In the business model of the one hit wonder, the commercially unsuccessful follow-up album is essential to the tag. Had the second album not flopped, the artist would be at least a two-hit wonder. Many folks assume that these artists are only worthy of a single dose of limelight, but some have proven otherwise. Here are the six best sophomore albums by "one hit wonders."
6. Harvey Danger - King James Version "Meeting With Remarkable Men"
Harvey Danger's ultra-hit "Flagpole Sitta" was too catchy for its own good. The Seattle group's study of the tongue-piercing, zine-making, machine-raging Generation X was construed as a definition and celebration of the very culture the band felt excluded from. The band neither dove into the quirk that made its debut Where Have All The Merrymakers Gone, nor made an overtly serious record for its follow up. Rather, King James Version is a straightforward, heretic pop rock album whose opening line is "I had a lovely brunch with Jesus Christ," who later "Had to go and die for my sins and stick my ass with the check." The album is full of expertly crafted songs that make no sense on radio, except maybe "Sad Sweetheart Of The Rodeo," the single that may have charted if KJV wasn't pushed back for a year due to label drama; by its release, "Rodeo" was competing with the likes of Limp Bizkit's "Nookie" for radio attention.
5. The Buggles - Adventures In Modern Recording "Adventures In Modern Recording"
Within a year of The Buggles releasing "Video Killed The Radio Star," singer Trevor Horn was asked to replace Jon Anderson as the frontman for progressive rock juggernaut Yes. You never say no to Yes. Due to rumored tensions between Horn and Buggles co-founder Geoff Downes, Trevor hermitted himself in a studio and made the bizarre Adventures In Modern Recording. As the title and era suggest, the album is a dated attempt at predicting a future made entirely of aural plastic, but Horn makes apparent throughout that he truly believes in what he is doing. The title track is one of those great mockeries of the music industry with a bitterness that can only be achieved by someone who knows the route firsthand.
4. Iron Butterfly - Ball "Real Fright"
Ball is a conceptual turd. Iron Butterfly made the record shortly after the unlikely success of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," and it stretches all the characteristics of the song into an entire album. Drum solos abound, as do Renaissance Fair organs and Doug Ingle's proto-metal voice - all chest hair and sweat. Ball does not suck because the song it is constantly referencing, subconsciously or otherwise, is so bizarre and multifaceted that it can survive the dissection. When it works - like on the surprisingly funky "Soul Experience" and the uptempo/mid-intensity "Real Fright" - Iron Butterfly is making Pink Floyd caliber psychedelic rock. Flops like the misguided pseudo-ballad "Lonely Boy" are at least interesting, if only for being unsettling. 3. Superdrag - Head Trip In Every Key "Do The Vampire"
Superdrag's debut Regretfully Yours was responsible for "Sucked Out," but was otherwise a just okay album. Meanwhile, the sophomore album Head Trip In Every Key plays like a power pop Bible; every melody is instantaneously familiar and every track has that awesome hook where John Davis sings the name of the song. Alas, Head Trip was too subtle to spew out an obvious hit, although the band utilized its increased budget to make a fantastic album. Still, the moody lead single "Do The Vampire" is one of those songs you hear and immediately say "I know this one," even if you've never heard it in your life.
2. Big Country - Steeltown "Steeltown"
Big Country may have jinxed itself by using its own name in its breakout hit; it's difficult to think of Big Country without immediately going to "In A Big Country." In fairness, the band only qualifies as a one hit wonder domestically. The band's second album Steeltown was a massive success in the UK, and rightfully so. Opener "Flame Of The West" has all the drama of The Cure's best works and twice the urgency. Its title track sounds like what Arcade Fire sounds like when trying to sound like Bruce Springsteen. Steeltown is great because Big Country is great - the band is just a little bit better than Midnight Oil and barely not as good as XTC. There are much worse places to be.
1. Hum - Downward Is Heavenward "Comin' Home"
Some bands achieve the big hit by throwing everything into one song, almost knowing it might be the only chance it gets. Spacehog's "In The Meantime" is one of those; on a much smaller level, so are "Helicopter" by Bloc Party and "The Rat" by The Walkmen. Hum's breakthrough "Stars" might have been a fluke; the song is barely a standout on You'd Prefer An Astronaut. The band seems almost uninformed by its success on Downward Is Heavenward, except for, seemingly, the resource of increased studio time. It's obsessively crafted and sonically perfect, the space-rock Loveless. And like said masterpiece, it was Hum's swan song. But, hell, what a way to go: The aching milliseconds of pause on the post-chorus chords of "Comin' Home;" the disassembled riff of "The Inuit Promise;" the whistfulness when Matt Talbot sings the title of "Green To Me." Heavenward is a cult classic among rock-oriented hipsters (or hipness-conscious rockers), and it's only on this list due to technicality. "Stars" did not define Hum, Downward Is Heavenward, fortunately, did.