Wesley’s One Hit Hall of Fame

For whatever reason, the ol’ cerebral jukebox this morning had the 1966 novelty hit “Winchester Cathedral” playing in my head. Chances are you’ve never heard this New Vaudeville Band tune even though it won the Grammy for Best Contemporary R and R song that year (despite not being a rock-n-roll song). It features someone named John Carter singing through cupped hands a la Rudy Vallée singing though a megaphone.[1] On December 6th it displaced the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” as the number one song in the US. Believe me, I’d much rather have “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” stuck on replay on the ol’ cerebral jukebox. “Winchester Cathedral” is inane, irritating, obviously catchy, or otherwise it wouldn’t be lying dormant in my unconscious for fifty-five years.

The tune got me thinking about one-hit wonders, those special songs that for whatever reason memed[2] their way into becoming mega hits, songs like “The Monster Mash,” “Snoopy and the Red Baron,” “Loving You Has Made Me Bananas.”[3] However, not all one-hit wonders are novelty songs. In fact, some of my favorite pop songs are one-hit wonders. Here be my top five, not necessarily in order of preference.

“96 Tears” (? and the Mysterians)

 “96 Tears” might be the grandaddy of all garage band hits, and some say (according to Wikipedia) that it played a role in the genesis of punk rock. I don’t know about that, but Springsteen has covered it, which speaks volumes.  It also came out in 1966, and I’ve never gotten tired of it.

“Double Shot of My Baby’s Love” (The Swinging Medallions)

Although written by Don Smith and Cyril Vetter and first recorded by Dick Holler and the Holidays in 1963, it’s the South Carolina Beach Band The Swingin’ Medallions who made it a hit in ­– yes, you’ve guessed it – in 1966.  Damn, what an infectious, party hoot, and ladies and gentlemen, I actually heard Springsteen cover it live in 2008 at the North Charleston Coliseum. In fact, the Boss opened the show with it, hollering something like “How’ bout some Beach Music?”

“A Lighter Shade of Pale” (Procol Harem)

This moody, somewhat surreal, 1967 song provided an apt soundtrack for my doomed infatuation with fellow freshman Francine Light. I can see her now, standing across the cafeteria in her green tartan skirt and matching knee socks. O, woe was me!

Walk Away Renée” (The Left Banke)

When I began this little project, I had no idea that four of these favs were recorded with in a year of each other. This sad love song made it to number 5 on US Billboard Hot 100 chart. Despite its lush orchestration, flute, and harpsichord, I still sort dig it after all these years, not so much for its music but because of the memories it evokes.

“Wipe Out” (The Sufaris)

This is for my money the quintessential surf song, released in 1963 and covered by every garage band in my hometown of Summerville, SC, including The Marijuana Brass, an instrumental brass band modeled on Herb Albert. 

A couple of observations. Three of the five feature organs (a harpsichord doesn’t count) and all were recorded about the same time during my junior high days. Of course, there have been subsequent one-hit wonders I’ve enjoyed like “Play That Funky Music, White Boy.”  Oh, yeah, and “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell and “Sweet Soul Music” by Arthur Conley beat the hell out of my top five, but I don’t care. 

Maybe hormonal imbalance played a role. Anyway, this exercise has effectively effaced “Winchester Cathedral” from its seemingly never-ending loop, and for that I’m very thankful.


[1] Chances are you’ve also never heard of  Rudy Vallée, Chances are, however, you’ve heard of Frank Sinatra, who covered it on his 1966 album That’s Life. Go figure.

[2] Verb, to meme, to catch on culturally, from the noun meme, an element of culture “selected” by the masses because of its contagious appeal. (Forgive me, Richard Hawkins).

[3] “Loving You Has Made Me Bananas begins with these immortal words:

    Your red scarf matches your eyes.

    You closed your cover before striking.

    Father has the shipfitter’s blues.

    Loving you has made me bananas.

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