One-Hit Wonder … Or Not? A Chat With Billy Vera (1987’s No. 1 Classic “At This Moment”)

Rock Cellar Magazine

In our newest One-Hit Wonder … Or Not? entry, vocalist/songwriter Billy Vera discusses his hit “At This Moment,” which was first released in 1981 before making major strides on the charts six years later in 1987 – and remains an enduring classic today. 

What determines if a song is a “one-hit wonder”? This is a subject that’s become somewhat difficult to define, as there doesn’t seem to be one clear answer. Many people define it as an artist or band best remembered for one “signature” song that achieves mainstream popularity, especially one that stands the test of time, or a track that landed at precisely the right time and made an undeniable impact that is felt decades later. Even if the artist had other hits, that one single still seems to be the most widely known by the general public.

From the artist’s standpoint, there can certainly be a stigma associated with the phrase “one-hit wonder,” especially when many have had successful careers highlighting other charting singles, albums, tours, have produced or written notable songs for other artists, and have cultivated a devoted fan base around the world that helps them remain in the public eye. But the truth is, thousands of artists, both old and new, would give their left arm to have that one big hit.

Whatever your definition of “one-hit wonder,” there’s a nuance to the term that often goes overlooked and underappreciated, and it’s with that in mind that we present this new column.

Rock Cellar: Do you consider yourself (your band) to be a “one-hit wonder”? Why or why not?

Billy Vera: Since I had several chart hits in the 60s, and one previous to “At This Moment” in the 80s, it would be inaccurate to call me a “One-Hit Wonder,” although a classic as famous as ATM can often make the public forget an artist’s other hits.

Rock Cellar: Were you able to recognize the impact your song was having at the time of its success, and did you imagine it would span the test of time like it has?

Billy Vera: The impact of ATM at its time of release was so great and across every demographic line that it was impossible to miss. The song’s use on the sitcom Family Ties took the song to the mainstream.

Rock Cellar: What was your greatest moment performing this song?

Billy Vera: I suppose the greatest moment performing the song was the first time I did it on The Tonight Show featuring Johnny Carson. I went on to do the show nine times.

Rock Cellar: Did you write the song with the intention that it would be a hit?

Billy Vera: When I write a song, its commercial possibilities aren’t a factor. I just want to write the best song I can that day.

Rock Cellar: What was the initial reaction to the song? Did people take to it immediately, or did it take a while before catching on?

Billy Vera: When I first played the song for my publisher, I turned to him afterwards and saw tears flowing down his face. That was the first indication to me that it had “something special.”

Billy & the Beaters – The Troubadour 1980. Photo courtesy of Billy Vera

Rock Cellar: What do you think was the reason for the song’s success?

Billy Vera: I think the main reason for its success was that, the second time it was on Family Ties, the story of the song and the episode matched: “Boy loses girl.”

Rock Cellar: Have any of your songs experienced more success outside the United States? And if so, which one(s), and why do you think that might have happened?

Billy Vera: Certain songs do better in certain countries. This is usually because a melody sounds familiar to those people. “Make Me Belong To You,” a hit for Barbara Lewis in 1966, was covered by a number of artists in their own languages, but not in other countries.

Rock Cellar: Apart from your loyal fan base that is familiar with all of your music, what would you say is another song of yours that people may know?

Billy Vera: My song “I Really Got the Feeling,” recorded by Dolly Parton, was a number one country hit for her in 1979. Another one that’s been often covered is “Papa Come Quick,” first recorded by Bonnie Raitt. Fans of rock music know my song “Don’t Look Back,” first recorded by the Remains and later recorded by Robert Plant and a number of other bands. “Room With A View” has been recorded by Lou Rawls, George Benson, Eric Burdon and many lesser-known people.

Rock Cellar: Separate from that, what’s another song of yours that you would want people to know, either because it’s a personal favorite or because it didn’t quite catch on as a single in the way you would have expected it to?

Billy Vera: “If I Were A Magician,” first recorded by me and then by Lou Rawls, Will Downing, and others, is one that deserves wider fame.

Rock Cellar: Are you familiar with any notable covers of your song? If so, what did that feel like to see/hear another artist pay tribute in that fashion?

Billy Vera: ATM has been covered by a number of people: Tom Jones, Freda Payne, Rita Coolidge, to name a few. But the version that sold the most, some 14 million albums, was by Michael Buble.

Rock Cellar: What are you up to these days with your music career? Are you touring, recording new music, producing, anything like that?

Billy Vera: My most recent album, Timeless, came out in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which hurt sales, thanks to a closing of the warehouse. So people were unable to order it, which is a shame because it’s a fine piece of work. I’ve written three books: my memoir, Harlem to Hollywood; Rip It Up: The Specialty Records Story, a history of this important indie record label (Little Richard, Sam Cooke); and a novel, A Dollop of Toothpaste.

Here’s my favorite live version of “At This Moment”:

Billy Vera will be a featured performer at the Tribe’s “One-Hit Wonders” show, part of the Get Together Foundation’s annual concert event on April 23 at the Palace Theatre in Los Angeles. Strawberry Alarm Clock will be opening the evening. Click here for ticket information. 

Keep up to date with Billy Vera by visiting his official website. 

Related Posts