Nope, Not a 1-hit Wonder: Falco

Sometimes a pop artist has such a huge and iconic hit that it defines the rest of their career. You can’t hear their name without that one big hit popping into your mind. Many of these artists disappear from sight just as quickly as they exploded on the scene. Typically we call these lucky/unfortunate folks “1-hit wonders.”

But often they only really match that name in our faulty memories.

The international pop superstar who became known as Falco was born in Austria in 1957 as Johann Holzel. He showed an aptitude for music as a small child, and was reportedly identified as having perfect pitch when he was just five years old.

He studied at the Vienna Music Conservatory in 1977, but left after just one semester claiming he wanted to “become a real musician.” After spending some time playing clubs in Berlin, he returned to Vienna calling himself “Falco.” After playing with a couple of musical groups, Falco recorded the song “Der Kommissar,” which was a huge hit in mainland Europe, but failed to chart in the U.S. Instead, a band called After the Fire produced an English language version of the song and it shot to #5 in the United States in March of 1983.

After switching his production team, Falco began including English lyrics in his songs and wrote his huge enormous giganto hit “Rock Me Amadeus” after seeing Milos Forman’s Oscar-winning Mozart biopic Amadeus. The mixture of heavy beats, Austrian rapping, and echoing male chorus added up to an unlikely #1 hit in the U.S.

And that’s it, right? He didn’t have any more hits stateside, did he?

Actuallyhe did. Less than two months after “Rock Me Amadeus” peaked on the charts, a second hit by Falco graced American airwaves. That song was called “Vienna Calling,” and it charted for eight weeks in the U.S., peaking at #18. 

That’s a pretty high peak considering that the song has gone mostly forgotten since. It is tempting to say that “Vienna Calling” simply rode in on the coattails of its more successful predecessor, but the song is every bit as catchy and amped-up as Falco’s signature recording. Perhaps the bizarre qualities of “Rock Me Amadeus” have continued to fuel a sort of sentimental schadenfreude, resulting in its long-lasting status. I personally recall hearing “Vienna Calling” played at the neighborhood pool, but I don’t think I heard it once for more than 20 years after that.

Falco was planning a comeback in 1998 when he was involved in a motor accident with a bus and passed away from his injuries. Most pop fans will remember him for his booming pean to Mozart, but I would suggest that we all take at least one more listen to “Vienna Calling.”

Posted on March 11, 2014, in Music, Not a 1-Hit Wonder and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 35 Comments.

  1. A National Hero in Austria. I’ll always remember the Simpson’s line: “Thankyou Taco, for that loving tribute to Falco”.

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  2. Fun article, And I am saddened to learn of Falco’s passing even all these years later. Man, I rocked me some Amadeus.

    Is this a new feature?

    I have noticed that frequently “One Hit Wonders” have multiple hits. But the follow-ups aren’t as big as the original. MC Hammer had more than one hit, but many consider him a One Hit Wonder because nothing else came close to You Can’t Touch This.

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    • Many songs become hit singles, briefly, then once they fall off the charts are never heard from again, not even on the oldies station years later. A good example? Vanilla Ice is infamous for his #1 song from the early 90’s, Ice Ice Baby, yet nobody remembers he quickly followed that up with a cover of Play That Funky Music, which inexplicably went Top 5. Maybe it’s for the best nobody remembers it.

      MC Hammer, as you mentioned, had several Top 10 hits in the late 80’s/early 90’s, like Pray, Have You Seen Her, 2 Legit 2 Quit, and Addams Groove, but they all came and went pretty quickly and oldies stations nowadays have the good sense not to play any of them, so now the only thing people remember is You Can’t Touch This, which occasionally is still played by oldies stations. So the PERCEPTION of “One Hit Wonder” sticks, even when with a number of artists it’s not actually the case.

      Probably the biggest misconception among supposed One Hit Wonders would be Corey Hart. The only song people remember of his now is Sunglasses At Night, which to this day still gets radio airplay on stations that play 80’s music. Surprisingly, he had not 1, but 9 Top 40 singles to his career. But most people think of him as a One Hit Wonder now.

      And you know what? Even if someone actually IS a One Hit Wonder, so what? They still had a nice big hit single, and got to experience what it’s like to have your song played on the radio for a few months. More than most people will ever experience.

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      • I would recommend you read One Hit Wonderland by Tony Hawks (not Hawk!), who himself was a one hit wonder, as part of Morris Minor and The Majors with their hit “Stutter-rap”. It details his attempt to achieve another number 1 within a twelve month period. Quite funny.

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      • I’m sure some of my choices for the series will be effected by my own perceptions. For example, I remember follow-up hits by both MC Hammer and Corey Hart so well, that I would anticipate that others do as well. Am I wrong about this?
        You are totally right about these artists having more success than most of us could even dream of achieving, but that is part of what makes them fascinating. Our expectations on hearing their one big hit are for lots more to come…and then very little happens.

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        • From Wikipedia’s entry on One Hit Wonders:

          Extremely liberal definitions of one-hit wonders occasionally include artists who have had many major hits but are still very strongly associated with their signature song (Don McLean, Survivor, MC Hammer).

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          • For the purposes of these articles, I will be defining a true “1-hit wonder” as an artist or group with a single sizable hit, but no additional top40 charters.

            While I will probably mention if an artist like Falco enjoys additional success overseas, I will only count songs which chart in the U.S. I will also not consider songs which hit the country or “modern” or other charts without also showing up in the main top40 chart.

            Though that approach does identify groups like The Grateful Dead as 1-hit wonders, I don’t think anyone really thinks of them in those terms, and I will not be featuring artists like them anyway, because my aim is to identify artists who are NOT 1-hit wonders.

            I do not buy into Wikipedia’s liberal definition because it flies in the very face of the name of the term under discussion. It’s like calling a tarantula a 4-legged animal because it is furry like many 4-legged animals.

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        • For example, I remember follow-up hits by both MC Hammer and Corey Hart so well, that I would anticipate that others do as well. Am I wrong about this?

          Definitely not. I’m fuzzy on Hammer’s followups, but I, too, remember “Never Surrender” too well to call Corey Hart a one-hit wonder.

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    • I had initially intended to just write a single long article with several examples, but as I did some research I realized that there was such a treasure trove that a series made more sense.

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      • I would like to see this as an ongoing series. Keep ‘em coming. I already mentioned him, but how a Corey Hart write-up? I still hear Sunglasses At Night on the radio once in a while…

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        • I can definitely cover Corey Hart soon since you requested him, though I remember “Never Surrender” way too well to have ever thought he was a 1-hit wonder myself. But I’ve got a soft spot for him, so I’ll do it.
          At some point I will have to turn down some requests because I just will hate the associated music.
          I can’t picture myself covering The Spice Girls, for example.

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  3. jeffthewildman

    The basic problem with one-hit wonders is that it’s hard to define what makes one one. Some people might argue that The Grateful Dead is a one-hit wonder by the strictest definition.

    In regards to a few of the ones mentioned above (Hammer, Corey Hart) another one that falls into that category would be Fastball. In 1998-99, they were all over radio with “The Way”. From the standpoint of 15 years later, many people see them as one-hit wonders because that’s the only song of theirs most people remember. In actuality, they followed it up with a few more successful singles including another top ten (“Out Of My Head”). Since then, they’ve carried on, not willing to be straitjacketed by that big hit. But because the late 90s was an era of one-hit-wonders (Marcy Playground, Duncan Sheik, Donna Lewis), they tend to get lumped in with a lot of them.

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    • I may end up featuring Fastball at some point. I am working from the 8th edition of “The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits,” which lists “Out of My Head” as peaking at #20 some time in ’99.

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    • That’s right, Grateful Dead are One Hit Wonders, aren’t they? It only took them 22 years to finally get a Top 40 single, Touch of Gray which peaked at #9 in ’87. Yet despite only being a legitimate One Hit Wonder, they toured successfully for decades before having a hit and sold over 35 Million copies of their albums over the years. One Hit Wonder occassionally doesn’t tell the entire story.

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  4. jeffthewildman

    Another good example from that same era: The infamous Spice Girls. They had several hits in 1997-98 including “Say You’ll Be There”, “2 Become 1″, “Two Much” and “Spice Up Your Life”.

    Today, aside from maybe a few people who might remember “2 Become 1″ (which still pops up from time to time on pop and adult contemporary stations) “Wannabe” is the only song most people really know. That’s most likely because it’s a song that gets stuck in one’s head regardless of whether they love it or totally detest it. That combined with the fact that the bulk of the Spice Girls hits were too lightweight and ephemeral to have any lasting impact and the group themselves went from being the most popular group in America to being the most irrelevant rather quickly. This in spite of their attempts to prolong their 15 minutes of fame and acquire a new generation of fans after their attempts at establishing solo careers outside of the Spice Girls didn’t pan out.

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    • Interesting that you consider the Spice Girls to be virtual nonentities other than ‘Wannabe’. Because at home (and more widely) they were monster for years, and continue even now to be pretty high profile whenever one of them decides to do something publicly. We’ll gloss over the embarrassment that was the 2012 Olympics closing ceremony.

      And, of course, Mrs. Victoria Beckham is precisely that – married to one of the well known sportsmen in the world. Hell, even the USA have heard of David, haven’t they?

      So please, before writing anyone off, you might want to remember that the US isn’t the only market in the world. I have no particular love for the Spice Girls, but it’s laughable to knock them as nothings just because you only really remember one song! And going by http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spice_girls#Career_records_and_achievements, they did OK in the US anyway …

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      • jeffthewildman

        What I was saying was that like some of the artists mentioned above, they’ve come to be erroneously seen as one-hit wonders because one song reached the level of iconic and the others have been forgotten by a significant portion of the public.

        Above, Hammer was mentioned. Most of the public knows “U Can’t Touch This”. Not as many know the other songs mentioned above. I know all of the ones mentioned because I was 13-14 when he was at his peak. Most people within 5 years of my age either way probably remember those. But I suspect that many people outside of that age bracket only really remember “Touch This” and those who do know haven’t heard them in years.

        The Spice Girls may have been sensations in England since then and yes Victoria Beckham is famous because of her husband. But the Spice Girls in general have been more or less irrelevant (aside from Victoria of course) in America since 1999. They had several American hits during their heyday yes. But I strongly suspect that you mention them to much of the general public and the one that comes to mind immediately is Wannabe. They’re not one-hit wonders no. But like with Hammer, it’s easy to see why they might be thought of as such by a significant portion of the general public.

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        • “But the Spice Girls in general have been more or less irrelevant […] in America since 1999. [ …] They’re not one-hit wonders no. But like with Hammer, it’s easy to see why they might be thought of as such by a significant portion of the general public.”

          Sorry, but you can’t write off a band based on when they were famous vs. knowledge of them amongst the currently young. If validity of success were based purely on era of activity, then you could equally claim that groups such as The Beatles have no business being remembered. Which of course is complete rubbish. Yet if you asked the average Bieber fan to name a Beatles track, they’d probably struggle!

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          • I understand what you’re trying to say here, HHGeek, but people’s erroneous perceptions are exactly what these articles will be about.
            To a large degree they will be about my own erroneous perceptions…or my erroneous perceptions of other people’s erroneous perceptions…if that makes any sense at all! :-)

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            • Jimmy Buffett is the perfact example of someone who is PERCEIVED to be a One Hit Wonder. Everybody knows Margaritaville, it’s the song that launched not only a career but an entire cottage industry. It’s a song that launched a successful restaurant chain located throughout America, Canada, Mexico, the Carribean, and Australia; a Margarita mix and tequila; a variety of Malt beverages; a Chips and Salsa brand; Chicken Wings; footwear; men’s and women’s apparel, an outdoor furniture brand; even a planned casino!

              Margaritaville is arguably, from a financial standpoint, the most profitable song ever written, in that it created an entire industry that has literally earned Buffett hundreds of millions of dollars over the years, along with giving him a lenghty career and a legion of fans, or Parrotheads. And it’s a song that still gets radio airplay to this day. Matter of fact, I just heard it today on the oldies station.

              It’s no wonder, then, that Jimmy Buffet is typically regarded by the masses as a One Hit Wonder. But he had a few other, minor, Top 40 singles in the mid-to-late 70’s, such as Cheeseburgers In Paradise (#32) and Come Monday (#30), along with a couple others; while looking up his chart career, I was actually surprised to see Buffet had two Top 20 hits within the last decade or so, a song called It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere with Alan Jackson that hit #17 in 2003, and Knee Deep with the Zac Brown Band that hit #18 in 2011. I never heard either of them and didn’t even know he had recent hits, but there you go, you learn something new every day I guess. But Jimmy Buffett is far from a One Hit Wonder.

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  5. jeffthewildman

    Another thing to take into account: There are certain artists that have one-hit in one place. But elsewhere they’re sensations.

    A prime example of that is Chumbawamba.. They were more or less an institution in Britain. In America, they’re known for Tubthumping and that’s it. They had a number of hits in Britain. But after Tubthumping ran its course, that was it for them in America.Like I noted before, the 1997-99 period was full of one-hit wonders and novelty acts.

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    • since these articles will be about artists who many people mistakenly believe are 1-hit wonders, I will be leaning heavily on my own perceptions, which are firmly rooted in the culture of the cosmopolitan U.S. South (and a couple of years in Chicago). For that same reason, I will have to settle on one standard for identifying a hit. I will be using the U.S. Billboard top40.

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    • “A prime example of that is Chumbawamba.. They were more or less an institution in Britain. In America, they’re known for Tubthumping and that’s it. They had a number of hits in Britain. ”

      Unless you’re discussing a different Britain, I have to disagree again! ‘Tubthumping’ was massive, and they got a minor level of follow up success with singles from the same album. Other than that, their mainstream profile is derived predominantly from chucking water on Prescott at the BRITS ceremony one year. Yeah, they were a sort of institution amongst the a certain section of the population, but that was based as much on their political stance as any ongoing commercial achievement. (I’m not including genuine fans in that, of course – but there weren’t squillions of those.) Most people here would consider them rentaquote anarchists who otherwise ticked over in the background for decades.

      If anything, they’re almost the perfect example of a breakout OHW. Long career, but high recognition for one track only, and a decent chance that they can fund the rest of their lives comfortably off its associated income. I will say, however, that were I a musician I’d probably not mind that situation – reliable cash, but the freedom to keep touring & recording for the real fans without any media / mainstream expectations.

      “… people’s erroneous perceptions are exactly what these articles will be about.
      To a large degree they will be about my own erroneous perceptions…or my erroneous perceptions of other people’s erroneous perceptions”

      Daffy, I like the way you put this. I suspect that the erroneous perceptions will probably be considerably higher for OHW than for WTTH pieces, given that musicians release far more singles than actors do films & it’s harder to be familiar with levels of success globally.

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  6. A-ha is another example…….hit after hit all across Europe over the course of 20+ years,yet
    here in the States that hit & classic video of Take on Me is what most folks think of! I recall a
    few years back vocalist Morten Harket mentioned ’bout the way most Americans discared them after Hunting High & Low,which IMO was sorta expected!!!

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  7. Mmmm. I’m not sure you can discount Falco as a OHW because, two months after the release of one of the biggest hits of the 80’s, he released another song that made it on to the charts. At #18. I read what terms you will be using to do these write ups (“For the purposes of these articles, I will be defining a true ‘1-hit wonder’ as an artist or group with a single sizable hit, but no additional top 40 charters.”), but it seems it would be fairer to assess these by the guideline of whom actually had another HIT, a song that placed #1-5 on the charts. But, well, this is your series so you can make the rules, right? :)

    All that being said, I like that you included what became of his music career (I had NO idea he had passed). I think it would be a great tie in to the WTHH series to include a “Where Are They Now” update for all future features in this series.

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    • It’s a good idea to include info on what’s going on with the subjects. I’ll try to do that.

      A second top5 hit to avoid being a 1-hit wonder? That’s a little strict, don’t you think?
      It would make 1-hit wonders of these artists:
      Johnny Cash
      ELO
      Bill Haley & his Comets
      Led Zeppelin
      Eddie Money
      Tom Petty
      The Pretenders
      R.E.M.
      Sonny & Cher
      Tupac Shakur
      The Animals
      …and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
      I’m not even mentioning the big names it turns into no-hit wonders. :-)

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      • jeffthewildman

        Yeah one of the big names that turns into one-hit wonders is my favorite band Pearl Jam. Like I said before, in reference to the Grateful Dead, using the strictest interpretation would make many artists one-hit wonders.

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        • Well- the Dead were famous for being the biggest band with no hits. Touch of Grey got a lot of attention for getting them over.

          Still confused that Casey Jones wasn’t a hit- hear it all the time-

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          • daffystardust

            Sugar Magnolia, Ship of Fools, Uncle John’s Band, One More Saturday Night, Hell in a Bucket, Box of Rain, Truckin’, Ripple, Friend of the Devil…
            The Grateful Dead have a lot of well-known songs that casual fans might name instead of Touch of Grey.

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  8. This article finally brought me to leave a comment on this great side. From the U.S. perspective, Falco is just a one hit wonder. But in the german-speaking countries he was one of the biggest popstars, and since his dead, he gets adored more and more – rightfully so.

    He was one of that few stars, who appealed to the mass as well as to the indie scene. Falco started his career in the late 1970ies. He was a capable drummer, also, and played in the austrian band Drahdiwaberl, which mixed early punk influences and satirical performances. He started a solo career and his first four albums from 1982 to 1986 are considered classics. I think they were all very innovative too. Musically he clinged to an at the time very common New wave/synthie pop sound, but his vocals, which were a kind of unique early form of german rap, made it special. The lyrics also had a great range; while Falco styled himself in videos and interviews as kind of a super-yuppie, he was also fully aware of the hollowness of the life style and so his texts often had a kind of a disillusioned “no future”-vibe, also.
    He also had one at the time very controversial song, “Jeanny”, which could strongly be interpreted that the narrator is kind of an stalker/sex offender, despite it is not very graphic and not confirmed.
    By the end of 1980ies, his career waned outside of Austria also, resulting in a hiatus after his album “Nachtflug” in 1992. Partly, to me, it was also because he was struggling with drug addiction and other personal problems, and also because he was in his image and music tied so strongly to the 80ies, when a lot of new musical movements came just after 1990.
    Just before his death in 1998, it seemed like he wanted to revive his career. An album was nearly finished by that time and when it came out just three weeks after his death, it was his most sucessful one after 1986.

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    • Thanks for all the great info, petermaresch!
      I can only write from the perspective of a citizen of the cosmopolitan American South, so it is always to get the impressions of folks from outside of that.
      The catchiness of both “Der Kommissar” and “Vienna Calling” always suggested that Falco was not really a fluke musically.

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    • I was an exchange student in Munich in 1986- Falco was huge.

      He had a lot of talent- a shame he died so young.

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      • You know who might be a worthy future NAOHW candidate? Eddie Murphy. I bet pretty much everybody counts him as a One Hit Wonder. Eddie Murphy was having the biggest year of his life in 1985 with the huge success of Beverly Hills Cop (it spent 14 weeks at #1 at the box office, I think that counts as a huge blockbuster), and then just because he had a song to share with the world, he informed us through music that his girl likes to Party All The Time. Huge radio hit, it was unavoidable. What can I say, Eddie Murphy was king of the world in 1985. Then, 4 years later he had a minor Top 40 hit with the risque Put Your Mouth On Me. Anybody remember this song? Anybody? I guess not. I vaguely remember it on the radio for a brief amount of time, it wasn’t very good but apparently enough people thought it was sort of ok enough of a song to briefly creep up the charts to peak at #27 before people just shrugged and said ‘ok, enough of that’ and told radio stations to never play that again.

        Murphy might be a fun write-up, it could also allow for a write up of his tv and movie career, depending on if you wanted to just touch upon that aspect of his career or delve much deeper.

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