Now that ‘dry January’ is over and some of us are getting stuck into a beverage, it may be time to reflect on ‘One’s Too Many (And A Hundred Ain’t Enough)’, a song written by Nick Lowe and Kim Wilson (of the Fabulous Thunderbirds) back in 1980.

It appeared on Nick Lowe’s ‘Nick The Knife’ album and has also been recorded by the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and performed in concert once or twice by Elvis Costello (in a duet with Rosanne Cash). Actually, Costello was present when Lowe and Wilson were slaving over the song’s lyrics.

As he told Nick Lowe Biography: ‘One very dark night I knocked on Nick’s door in Chiswick after some misadventure. I turned up for a cup of tea. It was about five in the morning and he and Kim were there writing “One’s Too Many”, and they were having this big debate as to whether they could have the word “beholden” in the song.’

‘Beholden’ didn’t make the cut, in fact all of the song’s words are quite straightforward as we learn about the ‘baby’ who ‘wanna run around’.

Well her kiss is the best
Her touch is a must
One’s too many and
A hundred ain’t enough

Fabulous Thunderbirds perform ‘One’s Too Many’:

One suspects the song is allegorical and not so much about the girl’s kisses, but the dangers of dabbling in drinking if you don’t know when or how to stop. It’s a very good premise for a bluesy song but like many lyrics is not entirely original. This is not a criticism.

As far as popular entertainment is concerned, the paradoxical line can be heard in ‘The Lost Weekend’, the 1945 movie starring Ray Milland, who won the Oscar for best actor as ‘Don Birnam’, a novelist who rather liked a drink. In a key scene, he is on the receiving end of a barman’s rebuke, ‘One’s too many, and a hundred’s not enough.’ (The barman also has another good line in, ‘Get out of here and buy it somewhere else.’)

The adage also appears in other move scripts, and is one of many recovery slogans heard in alcohol rehab programmes. It is probably an ancient proverb.

As far as music is concerned, it popped up in Carol Baker’s 1974 country hit, ‘One Is One Too Many (And a Thousand’s Not Enough).

Carol Baker performs ‘One Is One Too Many’:

‘Knick The Knife’ by Nick Lowe has recently been reissued by Yep Roc Records

Header illustration by Ian Pollock

‘Nick Lowe Biography’ by Will Birch is a work in progress. For updates:

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