It’s often used as a term of derision but not all one-hit wonders are quite the no-further-hopers you might think. Take the late great Melvin Howard Torme, for example.
Here was a man of exceptional talents who, over a 70 year career which ended in 1999, played drums for big band leaders like Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman; acted in movies alongside Frank Sinatra and worked as Judy Garland’s musical director as well as writing a shed load of songs including the Christmas standard Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire.And if all that wasn’t enough Mel Torme was also a superb singer, nicknamed The Velvet Fog on account of a cool jazz vocal style which was showcased on Capitol Records first ever 12 inch LP California Suite, released in 1949.
Nevertheless another 15 years had to go by before the single came along which was to turn Mel Torme into a legend among the R’n’B aficionados in the UK’s burgeoning mod movement down at The Flamingo.
I’m Coming Home was a finger clicking, floorfilling 45 which bridged the gap between supperclub and soul and provided a model for young British blues singers such as Georgie Fame and Long John Baldry.
Like Atlantic Records label mate Ray Charles’ equally seminal Hit The Road Jack from a couple of years before, I’m Coming Home was a deceptively simple song but one which used female backing singers to dramatic effect.
Torme wrote and arranged it and took it to number 13 in the UK charts on the London label in 1963. Now we can all hear it again in a TV campaign for used car sales site Autotrader.
We could continue on a jazz tip and talk about Ray Charles – thanks to the inclusion of his 1960 recording of Come Rain Or Come Shine in a muddy Rangerover campaign http://tinyurl.com/c8evdmr. Then we might follow that with a brief discussion of the life and work of the genre’s first singer songwriter Fats Waller whose 1937 Spring Cleaning crops up in another hosepipe ban busting spot for Karcher’s steam cleaning kit. http://tinyurl.com/cqtg9le
But we’re on the trail of lesser mortals whose time in the sun barely lasted the statutory 15 minutes. So sticking with car clips, that trail leads to the latest Toyota Rav4 campaign in which a boy in a go kart dreams of racing his Dad on a moonlight drive.
This one features a record which doesn’t appear in Record Collector’s Price Guide but maybe deserves to.It’s by one Johnny Thunder, without the ‘S” so Punk fans can relax, and, despite being called I’m Alive, has nothing to do with the Hollies hit with the same name.
Instead it’s a soul rocker from 1969, complete with a big fuzz guitar figure, which was released on the miniscule New York label Calla.
Unfortunately, despite being written by Tommy James and Pete Lucia of the Shondells, who had enjoyed a global smash the year before with Mony Mony, I’m Alive died a total death.
So what gives Thunder (born Gil Hamilton) his single claim to fame? It’s the distinctly Sam Cookesque party song Loop de Loop which he cut for Diamond in 1963.
When that made number 4 in the US on Diamond it must have seemed like Thunder – who had previously scraped living singing backgrounds for the likes of Dionne Warwick and The Drifters – was on his way to the top. But it was not to be.
Our final two TV commercial cuts this month come courtesy of a pair of artists who actually enjoyed two and three hits respectively.
The first is the inestimable Wilbert Harrison, a multi-instrumentalist from North Carolina, who exploded onto the pop scene in the US with a brilliantly laconic version of Lieber and Stoller’s Kansas City which went all the way to the top of the Billboard charts in 1959.Recording for both the Fire and Fury labels owned by the legendary R’n’B entrepreneur Bobby Robinson, Harrison had to wait ten years for a follow-up hit. It came with an altogether shriller composition of his own, called Let’s Stick Together, which clambered to number 32 in the US in 1969.
Re-worded and with a much tighter arrangement it soon re-emerged as Canned Heat’s swansong single Let’s Work Together in 1970 – and was subsequently covered by Bryan Ferry three years later. But it’s Harrison’s raucous original which graces a recent KFC campaign.
Last but by no means least we give you Shirley Ellis, arguably one of the most under-rated R’n’B divas ever.
A ‘graduate’ of the Apollo Theatre Harlem’s famous Amateur Hour, Ellis’ tally of Top 10 US hits came in the three year period between 1963 and 1965.
But where her contemporaries concentrated on deep soul ballads, Ellis became synonymous with novelty dance numbers which belied her real talents.
So although The Nitty Gritty, The Name Game (which soundtracks furniture store DFS’ current TV campaign) and The Clapping Song sold millions of copies between them they weren’t enough to build the sort of long-term career which Ellis deserved.
And unlike many of her contemporaries, she retired from the music business altogether in 1968 rather than risk her reputation on the revival circuit.