Radio Hits One: Dan Wilson, Linda Perry, And Other Pop Footnotes Turned Hitmakers

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Dan Wilson's hits, then (left) and now.
It's a familiar scene to anyone who's seen VH1 programs like Behind The Music or Where Are They Now?, or the channel's endless lists of 'one-hit wonders' of the '80s and '90s: a musician whose brief fling with stardom is well behind them sits at the mixing desk of a studio, while the voiceover details that they're moving into production or songwriting, to help guide new talent. It usually feels like an unconvincing cliche, like an actor saying "But what I really want to do is direct."

I thought back to those scenes when the Dixie Chicks won Song of the Year at the 2007 Grammys for "Not Ready To Make Nice," and a familiar face got to accept the award with them: Dan Wilson, who less than a decade earlier had enjoyed fleeting fame as the frontman of Semisonic. Their 1998 single "Closing Time" reached No. 11 on the Hot 100 Airplay chart (which means it would've been a top 40 hit, if Billboard had allowed songs without a physical single onto the Hot 100 at the time), but none of the band's other singles were remotely as successful. So when Semisonic broke up just one album later, it'd be reasonable to assume Wilson too would disappear; instead Wilson scored big, first with the Dixie Chicks, and then with three songs on Adele's blockbuster album 21, including the chart-topper "Someone Like You."


Geggy Tah, "Wherever You Are"

Around the same time Semisonic were ruling the '90s alternapop world, a funny little band called Geggy Tah enjoyed one minor hit, "Whoever You Are," which peaked at No. 16 on the Modern Rock chart. It's the kind of song that people only seem to remember or talk about if they want a good one-hit wonder punching bag. But Geggy Tah multi-instrumentalist Greg Kurstin got the last laugh: he's since become an incredibly busy producer and songwriter, working with both alt-rock hitmakers (Foster The People, Red Hot Chili Peppers) and pop stars (Britney Spears, Ke$ha). So far, Kurstin has had success primarily with album tracks and the occasional UK hit, like Lily Allen's "The Fear" or Kylie Minogue's "Wow," but he recently notched his first American megahit with Kelly Clarkson's chart-topper "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)."

In 1998, the power pop band Marvelous 3 hit No. 23 on the Modern Rock chart with "Freak of the Week." After the band failed to score any other hits, left their major label deal and broke up, frontman Butch Walker set about forging a solo career as a cultishly beloved singer-songwriter. All along the while though, Walker wrote and produced for other alt-rock bands like Bowling For Soup and Fall Out Boy, eventually moving up to pop stars like Katy Perry and Pink. To date, his biggest Hot 100 hit is Avril Lavigne's "When You're Gone" (No. 24 in 2007), but it's possible his most recognizable composition is Weezer's 2009 rock radio staple "(If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To."


Lucas, "Lucas With The Lid Off"

In 1994, rapper/producer Lucas Secon, then known simply as Lucas, scored his only hit as an artist with "Lucas With The Lid Off," which peaked at No. 29 on the Hot 100 and thrived on alternative and pop radio as well as MTV. He hasn't released another solo album in the 18 years since, but his discography as a producer and remixer is pretty dizzying, including dozens of huge pop and R&B acts. Most of the singles Secon has produced, for Sean Kingston and Big Time Rush and Travie McCoy, have languished in the lower reaches of the Hot 100, but in 2008 he co-wrote the Pussycat Dolls' "I Hate This Part," which reached No. 11. Like Greg Kurstin, Secon's productions have been more ubiquitous in the UK, where he's worked on top 10 hits by The Wanted and Pixie Lott.

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3 comments
Victor
Victor

Re: the jump from 'one hit wonder purgatory to hit factory': I think Motown's Eddie Holland is the definitive example of that. He had one hit ("Jamie") which peaked in the top 30 of the Hot 100 and Top 10 on the R&B chart in 1961, but his career as a solo artist stalled. Shortly after, he, his brother Brian, and Lamont Dozier would team up as Holland/Dozier/Holland and write and produce dozens of Top 10 pop hits (and 12 No. 1's), most famously for the Supremes and the Four Tops, and as the trio's main lyricist, write some of the best pop song lyrics of the 60s ("I Hear a Symphony"; "Reflections"; "Reach Out, I'll Be There" etc). 

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell

I think Gregg Alexander like a number of the others you mention has had additional success in Europe and not just the "one" producing hit here in the U.S.  And "You Get What You Give" is the perfect pop songs.  I haven't gotten tired of it fourteen years after its release.

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