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Is Gnarls Barkley A One-Hit Wonder?

NEW YORK - APRIL 14:  (U.S.  Danger Mouse and ...

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Billboard just released its list of the top one-hit wonders of the decade. I enjoy one-hit wonders just as much as the next person: It’s always great when you can experience a song that piques the interest of a broad range of people for a short period of time. Where would I have been in sixth grade without Harvey Danger? It’s the kind of thing that bridges nostalgia for yesteryear and allows you to connect to other people in the present on the memory of a fleeting moment in time.

So I was a bit perplexed by what cropped up at No. 7 on Billboard’s list:

“Crazy” was such a gargantuan smash, it felt like Gnarls Barkley’s spell would never wear off. But after peaking at No. 2 in July 2006, Ceee-Lo and Dangermouse haven’t made it past No. 88 with their subsequent singles. Crazy, indeed.

I was always under the impression that a one-hit wonder was the kind of band or musician that only had one thing to speak of, that being a single song that was popular for a short while. True, “Crazy” was popular, but it exceeded the kind of popularity that defines a one-hit wonder to really burrow into the sub-conscience of our culture. Unlike, say Crazytown’s “Butterfly,” “Crazy” isn’t tied into one particular moment or date. “Butterfly” will always remind me of early high school. “Crazy” may have been a big hit in 2006, but you could play it right now without saying, “remember this song?”

That could be because “Crazy” was the rare kind of single that really breached the popular-time stamps for being another forgotten act like The Calling with only one song to their name, and really sticking in people’s heads. It’s a difficult task for a song to really cement itself in people’s heads, especially considering the fracturing state of popular music and pop music listenership, but Gnarls Barkley managed to do that in ways that few bands can compare to. In the aughts, there were really only two songs that breached the multicultural nature of American culture: Outkast’s (or should I say Andre 3000′s) “Hey Ya!” and Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” Sure, there were other great songs to come out this decade, but none had the all-enclosing effect that those two songs had. They cropped up and never really went away, unlike, say, “Blue (Da Ba Dee).”

What’s more, one-hit wonder implies that those acts are forgotten, and if anyone were to bring them up in a casual conversation, you could only recognize them for that one song. Yes, “Crazy” was a huge hit. But Gnarls Barkley has a lot more to its name than “Crazy.” The band’s debut, St. Elsewhere hit No. 4 on Billboard: Their 2008 follow up, The Odd Couple, hit No. 12. These statistics speak to a bit of a fallacy of Billboard’s argument, which stated that the acts on its one-hit wonder list never made it past the 25th spot on the singles chart. That’s a bit of a trick, as most artists tend to create entire albums instead of just singles, and clearly Gnarls Barkley have continued to succeed beyond the sweeping success of “Crazy.” And then there’s the whole fact that their two halves, Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo, have distinct and prolific careers in their own right. Oh, and the post-St. Elsewhere touring success and the beloved music video for “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul?”

Perhaps most of all – and this is my own personal interpretation of the term “one-hit wonder” – the term “one-hit wonder” tends to imply bad taste. As in “yeah, I remember when I loved that band! What was I thinking?” For me, that’s sort of a marker for a band that has just that one claim to fame. Most musicians won’t simply rest on the laurels of the fame and fortune garnered from a single song (because who can really do that these days?) and will more than likely try their hand at making new music. And a lot of the musicians on the Billboard list have tried to do just that, and most never captured a fraction of that original megaton of attention for either a song or an album, and were forgotten to the sands of time.

Not so for Gnarls Barkley. St. Elsewhere was a critical hit, and it obviously did well on the charts. And the band continues to create new music that people do indeed listen to. (Though it should be noted that The Odd Couple didn’t fare quite as well critically as St. Elsewhere. But it didn’t bomb either.) Call me “Crazy,” but Gnarls Barkley has a little bit more than just one song to its name.

Gnarls Barkley – “Crazy”:

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4 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. deidre #
    1

    I think there’s a difference between being a one-hit wonder and being known (by most people) for one song. Gnarls Barkley falls into the latter category if only because the band itself is at least as famous as the song. I tend to think of one hit wonders as bands I’ve long forgotten but songs that are immediately recognizable.

  2. 2

    There is no logic to be concerned about here Leor, though I like all your points. Bluntly stated, Billboard Magazine is a steaming pile of shit. While industry folks might care about their opinions, and music industry PR people tout the hell out of these lists, Billboard is the McDonald’s of music mags.

  3. Leor Galil #
    3

    Absolutely. A friend of mine said Gnarls Barkley’s smash hit and after-effect is similar to Radiohead and Beck’s break-outs. Not every band can replicate the success of, say, “Creep,” but they can build one hell of a career otherwise.

  4. Leor Galil #
    4

    You know, I always considered Rolling Stone as the McDonald’s of music mags: Nothing but low-grade meat made from endlessly recycled “why The Beatles are the greatest thing ever” articles.

    Yeah, I go back and forth about lists myself. They’re fun to make, but don’t take them to seriously, which is a fatal mistake for all of those magazines. What’s worse with the Billboard list is that they try to create some mathematical equation to calculate their top one-hit wonders list, which is sort of an underlying theme in the piece: The equation is innately flawed.

    But, as you said, I knew there wasn’t much logic there. But, I’d hate to be the PR guy who has to advertise their band/musician as having toped that list!


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