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Singular Sensations

Robin Scott, the musician behind the peppy "Pop Muzik" -- signature line, "New York, London, Paris, Munich, everyone's talking 'bout pop muzik!" -- offers a reflective assessment over the phone from his home south of London. "It's a commercial success that has somehow eclipsed everything else that I've been doing," he says. "It sticks in people's minds, it's a memory that goes down historically. To me it was a pop record, and that's what it was meant to be." By his count, the song reached No. 1 in 14 countries.

As the copyright holder, Scott, 61, notes, "I did quite well out of it. . . . It still generates income, which is great, and it makes it possible for me to explore other areas musically."

He's also an artist and a glider pilot, and recently bought a place in France where he is building a recording studio. Not a bad way to live. Yet for him the song remains "a two-edged sword: People want to see a formula played out again and again, and that wasn't my interest."

Same dilemma for Greenbaum, now 65 and retired in Northern California. (Living not far, incidentally, from the guy who got famous for "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.") "Spirit in the Sky" hit No. 1 in "practically every country in the world," Greenbaum says proudly, but its legacy is bittersweet.

"That song was so powerful it became evident it was the only thing I could ever do," he says. "At clubs we'd play that song for over a half-hour. And then they'd want an encore of the same song!

"I couldn't break away from this. I'd get [creative] mind block. I thought, 'I don't know if I can keep banging my head against the wall.' So for me, it was best that I stop and do something else for while."

He became a chef for a number of years. He kept goats as a hobby. But the song -- whose lyrics he wrote in 15 minutes -- would not die. It ended up in 46 movies. It's in the recent Tiger Woods "moon shot" Gatorade commercial.

McFerrin famously shunned "Don't Worry, Be Happy," which won a Grammy for song of the year. McFerrin's longtime producer and manager, Linda Goldstein, suggested putting the song on his album, and McFerrin didn't resist. But he wouldn't sing it on the awards show, she says, so Billy Crystal did a parody.

The tune has seven vocal parts, overdubs that can't be replicated outside the studio, and so cannot be done justice live. Anyway, Goldstein says: "It's a fixed moment in time, and he's not an artist who repeats a fixed moment in time. . . . He is not about the hitmaking machinery but the divine origins of music."

Goldstein also objects to "the sheer ludicrousness of calling Bobby a one-hit wonder," given the scope of his career, which includes conducting major orchestras.

The hits keep coming:

"I get knocked down, but I get up again."

"And I scream from the top of my lungs: What's goin' on?"

"Won't you take me to Funkytown?"

A huge hit can have other consequences besides inflicting there-are-voices-in-my-head miseries upon human beings in the middle of the night. The Singing Nun, who appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1964, had donated the song's royalties to her order before she left it, but the Belgian tax man caught up with her years later. Officials insisted she pay a whopping tax bill.

Press reports quoted a suicide note she and her lover left before they died from barbiturate overdoses: "Now we go to God. He alone can save us from financial disaster."

The Nebraska duo of Denny Zager and Rick Evans split after "In the Year 2525" rocketed around the world in the same summer that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. An article in the Omaha World-Herald in 1996 reported that the two hadn't spoken in a decade. It also described them as "an odd couple from the moment they started playing together": Evidently Zager was more of a folkie and family man, and Evans a partying hippie type.

Another possible reason for the estrangement: The song's publishing rights were held by Evans, who relocated to New Mexico and lived off the royalties. Zager, still in Nebraska, sells and modifies guitars. (Neither could be reached for comment.)

Whatever became of the Heights? It was a Monkees-like band to begin with, created to provide the story line for the Fox TV series of the same name. The early-1990s show didn't last long, but Jamie Walters, the actor who sang its theme, "How Do You Talk to an Angel," got famous. For a while. Eventually he switched careers, becoming a firefighter for the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Fifty years ago, Vito Picone and his teenage pals in Staten Island -- they hung around the South Beach boardwalk and called themselves the Elegants -- crooned their way to the top of charts internationally with "Little Star," a song he wrote with a friend who lived across the street, Artie Venosa. Some of the Elegants are retired, but Picone, its original leader, still performs with Jimmy Mochella, another member.

So is it a great honor to be the very first Billboard one-hit wonder?

"I hate that expression," Picone, 67, answers immediately. "To be saddled with that one-hit wonder thing has really been a thorn in my side." (Back then, Cashbox was "the chart that mattered, the bible," he says, and the Elegants not only made No. 1 there but had other hits on that list.)

Picone and the Elegants play up to 100 dates a year. They are in Washington tonight to perform at the Warner Theatre in an oldies review benefiting cancer research.

Of course he'll sing "Little Star." It's a song -- a moment, a memory -- some people will never want to get out of their heads.


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