The History Of The One-Hit Wonder (Side Projects & Supergroups) – Part One

Imagine having a dream.  You want to be a rock star in the worst way.  You decide to form a band.  You pick a cool name.  You start writing songs.  Your band starts gigging in the dingiest and filthiest of clubs in front of the smallest of audiences.  Slowly but surely, you make headway.  You build a reputation and start attracting more paying customers, and eventually, record company scouts.  Then, you sign a record deal and the real work begins.
 
It’s never easy to tell how you will perform in the long run.  You could put out one spectacular album that delivers all the hits and then completely disappear.  You could make one stiff album after another and never reach the heights of fame that so few others seem to achieve so easily.  You could have a great career filled with award-winning, platinum-selling albums and singles, and become a living legend.  Or you could kill yourself to succeed and only have one hit song to show for your efforts.
 
The plight of the one-hit wonder is a fascinating one.  It is the classic rags-to-riches-to-rags story.  So many melody makers have come and gone only to leave their mark in the smallest of ways.  You could have a treasure drove of good songs but only be recognized for one of them.  How frustrating is that? 
 
The basic definition of a one-hit wonder is very specific.  You can have a million good songs in your catalogue but if only one of them was a hit, then you’re a one-hit wonder.  But did you know there are many different types of one-hit wonders?  
 
You could be the biggest act in your home country, say Canada or England, and still end up a one-hit wonder when only one of your singles connects with an American audience.  You could have tons of hits bombarding the FM airwaves and yet, simultaneously, be thought of as a one-hit wonder by AM listeners.  You could have hit after hit after hit on one type of chart, like the R&B listings, and only score one crossover success in your career.  If you’re the frontman for a highly regarded band known for their many hit songs and then decide to pursue a solo career that only produces one successful single, you can also get tagged as a one-hit wonder.  And what about all those performers with rich catalogues who only managed one Top 40 hit?
 
Established artists can sometimes feel antsy and want a change without wishing to give up the fame and success associated with their main endeavours.  They can also be restless and want to produce music completely different from their past work.  So, they hook up with other established artists and/or likeminded musicians to form these new projects.  The likelihood of these extracurricular bands becoming successful on their own terms is remote.  But it allows these artists to explore their muses in ways they can’t do in their regular groups.
 
Every once in a while, these supergroups and side projects take on a life of their own, if only for a brief moment in time.  Even though the members of these groups have participated in the creation of many successful songs through other bands, they can still be legitimately labelled one-hit wonders because of their brief association with a short-lived side project.  Here are some examples:
 
“Hello Hello” by Talk Show
 
The Stone Temple Pilots had grown frustrated with their drug-addicted lead singer.  After putting out their third studio CD in 1996, the band was looking forward to touring and making new videos for future singles from that record.  (Big Bang Baby, the initial release, was already in high rotation.)  Unfortunately, those plans were put on hold while Scott Weiland spent much of the year in legal limbo.  He was a slave to heroin which started affecting the band’s existence the previous year.
 
Rather than sit around waiting for him to get his act together, they hooked up with another singer and formed a side project.  The new singer was Dave Coutts whose previous gig was leading an unsuccessful outfit called Ten Inch Men for 10 years.  They settled on the name, Talk Show, which also became the name of their only full-length album.  According to allmusic.com, things got so bad with Weiland, they started rehearsing the new group as early as mid-1995, while their troubled STP frontman dealt with drug possession charges for the first time.
 
Despite some good reviews and even 2 Billboard Music Video Award nominations, Talk Show’s lone success was the single, Hello Hello, which peaked at #10 on Mainstream Rock Radio and #16 on Alternative Radio.  The album failed to persuade music buyers to purchase the album in bulk.  The lack of commercial support resulted in the early demise of the band in 1998.  After Scott Weiland’s solo debut, 12 Bar Blues, similiarly flopped that same year (although he managed to issue 2 modest hits from his album), STP reunited and went on to make two more studio efforts before splitting up in 2003.  Weiland is now the singer of Velvet Revolver and his former bandmates have formed a supergroup with Filter singer Richard Patrick called Army Of Anyone.  One wonders whatever happened to Dave Coutts.
 
“Miss Sarajevo” by Passengers
 
After the success of Zooropa (the greatest album of the 1990s), U2 went back into the studio with trusted producer Brian Eno to record the follow-up.  The result was the conceptual Original Soundtracks 1, an uneven compilation of instrumentals and proper songs created for mostly imaginary motion pictures but not everybody got the joke.  Entertainment Weekly music critic David Browne didn’t mention that 12 of the films the band produced music for didn’t actually exist in his initial rave of the album because he believed they were real.  (A correction had to be printed in a later issue.)
 
When the completed album was presented to Island Records, U2’s label at the time, they balked at the idea of releasing it as a U2 album.  So, a compromise was reached.  Considering how involved Eno was in the making of the record, it made sense to come up with a new name.  As a result, the fivesome were called Passengers.  Although the album was a commercial flop (it’s the only U2-related release that didn’t go platinum) and didn’t generate as much excitement as a U2 record normally does, it did spawn one of the greatest singles of the decade.
 
There really was a Miss Sarajevo beauty pagent.  It became the subject of a little-seen documentary by American filmmaker Bill Carter.  The idea was to show the world that despite the ravages of war it was possible to carry on with events like this even if they had to be conducted underground and as far away from the bombing and relentless violence of the time as possible.
 
Carter ended up in Sarajevo after losing his girlfriend in a car accident in 1991.  He stayed in the city and found work reporting for a local TV station.  (He also joined a humanitarian outfit called The Serious Road Trip (an appropriate name) who specialized in delivering much needed necessities to war-ravaged citizens who couldn’t count on The Red Cross or The United Nations to help them because those particular organizations felt it was too dangerous to send their aid workers there.)  He interviewed Bono around the time of the Zoo TV tour after meeting him during a gig in Italy and he was so affected by that experience that Carter was hired to produce footage for their European concerts during the Zooropa leg of the tour which would be seen via satellite linkups.   
 
In 1995, Carter edited the footage he had shot of this underground beauty pagent he was covering into a short documentary.  Bono insisted it be called “Miss Sarajevo” and soon after, had a song to go with the title, which is the theme for the movie.  (Clips of the film were featured in the video for the song.)  The band got the great Italian tenor, Luciano Pavarotti, to sing a solo midway through the track.  Pavarotti convinced Eno, The Edge (or Pointy Chin, as I like to call him) and Bono to debut the song live with him for one of his benefit concerts.  (You can hear the result on Pavarotti & Friends 2.)
 
The award-winning film is now available on DVD and features an exclusive interview with Bono.  As for the song, it became a world wide smash.  It hit the Top 10 in the United Kingdom, Australia and Holland.  It was a radio staple in North America.  But it’s greatest chart success was in Latvia where it hit number one.  Even drummer Larry Mullen Jr., the biggest critic of the Passengers project, has admitted that Miss Sarajevo “is a classic”.  George Michael loved the song so much he recorded his own version for his 1999 covers album, Songs From The Last Century.  2 years after the release of their sole Passengers masterpiece, U2 got back to being U2 and they remain the biggest and most important band in music today.
 
“Tipp City” by The Amps
 
Kim Deal was riding high on the surprising success of the second Breeders album, Last Splash.  The Breeders was the side project she initiated with Tanya Donnelly (who later found fame in Belly).  Her main gig at the time was The Pixies.  After an acrimonious split from Black Francis and company in 1993, The Breeders became her full-time gig.   But with twin sister Kelley facing drug possession charges, bass player Josephine Wiggs falling in love with then-Luscious Jackson frontwoman Kate Schellenbach (a former Beastie Boy) and drummer Jim Macpherson relaxing with his family, not to mention the fact that Kim tended to work at a faster pace than her bandmates, the idea of gathering everybody back to record a quick follow-up was out of the question.  (Who knew it would take 9 years for that third album to surface and that it would suck so horribly?)  In the meantime, Kim formed yet another group and managed to convince Macpherson to tag along (even though while writing the songs she taught herself how to play his instrument) and Kelley to record some songs with the new venture.
 
There appears to be some conflicting information about the origin of the name.  According to Wikipedia, Robert Pollard, the longtime frontman for Guided By Voices, came up with the name.  But according to an July 1995 interview with Spin Magazine, Kim credits herself with the name after spending time working on songs in her basement in Dayton, Ohio:  “I’m going to be called Tammy and the Amps, because I’m Tammy and I’m just playing with a bunch of amps.”  It’s uncertain when the “Tammy” part of the name was dropped.
 
They would only release one record:  Pacer in 1995.  (Curiously, “not one amp” was used during the recording sessions, according to Kim.  She told Bone Magazine, “The guitar on a bunch of it is DI’d [input directly into the soundboard, rather than being run through a bunch of processors] and it’s not real cleaned up.”)  And although two singles were issued, only one became a hit on alternative radio.  That would be Tipp City which got lots of airplay through the latter months of 1995.  (The title track was the other.) 
 
According to Wikipedia, expectations from The Amps’ record company were so high they “ordered a huge first pressing” thinking Pacer would be as big as Last Splash.  The album ended up selling poorly (it’s a terrible album, save your money) and the band ceased to exist in the mid-to-late 90s. 
 
For more information on The Amps, check out this fansite, most especially, the Press section.  Kim Deal is a great interview.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, January 6, 2007
4:33 p.m.
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Published in: on January 6, 2007 at 4:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

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