The Truth About Music

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One Hit Wonders and Their Effect On An Artists Career

Today in the car, Sirius Satellite Radio played a song that I consider to be a one hit wonder. Although others might disagree saying that Snow Patrol has had other big singles, the only one that anyone remembers is “Chasing Cars.”

This got me thinking. Some bands have a huge hit and then remain in the spotlight while others have that one hit and then fade quicker than hunger on Thanksgiving. What makes these bands and songs different? It’s clear that the songs that are hits always have things in common. Catchy hooks, relatable lyrics and a feeling of simplicity in the writing. If that is the case then why do some groups stick around long after their initial breakout and others fade away?
Two bands I want to look at in this example are the Plain White T’s and Boys Like Girls. Of course Boys Like Girls are one of my favorite case studies in music and the T’s are a great example of a one hit wonder band.
I’ll start with Boys Like Girls. In 2006 they released their self titled debut record. While touring clubs and opening for acts like Avril Lavigne, the band quietly sold over 500,000 copies of the album and grew a dedicated, large fan base. What intrigues me in this discussion is that the bands first single “The Great Escape” (technically the second single) has a very similar sound to what you would expect from Boys Like Girls. The songs sound runs perfectly into what we expect and there is no let down once you hear the rest of the songs on the first (and second) albums.
Moving on to our other example, Plain White T’s burst onto the scene in 2005 with “All That We Needed.” The album didn’t do well but the single “Hey There Delilah” reached all the way to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 (“The Great Escape” peaked at #23). With their success, they toured the country, opening for some of the hottest acts and headlining their own shows while their song was being played over and over again on radio stations nationwide.
The trouble with all of this was that any fan of Plain White T’s would tell you that “Hey There Delilah” does not exemplify the way the band actually sounds. Light hearted and sweet, the song is followed by punk songs that rock out pretty hard (and are not necessarily bad). Any person who heard the single and then went to find the rest of the songs would be disappointed to find nothing that sounds the same.
It is with that problem that we discuss one hit wonders and their affect on a bands career. Since the pair of debut albums, Boys Like Girls have had continued success, releasing another album while riding one of the most vigorous tour schedules I’ve seen in a long time. The band puts on a fantastic show and is constantly selling out halls in New York, Boston and Los Angeles.
On the other hand, Plain White T’s have all but disappeared. They are quickly fading making one last ditch attempt to save their careers. In 2008, they released “Big Bad World” which contained the single “1,2,3,4.” What could of been an homage to “Hey There Delilah” the song peaked at #34 on the Hot 100 and once again, faded away without any real significance (the song again did not carry the bands general sound).
Building a sound is so important when you launch a band. Bands that get it will put together albums full of songs that make people want to keep listening. On the other hand, bands that release heavy singles with nothing to back up the sound often fail quickly after the single cools. Although it’s often out of the bands control, it is also advisable for labels to keep this in mind when they look at the big picture and the new artists they are putting out.

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2 Legacy Comments

  • Comment by Anonymous posted December 16, 2009 at 20:22

    so what your saying is, boys like girls were sell outs from the start while plain white t's only sold out on two songs. either way the message is clear, making your band completely poppy is the only way to sell records.

  • Comment by Harris posted December 16, 2009 at 20:24

    As I've discussed many times before, I don't believe in selling out in the music industry. If your making money and furthering your career then the more power to you. The message here has nothing to do with selling out or having a pop sound. This same message can be applied to many different genres, not just the pop ones I talk about.