One of the many mysteries of popular music is the one-hit wonder. Why is it that an artist or band of questionable talent and dubious originality can produce, in one glorious moment of otherworldly inspiration, a song or recording that reaches to the stars?
I have no answer to this question. However, such records form a constant thread throughout the history of popular music, and, when collected into a set such as the Rhino Records Nuggets series form a powerful corpus of delightful music.
All these are thoughts that occur to me as I listen to one of my favorite one-off songs, The Passions’ I’m In Love With A German Film Star.
Film Star was released by the band in the winter of 1981, and was a moderate hit, but nothing special. I first heard it in early 1982, on a compilation tape that a friend has sent me from England, and was bowled over by it.
It’s heavily derivative (of Cure, Joy Division new-wave doominess), filled with cliches (the standard rock ‘n’ roll derived skip-drumming of many punk hits), a female singer of no great ability and essentially banal lyrics (I’m in love with a German film star I once saw in a movie; Playing the part of a real trouble-maker but I didn’t care, it really moved me).
Nonetheless, I remain entranced by the song, and would put it in any desert island compilation (of decent length!). It works because all the elements are perfectly in balance and thus the song transcends what should be insurmountable barriers. Who cares if the guitar solo is lifted almost verbatim from Robert Smith’s work on “Seventeen Seconds”. Who cares if the melody is little more than a blues progression – the song suceeds completely on its own terms and joins that select group of what might be called Perfect Pop Songs. Naturally enough, nothing else the band ever recorded comes even close.