Remakes of ''Lean on Me,'' ''Killing Me Softly,'' and more extend the life of these famous one-hit wonders

By David Browne
Updated July 19, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

Even the most cautious Vegas bookies are betting that ”Macarena” is bound for one-hit-wonder heaven. However, the singular sensations that truly grate are remakes, especially by those who ride a note-for-note cover version to the top of the charts. Warning to Fugees: As this chronology suggests, invest wisely.

Juice Newton ”Angel of the Morning” (No. 4, 1981) Original Version by: Merrilee Rush (1968) Justification for Remake: After several hitless albums, Newton desperately needed a smash. Attempt at Fresh Twist: Many fewer violins than Rush’s original; otherwise identical. Satan’s Payback: Newton has been absent from the top 40 since 1983; currently playing Vegas.

Club Nouveau ”Lean on Me” (No. 1, 1987) Original Version by: Bill Withers (1972) Justification for Remake: R&B song with comforting ”you’ve got a friend” message relevant during Reagan-era budget cuts. Attempt at Fresh Twist: Electro-dance beat courtesy of two of its members (and future En Vogue Svengalis), Denzil Foster and Thomas McElroy. Satan’s Payback: Club who?

Big Mountain ”Baby I Love Your Way” (No. 6, 1994) Original Version by: Peter Frampton (1976) Justification for Remake: Requisite oldies revival for movie soundtrack (in this case, Reality Bites). Attempt at Fresh Twist: Watered-down reggae riddim makes song sound even wimpier than Frampton’s original. Satan’s Payback: The band’s white-guy dreadlocks dated even faster than Ethan Hawke’s goatee.

Nicki French ”Total Eclipse of the Heart” (No. 2, 1995) Original Version by: Bonnie Tyler (1983) Justification for Remake: Meat Loaf’s blue-plate comeback made viable the unsavory idea of reviving tunes by his partner (and ”Eclipse” author) Jim Steinman. Attempt at Fresh Twist: Dance-club beat, but French does a solid imitation of Tyler’s trademark rasp. Satan’s Payback: Even with a hit, debut album fails to break into Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart.

Fugees ”Killing Me Softly” (1996) Original Version by: Roberta Flack (1973) Justification for Remake: Singer Lauryn Hill seeks to rekindle pleasant childhood memories of singing along with Flack’s soothing ’70s hit. Attempt at Fresh Twist: Mild-mannered hip-hop drum track, which makes it sound like — uh, Roberta Flack with a mild-mannered hip-hop drum track. Satan’s Payback: Ink still drying on contract.