Even today, Donna Lewis still is trying to shake the specter of the fatuous “Macarena.”
The Welsh-born singer-songwriter nearly set the record for the longest run at No. 2 on Billboard’s pop singles chart in 1996. Her catchy “I Love You Always Forever” spent nine weeks as an also-ran to Los Del Rio’s dance craze, a feat topped only by Foreigner’s “Waiting For a Girl Like You,” whose Achilles’ heel for 10 weeks in 1981 was Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical.”
With her second Atlantic Records album, “Blue Planet” (released Aug. 18), Lewis is doing everything in her power to avoid that killer phrase “one-hit wonder.”
“Oh god, I hate that term,” Lewis said recently. “I mean, I know I’ve said it when I’ve seen artists and I say ‘Oh, they’ll be a one-hit wonder,’ and then you never hear from them again, but it’s a horrible expression. People ask me if I’m under any pressure with this new record, and I say ‘No, because the making of this whole record has been really enjoyable. I’ve loved writing the songs.’
“I never think about ‘I Love You Always Forever.’ It’s there, it’s gone, but I wanted to dispel the tag of one-hit wonder, and unfortunately when you have a big song like that, it’s really hard because people are saying, ‘Well, is this as good as that song?’ and ‘Is she going to have another hit?’ I see myself as this serious singer-songwriter, I am, and if people get into my music, they’ll see that, but I’m still known as the girl who sang ‘I Love You Always Forever.’ It’s something I would love to get rid of.”
Maybe her wishes won’t come true, but it wouldn’t be for a lack of trying. “Blue Planet” is far more diverse-sounding and confident than Lewis’ gold-selling debut album, “Now In a Minute,” taking listeners on an atmospheric pop journey. And there’s no shortage of potential hits, such as “I Could Be the One,” “Love Him” and the heavenly title track.
“Blue Planet” is all Lewis, who produced and arranged the entire album at her home studio north of Dublin, Ireland.
“I wanted to be in control this time,” she said. “I had nobody else standing with me saying ‘I think this would be better this way.’ It was my own responsibility at the end of the day to make a record that I felt I could make. I had definite ideas on how I wanted to do it. I wanted to go back to the home recording thing, and I wanted to make it a lot more sparse than the first record. I wanted to try different things.
“I was quite lucky, (Atlantic) left me alone, but I know my managers went in and had a talk with them and said, ‘Look, she wants to do it this way.’ They said it in a way ‘Let her go and write the songs first,’ knowing exactly the way how I was going to do it, ‘and then we’ll review it.’ Jennifer Stark, my A&R girl, was very supportive, and I know a couple of people said, ‘Don’t you think it would be a lot easier just to go into the studio and we’ll get somebody to work with Donna?’ Jennifer said, ‘No, let her go and do this, because I have total trust in her. I know her, I know what she’s going to do.’
“Before Christmas, she came over to hear some stuff and was blown away and she took it back to Atlantic, and for them, I think they only need to hear one song. They heard ‘I Could Be the One,’ and said, ‘Yep, that’s a hit, carry on!’ “
The album’s ethereal mood is a reflection of Lewis’ carefree lifestyle in the Irish countryside.
“Where I am in Ireland, it’s a beautiful, picturesque location,” she said. “The whole island has a mystical sort of element to it. It’s very special. Tracks like ‘Heaven Sent You’ and ‘Blue Planet’ and ‘Beauty and Wonder,’ that inspired those songs. But it’s more of how I feel inside. I always work much better when I’m at peace with myself. I’m really happy and I feel at home in an area where I can live my life but do my music at the same time. I write my best work that way.”
“I Could Be the One” has fared well in Europe, boosting Lewis’ spirits.
“I was doing this interview the other day over the phone with this guy from Austria,” she said, “and he says to me, ‘You’re in the Top 10 with ‘I Could Be the One,’ and it’s doing really well in Europe.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Oh, thank god, I’m not a one-hit wonder in Europe anymore.’ I could be a two-hit wonder, but it’s better than being a one-hit.
“In Europe, it’s doing fantastic, which is great. Atlantic changed the single (in the United States); it started out being ‘I Could Be the One,’ and two weeks later they flipped it to ‘Love Him,’ so it’s been a bit scary for me. It’s had a weird start. I just hope it does well. I think I just need to have this first single take off somehow, because I have to have that, then the album stands a good chance. I just need to get over this ‘one-hit wonder’ thing here.”
Through it all, Lewis maintains a sense of humor, particularly about “Macarena,” laughing as she recounts being coerced into doing the incessant dance at its peak during a radio station appearance in Orlando. But the insanity of the situation truly hit home while listening to a radio station in England.
“I had heard that someone took the ‘Macarena’ instrumental and put ‘I Love You Always Forever’ over the top with this girl singing the whole of my song, the melody,” Lewis said. “I finally got to hear it, and it was the most bizarre thing I had ever heard in my life. My first thought was, ‘Who’s got the permission to do that?,’ but it was some sort of pirate radio station. You just have to laugh about it. What else can you do?”
BWF (before we forget): For more on Donna Lewis on the Web, visit www.atlantic-records.com.
COVID-19 prompts many spring and summer albums releases to be moved to several months ahead