Between late 1979 and the end of 1989, there were nearly 500 (real) one-hit wonders of the 80s that reached the BILLBOARD Hot 100 just one time, a list that includes Soft Cell, Gary Numan, Timbuk 3, The Church, Bronski Beat, Nik Kershaw, The Buggles, The Waitresses, Ultravox and two different bands named The Silencers. Once a week, I’ll highlight a (real) one-hit wonder for you.
Welsh musician / songwriter / producer Karl Wallinger always had an interest in music, listening to artists like The Beatles, Beach Boys, Bob Dylan and the L.A. Rock band Love (The Damned did a brilliant cover of Love’s “Alone Again Or” in 1987).
After a brief stint in the late 70s with a band called Pax (featuring two future members of The Alarm), Karl eventually became the musical director for (London’s) West End (theatre) production of THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW, then he was in a funk band called “The Out” (which I honestly can’t picture), and after (which I can totally see), a stint with The Waterboys starting in 1984.
Karl Wallinger stayed with The Waterboys for two albums, A PAGAN PLACE and THIS IS THE SEA, providing support on piano, organ, percussion and backing vocals. THIS IS THE SEA was certified Silver in the United Kingdom, and generated what would become (in a 1991 reissue) their biggest U.K. hit, “The Whole Of The Moon,” which reached No. 3 on the U.K. Singles chart.
After THIS IS THE SEA, Karl left The Waterboys to form his own band, World Party, of which he is the sole member. World Party’s debut album, PRIVATE REVOLUTION, featured several session musicians and an Irish newcomer, Sinéad O’Connor, who provided backing vocals on the album’s title track and one other song, “Hawaiian Island World.” Another song from PRIVATE REVOLUTION, “World Party,” would make an appearance in a version by The Waterboys on their next album, the brilliant 1988 release, FISHERMAN’S BLUES.
Also from PRIVATE REVOLUTION came a surprise hit called “Ship Of Fools (Save Me From Tomorrow).” It was the album’s first single, which eventually found its way to American shores and made its debut on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 at No. 96 on Valentine’s Day 1987.
The climb for “Ship Of Fools” on the Hot 100 was slow at first, but picked up, and in early April 1987, it debuted in the Top 40. By the end of April, it spent a week at its peak position of No. 27, and would go on to spend 15 total weeks on the Hot 100.
Though Karl’s band namesake is still going strong today, this would be the only time World Party would grace the Hot 100. “Ship Of Fools” would also find its way to No. 5 on BILLBOARD’s Mainstream Rock chart, No. 4 in Australia and No. 42 on the U.K. Singles chart.
After PRIVATE REVOLUTION, Karl and World Party continued to record, including 1990’s acclaimed GOODBYE JUMBO album (featuring “Put The Message In The Box” and “Way Down Now,” the latter of which spent five weeks at No. 1 on BILLBOARD’s Modern Rock chart in June / July 1990), 1993’s BANG!, 1997’s EGYPTOLOGY (which included the wonderful and award-winning “She’s The One,” featured in the 1997 film, THE MATCHMAKER, starring Janeane Garofalo and Denis Leary), and 2000’s DUMBING UP.
You might also remember one of World Party’s songs, “When You Come Back To Me” (inspired by David Bowie’s 1975 hit, “Young Americans”), which was featured in the 1993 film, REALITY BITES (Karl scored the film as well).
Karl sadly suffered a brain aneurysm in February 2001 that left him unable to speak, but after five years of rehabilitation, he returned and played his first show in a decade at the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. He got his catalog back from EMI and re-released his albums. In 2012, World Party released ARKEOLOGY, a massive five-CD, 70-song collection of new material, live songs and covers. It was, like all of World Party’s other work, well-received.
Though World Party was never really an international success, it didn’t seem to bother Karl Wallinger. After the aneurysm, he once described his “renewed talent” as “overcompensating, so it’s either the best I’ve ever played or I’ll completely balls it up.”
I admit here that, in 1987, World Party and “Ship Of Fools” didn’t really do anything for me at the time. But, since then, and to borrow from the song itself, I’m so very glad I finally set “sail to the place on the map, from which no one has ever returned…”