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Nope, Not a 1-Hit Wonder: EMF

EMF’s huge hit “Unbelievable” is one of those pop songs where I just had to decide to turn off my inner snooty critic and give in to its intrinsic fun. They were a little confusing, which I decided was a good thing. Yes, they appeared to have actual musicians in the band, playing guitar and drums, but they also were relying on samples for some of their hooks and that guy at the keyboard was clearly jumping around way too much to actually be playing it, right? The lead singer/talker (James Atkin) had a delivery that was working at that moment, but could he make it fit into a long series of songs? The band sure didn’t look like pop stars. They didn’t look punk either. Were they poncey British skateboarders?  Unless the guys were just masters of the musical hook, there just wasn’t much to hang your painter’s hat on there.

EMF sure smelled like a 1-hit wonder.

Maybe the members of EMF didn’t really know what they were, either, because they had only formed as a band less than a year before “Unbelievable” hit, gathering up from a variety of groups in Cinderford, Gloucestershire in England, which is significantly west of London and a little southwest of Stratford-upon-Avon (the two places I’ve visited in England).
Nobody seemed to know what the initials of their band name meant. The most prevalent rumor I had heard was that it stood for “Emotional MotherF***ers.” A variation on that phrase replacing “emotional” with “ecstasy” was later repeated several times in their song “Head the Ball,” along with another option, “ElectroMotive Force.”
While the catchy dance rock of “Unbelievable” reached all the way to #1 on the US charts, it also sold well in their homeland, landing at #3 in the UK. I can’t speak for the memories of our pals across the pond, but it took a pretty full listen for me to recall the only other stateside hit EMF enjoyed. It was called “Lies.”

Paul Schaffer had a pretty rockin’ band, didn’t he? (by the way, it sounds like he’s starting to play “For Your Love” by the Yardbirds on the exit) And still, EMF’s keyboardist seems to be dancing more than he plays. How many of those reading here remember this song? Once I’d gotten about halfway into it, a light went off for me and I even recalled the video in which they were swimming in some sort of grey fuzzy water.

“Lies” actually went all the way to #18 on the US Billboard chart. And then that was it for them over here. Apparently they had seven more hits in the UK, so the idea that they are not a 1-hit wonder may bring a shrug from our readers there. I’m betting most US readers don’t remember “lies” at all.

The band released three more albums, including a “hits” compilation called “The Best of EMF: Epsom Mad Funkers.” Does that solve the mystery of the band name? It’s a reference to a New Order fan club, so…Joy Division—>New Order—>EMF? To name-check an actual 1-hit wonder, it looks like Devolution to me.

More Nope, Not a One Hit Wonder

 10,000 Maniacs a-ha The Big Bopper Berlin EMF Falco Kris Kross Lisa Loeb Madness Marky Mark And The Funky Bunch Men Without Hats The Motels Radiohead  The Rembrandts Rockwell Patty Smyth Snow Survivor ‘Til Tuesday Vanilla Ice

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Posted on March 16, 2014, in Music, Nope, Not a 1-Hit Wonder and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. OK, I’ve not even begun to read this, but I will say that:
    a) on reading the title of the e-mail, it played in my head INSTANTANEOUSLY.
    b) you’re basically the same age as me. I can tell. 🙂

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    • & I’d also like to point out that any band getting “What the fuck???” into a chorus that gets played endlessly around the world forever afterwards have to get my vote.

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    • I actually pondered which group or artist would be my follow-up to Falco quite a bit. There is a lot to choose from. I wanted to pick something that is technically from a different decade (which EMF barely is) without turning off the folks who came by to read about him. Future entries will sometimes go much further back.

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      • EMF managed maybe one or two extra “hits” in the UK after this, but nothing anyone would remember, so congrats on hitting my local spot bang on!

        My personal perfect UK OHW suggestion would be Babylon Zoo’s ‘Spaceman’, but I have no idea if it charted overseas. Exquisite combo of ego (“I’m going to be the new David Bowie”), exposure (think it was a Levi’s ad soundtrack), and utter, DISMAL failure to achieve a follow up of any sort whatsoever. 😉

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  2. Dear god, my neighbours must be hating you at the moment.

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  3. To name-check an actual 1-hit wonder, it looks like Devolution to me.

    Wait wait wait… when did DEVO become a one-hit wonder?

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    • DEVO’s only US top 40 hit was “Whip It,” which reached #14 in October of 1980.

      While their career was certainly bigger than that one song, their extreme identification with a single era and the fact that laypeople probably don’t know any of their other songs lead me to put them into the 1-hit wonder category.

      In contrast, a group like the Grateful Dead who have just one top 40 hit is well known for decades of touring and an obsessive fan base, and if you asked around for their songs, you’d get a wide array of responses.

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