Autobiographical Order No. 267: Gary Numan – Telekon

Something about the idea of one-hit wonders has always bothered me. Not that they exist, necessarily, because they do—it’s not like Chumbawamba came in hard with that second hit. It’s more about how we talk about one-hit wonders as if someone’s inability to strike that magic formula a second time means a failure of their artistry. It isn’t. In fact, getting any hit at all is a nearly impossible feat unless you have the benefit of millions of dollars behind you and a record label invested in keeping you there. Sure, talent is part of it, but it’s not the only part of it. Madonna didn’t have a million hits just because they were good songs, but because she made herself into a media icon. She adapted with the times, used MTV and other visual mediums to her advantage and never let too much time pass without giving people a reason to talk about her. That takes a lot of work and a lot of money, and frankly most artists aren’t going to pull that off. Most of them probably wouldn’t want to.

Sometimes one-hit wonders live up to the reputations we give them, like Starland Vocal Band or Right Said Fred or Wreckx-N-Effect. (No judgment, but they came and went at the pace they should have.) But the thing is a lot of really great and enduring bands would, technically, be one-hit wonders. Devo, for instance, who really only had one major hit with “Whip It,” but in spite of that were one of the most influential bands of the late ’70s and early ’80s. Or more recently, M83, who probably won’t have another hit like “Midnight City,” but what a hit that was.

Then there’s Gary Numan. Now, he’s not a one-hit wonder in the UK, where “Are ‘Friends’ Electric” became a big success a few months before “Cars” was released, and where he had five more top 10 hits afterward. But in the U.S., “Cars” was his only big breakthrough, and that’s sorta stuck, even though he has a pretty big fanbase. I’ve always sort of wondered whether obsession with hits as a measure of success was part of “rockism,” since it’s a reductive and narrow way to look at music, but then again it does concern pop. It’s an odd contradiction, but I think I’m on to something here.

Anyway, despite having just the one hit stateside, Numan released a lot of good music in his career. (And some that wasn’t so great, but hey, we’re none of us perfect.) In fact, one of my favorite of his songs came a year later. “I Die: You Die” has a super catchy, anthemic hook and—having partially covered it once—is really fun to play. Whether or not it caught on this side of the Atlantic (which it didn’t, despite, yes, being a hit in the UK), it’s a spectacular track.

Telekon, the album it was released on (in some markets—the ’80s were super screwy about what showed up on which album in which country) is also quite good, with another dynamite single in “This Wreckage.” It’s worth having in one’s collection for those two songs alone, though all in all it’s a strong set of music, even if Numan’s deep cuts are a bit subtler. And I scored a copy (with a big promo foil stamp and tracklist sticker slapped on the front) for $7. So that’s a successful find for me. I also saw Gary Numan live shortly before buying this, and I was actually kind of blown away by how many “hits” of sorts that were in his setlist. So, all a matter of perspective I suppose.

We’ve reached an age where Youtube views will make something a hit, so basically everyone’s favorite artist at this point is most likely a no-hit wonder. There’s something liberating about that in a way. But it also makes the pop charts insufferable, because there’s a lot more Pentatonix and viral-video star nonsense. Ugh. Maybe it’s all a dubious distinction after all, and hits aren’t really a measure of anything but profit over artistry? Maybe…

Rating: 9.0

Sound Quality: Good/Great

 

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