Perhaps not surprisingly, the state of New York produced more recording artists than any other state when it came to one-hit-wonder status during the decades of the 1950s and 1960s.
In the era of the Top 40 radio phenomenon in the early years of rock ‘n’ roll, there were quite a few natives of New York who scored one major hit single, only to fail in attempts, sometimes numerous, to repeat the achievement.
Some of them, such as Ernie Maresca and Barry Mann, took part in composing or co-writing numerous songs that reached major hit status, but as solo artists, they had only one significant chart item. Others, such as Tiny Tim, Napoleon XIV and Senator Bobby, fall into the one-hit category with a distinguished novelty selection.
For purposes of this column, a one-hit-wonder involves recording artists who had only one single reach the Top 20 of Billboard Magazine’s pop music charts with no other recordings in the top half of the Hot 100 and no more than one other minimal national charter.
For instance, Bronx vocalist Cathy Carr failed to make the list, although some consider her a one-hit-wonder for her No. 2 rendition of “Ivory Tower” in 1956, but she is “disqualified” here because she did have a No. 42 Billboard charter with “First Anniversary” in 1959.
Edd Byrnes might be considered by some for such a listing, but his one hit — the No. 4 “Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb)” in the spring of 1959 — was actually a duet with Connie Stevens. And Stevens, who had a No. 3 pop charter with “Sixteen Reasons” in 1960, can’t be considered because she had four other Billboard Hot 100 songs, at Nos. 43, 52, 53 and 71.
At any rate, this article takes a look at some of those one-hit artists who hailed from New York state, and to hear any of the songs, simply click on the title.
- “THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY” (Hugo Montenegro, No. 2,1968): Born and raised in New York City, Montenegro was a former staff manager for famed conductor-arranger Andre Kostelanetz. In the late 1960s, he moved to Los Angeles to do film work, creating and conducting musical scores for many films, and although he had success with album sales, this was his only significant single. This movie theme song was written by one of the all-time top film composers, Ennio Morricone, with Montenegro leading the orchestration. The familiar whistling was performed by Muzzy Marcellino, also famed for his work in “The High And The Mighty”, and the distinctive grunting was done by Montenegro himself. Such instruments as electric violin, ocarina, electric harmonica and piccolo trumpet were used on the recording.
- “WHO PUT THE BOMP” (Barry Mann, No. 7, 1961): Born Barry Iberman in Brooklyn, Mann and his wife, Cynthia Weil, composed countless hit songs, including “On Broadway”, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” and “Blame It On The Bossa Nova.” This unforgettable novelty record was Mann’s third solo try, and it was co-written by Mann and Gerry Goffin. A song co-written by Mann, Weil and James Horner (“Somewhere Out There”) won a Grammy for Best Song of the Year in 1986.
- “PRISCILLA” (Eddie Cooley, No. 20, 1956): This African-American singer/songwriter from New York City had only this entry on the Billboard Hot 100, and it was recorded with a trio of girls who were under the collective name of The Dimples. Cooley and Otis Blackwell co-wrote “Fever”, which was a big hit for Little Willie John, Peggy Lee and The McCoys, but as a singer, after three subsequent releases, he disappeared into obscurity.
- “TIP-TOE THRU’ THE TULIPS WITH ME” (Tiny Tim, No. 17, 1968): Born as Herbert Khaury in New York City, the singer and ukulele player had surprising success with this record, sung in a unique high falsetto-vibrato voice. Having flopped as a singer under several names — including Darry Dover and Larry Love — before settling on Tiny Tim, he gained national prominence through TV apperances on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In and The Tonight Show, starring Johnny Carson. The song was originally popularized by Nick Lucas in 1929.
- “BOBBY’S GIRL” (Marcie Blane, No. 3, 1962): This Brooklyn songstress was only 18 years old when she achieved one-hit-wonder status in the autumn of 1962. After a follow-up recording (“What Does A Girl Do”) acheieved minor success at No. 82 on Billboard, five subsequent releases flopped, and she retired from singing in 1965. She then became an education director at a New York arts theater.
- “SHOUT! SHOUT! (KNOCK YOURSELF OUT)” (Ernie Maresca, No. 6, 1962): This native of The Bronx has an extensive list of songwriting credits, but this single is his only entry as a vocalist on the Billboard Hot 100. He wrote such songs as “Runaround Sue”, “The Wanderer” and “Donna The Prima Donna” for Dion, who lived only a block away. But as a singer, nothing else clicked, despite a number of tries on four record labels.
- “FLY ME TO THE MOON” (Joe Harnell, No. 14, 1963): This easy listening composer and arranger from The Bronx is considered a one-hit-wonder based on this single, although he had significant success with album sales. His work included arranging for such greats as Robert Goulet, Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee. He later was music director for many TV programs, including “The Incredible Hulk” and “The Mike Douglas Show.”
- “THEY’RE COMING TO TAKE ME AWAY, HA-HAAA!” (Napoleon XIV, No. 2, 1966): The artist on this bizarre novelty number was Jerry Samuels, a New York City singer and songwriter. This record became the fastest-selling Warner Brothers Record up to that time, and it’s the only Top 40 single to ever feature the same song recorded backwards as the flip side. A re-release charted at No. 87 in 1973.
- “JOHNNY GET ANGRY” (Joanne Sommers, No. 7, 1962): This vocalist was born in Buffalo before moving to California at the age of 13. She started singing with dance bands in high school and at Santa Monica City College. She signed with Warner Brothers Records at the age of 18 in 1959, and she had a minor Billboard hit at No. 54 with “One Boy” in 1960. She also appeared on several episodes of the “77 Sunset Strip” TV series, but failed to have any significant subsequent hit records.
- “DEAR ONE” (Larry Finnegan, No. 11, 1961): This was the only Billboard Hot 100 item for this artist, born Larry Finneran in New York City. While attending college at Notre Dame, he co-wrote this song with his brother Vincent, but after all four of his later singles flopped, he moved to Sweden in 1966 to set up his own independent record label.
- “JUST ONE LOOK” (Doris Troy, No. 10, 1963): This vocalist grew up in New York City, where her father was a clergyman, and she started singing in the church choir and church groups. This song — her only Billboard Hot 100 charter — was her debut single on the Atlantic label. She earlier had done some backup singing with Chuck Jackson and Solomon Burke.
- “CHAIN GANG” (Bobby Scott, No. 13, 1956): A native of Mount Pleasant, N.Y., Scott began his performing career as a pianist with Louis Prima and Gene Krupa. Backed by Don Costa’s orchestra, this became his only Billboard pop charter, and after follow-ups did nothing, he turned his career to arranging for such artists as Bobby Darin, Harry Belafonte and Sarah Vaughan. His songwriting credits include “A Taste Of Honey.”
- “WHEN THE BOYS TALK ABOUT THE GIRLS” (Valerie Carr, No. 19, 1958): Born in New York City, this artist aspired to be a classical pianist and studied at Berklee School of Music in Boston. Her first release (“You’re The Greatest”) failed to chart for her, although a cover by Billy Scott went to No. 73 nationally. “When The Boys Talk About The Girls” climbed to No. 19 on Billboard, but she never had another hit.
- “WILD THING” (Senator Bobby, No. 20, 1967): This novelty number was the concoction of Chip Taylor, born James Voight, the brother of actor Jon Voight. The actual “singing” was done by comedian Bill Minkin in the verbal style of Democratic Sen. Robert Kennedy while a recording engineer is heard giving instructions. Taylor is more noted for writing “Wild Thing” for The Troggs and for “Angel Of The Morning”, a big 1968 hit for Merrilee Rush.