One-hit wonders that lived up to their names

ACCORDING TO JOEL WHITBURN’SPop Hits 1940-1954,” 14 artists had only one Top 10 hit and no other chart hits on the pop charts during that time. This is the story of six — two of which made it to No . 4, one to No. 3 and three that actually reached No. 1.

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Don Howard, “Oh Happy Day” (Essex 311): In 1952, a 17-year-old named Don Howard Koplow from Cleveland home-recorded a song  — well, actually, it was in his garage — called “Oh, Happy Day.” This was not the Edwin Hawkins gospel song. He accompanied himself on acoustic guitar in a deadpan manner. A local deejay played the song on the air, and it was issued on Cleveland’s Triple A Records. But it became a hit on the Essex label out of Philadelphia. I remember famous New York deejay Martin Block saying that if Howard’s song became a hit, he would eat the record — or the words, to that effect. Howard recorded a few more singles for the Essex, Mercury and Coral labels with little success. “Oh Happy Day” reached No. 4 on Billboard.

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Frank Weir, “The Happy Wanderer” (London 1448): Englishman Weir (1911-1981) had played in London dance bands and performed classical music with the London Symphony. In 1954, he recorded “The Happy Wanderer.” His soprano saxophone accompanied a chorus singing about the wonder of traveling around the countryside. Weir’s song only made it to No. 18 in the U.K. in June 1954, but it peaked at No. 4 in the U.S. It was a big hit for the Obernkirchen Chidren’s Choir, who took it to No. 2 in April 1954.

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Bill Snyder, “Bewitched” (Tower 1473): Snyder (1916-2011) studied piano in childhood and played on the radio until he went into the military. He was a noted nightclub attraction. Arnold Shaw, in the book “The Rockin’ ’50s,” called it the freak song of the year because of the unknown label and unknown artist. The instrumental sold more than a million copies and reportedly was Snyder’s first record. It went to No. 3 in 1950.

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Anton Karas, “The Third Man Theme” (London 30005): Austrian-born Anton Karas (1906-85) found a zither in his grandmother’s attic when he was 12. In 1948, movie director Carol Reed heard Karas play in a Vienna Wine garden and was so fascinated that Reed convinced Karas to play the zither throughout the classic film “The Third Man.” Karas’ “The Third Man Theme” went to No. 1 and stayed there for almost three months in early 1950.

Johnny Standley, “It’s In the Book” (Capitol 10633): Standley (1912-92) recorded this novelty record essentially as a narrative and sing-a-long to make fun of fundamentalist preachers. Standley worked with The Horace Heidt Orchestra and also entertained our troops during World War II. This, his only hit, was No. 1 in 1952.

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Joan Weber, “Let Me Go, Lover!” (Columbia 40366): In late 1954, the TV showcase “Studio One” featured “Let Me Go Lover,” performed by Joan Weber (1935-81). The song originally was called “Let Me Go, Devil,” and was about alcoholism. Mitch Miller at Columbia had Al Hill write new lyrics. Weber’s version went to No. 1 in 1955. When Weber appeared on the showcase, she was visibly pregnant. Her daughter’s birth sidelined her from the music industry right as the single peaked. After a few attempts to follow up on her success, Weber gave up on her music career. She died May 31, 1981, at a New Jersey mental institution.

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