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Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.
  — Frank Zappa

One-hit wondering

There are many legitimate avenues for artistic criticism, so when you see the term "one-hit wonder," think "lazy writer." Although historical utility might justify that moniker, with a long-disbanded band that never grew beyond their hit single. Problem is using it against working musicians writing and performing great, uncharted music. Popularity is not quality.

The Twenty-First Century is time to recognise that the 45 died, taking radio with it. Over the years, record executives deviously promoted album sales with singles. Few artists scored multiple hits or a dozen good songs on one album. Now buyers are taking control by downloading songs, rather than complete albums.

Numerable great albums had no hits and no commercial success. The Beatles were exceptional, huge sellers of innovative music. Then again, were they not so popular, radio would have ignored many of their biggest hits. "I Am the Walrus" isn't exactly "Love Me Do," it is long and meandering, with a "King Lear" excerpt. Airplay was gained by deejays wanting to break the new Beatles single. Even so, "The Walrus" often got faded out before it ended.

Linda Lewis

Until an artist lands that commercial holy spot, getting heard is difficult. One of our greatest living musical phenomenons, Linda Lewis, has no US label and had only one major hit (in the UK) thus far. Don't you dare call her a one-hit wonder. It's like saying a television show's poor ratings mean it is terrible, by which measure worm-eating imbeciles would beat "Veronica Mars." Like CD sales, tv ratings mean folks haven't consumed in large numbers, due to anything from poor promotion or time slot, luck or audience ignorance.

I piss on that phrase, especially when I read absurd Web gossip referring to "one hit wonder Fefe Dobson." Her first album had one hit, so what? It's a great album. Every song I've heard off her next album is as good or better, and she will be 22 in February. For chrissakes! Her career is nascent.

Back in the Disco Error, Stacey Swain scored big with "Two of Hearts," recording as Stacey Q. Somewhere I read that her second hit, "We Connect," was similar to the first. Not true. It was the exact same song with different lyrics, which didn't even fit the meter. Napolean XIV with "They're Coming To Take Me Away" could be a one-hit wonder. I don't think they issued an album. Come to think of it, Fefe's hit was called "Take Me Away." Conspiracy? Christie's "Yellow River" is a genuine one-hit wonder. Did they ever record another song? But Nick Lowe's "Cruel To Be Kind?" — give me a break! He's an influential producer and musician. I had no idea only one of his songs was a hit because I don't give a shit.

The thing about the one-hit phenomenon is while the music companies make money on hits, the public loses. Who wants an album where each cut is derivative of one song?

On the heels the Fefe lunacy, I chanced upon an article in the Observer from 20 February 2005 by Tom Bromley. [Hey, his name sort of rhymes, like one-wit wonder.] Tom lists ten artists "who promised much... but delivered very little," with number 10 being Tasmin Archer.

Great Expectations

"Her debut album was called Great Expectations but only 'Sleeping Satellite' did the title justice," writes TB, making one wonder if he ever listened to that album, or her amazing follow-up, "Bloom." I asked, Who the heck is Tom Bromley? So I Googled him, only it seems half the men in England are named Tom Bromley, so who knows which he is. None appears to be number one in anything.

Tom does point out that music papers "need a turnover of artists to keep the interest levels up," right after exploiting their popularity. They can't very well put Kevin Federline on the cover of each issue. It is about marketing, not musicianship, which is why I hate the term and the philosophy driving it. gt

thin line

Geographic borders mean little to musicians
- Jim Fusilli

Top Music

I usually slam the "record" companies for ruining music in their quest for unending wealth. While it is true that they are evil and misguided, the critics who should be demanding more are not much better.

As the Web becomes ubiquitous, there is hope that music will be freed from the shackles of commercialism. Actual listeners who buy their music (or steal it) can write reviews. Musicians can market directly to the their public. Most important for me, music from all over the globe is easily acquired. No more dependence on US corporations for good music.

Year's end means every lazy critic issues a list of the "best" and "worst" music. Could anything be more ridiculous? Probably not. I don't care how devoted you are to music, you cannot possibly listen to everything released in one year. In 2001, the last year figures I could dig up, 27,000 titles were released on CD (in the US). If that number were a mere 20,000, you would need to listen to nearly 55 new CDs a day, including weekends. Supposing you played each album once, you would have no way to evaluate them or to sleep. So what a critic means is the best and worst "of the music I heard this year." If that's what you mean, say so.

Jim Fusilli, writer
Jim Fusilli is a decent critic for the Wall Street Journal, who wrote of 2006, "It wasn't a memorable year in pop music." [It was for me, gt.] He continues in that vein before explaining that "there was great music, most of it arriving from well beyond the traditional rock and pop mainstream." So, when a critic generalises about music over an arbitrary time period, remember you are reading conclusions based on music that finds its way to critics, usually for free. You know, those discs stamped "For Promotional Purposes Only."

Real listeners, who buy their music or go to the trouble of ripping it off, may hear things differently. gt

back from the top Main 2006 revisited

thin line