JONATHAN EDWARDS  “Sunshine” b/w “Emma” (Capricorn Records #C-8021, 1971)

I’ve never considered the “One-Hit Wonder” label to be necessarily a bad thing.  Some of my favorite songs fall into that category.  Hell, most of my favorite artists are NO hit wonders, so having any sort of hit at all seems like a miracle in my eyes.  Consider this two-minutes-and-change quickie by little-known folksinger Jonathan Edwards.  He may only be known for this track, but oh what a track it is.  And to think it more-or-less came about by accident.


Legend has it that during the 1970 recording sessions for what was to become Edwards’ Atco (later Capricorn) debut LP, one of the tracks got erased, prompting Edwards to fill in the space with a fresh composition.  “Sunshine,” a short ‘n’ catchy ‘Nam protest song, quickly caught fire and spent 12 weeks on the US singles charts, peaking at #4.  I was just a kid at the time, so I didn’t fully comprehend the draft-card-burning sentiment behind the lyric, but the urgency of this track, driven home by Edwards’ pummelling  acoustic guitar and up-close-&-dry vocal,  was so captivating that I played the A-side over & over ’til it hissed.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that my mom liked the song too, so there was plenty of singing along (and no complaining) at my house.

See a \’74 Olds lip-sync Jonathan Edwards\’ \”Sunshine\” on YouTube

You gotta love the internet.  I tell ya, I used to search desperately for surreal moments, but now I desperately try to avoid them.  Anyway, you can also catch some quality live footage of Edwards himself performing the track, in both a solo folk-rock rendition from ’06 here, and in a very recent (we’re talkin’ 2009) speed-bluegrass performance here.  Any way you slice it, though, this song is so incredibly powerful that it never loses its steam in any setting, as evidenced by the thousands of cover versions out there.    Even a Jeep ad couldn’t damage its credibility.  If you’re gonna be a one-hit wonder, buddy, THIS is the kind of hit to have, for certain.  And talk about timelessness:  when he hits that last lyric couplet, how current does that feel?!

Pulled also from the eponymous debut, B-side “Emma” provides a haunting tale of lost romance, possibly with a ghost, in a Gordon Lightfoot-meets-John Denver setting, replete with a pedal steel guitar and Edwards’ high-lonesome tenor front & center.  Not as urgent or anthemic as “Sunshine” (few songs are), this B-side showcases the artist’s versatility, which is, sadly, something few performers carry with them anymore.

In fact, it’s that versatility that keeps Jonathan Edwards still going to this day.  He’s worked in rock, folk, country, bluegrass, and even Broadway musicals.  His playing chops and gorgeous singing voice remain captivating and stunning as when you first blasted “Sunshine” over your car’s AM radio.  No matter if it was back in ’71, or just yesterday.

NEXT WEEK: 5 Roman Gods  ride someone’s pony.  Probably yours.