Five One-hit Wonders From New Jersey
Every September 25th is practically Christmas for lovers of obscure music, particularly by musicians who barely scratched into the mainstream. This day marks National One-Hit Wonder Day, where we remember bands and artists known for only one bona fide hit song.
Acts like a-ha, A Flock of Seagulls, and Chumbawamba had massive singles, and would continue putting music out in the years following their success, but still couldn’t crack into the charts with that same intensity again.
While we all know the big names like Bon Jovi and Springsteen, the New Jersey area has also been home to quality artists who haven’t had the luck of being as prolific.
For this years day of One-Hit Wonder appreciation, we figured we would take a look at a few artists who found brief success on the Billboard charts that were from our neck of the woods, some better known than others. Here are five groups from the Garden State that had their fifteen minutes of fame...
Paramus songwriter Dean Friedman’s 1977 single about a “free spirited, music loving vegetarian Jewish girl,” would reach number 26 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spend 22 weeks on the chart altogether. Though it was Friedman’s only charting single in the United States, he’s continued his music career up to the present day, releasing an album as recently as 2017. He was also one of the first musicians to embrace crowdfunding, way back in 2002, allowing fans to preorder copies of his new album via his website and using those funds to produce it.
Newark doo-wop group The Monotones released their only hit in February 1958 (perhaps just in time for Valentine’s Day). With a hook supposedly inspired by a toothpaste jingle, and metaphorical lyrics pondering the complicated nature of love, the song peaked at number 5 on U.S. pop charts. Eventually, it would be covered by The Four Seasons, a fellow Newark group, and would appear in movies such as American Graffiti, Christine, and Stand By Me to name a few.
Formed as a party band by students at Rutgers New Brunswick, Looking Glass would break up after graduating only to reform soon after with two new members. Lead by main songwriter Elliot Lurie, the band would release this single in May 1972, and would top the Hot 100 just a couple months later. I wasn’t familiar with this one before researching but it has been included in films like Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Say Anything, and Lurie has gone on to score music for other films.
Though all 3 members hailed from Englewood, New Jersey, they took their name from the affluent Sugar Hill district of Harlem. They were also named for Sugar Hill Records, a label started by producer Sylvia Robinson, who discovered the group while they were working at a pizza shop. The 15 minute long song (shortened to 4:55 for the single release) was the first hip hop hit in America, reaching 36 on the Hot 100, and exposing the entire country to a new sound coming from the Northeast. In 2011, the song was preserved in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress, who deemed it "culturally and historically significant." After the death of Henry “Big Bank Hank” Jackson in 2014, the surviving members would begin performing again and continue to today.
Montclair based Adam Schlesinger and friend Chris Collingwood played in a few bands throughout college before settling on Fountains of Wayne, named after a Wayne, New Jersey lawn ornament store. In 2003, seven years after the release of their debut record, their song about Stacy’s rather attractive mother would reach number 21 on the Hot 100. The band drew inspiration from 1980’s New Wave/Power Pop sources like The Cars and Rick Springfield to create a catchy song that along with its quirky music video, gained the band a sizable amount of recognition. Unfortunately, though, the song couldn’t keep them in the spotlight, and they would split up after releasing their final album in 2011. Beyond Wayne, Schlesinger’s written music for various films and TV shows, and has worked with many other bands, taking over production duties.