FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

In Defense of the One Hit Wonder

It’s hard to judge the trajectory of an artist. Is Harper Lee a less important author because she only wrote one book? Or is Kerouac’s success measured in book spines? The music business is pretty unforgiving when it comes to one hit wonders. Songs like “Do You Love Me” by the Contours or Aha’s 1984 anthem “Take on Me” tend to be more of a target of ridicule than a source of inspiration. As they slip out of the mainstream, these artists and their songs are taken less an less seriously.

Lyfe Jennings is an artist whose career followed this path. The day after serving ten years in prison for arson, Jennings began recording a four-song demo to sell at his shows. He soon moved to New York where he performed at the Apollo Theater’s amateur night, and, after being booed at his first appearance, won five times in a row. This success led to a record deal with Columbia and appearances with everyone from Bun B to Three Six Mafia. His most successful single, “S.E.X.” reached #37 on the pop charts and topped the R&B charts. But it proved to be his last hit and  Jennings faded from the spotlight soon after.

But “S.E.X.” was no Macarena. It’s a song about a young girl growing up in the ghetto trying to find her way sexually and, while it doesn’t quite promote abstinence it also doesn’t take the promiscuous posturing found in the lyrics of  most male R&B singers. The real highlight of the record is its slow-moving, incredibly sparse arrangement. Drums, bass and piano pull backwards against Jennings’s raspy vocals generating a very unique rhythmic tension. It sounds like the band is fighting against its singer in a way that is perfect for a song about a young girl struggling with temptation.

Most folks would look at a story like Lyfe’s and say that he didn’t succeed. A few failed records and one semi-popular single is not the normal “Behind The Music” success story, but I think that the standards that we judge a career by are a little skewed. Seeing one of the members of the Kingsmen working as a garbage man, or seeing someone from the Sugar Hill Gang at the counter of the Stop and Shop, certainly doesn’t seem like a failure. If your music can connect with the rest of the world, even for just 3 minutes, then it did its job.

LORENZO WOLFF is a musician living in New York. He can be reached at: lorenzowolff@gmail.com

 

More articles by:

LORENZO WOLFF is a musician living in New York. He can be reached at: lorenzowolff@gmail.com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
September 20, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Unipolar Governance of the Multipolar World
Rob Urie
Strike for the Environment, Strike for Social Justice, Strike!
Miguel Gutierrez
El Desmadre: The Colonial Roots of Anti-Mexican Violence
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Pompeo and Circumstance
Andrew Levine
Why Democrats Really Should Not All Get Along But Sometimes Must Anyway
Louis Proyect
A Rebellion for the Wild West
T.J. Coles
A Taste of Their Own Medicine: the Politicians Who Robbed Iranians and Libyans Fear the Same for Brexit Britain
H. Bruce Franklin
How We Launched Our Forever War in the Middle East
Lee Hall
Mayor Obedience Training, From the Pet Products Industry
Louis Yako
Working in America: Paychecks for Silence
Michael D. Yates
Radical Education
Jonathan Cook
Israelis Have Shown Netanyahu the Door. Can He Inflict More Damage Before He Exits?
Valerie Reynoso
The Rising Monopoly of Monsanto-Bayer
John Steppling
American Psychopathy
Ralph Nader
25 Ways the Canadian Health Care System is Better than Obamacare for the 2020 Elections
Ramzy Baroud
Apartheid Made Official: Deal of the Century is a Ploy and Annexation is the New Reality
Vincent Emanuele
Small Town Values
John Feffer
The Threat of Bolton Has Retreated, But Not the Threat of War
David Rosen
Evangelicals, Abstinence, Abortion and the Mainstreaming of Sex
Judy Rohrer
“Make ‘America’ White Again”: White Resentment Under the Obama & Trump Presidencies
John W. Whitehead
The Police State’s Language of Force
Kathleen Wallace
Noblesse the Sleaze
Farzana Versey
Why Should Kashmiris be Indian?
Nyla Ali Khan
Why Are Modi and His Cohort Paranoid About Diversity?
Shawn Fremstad
The Official U.S. Poverty Rate is Based on a Hopelessly Out-of-Date Metric
Mel Gurtov
No War for Saudi Oil!
Robert Koehler
‘I’m Afraid You Have Humans’
David Swanson
Every Peace Group and Activist Should Join Strike DC for the Earth’s Climate
Scott Owen
In Defense of Non-violent Actions in Revolutionary Times
Jesse Jackson
Can America Break Its Gun Addiction?
Priti Gulati Cox
Sidewalk Museum of Congress: Who Says Kansas is Flat?
Mohamad Shaaf
The Current Political Crisis: Its Roots in Concentrated Capital with the Resulting Concentrated Political Power
Max Moran
Revolving Door Project Probes Thiel’s White House Connection
Arshad Khan
Unhappy India
Nick Pemberton
Norman Fucking Rockwell! and 24 Other Favorite Albums
Nicky Reid
The Bigotry of ‘Hate Speech’ and Facebook Fascism
Paul Armentano
To Make Vaping Safer, Legalize Cannabis
Jill Richardson
Punching Through Bad Headlines
Jessicah Pierre
What the Felicity Huffman Scandal Says About America
John Kendall Hawkins
Draining the Swamp, From the Beginning of Time
Julian Rose
Four Funerals and a Wedding: A Brief History of the War on Humanity
Victor Grossman
Film, Music and Elections in Germany
Charles R. Larson
Review: Ahmet Altan’s “I Will Never See the World Again”
David Yearsley
Jazz is Activism
Elliot Sperber
Captains of Industry 
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail