We round up an album’s worth of tracks by singers and bands best known for one particular song.
Country music performers often enjoy more career longevity than their rock counterparts, which may be why so many rockers record country records after their pop careers fizzle. But country music has had its share of one-hit wonders as well. Here’s a playlist’s worth of brief shining moments from artists who came and went, some who reinvented themselves, and a few who just walked away.
“Joanne” (1970) – Michael Nesmith
Houston-born, Dallas-raised Michael Nesmith scored a barrel of hits with The Monkees, but as a solo performer, “Joanne” was his only Top 40 single. Unfairly maligned by the Monkees’ manufactured image, Nesmith ignored the critics and for the next four decades released innovative country-rock albums, all of which are worth a listen. Like Rick Nelson, another largely ignored pioneer of the country-rock sound, he deserved a second career as successful as his teen-idol heyday. Nesmith’s gone on to have many second acts — as a writer, movie producer, and video entrepreneur. His latest project, an Internet site called Videoranch 3D, hosts live performances at various virtual venues.
“My Maria” (1973) – B.W. Stevenson
“My Maria” is likely more familiar now from the chart-topping 1996 cover by Brooks & Dunn. The original version, co-written and performed by B.W. (for “Buckwheat”) Stevenson, peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard pop chart and, amazingly, missed the country chart altogether. But there’s no mistaking the song’s progressive country roots. Sadly, Stevenson died during heart surgery in 1988, at the age of 38. A native Dallasite, he’s honored every year with a songwriting competition sponsored by Poor David’s Pub in Dallas.
“I Can Help” (1974) – Billy Swan
He wrote hits for Waylon Jennings, Conway Twitty, and Mel Tillis, among others, and toured (on bass) as a member of Kris Kristofferson’s band. As for his solo career, Billy Swan’s big hit, “I Can Help,” is one of the rare songs to reach No. 1 on both the country and pop charts. It also boasts quite a memorable guitar lick, performed by the record’s producer, Chip Young — as well as the distinction of being recorded the following year by Elvis. The organ Swan plays on his track was a wedding gift from friends Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge, who won a Grammy with the Swan-penned “Lover Please.”
“Should’ve Asked Her Faster” (1995) – Ty England
After playing guitar and singing backup for fellow Oklahoman (and former roommate) Garth Brooks, Ty England landed his own record deal and reached No. 3 on the country chart with the vibrant two-step “Should’ve Asked Her Faster.” Several subsequent singles landed lower on the charts, but the magic of that first hit has yet to be recaptured. Wikipedia has him back in his home state, working for Keller Williams Realty in central Oklahoma.
“I Don’t Think I Will” (1996) – James Bonamy
One listen to his only Top 10 hit, “I Don’t Think I Will,” makes it easy to understand why fans of Florida-born James Bonamy still await his return two decades after he left the business. A popular tune for radio dedications and wedding slow dances, the song went to No. 2 on the country chart and Entertainment Tonight declared Bonamy Hot New Country Male. But he fell in love with a gal from East Texas and stopped recording after his second album in 1997. Bonamy went to work in the IT industry outside of Houston and continues to serve as one of the worship leaders at Mobberly Baptist Church.
“Butterfly Kisses” (1997) – Bob Carlisle
The achingly sincere “Butterfly Kisses” won the 1997 Grammy for Best Country Song despite topping out at No. 45 on the Billboard country chart. Co-written and performed by Bob Carlisle as a tribute to his daughter on her 16th birthday, the song still causes some to tear up and others to hit the seek button. For several years after the song’s success, Carlisle was happy to rent himself out at weddings to serenade the bride in person. Today, the tune remains a wedding standard, while Carlisle has mostly moved on to music for the movies.
"If She Don't Love You" (1997) – Buffalo Club
In 1997, Restless Heart drummer John Dittrich formed Buffalo Club with singer Ron Hemby and guitar player Charlie Kelley. Their self-titled debut album produced the Top 10 Billboard country single “If She Don’t Love You,” a song that had previously been offered to Restless Heart. Dittrich left Buffalo Club while the song was still on the charts, and the group disbanded shortly after. He later rejoined the reunited Restless Heart. Hemby went on to become worship leader at River of Life Church in Smyrna, Tennessee. Kelley, former guitarist for Doug Stone, married Grand Ole Opry Live and Great American Country host Nan Kelley. A few weeks after she completed chemotherapy in 2008, he himself was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 40. Cancer-free, he’s now a Nashville record producer and continues to play guitar.
“What’s the Matter With You Baby?” (1999) – Claudia Church
This irresistible country-pop sugar lump came from the songwriting team of Annie Roboff and Beth Nielsen Chapman, who co-wrote Faith Hill's “This Kiss.” With girl-next-door good looks and a foot in the Nashville establishment door courtesy of husband Rodney Crowell, former model Claudia Church seemed like the next big thing after recording the tune but disappeared after her debut album. “What’s the Matter With You Baby?” bubbled just under the Top 40 at No. 41, though it seemed like a bigger song at the time, thanks to a memorable and oft-played music video set in a bowling alley.
“What If She’s an Angel” (2001) – Tommy Shane Steiner
A native of Austin, Texas, and the son of two rodeo entertainers, Tommy Shane Steiner’s first single asked “What If She’s an Angel.” This song about the less-fortunate souls you pass on the street was a guilt trip to the cynical and (if you believe the YouTube comments) a moral crossroads to the idealistic — and it climbed to No. 2 on the Billboard country chart. Two subsequent singles from Steiner’s debut album, Then Came the Night, failed to crack the Top 40. He’s still performing, mainly around Austin, both as a solo act and with a group called The Outlaw Project, which also features former American Idol contestant Bo Bice.
“What I Really Meant to Say” (2002) – Cyndi Thomson
Georgia-born Cyndi Thomson’s first single, the haunting “What I Really Meant to Say,” was a No. 1 hit on Billboard’s Hot Country. She wrote eight of the 11 songs on her blockbuster debut album, My World, which sold more than 500,000 copies. And then Cyndi Thomson decided she’d had enough. In a letter to her record label and fans, she stated that being a recording artist was an “overwhelming life-changing experience” and that she couldn’t “commit to [the] obligations” of making a new album.” Thomson quit recording for a while but released new songs in 2006, 2009, 2011, and 2013 without much fanfare.