Playlist – Hits From Left Field
In a world where popular songs can be broken down to a science, these ten unlikely hits broke the mold by gaining chart success while remaining uncompromising as ever.
“Justified and Ancient” The K.L.F. featuring Tammy Wynette 1991
Sure, Aerosmith and RunDMC had the novel idea of merging hip-hop and rock and roll, but let’s not forget when British acid house group The KLF employed the talent of “country’s first lady” Tammy Wynette for their hit “Justified and Ancient.” As a nod to Wynette’s signature song “Stand By Your Man,” The KLf subtitled their song “Stand By The Jam,” a line Wynette can also be heard singing.
“Hurt” Johnny Cash 2002
Country legend Johnny Cash resurged back into the mainstream late into his fifty-year career with his six part American Recordings series. But no song left quite an impression on the mainstream as his harrowing cover of NIN’s “Hurt.” Recorded with producer Rick Rubin shortly before Cash’s death in 2003, the song also came with a heartrending video that many fans now regard as Cash’s epitaph. The video would later receive a Grammy in the Best Video of the Year category. In a world where popular songs can be broken down to a science, these ten unlikely hits broke the mold by gaining chart success while remaining uncompromising as ever.
“Rock Lobster” The B-52s 1979
Named after a bouffant hair-do, The B-52’s seemed to shoot out of left field with their surf-guitar licks, towering wigs, and chic thrift store get-up. But perhaps the strangest thing they’ve ever done was their first single, “Rock Lobster.” Telling the tale of a beach party gone awry, sea-robins, narwhals, and bikini whales all come with their own sound effect, courtesy of Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson. Rumor has it that John Lennon heard “Rock Lobster” at a Bermuda Disco and was so inspired by it that he came out of a five-year recording hiatus.
“Tom’s Diner” Suzanne Vega and DNA 1990
Originally an a cappella track featured on Suzanne Vega’s 1987 sophomore release, Solitude Standing, “Tom’s Diner” became an accidental hit when British production team DNA added some beats to it and released it as a boot- leg. Vega’s record label quickly caught wind of this and officially released it as a single in 1990, where it shot to #5. The actual location of Tom’s Diner (now better known as the Seinfeld restaurant) is 112th Street and Broadway in New York City.
“Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)” US3 1993
Rarely does jazz penetrate the Billboard Hot 100, especially talent as authentic as legend Herbie Hancock. In this case, British jazz-rap group US3 had the novel idea of sampling one of Hancock’s signature tunes, “Cantaloupe Island,” over their own beats, thus resulting in a top ten hit. US3 also gave Blue Note Records their first platinum album.
“Tiptoe Through the Tulips” Tiny Tim 1968
Written in 1926 and a hit for several artists in 1929, “Tip- toe Through the Tulips” received a second-coming in 1968 thanks to a certain six-foot-one tall man playing a tiny ukulele and singing in a high-falsetto voice named Tiny Tim. Originally intended as a gag on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, Tiny Tim left enough of an impression to develop a cult following, leading him to release his debut album, God Bless Tiny Tim, with “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” as the single, charting at #17.
“Whip It” Devo 1980
Devo’s biggest hit, “Whip It” peaked at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100. Thought by many to be about masturbation and sadomasochism, the lyrics to “Whip It” actually had nothing to do with sex at all. Written by Mark Mothersbaugh as a mock upbeat, self-help poem, “Whip It” is a funny take on a working class man giving himself a pep talk.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” Queen 1975
Epic in length, completely chorus-less, and with lyrics lifted from the Koran, Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” should have been a recipe for disaster in the land of radio, yet it climbed to #9 in the US charts, and indubitably etched it’s way into the memories of rock enthusiasts everywhere. Interestingly, this track of murder and redemption climbed it’s way back up the Billboard charts in 1992, peaking at #2, when it was re-released to coincide with the success of Wayne’s World.
“Rapture” Blondie 1980
The first #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 to include a rap was actually per- formed by a white woman. That’s right, Blondie scored a number one hit with their song “Rapture,” which featured Debbie Harry rap- ping about a “man from Mars” who “eats up cars.” “Rapture” is also regarded as the first rap song with original music set to it. Fun fact: If you get a chance to check out the video, keep an eye out for Andy Warhol disciple Jean-Michel Basquiat as well as Yo! MTV Raps alumni fab 5 freddie.
“I Touch Myself” The Divinyls 1991
Both provocative and funny, Aussie pop group The Divinyls scored their only stateside hit with this saucy little number about, um… loving one’s self. While The Divinyls’ two core members, singer Chrissy Amphlett and guitarist Mark McEntee, generally wrote their own material, they en- listed the help of songwriting duo Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg for “I Touch My- self.” Stein- berg and Kelly had previously penned such hits as Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” and The Bangles “Eternal flame.” While the song is clearly about masturbation, it’s lighthearted tone and romantic verses aided in helping it climb to #4 on the Billboard Top 100.