Brandon Rivers’ One-Hit Wonder Playlist

Doris Troy “Just One Look” ~ While reaching only no. 10 on the Billboard Chart in 1963, the song was a smash in Canada where it went to number 1. Doris was a nightclub singer when James Brown noticed her and took her to Atlantic Records, where she recorded a demo of this song, which she had co-written. The label wasn’t all that interested, but Jerry Wexler decided to release the demo of “Just One Look” anyway. The song is a hard-hitting R&B classic that’s been covered by the likes of Linda Ronstadt and The Hollies. We prefer the original.

The Jaynetts “Sally Go Round The Roses” ~ One of the classic girl group records of all time, this one was produced at Chess Records, the blues label, the home of the deep groove. The producer was looking to create a hit record, and he assembled a stellar gathering of vocalists to create a soul masterpiece that defies lyrical explanation. It’s said than more than 20 singers participated in the making of this record in which they might have singing about a lesbian affair, or a religious epiphany. The song is wistful, relentless in its melancholy, and exudes a soft despair. Lead vocalist Lezli Valentine headed up the quintet known as The Jaynetts, and truly shines here, but even her talent couldn’t carry the group forward to further success in the music business, despite recording countless other tracks. They went from number 2 on the Billboard chart in September of 1963 into total obscurity. Except for this minor masterpiece.

J. Frank Wilson & The Cavaliers “Last Kiss” ~ Written by Wayne Cochran and based upon real car crashes involving young couples in his rural Georgia country, Cochran tried four different versions in 1962-63, but the song failed to chart.  Texas singer J. Frank Wilson and his band were assigned the job and over the course of one afternoon in August of 1964 they recorded 64 takes of this 2 minute 28 second masterpiece of pop drama. Memorably revived in a cover version by Pearl Jam, and also by the group Wednesday, but neither were as moving as J. Frank and his very competent West Texas band.

Terry Stafford “Suspicion” ~  Terry was performing at dances and record hops, and achieving enough local success in Southern California that he was able to go into a studio and cut a demonstration record. The song Terry chose was taken from an Elvis Presley album, Pot Luck. Terry cut the single, and he and his manager took it to Crusader Records, where after several hours of remastering, they achieved a sound that reminded many of Elvis himself.  “Suspicion” went on to be the #6 record in 1964, at a time when the Beatles held the 1, 2, 4, 5, and 7 positions. The following week “Suspicion” reached no. 3.

Bob Lind “Elusive Butterfly” ~ The lyrics to this 1965 folk-rock classic have been read at countless school graduation ceremonies. That makes the writing of Bob Lind something special, and combined with the upbeat arrangement and Lind’s distinctive vocal, there has never been a better song reflecting the hope and the innocence of youth. This was his only charted single, but present-day Lind is close to 80 and is at the peak of his powers, notably with the 2012 album Finding You Again and 2016’s Magellan Was Wrong. Songcraft of the highest order.

Los Bravos “Black is Black” ~ Back in 1966 a Spanish rock group by the name of Los Bravos came up with this unforgettable tune which achieved something remarkable. It was the first international rock hit ever for any Spanish group. A heavy bass line, a piercing lead guitar, a pulsing keyboard, and an agonized vocal made this recording jump out of every teenager’s car radio in every burger drive-in in the world. The tune throbs with energy and dares you to listen again. And again.

Question Mark and the Mysterians  “96 Tears” ~ This garage band had been pumping out their organ-driven rock in the Saginaw, Michigan area since 1962, and they hit it big in 1966 with impassioned writer/ vocalist Rudy Martinez’ tale of a shattered heart. “You’re way on top now, since you left me” he sings, while the band’s keyboard player, Frank Rodriguez, backs him up, using a Vox Continental to create an organ riff that defined the era.  Still on heavy rotation in these parts.

The Equals “Baby Come Back” ~ Originally released in 1966 and failed to chart. Re-released two years later and went to no. 1 in England in 1968. A propulsive mix of rock and beat from this North London group, the song was written by singer/writer Eddy Grant, who was apparently as addicted to the tune as the record buyers were. He released it again in 1984, 1985, and 1989, but the magic was gone. The original remains unforgettable. Burton Cummings, who knows and owns recordings of every classic pop song ever, and can play all of them, has been performing “Baby Come Back” live with his stellar band and bringing the song to thousands who missed it the first time around.

Sugarloaf “Green-Eyed Lady” ~ The album version of this tune is nearly seven minutes long, and it’s the one to audition. Released in 1970, the album cut became a staple of high end audio salons for its unique combination of jazzy chords, folk-rock lyrics, and superb instrumentation. Its closest relative might be the Fleetwood Mac masterpiece “Hypnotized”. Leader and composer Jerry Corbetta pleaded for promotion on this single and the song made it big on the charts despite the label’s indifference. Corbetta turned the experience into a follow-up minor hit “Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You” that should have been just as big.

The Youngbloods “Get Together” ~ Recorded at the height of hippie fever by The Youngbloods, this somewhat psychedelic number continues to enchant. Jessie Colin Young’s earnest vocal manages to triumph over some stiff competition from other versions. The song dates back to The Kingston Trio and was recorded previously by The Byrds and We Five and even Jefferson Airplane – none of those talented groups could manage a hit record with this beautiful message of peace, love and understanding. Jesse got the job done with style back in 1969; alas, it was the only time The Youngbloods caught sight of themselves on the charts.

Albert Hammond “It Never Rains In Southern California” ~ Better known as a prolific songwriter who has worked with the likes of Hal David, Diane Warren, Carole Bayer Sager, and countless others,  Hammond’s songs have been recorded by just about anyone in pop music you care to mention. He also made several albums on his own, and one of them back in 1972 yielded this gem. It’s a killer song all about the bright lights, acting in TV shows and movies, the endless California sun. What could go wrong? That’s what so right about this song. Hammond nails the subject for all time.

Mel and Tim “Starting All Over Again” ~ You may know this song from Hall & Oates great 1990 album ‘Change of Season”, and they do a superb job of it. You may even be tempted to audition the 1992 cover by Bobby Bland, or the 2009 cover by Paul Jones with guitar by Eric Clapton. But if you ever hear the 1972 original you’ll be forever spoiled by the Stax/Volt production, the heartfelt spoken intro, and the soulful hope and longing the cousin duo of Mel and Tim brought to the song. Technically, they’re a 2-hit wonder. They’d had a previous hit with the song “Backfield in Motion” which is good; as for this one, folks, Stax producers Barry Beckett and Roger Hawkins built this record to last a century.

Billy Paul “Me and Mrs. Jones” ~ The ultimate R & B song about infidelity. Released in 1972, Billy Paul’s silken voice was the perfect vehicle for this sax-drenched powerhouse. No less than Questlove of the Roots rates him in the same league as Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder,  pronouncing  him “one of the criminally unmentioned proprietors of socially conscious post-revolution ’60s civil rights music”. Should have had a dozen hit records with that voice. Could have been the new Sam Cooke, but the record biz is one sweet mystery. Treasure this recording.

Skylark “Wildflower” ~ Here’s where David Foster got his start. His fledgling Vancouver group recorded this back in 1973, and the tune stands up well today. However, the demo faced so much rejection that only one radio station in North America,  CKLW in Windsor, Ontario would play it, and that was due to Canadian content regulations. They played it repeatedly for 3 months until it was picked up in the U.S. Sold a million copies and David Foster went on to become, well, David Foster.

Ace “How Long” ~ The opening bass line sets the tone, somewhat ominous. Most people think this song is about issues with an unfaithful romantic partner, but the tune arose when writer and lead singer Paul Carrack found out that the group’s bassist was secretly working with two other bands. Cheaters of all kinds find out the truth about themselves, with the searing guitar solo as their chief accuser. As for Carrack, he went on to major success with Roxy Music, Squeeze, Mike & The Mechanics and more. He is one superb vocalist. Release date 1975.

Player “Baby Come Back” ~ Not the same song at all as the classic from The Equals, but still a powerhouse number that could have come from the likes of Hall & Oates. The band got their start as the opening act for Gino Vanelli, then Boz Scaggs. This single debuted in the fall of 1977, and went to no. 1 just about everywhere. Ensuing band tensions led to a dozen or more incarnations, none of them successful. The song remains as poignant today as when it was released.

Sniff n’ The Tears “Driver’s Seat”  ~ This English group gigged extensively in the early ‘70s without success, then delivered this pop masterpiece in 1979. Great drumming, memorable vocals, and an iconic keyboard riff that reminded many of Del Shannon’s “Runaway”, along with a great Moog solo that made this an immediate earworm. Searching for a group name, leader and writer Paul Roberts suggested “The Tears”. However, his bad case of hay fever led their manager to name them “Sniff ‘n’ The Tears”. Their 7-year overnight success caused an immediate breakup of the band. They bequeathed to music fans these four minutes of perfect sonic pleasure.

The Knack “My Sharona” ~  Writer and vocalist Doug Fieger wrote this tune as a tribute to his real-life young girl friend; Sharona herself posed for the album cover. Her picture explained it all. Doug said in later years that the subject of the song was young lust. Released in 1979, the record climbed the charts faster than a rocket ship. Record stores couldn’t keep it in stock. Christian groups advocated for a total ban. The song is so addictive it came to be parodied in numerous TV skits. But it was a sensation back then. Although Doug and Sharona never married, they stayed close for decades.

Benny Mardones “Into The Night” ~ It may seem a little weird to follow up “My Sharona” with “Into The Night”, since they’re both about older men/ young girl relationships, but Benny Mardones’ smash number, with its gorgeous arrangement, is so good it hit the pop charts twice – in 1980 and again in 1989. Mardones entered the music business as a staff writer, but proved his worth as a consummate stage performer on his own. He had the talent to have had many more hits. Just didn’t happen, although he toured steadily until stricken with Parkinson’s Disease. He passed away in 2020 at the age of 73.

Spandau Ballet “This Much Is True” ~ Released in 1983 by this English New Wave band, the song became a smash in Canada, New Zealand and the U.K. but barely managed to crack the Billboard Top 20 in the U.S. It was a brilliant mix of jazz and pop influences, combined with a New Wave sensibility.  The song still garners considerable airplay around the world.

Sinead O’Connor “Nothing Compares 2 U” ~ If anyone were to doubt the songwriting ability of Prince, one need only point to the 1990 recording of this Prince composition. It was universally acclaimed. Frankly, no other song compares to this one, and given Sinead O’Connor’s remarkable vocal gifts, it’s a fitting end to Volume 2 of our One-Hit Wonder playlist series. Nothing more can or should be said.

Brandon Rivers

Brandon Rivers is an emerging music writer based in Victoria, BC. Their collection of vinyl albums and 45 rpm singles gets played daily through a vintage audio system: Sansui amplifier, Dual turntable and JBL L100 speakers. Brandon is also a songwriter on the side. They can be reached here:

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