The song also has a timeless quality (even with the reference to ‘zines and Rage Against the Machine). It is a excellent portrayal of societal angst that uses a head-banging, toe-tapping instrumental that pumps the tune on repeat in your head for hours.

Before I end this post, it would be averse if I did not mention the passing of the founding bassist Aaron Huffman who died in March of this year of respiratory failure. Rest in peace.

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Tubthumping – One-Hit Wonders

4 Sep
If you were cognizant in the late 90s, this creepy baby is implanted in your mind

If you were cognizant in the late 90s, this creepy baby is implanted in your mind

Oh yeah, the “I get knocked down” song. I remember that one. Wasn’t that by Chumbawamba, or something like that? I guarantee that if you are a product of the 90s (like me) you took one look at the purple baby with the huge mouth and thought of taking a “vodka drink” and a “whiskey drink.” Chumbawamba’s 1997 classic “Tubthumping” left an indelible mark on our impressionable minds for better or for worse. While some argue that the song is trash, I’m here to defend its merit as one of the better one-hit wonders.

First, Chumbawamba. Did you know that the band was active for 30 years before breaking up in 2012. 30 years. Yes, that means the British punk band had been together for 15 years prior to the release of “Tubthumping.” Many forget – or didn’t know – that Chumbawamba was a protest band at heart. Most of the band’s music focused on issues like animal rights, class struggle, and feminism, etc. –  the word “tubthumper” is used to describe someone who often jumps on the bandwagon with populist ideas. Thus, the band’s cumulative lyric is far more deep than “He sings the songs that remind him of the good times. He sings the songs that remind him of the best times.” But, it is the simple lyric of the late 90s mega-hit that helped draw so many listeners in.

As a group of talented musicians, though, they could not resist the temptation to sample a few Easter eggs for the careful listener. The “Danny Boy” reference is explicit, but at the end of the song the trumpet samples Clarke’s “Prince of Denmark’s March.” But, let’s be honest, the reason the song gained such immense popularity was because of its repetitive, punk-fueled chorus that proved to be beyond infectious. I can’t imagine many who have not hummed the beat to themselves during the reading of this post.

And that is why “Tubthumping” should be praised. The song has tremendous lasting power. Some may consider that feature to be a grand part of its “annoying” factor, but I think that earworm power cannot be overstated. Plus, come on, it’s not like many songs today that lay down a simple percussion track and a catchy synthesizer riff to maximize catchiness and listens. There are legitimate elements to “Tubthumping.” Enjoy!

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Life Could Be a Dream – One-Hit Wonders

5 Mar

The Chords

“Hey Nonny Ding-Dong Alang Alang Alang, Oh, Wo-Wo Bip, a Doh, a Bip, a Bip”

– Genius Gibberish by The Chords

It doesn’t take much to make teenage girls swoon, but “Sh-Boom” (or “Life Could Be a Dream”) by The Chords made everyone swoon when it was released by a sextet of youngsters in 1954. The Chords, though, would only have one hit – “Sh-Boom.” This doo-wop masterpiece represents one of the first one-hit wonders in modern rock n’ roll history, and, despite all of the wonderful one-hit wonders released since it graced the charts, “Sh-Boom” is still one of the best.

The Chords formed in Bronx, NY, and were signed in 1954 after they were heard performing in the Subway. The band brought “Sh-Boom” with them to Atlantic Records’ Cat Records label. Jerry Wexler, who coined the phrase rhythm & blues and would later become a major record producer, was in his second year as a partner with Atlantic Records and proceeded over the recordings. While Wexler initially had the band perform a cover of a Patti Page song, the Chords’ original was too intriguing to pass up (it was put on the B-Side of the incipient record).

Now, if you are thinking that you have never ever heard of this song, just take a listen.

You recognize it now, right? That is how ubiquitous the song is. Even almost 60 years after its release, the song is still noticeable. Why? It is so damn catchy. It is still used in media today. The song’s light-hearted, bubbly harmonies match the jocular lyric. It is warm-hearted song. The gibberish, like I said above, is genius. The song reached #2 on the Billboard R&B charts and #9 on the Pop charts.

“Sh-Boom,” inevitably, was covered for Mercury Records by a doo-wop group named The Crew Cuts who put a more traditional/organized spin on the song. The song reached #1 on the Billboard charts in for nine weeks during August and September 1954.

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