Now if you want to be picky about these things then technically Coventry indie-pop band The Primitives are not one-hit wonders. They can boast a grand total of four Top 40 hits and a chart history that extended into the 1990s, although if their September 1989 near miss Secrets is a core part of the soundtrack of your life, you can at least relax in the knowledge that it is a moment that doesn't belong to too many others.
No, their destiny is to be forever defined by one single in particular. A single which peaked at Number 5 in March 1988 and which has resonated with surprising consistency across the generations since. It also took forever for an official version of the video to make it to YouTube. Thank goodness there is a Vevo channel for everything now.
Just what is it that makes the barely two and a half minute Crash so utterly memorable and a joy still to hear? My own theory is that it has three distinctive musical hooks which make it the ultimate earworm. To get all onomatopoeic for a moment the single has a guitar melody which goes jangle-jangle, a rhythm track which goes chugga-chugga and a chorus vocal which goes na-na-na. This is essentially a record which grasps spectacularly at every base musical instinct a human being has. And it is glorious.
Even in 1988 though Crash was just another hit single, mentioned in dispatches as one of the moments of the year but little regarded thereafter. Its place in popular culture was largely only cemented almost seven years later when the producers of hit film "Dumb and Dumber" chose it for use on the film's soundtrack. Yet here lay the problem. The Farrelly brothers liked the song but felt it lacked just a little something and requested the track be reworked to better fit the scene they intended it for. By then the Primitives had split up and crucially had lost control of their catalogue of recordings. There was therefore little they could do about the transformation of their song into the version heard on the film soundtrack. The new "remix" overdubbed extra guitars, organs and even new backing vocals, extended the song to include an instrumental break and arguably in the process shattered completely the elegant simplicity of the original production. It should be noted that none of the original members of the band participated in the re-recording. Crash '95 was a Primitives track in name only.
Yet such was the profile of the film that the '95 arrangement has unwittingly become the default rendering of the song. Many cover versions since have been based on the re-recording rather than the song as originally published - most notably the one performed by Matt Willis for another film soundtrack ("Mr Bean's Holiday") in 2007 and which reached Number 31 in the British charts when released as a single that year.
There is just one place you can be sure of hearing the Primitives' version of Crash with regularity on the airwaves, and that is if you listen to Absolute Radio. Yet gratingly and jarringly and to my own obsessive annoyance they have until recently insisted on spinning is the '95 remake rather than the original. I was always baffled as to why. This was after all never released as a single. Not one person who took time out to buy a copy of Crash will have paid money for the remake - one which we must remember featured none of the group themselves and which was made without their consent. For a radio station which is more or less unique amongst commercial operators in Britain in selling itself on the respect it has for the music and the variety of its playlist it always seemed a strange oversight that it had one classic single in rotation in what was effectively the 'wrong' version.
Various attempts to point this out on social media and through industry contacts met with no response, so eventually I sent an email directly to James Curran their head of music querying the use of the song. As it turned out they were indeed aware of the issue and he explained the background why:
I think it was effectively a hereditary issue in that was always the version that had been played on Absolute and on Virgin Radio before it ( from which we inherited the database!) . We did get the very odd complaint about playing the 90s version but it was hardly a flood and it was clear it was no great issue for the vast majority of listeners. To be honest unless you know your music inside out , as you obviously do James , I really don’t think most listeners knew the difference between the two versions or were even aware that two versions existed – daft as that may seem most people have a different relationship with music from the one that ‘musos’ like you and I have ! But then you and I love the detail! In a way, the 90s version, perhaps because of those overdubs, has a slightly fuller radio sound but on reflection, we came to the decision to revert to the original because this was the original hit version after all.
You can actually understand why in the dim and distant past someone did make the decision to go with the wrong version. The overdubbed version of the song is indeed a better "radio" track in the sense it is beefier, has a proper guitar break and perhaps most crucially of all runs around three and a half minutes rather than the two and a half of the original. A radio clock hour that presumes 12 tracks averaging four minutes can indeed be thrown out of whack by too many tracks much shorter. Proof if ever you needed it that the choice of what to play on the radio is based far too often on what "works" rather than what sounds correct.
But fair play to them, they considered it and switched to the original. Does one have to be a "muso", as James puts it, to understand why the two versions are different, or just someone who understands what made the song so good in the first place?