Let’s Hear It For The One-Song Wonders

We had the new Walkmen album on the stereo this morning. It’s called ‘Lisbon’, and it’s pretty good. Some NME writers will even tell you it’s incredible. But there’s one thing it’s missing, and that’s a song that’s anywhere near as exhilarating, as urgent, as pulse-racingly perfect as their 2004 breakthrough track, ‘The Rat’.


You don’t need me to bang on about what makes it such an astonishing song – it’s all been said. Suffice to say it featured in both NME’s and Pitchfork’s tracks of the decade lists. Never has a song about loneliness sounded so furious.

The Walkmen have other good tunes, of course. But in the six years and four albums since, they’ve written nothing that burns with the white-hot energy of ‘The Rat’.

There’s something slightly dispiriting about that – the notion that a band can experience one blazing moment of inspiration, and then spend the rest of their career trying in vain to recapture it.

It’s a common problem. We interviewed 80s poodle rockers Europe the other weekend at Sonisphere, and you could see the pain in their eyes as they discussed ‘The Final Countdown’ for the millionth time.

Frontman Joey Tempest wrote that keyboard riff in his bedroom when he was 18. Imagine living your entire life in the shadow of a cheesy cluster of notes. Every gig you ever do for the rest of your days, you know it’s that bit that everyone’s waiting for.

Then again, is it really such a hardship? There’s no shame in having produced one indisputably great song, a solitary, unrepeatable moment of genius that will echo down the decades (yes, I’m calling ‘The Final Countdown’ a moment of genius – want to make something of it?).

McAlmont and Butler did it with ‘Yes’. Johnny Boy did it with ‘You Are The Generation That Bought More Shoes…’ And of course The Outhere Brothers did it with ‘Don’t Stop (Wiggle Wiggle)’.

Which other examples are there? I’m not thinking necessarily of one-hit wonders – the songs don’t have to have been commercially successful – just tunes of such incandescent brilliance, the artists who wrote them have never quite been able to escape their orbit.