In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
There’s a whole science involved in pushing a single to #1. You can see it every Friday morning, when all the new tracks arrive on the streaming services. Some weeks, people think that the #1 spot might be up for grabs, so big names flood the zone. Some weeks, everybody knows nobody’s skating past some chart juggernaut, so no big songs come out. In 1991, the strategies weren’t the same, but the calculations were. Major corporations have been putting serious planning into the seizing that #1 spot for a long, long time. So it’s always fun when something comes along from nowhere and sneaks into the top spot, however briefly. That’s what Timmy T did.
“One More Try” does not sound like a #1 hit. It sounds like exactly what it is — one shy and sad young guy recording a hymn to his own heartbreak on the keyboard that he bought at a yard sale. Timmy T did not have marketing muscle behind him. He didn’t have any big names in his corner. He wasn’t even on a major label. Timmy T was essentially a nobody, and he went back to being a nobody soon after “One More Try.” For that brief little one-week window, though, Timmy T conquered the Hot 100. I think that’s beautiful.
Timmy Torres came from Fresno, a California city that’s basically a distant satellite of the Bay Area. Fresno’s not a small town, but people describe it that way. Compared to the bigger cities in California, Fresno must feel like the absolute middle of nowhere. (My family drove through Fresno once when I was a kid, and the only thing I can remember about it is that the arcade game in the trailer-park office ate my quarter, and when I told the guy working there, he made a big thing about how he hates video games.) Torres’ mother was a singer and keyboardist who apparently once sang backup on a session with Jerry Lee Lewis, and Timmy himself started writing songs as a little kid. (When Torres was born, the #1 song in America was Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode To Billie Joe.”)
As a kid, Torres worked as a kids’ birthday-party entertainer, and he hosted a local kids’ TV show called Herman And The Little People. As a teenager, he started making music with local Fresno rappers and eventually put together a track of his own. Torres, who’d started calling himself Timmy T by then, wrote a song called “Time After Time” about a girl he was dating. He recorded the track in someone’s garage. “Time After Time” was fully self-produced. Timmy sang it, played the keyboards, and programmed the drum machines. According to Fred Bronson’s Billboard Book Of Number 1 Hits, the whole process cost $181 — money that Torres made by working as a locksmith.
“Time After Time” sounds endearingly cheap as hell. It’s a full-on freestyle dance track, with all the dinky keyboard riffs and jumpy 808 drum-hits that the genre demands. But Timmy himself, singing in a thin and reedy voice, sounds deeply and overwhelmingly bummed. I love the idea of a circa-1990 dance track working as a vehicle for this guy to convey his own wimpy romantic longing. When the song was done, Timmy played it for the girl he was writing about. She liked it, so he took his tape around town, dropping off a copy at the local pop radio station. The programmers liked the song enough to put it into rotation. Eventually, other stations around California started playing “Time After Time,” too, especially after Timmy hand-delivered a copy to Power 106 in Los Angeles.
Soon, radio stations from around the country were writing to Timmy T, asking him for copies of “Time After Time.” Timmy wasn’t on a label, so he was having these records pressed up himself. In the Bronson book, Timmy says, “I was going broke sending all these records.” Labels started contacting Timmy, and for whatever reason, he signed a deal with Quality Records, a Canadian indie that had just opened a US office. When “Time After Time” got a national release, it peaked at #40. “What Will I Do?,” Timmy’s next single, made it to #96.
Quality wanted Timmy to make a full album quickly, so that’s what he did. The Time After Time LP, which came out in 1990, sounds just as cheap as the “Time After Time” single. Most of the tracks on the album aren’t dance-pop; they’re ballads. The record ends with Timmy’s cover of “Please Don’t Go,” the 1980 hit from KC & The Sunshine Band. On just about every song, including that cover, Timmy seems to be begging a girl not to leave him. “One More Try” is his nakedest, most vulnerable plea.
In the Bronson book, Timmy says that “Time After Time” and “One More Try” are about the same girl. (I imagine all the other songs on the album, including the covers, are about her, too.) Timmy recorded “One More Try” on an 808 drum machine and a Moog synth that he bought used. I’m guessing that he recorded it at the same garage studio where he made “Time After Time.” It cost Timmy T $200 to record the song that would take him to #1.
In this column’s comments section, I’ve seen people talk about “One More Try” as some kind of pop-chart nadir. I understand that. For one thing, Timmy T is nobody’s idea of a great vocalist. His voice is flat and small. At the end of “One More Try,” he attempts some kind of Philly-soul spoken-word bit — “oh girl, you know I love you, I just want you to know…” — and he sounds truly goofy. The song itself is miserable and maudlin. Timmy repeats himself a bunch of times, and he’s so stuck in his own feelings that you want to tell him to snap out of it. The track is fully synthetic, and it doesn’t feature a single sound that you could mistake for an actual non-electronic instrument.
Thing is: I’m fine with all of this. I like it, even. For one thing, “One More Try” is the rare freestyle ballad that sounds at least a little bit like a freestyle dance track. Even as he mopes, Timmy builds his track around a bouncy bassline and 808 claps. Rap producers are still making hits with the sounds that Timmy uses on “One More Time,” which gives the track an oddly out-of-time quality. Those bloops and blinks never interfere with the sadness of the melody, which comes out as one protracted sigh.
I’d love to know more about Timmy T’s listening habits, but I’d bet money that he was playing a lot of Depeche Mode and Morrissey when he wrote “One More Try.” It’s not just that “One More Try” is a sad song. There are lots of sad songs. But the culty British alterna-rock bands foregrounded their own sensitivity in ways that were never exactly melodramatic. Timmy does the same thing on “One More Try.” He’s not a good enough singer to wail out his grief, so he just states it, plainly and clearly.
The “One More Try” lyrics are pure Hallmark-card stuff: “It’s been a long time since I’ve kissed you/ It always used to feel so good/ And if you knew how much I missed you, you’d forgive me if you could.” But something about the delivery gets me. There’s no smoothness, no artifice. Timmy sounds like he knows that she’s not going to give him one more try, but he feels like he has to ask her anyway. I find that hopelessness terribly compelling.
Shy people don’t become pop stars. Pop stars might talk about being socially awkward, but in order to become a pop star, you have to know how to function in public. (Plenty of pop stars eventually forget how to function in public and become absolute freaks, but to get to where they are, they had to turn on the charm at some point.) Timmy T never became a pop star. There’s not a whole lot of information about him out there on the internet, but everything that I can find has me convinced that he really was, and is, a deeply shy person. In this video of Timmy speaking with former Number Ones artist Rick Dees, for instance, you can see a very quiet kid who does not know how to act in this type of setting. I wouldn’t know, either.
After “One More Try,” Timmy made it to #63 with the follow-up single “Over And Over,” and that was his last time on the Hot 100. Timmy’s 1992 sophomore album All For Love didn’t chart, and other than one self-released single in 2000, I’m pretty sure he’s never released anything else. So I really don’t know what Timmy T has been doing since 1992. He plays nostalgic freestyle shows sometimes, especially in California, and I bet those shows are fun as hell. Timmy’s also got a YouTube page, and it looks like he was trying his hand at DIY sketch comedy for a little while.
Judging by his Instagram, Timmy T spends most of his time these days feeding squirrels by hand and posting videos of himself feeding squirrels by hand. Also, Timmy T apparently moonlights as an amateur Fresno vigilante. On Timmy’s YouTube page, there’s a video of a 2019 interview that Timmy did with HLN. In that clip, he talks about how he rides his Segway around, catching footage of people breaking the law. He also tells viewers not to be shy about calling police. So if you’re doing any shoplifting in Fresno, you should probably first look around to make sure that Timmy T and his Segway are nowhere nearby.
It’s crazy to think that this guy on the Segway once battled people like Mariah Carey for pop-chart real estate, but that’s why I love writing this column. Pop history is a whole lot more interesting when it makes room for something as random as “One More Try.”
BONUS BEATS: Here’s Timmy T singing “One More Try” on a 2019 episode of Tosh.0: