Ever watch one of those VH1, “one-hit wonders” specials, where the random D level commentators start talking about these artists that had one hit, where half of them actually had multiple songs that charted? Random commentator probably has no idea but then somewhere in there Matt Pinfield comes in with his “I’m smarter than you and probably no fun at all” persona and makes sure you know they had another song that charted exactly at #98 for one week in 1984. Well, I’m the everyman’s Pinfield but funnier and better looking. This series will go back to the 80s and spotlight one-hit wonders (in the US), real (truly only one charting hit) or perceived (other songs charted low but they are known for just one song) and come to a definitive verdict if we should accept or reject their status as that one-hit wonder.
Alannah Myles burst onto the scene here in the U.S. in 1989, with her hit song “Black Velvet” which was a pretty great, sultry blues-pop tune and then she promptly faded away. She had a bigger career in her native Canada but for the purpose of this blog, we focus on the US.
Myles was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada as Alannah Byles and was performing from age of 12 or so all around Ontario. She put in her dues for a good six years before meeting Christopher Ward, who was not only a songwriter but the very first VJ on MuchMusic in Canada (think MTV of Canada). Ward truly believed in her talent and although she shopped a demo around for years with no traction, about nine years after they met, he was still working with her and helped her get a record deal with Atlantic in 1987. She then teamed up with Canadian producer and writer, David Tyson and started recording the debut record. Released in 1989, Alannah was already 31 at the time which was a bit older than the age of many of the artists on the radio then. Ward/Tyson had a hand in writing nine of the ten songs on the record including “Black Velvet” which went to #1 in the US. It was actually her second single with the song “Love Is” charting at #36 on the Billboard Hot 100 before that. The self-titled debut represents the 80’s pretty well, a bit of rock mixed with adult contemporary pop and Myles had a bit of a smokey voice, with a bit of grit, reminding me of Pat Benatar at that time. The album itself is really enjoyable from front to back. Listening to it in 2019 shows that it’s extremely dated but represents 1989 pretty well.
As good as the debut is, there’s a glaring flaw that is likely the reason she never made another dent in the US charts. Nothing else on the album sounds close to “Black Velvet” and therefore there was no perfect follow up single to the hit. In addition, if you watch the video for the track, she’s dressed in cowboy gear and playing the southern blues chick. It worked well for the track at hand but that didn’t translate to the rest of the album. There’s one acoustic blues track ending the record, called “Hurry Make Love” but it wasn’t a radio ready track. Much of the rest of the album was pretty rockin’ for the time. Her gravely voice blended well with rock guitars and the album focused on that. IMO, if the record company had pitched her as a rock star first and released “Just One Kiss” as the first single, “Love Is” as the second and “Black Velvet” as the third as a ballad from a rocker, she could have had significantly more success. I think if you put “Just One Kiss” up against, say Pat Benatar’s “All Fired Up,” you have a pitch that might have worked in the end. Of course that still doesn’t leave a proper follow up to “Black Velvet” but her persona would have been way different.
A little over three years later, she followed up with the album Rockinghorse, which followed the same general path as the debut, although I definitely wouldn’t have started the album with a rap like she did on “Our World Our Times.” The album opens up with pure rockers like the aforementioned track, which has a guitar riff very similar to “Kyrie” by Mr. Mister and “Make Me Happy” which seems to share the same bassline as Poison’s “Unskinny Bop.” The track that really should have been a hit was the ballad, “Sonny Say You Will” which would have been a perfect song for 1992. Instead, the first single was “Song Instead of a Kiss” a painfully slow ballad filled with epic string movements. While a good enough song on its own, not something that would have gotten much airplay in the U.S. It did hit #1 in Canada, but here, did nothing. And that was pretty much her last real shot in the states.
From this point on, the focus seemed to be on her native Canada where she actually had five hits off Rockinghorse. In 1995, she released her third record A-Lan-Nah, on which she brought in new songwriters. Ward and Tyson had their hand in four tracks on the record but Phil Johnstone (Robert Plant) co-wrote a few tunes and Pat McDonald (Timbuk3) co-wrote two others. The album had a decidedly less rock feel and went more in the pop direction. With acoustic guitars heavily in the fold this time, the disc has an overall singer-songwriter vibe. But the lead track on the disc, “Mistress of Erzulie” sure sounds a whole lot like another top Canadian artist at the time – Alanis Morrisette.
After her 2007 release, A Rival, she took a break from recording, though still toured over the years. In 2009 though she released the creatively titled Black Velvet which was not a greatest hits record but rather new songs and of course a re-recording of her most famous hit (in a clearly inferior version). 2014 was her 25th anniversary, so you know, instead of repacking the original record and re-releasing it, her label at the time decided to expand the Black Velvet album out a bit, rename it 85 BPM and re-release that, of all things.
In the end, Alannah Myles career in the US seemed to have been just a series of weird and possibly bad decisions. No one is really going to argue with having a #1 hit but she was a good enough rock artist to have had better success here in the end.
Summary: Despite “Love Is” going to #36 in 1989, no one really knows that song. In the US, it was all about “Black Velvet” and for that, I’m going to accept her status as a one-hit wonder. Part of my accepting or rejecting the status is my thoughts on whether an artist should have been a bigger hit or not but in a case like this, either herself or her label really didn’t do her many favors in their choice of songs. If the singles would have been the right ones but just didn’t chart, I would have rejected the status but in the US at least, the decision makers failed her here, to the point where I simply have to say that one-hit wonder-dom was her true fate.