A Brief History
On January 28, 1956, Elvis Aron Presley, all-American boy from Tupelo, Mississippi, made his first television appearance on CBS’s Stage Show, the day after “Heartbreak Hotel” was released as a single. Elvis would quickly become “The King” of rock and roll, and the best selling single artist of all time. On the other hand, many great records were made by people that had only one major success, known as “one hit wonders.” Today we list our “greatest” (our favorites) list of those one hit wonders that came to our shores from artists in other countries. What songs would you add to the list?
1. “Dominique,” The Singing Nun, Belgium, 1963.
A Dominican Order nun by the name of Jeanine Deckers sang this French language tune (Dominique is French for Dominic, as in St. Dominic) and took it to #1 in the US, as well as into the Top 10 in 11 countries. Deckers, known affectionately as “Sister Smiles” (Soeur Sourire in French) never had another hit, and in 1985 took her own life along with her life companion Annie Pescher, a sad ending to a beautiful song.
2. “Sukiyaki,” Kyu Sakamoto, Japan, 1963.
Released in Japan in 1961, the song sung in Japanese became a hit in the US and the UK in 1963, in spite of actually being inspired by the frustration over American occupation of Japan. Despite being in unintelligible Japanese, Americans loved it, and the song went to #1. It sold a total of 13 million copies world-wide, making it one of the all time great singles. Other artists sang English language versions (that did not match the Japanese lyrics, but sounded great), but Sakamoto did not have any further US hits.
3. “Seasons in the Sun,” Terry Jacks, Canada, 1973.
Jacks had previously teamed up with his wife, Susan, to form The Poppy Family and had a couple of hits together, notably “Which Way You Goin’, Billy?” but “Seasons” was Terry’s only solo hit in the US. At first Jacks recorded the song with Susan, but it was his solo effort that became a hit when released in December of 1973, going to #1 in the US and the UK, and selling 14 million copies world-wide (less than 40 singles have the distinction of selling over 10 million copies). The song was previously recorded by the Kingston Trio in 1963 and The Fortunes in 1968, among others. Many other groups eventually also covered the tune, including Nirvana!
4. “Call Me Maybe,” Carly Rae Jepsen, Canada, 2012.
Jepsen came in third on the 2007 season of Canadian Idol, but hit it big with her smash hit, which she co-wrote in 2012, which went to #1 in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and several other countries. The song became the best selling song in the entire world in 2012, with 12 million copies sold in that year alone! (It has sold 18 million copies total.) Unfortunately, Jepsen has not been able to replicate her success in the US, although she has had limited success in Canada and the UK since.
5. “The Israelites,” Desmond Dekker, Jamaica, 1968.
Although this great Reggae/Ska song went to #1 in the UK, it only made it to #9 in the US, but it is this author’s favorite tune on this list! Dekker, born Desmond Dacres, wrote the song with Leslie Kong about an argument he had overheard between a married couple in a park. Although nominally sung in English, the tune has a heavily foreign flavor to it, making it hard for some Americans to understand the words the first time or two hearing the record. Luckily, the verses are repeated for those square people…
6. “The Girl From Ipanema,” Astrud Gilberto, Brazil, 1965.
This Grammy winning gem was written with Portuguese lyrics (Brazil speaks Portuguese), but the US hit was sung in English. Gilberto was picked to sing the tune because she was the only one available in the group making the record (which included Jazz great Stan Getz), even though she was not a professional singer. Her soft, bossa nova sound with the sincerity implied by a lack of polish made the song a hit in the US, reaching #1 on the Easy Listening charts. The inspiration for the song was the real life “Girl from Ipanema” (a famous beach at Rio de Janeiro), Heloisa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto (now shortened to just Helo Pinheiro), a seventeen year old beauty that walked past a certain bar on her way to the beach every day, when she was spotted by the smitten composers of the song. This song is widely believed to be the second most recorded pop song of all time, after “Yesterday” by the Beatles.
7. “Master Jack,” Four Jacks and a Jill, South Africa, 1968.
This story telling song is sung beautifully by the young lady lead singer, and reached #3 on the US Adult Contemporary charts, although of course it was #1 in South Africa. Neither the Jacks, nor the Jill had any other hits in the US, but this song has left a lasting impression on this writer, and YouTube has a great video showing a live performance. The song has been covered by other artists, including Trini Lopez, but was not a hit for the other singers.
8. “Love is Blue,” Paul Mauriat, France, 1968.
The 1960’s were a wonderful time for music in the US and around the world, and this tune (“L’Amour est Bleu” in French) was originally written with lyrics in French and was first recorded by a Greek woman from Luxembourg, giving it a truly international flair. The US hit version was an instrumental and became the first song ever to hit #1 in the US with a French lead musician, finishing as the #2 song of the year in 1968 in the US. Several versions with lyrics sung were minor hits in the US and elsewhere, in English and other languages, but Mauriat did not have another US hit.
9. “Volare,” Domenico Modugno, Italy, 1958.
Known in Italian as “Nel blu, dipinto di blu” this tune took 3rd place in the Eurovision Contest in 1958 but went on to spend 5 weeks atop the charts in the US at #1 and sold a staggering 22 million copies worldwide. The Modugno version (not surprising because he wrote it) became the first song to win the Grammy for Song of the Year and Record of the Year in the same year (1958). Modugno went on to win the Eurovision Contest again in 1959 and had success in Europe, but never recaptured the magic that made him a star in the US. Many performers have covered this great song, and many of those versions are excellent.
10. “Venus,” Shocking Blue, Netherlands, 1970.
The song is serious rock and roll, coming right at you with volume and velocity. Plus, the lead singer was a strikingly beautiful woman named Mariska Veres (born Maria Elizabeth Enders, of Hungarian/Romany/French/German and Russian heritage) who sadly died in 2006. The song was #1 in 9 countries, including the US, and was featured on the 1981 medley, “Stars on 45.” Their songs continued to become hits in Europe, but never again in the US. The group Bananarama covered the song in 1986, again taking it to #1 in 7 countries. Many artists have covered the song, and it has appeared in television shows and commercials, movies, and anywhere a song can appear.
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For more information, please see…
Jancik, Wayne. Billboard Book of One Hit Wonders. Billboard Books, 1998.