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The Long Life of One Hit: Vanilla Ice, Color Me Badd and More Are Still Paying the Bills

Vanilla Ice at the American Music Awards
AP Photo/Reed Saxon

Vanilla Ice at the American Music Awards in Los Angeles on Jan. 28, 1991.

They're the songs you hear at just about every bar mitzvah, wedding, high school dance, or cheesy throwback party: "The Macarena," "Gangnam Style," "I'm Too Sexy," "Come On Eileen," "I Wanna Sex You Up," "Ice Ice Baby." A hundred more. You know you've danced to that one song.

Los Del Rio, Psy, Right Said Fred, Dexy's Midnight Runners, Color Me BaddVanilla Ice -- all had one massive hit (in some cases, a handful that you might recognize). A few of them continue to make a go of it, long after they struck gold.

"Oh yes, you can make a living," said Right Said Fred's Fred Fairbrass of the two-plus decades in which he and brother Richard have ridden their fame wave since the release of "Sexy" in 1991, the band's debut single that hit No. 1 in more than two dozen countries and remained for a relatively epochal three weeks in the U.S. "Sexy" has sold 1.26 million singles and 739,000 downloads to date, according to Nielsen Music. While Fairbrass says he could have probably retired for life if he'd written the track alone (instead of with his brother and co-writer Rob Manzoli), the group, which has since scored a number of follow-up hits across Europe and Asia, continue to ride the gravy train by touring and playing private parties.

As a testament to the long legs of an iconic single and a few other songs that might get a wistful nod, look no further than the surprise hit package tour of the summer: I Love the 90s. The 72-date outing, toplined by Vanilla Ice and Salt N' Pepa ("Push It"), also includes a rotating cast of has-beens/are-beings: Kid N Play ("Rollin' With Kid 'n Play"), Coolio ("Gangsta's Paradise"), All 4 One ("I Swear"), Color Me Badd ("I Wanna Sex You Up"), Rob Base ("It Takes Two") and Young MC ("Bust a Move"), among others.

Universal Attractions Agency co-owner Jeff Allen said he was pleasantly surprised by the response to the first date in Cedar Park, Tx. this past February, which led to a tour he says could easily stretch beyond 100 shows and 500,000 fans before all is said and done. Figures across four dates in March show that the tour is averaging around 5,000 fans a night and grossing close to $200,000 a show, according to Billboard Boxscore; the best-selling date so far is an August 19 gig at Detroit's DTE Center which had moved 14,000 tickets at press time.

 

 

"They may not have hundreds of hits, but they had that one song with legs that touched the consumer in a big way and they get excited about it and come out to see them perform," Allen said. "We're looking at 500,000, maybe 600,000 [tickets] this year, which is unheard of for these entertainers on an individual basis."

Not surprisingly, the response has already inspired a sequel for next year, I Love the 90s: The Party Continues, with a new set of acts to be announced soon.

Allen says the potential grosses for the tour are in the $30 to $35 million range, which is even more remarkable given that the average ticket costs $50, with the artists pulling in close to 50 percent of the gross.

"These artists will always be able to work. You can see it in the people who bring their children and their girlfriends and get dressed up in '90s gear for the shows," he says. "And you can tell by the places we're booking them, places people don't go -- like Sioux Falls [South Dakota] and Paso Robles, California -- there's a hunger for it."

Color Me Badd's Bryan Abrams, 46, can sense the excitement around the tour, and unlike the first time around, his second dose of fame and adulation is even sweeter. "The [I Love the] 90s tour is nowhere near what we made at our peak, but I make enough in one show to take care of what I would have made in three or four months at a regular job, maybe more… in an hour," said Adams, who knows about day jobs, thanks to a gig he took at his father-in-law's semi-truck tire business after things cooled down in 1998.

Adams kept plugging away, writing songs for other artists and appearing in the low-rated VH1 reality show Mission Man Band with members of LFO, 98 Degrees and *NSYNC. But he said the reaction this time around proves there's a career out there for as long as he and bandmate Mark Calderon want to keep at it.

CMB's best known song, "Sex You Up," actually peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1992 (selling 1.97 million singles and 444,000 digital downloads), while "I Adore Mi Amor" and "All 4 Love" actually both hit No. 1 in 1991 and 1992, respectively, though each sold considerably less than "Sex," according to Nielsen Music. "I'm not giving up on this, and I'll be doing it until I'm dead and buried," Adams said.

 

 

Color Me Badd's business partner, attorney Robert Meitus of Meitus, Gelbert, Rose LLP, says that, at a time when catalog sales have dipped for career album artists as well as more singles-oriented ones like Color Me Badd, touring is a vital link to reconnecting with fans from your peak period and re-energizing them. Unlike acts like Bruce Springsteen, who have decades of hits and millions of ticket buyers lining up to see them, CMB is able to stay in the game because of a unique emotional connection their fans often have with a certain song, and the period of their life that song recalls.

"Whoever goes to that concert wants to go back to that time and experience that, and for these guys, it's not that complicated: They can make a decent living playing 50 to 100 dates a year," Meitus said. "They're definitely fortunate to be in that small group of bands that can be on that tour."

 

The one-hit phenomenon was recently celebrated on the SiriusXM limited-run station ONEderland, which ran from mid-March to April (and is available online now) playing the hits you know and love from the '70s through the early aughts.

"These are great songs and we're all fascinated with the concept of having that one moment of fame and wondering, 'God, that was so good, why didn't they do another one?'" said Lou Simon, senior director of music programming at SiriusXM. "When we went through the chart books from the '00s, '90s, '80s, we found a formidable list full of really good records. By design we didn't play more than one song by anyone, and some we played much more than others," he said. That meant Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby," which has been certified gold and has sold 2.9 million downloads to date -- roughly $2.03 million worth -- according to Nielsen Music, made the cut and went into heavy rotation on the station.

Those download figures are especially notable and a nod to Vanilla Ice's longevity considering the gulf between its release and the market ascent of digital downloads

If you still don't believe it, just as Rick Astley, whose name has been synonymous for years with an Internet meme centered on his iconic, nearly 30-year-old hit, "Never Gonna Give You Up," and who just scored his first No. 1 album on the U.K. charts in over 29 years with his new project, 50.

Right Said Fred's Fairbrass said in recent years, "Sexy" has taken the group -- currently working on their ninth album -- to Europe's biggest open-air festival, the Donauinselfest in Vienna, which draws upward of 3 million people, as well as intimate private parties in London and 5,000-person city festivals across the continent.

In their heyday, they may have pulled in $100,000 or more for a big gig. That paycheck may have lost a zero, standing around $30,000 or $40,000 -- but the group is keeping more of the money this time around, thanks to cutting out a larger team that Fairbrass said was siphoning off a good bit of the profit from their success.

"I think you have to look at [your big hit] as a gift, a huge key that opened a huge door," he said. "Some artists are lucky to have many, many 'I'm Too Sexy''s on their roster."

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