Photo above by Julianne Woodson
Since the earliest days of rock and roll music during the 1950s, one hit wonders have always existed on Top 40 radio. Artists who had one big hit and then faded into oblivion.
With this edition of my musical musings, I am concentrating on the superb “One hit wonders” of 1971. I will be counting down the top songs in this category from 50 years ago.
What exactly is a “One Hit Wonder?” The basic definition: An artist has only one hit song during their career on the national Billboard Hot 100 pop chart. This music blog message pertains solely to hit songs within the United States.
Obviously, there some other rules that should be included if an artist is to be included for consideration as a one hit wonder.
- No other songs from an artist ever peaking at number 40 or higher on the Billboard National Pop Chart. (Chart positions from number 40 to number 1).
- One hit wonders vary from country to country. An artist may have just one hit in the United States but may have multiple hits in another country.
- Regional hits are not taken into account: A second song must be a national hit and chart within the Billboard Top 40 pop survey.
- Any song peaking outside of the Top 40, are always excluded for consideration.
- Songs that peak from numbers 41 through 100 on the national Billboard Hot 100 pop chart are never considered as second hits.
The rule that a second song must be a Top 40 Billboard National pop chart hit was established in 1998, by music historian Wayne Jancik in his definitive work on the subject, “The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders.”
Photo of my 45 rpm single of “Here Comes the Sun” by Richie Havens. A record that I bought in the summer of 1971 and still own here in 2021.
The subject of “One hit wonders” has always been interesting to me and researching the reasons why some artists have only one hit song. Way before the advent of the Internet, my go to reference for this subject has been “The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits” by Joel Whitburn. I consider Whitburn’s book to be the “bible” of Top 40 music reference and still proudly own a hard copy of this excellent book.
I grew up in Roanoke, Virginia and have fond memories listening to Top 40 radio in 1971.
During daylight hours, I would tune into a couple of Roanoke Valley stations: WROV 1240 AM and WBLU 1480 AM.
WROV was the top-rated radio station in Roanoke and the DJs that I remember during this time period were Bart Prater, Larry Bly, Jack Fisher, Dan Alexander, Ron Tompkins and Phil Beckman.
WROV Roanoke DJ Jack Fisher drinking milk at remote broadcast. Photo is courtesy of the WROV History Online Website/Pat Garrett.
At sundown, WROV reduced their power and WBLU signed off the air. I would then listen to a variety of 50,000-watt clear channel AM stations at night.
The two main stations that I listened to during the nighttime were WLS 890 AM Chicago and WABC 770 AM New York. On the Big 89 WLS, Larry Lujack, Chuck Buell, Kris Erik Stevens and Scotty Brink were my favorite DJs. When listening to WABC, Dan Ingram and Cousin Brucie (Bruce Morrow) are the two radio DJ voices that I remember from 1971.
WLS Chicago Surveys from 1/18/71 and 8/23/71. Photo is courtesy of Pete Battistini: Author of the book, American Top 40 with Casey Kasem (The 1970’s).
On nights that WLS or WABC were hard to pick up, I had other clear channel stations for my listening pleasure. Among those other stations were, WOWO Fort Wayne 1190 AM, WCFL Chicago 1000 AM, CKLW Windsor, Ontario (Detroit) 800 AM, WKBW Buffalo 1520 AM and WKYC Cleveland 1100 AM.
At the end of 1971, Billboard Magazine published the top hits of the year. Below all the Top 10 hits from that year. All artists listed on the year-end Top 10 chart had more than one hit during their careers.
1 “Joy to the World” Three Dog Night
2 “Maggie May”/”Reason to Believe” Rod Stewart
3 “It’s Too Late”/”I Feel the Earth Move” Carole King
4 “One Bad Apple” The Osmonds
5 “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” Bee Gees
6 “Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)”
Paul Revere and the Raiders
7 “Go Away Little Girl” Donny Osmond
8 “Take Me Home, Country Roads” John Denver
9 “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)” Temptations
10 “Knock Three Times” Tony Orlando and Dawn
Photo of my 45 rpm single that I bought in 1971 and still own today. “Cherish What Is Dear To You (While It’s Near To You” by Freda Payne. This artist is not a one hit wonder.
For the remainder of this message, I will be focusing on the musical year of 1971 and the numerous excellent one hit wonder songs during this golden year of Top 40 radio.
Before I start my 1971 one hit wonders countdown, I will be sharing with you a band whom I thought only had 1 hit in America. However, the Canadian group is a “Two Hit Wonder.”
“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?”
True Confession: Before I started writing this music blog message, I always assumed the song “Signs” by the Five Man Electrical Band as the best one hit wonder of 1971. However, that is erroneous information. The Canadian rock group from Ottawa, Ontario had a second 1971 hit with “Absolutely Right” which peaked at number 26 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Signs” peaked at number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was the 24th biggest record for the entire year of 1971. It’s an all-time favorite song for me and my selection as the best “Two Hit Wonder” from 50 years ago.
Besides the excellent song “Signs” and the Five Man Electrical Band, there are a few other “Two hit wonders” that I want to highlight on this message. Another Canadian band in this category are the Stampeders. Formed in Calgary, Alberta, the band reached number 8 with “Sweet City Woman.” They had a second top 40 hit in America with, “Hit the Road Jack” during 1975.
Photos of 45 rpm singles that I own here in 2021: Both were two hit wonders. “Do You Know What I Mean” came from a jukebox, while “Sweet City Woman” is a single that I bought during the summer of 1971.
I also want to share a couple of other prominent “Two hit wonders” from 1971. American rock musician Lee Michaels hit the top 40 twice that year: “Do You Know What I Mean” reached number 6 and his follow up hit, “Can I Get a Witness” peaked at number 39.
Welsh singer-songwriter and guitarist Dave Edmonds reached number 2 with “I Hear Your Knocking” during 1971. His song, “Slipping Away” peaked at number 39 during 1983 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Photo of my 45 rpm singles that I bought in 1971 and still own here in 2021. Both are one hit wonders.
As I evaluated the data from the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits by Joel Whitman, there are two outlier songs that are technically one hit wonders: But I refuse to place either of those artists and/or their songs in that category.
- “Me and Bobby McGee” by Janis Joplin. This posthumous number 1 song was Joplin’s only Top 40 hit. She did have two other solo just outside of number 40: “Kozmic Blues” reached 41 and “Cry Baby” peaked at number 42. Joplin also reached number 12 in 1968 with “Piece of My Heart” with Big Brother & Holding Company. In my humble opinion, Ms. Joplin should never be considered a one hit wonder.
- “Chicago” by Graham Nash. Is this really a solo song or a band hit? Peaking at number 35 on the Billboard Hot 100, “Chicago” is found on two albums: It was released first on the Crosby Stills Nash and Young’s, “4 Way Street” album during April 1971. Then one month later, it showed up on Graham Nash’s debut solo album, “Songs For Beginners.” With Nash having multiple hits with the Hollies and CSN&Y, he doesn’t deserve the title or status as a one hit wonder artist.
Most of the true one hit wonders from 1971 are songs that I do not mind hearing 50 years later. However, there are a couple of novelty songs in this category that I never, ever want to hear again in my life:
- Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep–Mac and Katie Kisson
- Chick-A-Boom (Don’t Ya Jes’ Love It)–Daddy Dewdrop
Before starting the countdown of my favorite Top 13 “one hit wonder” favorites, here are five singles that peaked between numbers 26 and 40:
- I’d Love to Change the World—Ten Years After
- Hallelujah—Sweat Hog
- Resurrection Shuffle—Ashton, Gardner and Dyke
- 1900 Yesterday—Liz Damon’s Orient Express
Now it is time for my countdown: A baker’s dozen of what I consider to be the best one hit wonders of 1971:
13. I’ve Found Someone on My Own—The Free Movement
Peak position on Billboard Charts: #5 Hot 100, #7 AC
The Free Movement was a soul/R&B ensemble from Los Angeles, California. Their mellow soft rock hit was the 27th biggest record of 1971.
12. Timothy—The Buoys
Peak Position on Billboard Charts: #17 Hot 100: 87th biggest hit of 1971
Pop/rock band from the Wilkes-Barre-Scranton, Pennsylvania area. This controversial song written by Rupert Holmes, featured lyrics about a coal mine disaster and cannibalism. The message of the song was problematic. Nevertheless, it was still a hit.
11. Get It On—Chase
Peak Position on Billboard Chart: #24 Hot 100
Bill Chase formed a jazz-rock fusion band named after himself. The song “Get It On” sounds similar to what rock bands Chicago or Blood Sweat & Tears recorded during the early 70s.
10. Funky Nassau—The Beginning of the End
Peak position on Billboard Charts: #15 Hot 100, #7 R&B: 75th biggest hit of 1971
From Nassau, Bahamas, the Beginning of the End played a variety of musical genres: A hybrid of Funk, R&B, Calypso, Latin, Jazz and Pop. Band was known for their horn section.
9. Mr. Big Stuff—Jean Knight
Peak position on Billboard Charts: #1 R&B, #2 Hot 100: 17th biggest hit of 1971
A sassy, upbeat soul song, that has an excellent bass line. Jean Knight’s song was nominated for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance at the 1972 Grammy Awards.
8. Here Comes the Sun—Richie Havens
Peak Position on Billboard Charts: #16 Hot 100: 95th biggest hit of 1971
1969 Woodstock singer-songwriter and guitarist Richie Havens performs a superb mid-tempo cover of this George Harrison song. The combination of accompanied conga drum playing, along with Havens’ excellent guitar riffs, makes for an outstanding musical performance.
7. Put Your Hand in the Hand—Ocean
Peak Position on Billboard Charts: #2 Hot 100: 33rd Biggest Hit of 1971
Originally recorded by Anne Murray, the Canadian band Ocean had an international smash with their gospel song. “Put Your Hand in the Hand” has been covered by many artists over the years, including by Elvis Presley, Loretta Lynn, Lynn Anderson, Joan Baez and Randy Stonehill. The song was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006.
6. One Toke Over the Line—Brewer and Shipley
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #10 Hot 100: 63rd Biggest Hit of 1971
American folk rock duo Brewer & Shipley had a contentious hit song during 1971, with lyrics mentioning Jesus and drug usage. According to Wikipedia: “U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew, tried to get the FCC to ban the song on American radio.” Obviously, Agnew wasn’t successful banning “One Tote Over the Line” and it can still be heard on U.S. radio here in 2021.
5. Toast and Marmalade for Tea—Tin Tin
Peak Position on Billboard Chart: #20 Hot 100
Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees produced the only hit for the Australian rock band. Tin Tin’s song features tight harmonies and starts off with a distinctive piano melody. The tune then builds by adding multiple guitars, bass, drums, brass and stringed instruments, making a pleasing crescendo at the end of the song.
Peak Position on Billboard Charts: #17 Hot 100, #6 AC
Cymarron was a band out of Memphis, Tennessee and they named their band after a 60’s TV show called, “Cimarron Strip.” Lyrics to the song mentions listening to “James Taylor on the stereo” and is considered a quintessential soft rock tune of the early 70s. Tompall & the Glaser Brothers recorded a cover version of “Rings” and it reached number 7 on the Billboard County Singles Chart. Their rendition mentions listening to “Merle Haggard on the stereo.”
3. Woodstock—Matthews Southern Comfort
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #23 Hot 100
A song that Joni Mitchell wrote during 1969, “Woodstock” had already been a hit for Crosby Stills Nash & Young during the Spring of 1970. British country folk/rock band Matthews Southern Comfort recorded another cover of Mitchell’s anthem, and their version became a hit in 1971. This newer version of the song featured a slower tempo and had a country/rock vibe. Ironically, Ian Matthews left his own band before “Woodstock” became a hit in America.
2. Wedding Song (There is Love)—Paul Stookey
Peak positions on Billboard Charts: #3 AC, #24 Hot 100: 92nd biggest hit of 1971
Noel Paul Stookey first gain musical popularity with the folk-rock trio Peter, Paul and Mary in 1961. Their group broke up for the first time during 1970 and Stookey’s only solo hit came the following year. “Wedding Song (There is Love)” became a popular song played at weddings during the 70s and the tune is still performed at some marriage ceremonies nearly 50 years later.
- Smiling Faces Sometimes—The Undisputed Truth
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #2 R&B, #3 Hot 100: 14th biggest hit of 1971
The Undisputed Truth was a psychedelic soul/R&B Motown trio consisting of Joe Harris, Billie Calvin and Brenda Evans. The lyrics of the song are about “back stabbing” friends and the consequences of those actions. The Funk Brothers session band provides outstanding musicianship and the trio maintains excellent harmonies on this melodic tune. Without a doubt, “Smiling Faces Sometimes” is my favorite one hit wonder from 1971.
Now that I have humbly submitted my thoughts on “one hit wonders” of 1971, I am curious to find out your opinion on the music from that year.
Obviously, I do not want to come across as authoritative with my critique of the “one hit wonder” songs from 1971. The songs that you might feel are the best, maybe be completely different from my selections.
So I am asking for your opinion: What do you consider to be the best “one hit wonders” of 50 years ago? There are no right or wrong answers. I welcome your thoughts.
Listening to music from the golden age of Top 40 radio will always have a special place in my heart. I cherish and fondly remember my favorite “one hit wonders” of 1971. Rock on!
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