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Chesney Hawkes and other one-and-only-hit wonders [March 25, 1991]
Number One: “The One and Only”, Chesney Hawkes
A guy I once knew, now sadly deceased, once wrote a beautiful short essay about Janis Ian and Bob Dylan where he said, “It's both marvelous and sad when an artist does his or her best work when they are just a kid”. When you start your career with a big hit, it means that you’re going to spend that song over and over for the rest of your life. You’ll always search for new ways to connect with the song, but the audience will get crabby if you don’t do it exactly the way it sounds on the record.
Being a one-hit-wonder can become a purgatorial prison, like in this very funny Big Train sketch about Ralph McTell:
Chesney Hawkes was 19 when he got the lead role in the movie Buddy’s Song, playing opposite legendary The Who frontman Roger Daltry. I’ve never met anyone who has seen Buddy’s Song. It’s on YouTube if you want to be the first. Please let me know if it’s a lost classic.
But everyone knows the lead song from the Buddy’s Song soundtrack. It hit Number One this week in 1991 and stayed there until the end of April. It’s great. I love it. It’s a big, cheesy, doe-eyed power ballad about believing in yourself that still manages to sound a little awkward and shy. I like the bit where there’s a downward key change and Chesney reminds us:
No one can be myself like I can
For this job I'm the best man
And while this may be true
You are the one and only YOU
Thank you for this affirmation, Chesney. We need more of this kind of positivity.
Here is the video. I want to talk about all of the people involved because there are lots of people in this video who are various kinds of one-hit-wonders.
So first of all, we have the actual songwriter, one mister Nik Kershaw. Nik was briefly huge in the 80s. He was quite talented and probably could have been a respected singer-songwriter, but for two things: he was very pretty, and he leaned into a synth-heavy sound that sounded retro within a matter of months.
His biggest chart hit was the peppy, satirical, “I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down on Me”, but Spotify and YouTube suggest that his best-remembered track is “The Riddle” with its cryptic, slightly insufferable New Age-ey lyrics. Nik was big enough to play Band Aid and contribute lead guitar to Elton John’s “Nikita”, but his popularity suddenly plummeted and he spent the late 80s scraping the bottom of the top 100. He’s had a long and productive career since then, but is mostly remembered as a flash-in-the-pan that occurred somewhere between The Thompson Twins and Howard Jones.
See the girl in the “The One and Only” video? The one that goes into the movie with ghost-Chesney? That’s Saffron from Republica, who had a big hit in the 90s with the indie-disco-friendly “Ready To Go”. Back when I read the inky music press, they spent a few weeks trying to make Republica happen with a series of leery articles that are quite creepy, now that we know more about how entertainment journalism used to work. She’s done a bunch of other stuff, including Starlight Express, but she still performs with Republica.
Of course, the biggest name in the video is Roger Daltry. Daltry is the opposite of a one-hit wonder, with a hundred million records sales to his name. He even played the lead in a hit movie once, as the titular Tommy in Ken Russell’s insane rock opera. That was to be his only notable acting success, despite several decades of trying.
The Who fell apart in the early 80s and Daltry’s next decade feels like an endless twilight, with acting gigs and solo albums that didn’t really go anywhere. It must be hard to be at the top and then not be. It must be hard to have your best years behind you, especially when those years truly were the best. The dude played Woodstock, and then suddenly it’s 1991 and he’s being overshadowed by a 19-year old with curtains and a beauty spot.
Chesney himself has a rock pedigree: his dad was Chip Hawkes of The Tremelos, whohad a big hit with “Silence is Golden”. They’re still playing today, 63 years after they were formed. Imagine how many times they’ve played “Silence is Golden” since 1967? How does it feel to play the same song that often? Do you even realise you’re playing it, or do you autopilot on pure muscle memory?
Which brings us to Chesney himself. Chesney is the definition of the Good Sport One-Hit-Wonder. There were other singles that we all ignored, but he doesn’t seem bitter about it. He takes part in the various celebrity shows, he does the nostalgia tours, he smiles when people mention The Song.
There’s a clip of him from this time last year performing the song with his three kids. It looks like he’s really having fun with it. I guess that’s one way to reconnect to the song.
Elsewhere in the charts
Chesney displaces Hale & Pace from the top spot. We did them last week.
Rod Stewart is at Number 3 with “The Rhythm of my Heart”. He’ll never have a single peak this high in the charts again, but he’s got a decade of solid album sales ahead. Rod is the opposite of a one-hit-wonder.
R.E.M’s “Losing My Religion” is just sneaking into the top 20 (it’s at Number 19). I could have sworn it got much higher. I remember it being played a lot.
Another rock classic struggling in the pop charts: “Been Caught Stealing” by Jane’s Addiction is at Number 36. Two places below Jive Bunny. Not even peak Jive Bunny. One of the less popular Jive Bunny tracks.
What were you listening to on March 25, 1991? Leave a comment and tell me about it.