A one-hit wonder can take many forms. There is the novelty song (“Kung Fu Fighting,” “I’m Too Sexy”) that annoys as much as it entertains; or the epic torch ballad (“You Light Up My Life,” “I’ll Be”) replete with sappy choruses and woefully earnest lyrics. On the other side of the spectrum, there are the influential musical innovators (Talk Talk, Devo) who only struck pop chart gold on one occasion. Whatever the incarnation, one-hit wonders continue to appeal to a broad audience because they are inextricably linked to the time period from which they came.
In the realm of film and television, music supervisors tend to rely on these pieces to draw attention to overtly ironic or humorous sequences: “Last year we used ‘C’Mon N’ Ride It (The Train)’ by The Quad City DJs to score a hilarious ’90s high school flashback,” says “Psych” music supervisor Kerri Drootin. “It just gives you that feeling, the same as when you smell something that reminds you of being somewhere or of a time or a place. It brings you right back to that moment and drives the point home.”
Most music supervisors understand the utilitarian appeal of the one-hit wonder, but they constantly struggle with the tastes of studio bureaucrats and producers who often fall victim to a syndrome, which music supervisor/ KCRW DJ Thomas Golubic refers to as “temp-love.”
“Early on, an editor will put in the most obvious track that comes to mind,” says Golubic. “It’s easy to get wrapped around it because it seems to do shorthand. … And suddenly you end up with something a little more clunky and a little bit more obvious than you wanted.”
Television and film aren’t the only mediums relying heavily on one-hit wonders — advertisers consistently use them in national commercials. Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” has been a popular choice of late, appearing prominently in major advertisements by Nike and Gatorade. Modern English’s “I Melt With You” has proved to be a favorite among food corporations, starting with spots for Burger King in the 1990s and recently highlighting ads for Ritz crackers, M&Ms and Taco Bell.
Recent years have seen the competition to find the “next big thing” a la “Garden State” or “Juno” become fierce. But for music supervisors, staying true to their creative vision is key, emphasizes “Greek” associate producer Valerie Joseph: “When selecting a song, you have to ask yourself: Does it help make you feel what you want to feel in that storytelling moment? And if it does, and it’s been used before, and you can’t find anything to top it, then you go with it — you don’t just try being different for the sake of being different.”