Tony Burrows, the man who was a one hit wonder four (or five) times
Another thing that was very common in the 1960s and 70s was producers hiring session musicians to sing on a track that would then be credited to a studio band for the sole purpose of releasing that one song. Instant one hit wonders, if you will. There were plenty of well known examples of this: Steam’s deathless 1969 #1 hit “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” for instance.
Even so, it was an anomaly that four hits released in 1970 featured the uncredited vocals of English singer Tony Burrows. Those songs were “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Grows)” by The Edison Lighthouse (#5, and a #1 hit in the UK), “My Baby Loves Lovin’” by White Plains (#13), “Gimme Dat Ding” by The Pipkins (#9) and “United We Stand” by The Brotherhood of Man (#13, but the group later had a second hit without Burrows with “Save Your Kisses for Me”). In 1974, Burrows had his fifth chart entry and fourth run as one hit wonder when “Beach Baby” by The First Class made it to #4. Burrows later recorded under his own name, but had no luck in scoring a hit single.
Matthews Southern Comfort, “Woodstock” (#23, 1971) and Ian Matthews, “Shake It” (#13, 1979)
Iain (later Ian) Matthews was an original member of the seminal British folk-rock group Fairport Convention, and sang on the group’s first two albums. Matthews left the group in 1969, following the release of What We Did On Our Holidays, and struck out on a solo career that provided him with an interesting place in chart trivia history.
First, his post-Fairport group Matthews Southern Comfort scored a #23 hit with their arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” (the song also went all the way to #1 in the UK). In 1978, several years after he left Southern Comfort for a solo career and a stint as the singer for Plainsong, Matthews scored a solo hit with the soft rocker “Shake It“. Matthews scored no further top 40 hits, making him the rare example of an artist that became a one-hit wonder, twice.
Others artists with that distinction include Everlast (who reached #3 with 1992’s “Jump Around” as a member of House of Pain, and then #13 in 1999 with his solo hit “What It’s Like”) and Janis Joplin (who made it to #12 with Big Brother & The Holding Company’s “Piece of My Heart” and then had a posthumous #1 with “Me and Bobby McGee” in 1971)
Kraftwerk, “Autobahn” (three minute edit) (#25, 1975)
In 1975, Kraftwerk’s genre defining “Autobahn” might as well have sounded like it had been beamed from space. No other hit that year sounded anything like it.
Although it’s unfortunate that an act as massively influential and pioneering as Kraftwerk only had one Top 40 hit in the US, they’re one of the rare cases where the song they did it with was the most important and vital song in their entire discography.
The song was cut down from its original side-long 23-minute length to a radio friendly three and a half. The fact that this edit is even listenable is astounding. It acts as a highlight reel for the full version of the song, distilling the tracks poppiest moments into one package. It served as an impressively effective commercial for the full thing and helped the Autobahn album reach the top five on the Billboard 200 album chart.
Still, “Autobahn” is a testament that length isn’t a barrier for a classic song to cross in order to become a hit.
Lindisfarne, “Run for Home” (#33, 1978)
Some of the entries on this list are based on how surprising the artist’s Top 40 entry is to me, personally. I would not have guessed that Lindisfarne, one of the major acts in the famed British folk revival of the late 60s and 70s, scored a top 40 hit in America.
Even weirder is that it came as late as 1978. Weirder so is how bland and uninspired the actual song is. “Run for Home” sounds more like the milquetoast AOR that dominated rock radio in late 70s than the pioneering group that recorded “Meet Me on the Corner” just a few years before. I wouldn’t consider this to be an example of a band that achieved their hit due to selling out, but there’s nothing here that shows the band’s roots as part of one of the most vibrant celebrated subgenres of British pop music.