One-Hit Wonder … Or Not? A Chat with Charlie Ingui of Soul Survivors (1967’s “Expressway to Your Heart”)

Rock Cellar Magazine

In our newest One-Hit Wonder … Or Not? entry, vocalist/founding member Charlie Ingui of Philadelphia-based soul/R&B group Soul Survivors discusses “Expressway to Your Heart,” his group’s 1967 No. 3 hit that marked the first major hit song from Philly producers/songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.  

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 your band to be a “one-hit wonder”? Why or why not?

Charlie Ingui: While we had three other charting singles, the three together couldn’t match the success of “Expressway …”. So I guess we were one-big-hit-wonders. Also, several tracks from our second and third albums continue to be downloaded around the world. Yay internet!

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?

Charlie Ingui: No, I never thought the record would be as big a hit as it was, but I did realize that there was something fresh and different about it. Having the two voices singing different parts of the song, I thought was interesting.

The Soul Survivors get a gold record for selling a million copies of “Expressway to Your Heart” by Jerry Blavat, second left, star of teen show on WFIL-TV

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

Charlie Ingui: The greatest moment for me was the “Thrill Show” at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia in 1967 when I sang the song with a crowd of 100,000 people singing along.

Rock Cellar: Anything special about its writing process or legacy?

Charlie Ingui: The song was written by Philly writers/producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. It was their first big hit and first “crossover” song. Everything they wrote was intended to be a hit, and they did pretty well at it for the next twenty years or so.

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?

Charlie Ingui: It was interesting to watch the song grow slowly in popularity as it was added to playlists, first mostly in cities on the East Coast and then West across the country. We “worked” that record from Philly to California, and had a great time doing it. That’s what you had to do back then.

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

Charlie Ingui: The key to its success was that it appealed to both Black and white radio listeners and was played on Black and white stations. The record topped Billboard’s Top 100 as well as its R&B chart.

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?

Charlie Ingui: Two songs that have gained attention in recent years are “Mama Soul,” from our 1969 album recorded in Muscle Shoals, and “City of Brotherly Love” from our 1974 self-titled LP. Also our song “Darkness,” from the 1969 album, appears on the Duane Allman Retrospective box set.

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 of yours or because it didn’t quite catch on as a single in the way you would have expected it to?

Charlie Ingui: Last year I recorded a song written by a dear friend in tribute to my brother and singing partner Richie, who passed away in 2017. It’s called “I’ll Carry the Torch,” and you can find it on YouTube.

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?

Charlie Ingui: I liked Eddie Money’s version, and also the instrumental version by Booker T and the MGs. I think my favorite is Bruce Springsteen’s live version released in February 2020, recorded at a May 2009 show on his Working On a Dream tour.

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

Charlie Ingui: These days I’m working on some recording and hoping that I can get back to playing live with the band. It’s been two years since I’ve felt the energy of an audience, and I’m excited about doing the April 23 show in Los Angeles for the Get Together Foundation.

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