Sharps and Flats: The One-Hit Wonders

Gavin McNett reviews the VH-1 Flashback compliation

Published January 16, 1998 8:00PM (EST)

Oh, look! Another one for the "keeper" pile. There haven't been many of these collecting around here lately.

Now, don't misunderstand: I never, ever sell my promo CDs. Promos represent a sacred pact between the label and the reviewer. As long as a reviewer enjoys respect and status for his services to the world, and as long as his strivings are recompensed in earthly coin such that he wants for naught, the pact goes, so shall his promos be held firmly in hand.

But I sure as hell know a lot of people who sell the damn things. Apparently, their reasoning is that if you can get a cool two bucks for a sealed Exhumed Carcass CD, then, well, that's two bucks, isn't it? If you can sell a copy of ... er, I can't find any other bad CDs sitting around here. I must've lent them all to somebody, or something.

It's always a situation of some ambivalence when a CD of this degree of charm and listenability lands at the top of one's pile.

Gosh. You see, it's not that the "One-Hit Wonders" compilation is a good record, exactly. Good records have good songs on them, and don't have ones like Mungo Jerry's "In the Summertime." Nor do they have things like the Starland Vocal Band's "Afternoon Delight" or "Ring My Bell" by Anita Ward. These obscuros have never shown their faces, save once -- and then only to make us briefly miserable before returning, cackling, to whatever low hell spawned them. Here they are again, and their grimy char is wiped across what might otherwise have been a pretty solidly cool album.

But the collection is also packed with ace songs that make you wonder why the artists were never able to ride them to stardom. "Play That Funky Music" by Wild Cherry is the most obvious one, with a greasy, funky groove and a shit-talking bluster of a vocal. It's the kind of dead-on job that can't be faked. Where did these guys go? Likewise David Essex with "Rock On" -- except I know where he went. When I traded some ... er, stray merchandise for the original album a while ago, every other song on it was weak, bubble-gum-flavored tapioca. He was managed into an early grave.

Amii Stewart's "Knock on Wood" is a weird Disco-era artifact that shows how close the Giorgio Moroder synth-and-sequencer production style (think Donna Summer's "I Feel Love") resembled what we'd later call post-punk. "Brandy," by my homeboys Looking Glass (New Brunswick, N.J.), is as good as a good Boz Scaggs song -- which is quite a lot better than a lot of people realize. The Shocking Blue's "Venus" is a Dutch band's decade-late entry into the garage-punk sweepstakes, and a damn good try at that; and Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll Part 2" is a good single B-side from a guy who made a series of tremendous A-sides. Where did they all go? Where was Vicki Sue Robinson's follow-up hit after "Turn the Beat Around"? Where was the follow-up to Thelma Houston's "Don't Leave Me This Way"? To "I Love the Nightlife (Disco 'Round)" by Alicia Bridges?

Dunno. But I do know that I'm glad to have this stuff all collected in one place, instead of all scattered around the record store that I'm not going to this evening -- to not sell any promos, which is something I don't never not do. Order your "One-Hit Wonders" collection from Rhino; you can't have mine.

By Gavin McNett

Gavin McNett is a frequent contributor to Salon.

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