One-hit wonders are plentiful, if we measure it by getting a song that breaks into the Billboard Top 40. Far less common are songs that sweep all the way to #1 and are the most popular song in the United States for a period, only to see that artist never make an impact again.
Those that do fit that one-hit wonder mold are truly snapshots in time, many belonging to their very distinct eras. Topics range from war protests to interracial romance to afternoon lovemaking to the size of booties, and all points in between.
These are my rankings of songs that reached #1 on the U.S. Billboard chart, and meet the criteria for a one-hit wonder. The criteria:
–The artist had only one Billboard Top 40 hit, and it reached #1;
–artists who collaborated with other famous artists for their hit song were eliminated (Kiki Dee with Elton John, Ricardo Ducent with Shaggy, USA for Africa artists, for example)
–artists who achieved great fame within within their specific music genre (granted, a subjective call on my part), and had multiple top albums, even if only one single reached mainstream fame were eliminated (Janis Joplin, Sinead O’Connor, Bill Conti with Rocky Theme (multiple Grammys), and Regina Belle are examples)
–artists who had hits in other groups, or as solo artists were eliminated (Bill Medley previously of Righteous Brothers, John Sebastien for the Welcome Back Kotter theme song, previously of Loving Spoonful)
–foreign artists are included though, as this is an American view of one-hit wonders, even if the artist had other top-selling albums in other countries.
That left 47 options for the #1 songs from 1965 to 2012. Here are my top 20 from that group, based on a combination of fame and recognizability, hilarity, cultural impact, and quality of song.
#20 I’M TOO SEXY — RIGHT SAID FRED (1992)
Who would have ever guessed two bald brothers singing about runway models would go to the top? The “I’m too sexy” hook was too irresistible for us to pass up.
#19 BUTTERFLY — CRAZY TOWN (2001)
I did not know the title of this song. I would have titled it “Come my Lady, Come, Come, my Lady.” But it has a catchy beat and was seemingly featured in every movie circa 2002.
#18 BROTHER LOUIE — STORIES (1973)
This week marks the 49th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia, striking down laws against inter-racial marriage. In 1970, fewer than 1% of marriages were interracial. In their 1973 hit, Stories took on interracial relationships when they told us Louie, Louie, Louie, Lou-eye was “whiter than white”.
#17 SOMEBODY THAT I USED TO KNOW — GOTYE (2011)
I’m providing bulletin board material for Gotye, as this is the most recent song to make this list. I’m going out on a limb and saying he will never have another top 40 song in the United States, but he’ll always be somebody that we used to know.
#16 GOOD VIBRATIONS — MARKY MARK & THE FUNKY BUNCH FEATURING LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY (1991)
Mark Wahlberg, whatever happened to that guy?
#15 WHEN I’M WITH YOU — SHERIFF (1989)
The power ballad era needed a representative, and Sheriff provided it in weird fashion. The band had broken up four years before this song went all the way to #1 on Billboard charts, and the song itself had been a top 10 song on Canadian radio (and reached #61 in the U.S.) in 1983. It received renewed interest from a Las Vegas DJ in 1989 and went all the way to the top.
#14 VENUS — SHOCKING BLUE (1970)
Originally performed by the Dutch band Shocking Blue, this song has the distinction of appearing at #1 twice, when Bananarama re-did it in 1986. It has one of the most distinctive guitar riffs to open a song, and the below performance is quintessential 1970.
#13 FUNKYTOWN — LIPPS, INC.; RING MY BELL — ANITA WARD; KNOCK ON WOOD — AMII STEWART (1979-1980)
The Disco era was the leading cause of one-hit wonders. In fact, between the release of a song that appears further down this list in 1974, and this trio in 1979 and early 1980, over 10% of true one-hit wonders that reached #1 could be classified as Disco (This includes Disco Duck). Had to go with this video of Knock on Wood because is it on fire.
It should be noted that Ring My Bell was the #1 song the week that the Chicago White Sox hosted their ill-fated Disco Demolition Night.
#12 HERE COMES THE HOT STEPPER — INI KAMOZE (1994)
He knows what Bo don’t know.
#11 CHARIOTS OF FIRE THEME — VANGELIS (1982)
Vangelis was one of the hardest inclusions on this list. He’s a legend in Greece. This is by far his most notable work in the United States and most prominent score from a film. The song itself is iconic. Who hasn’t run in slow motion to this song?
#10 PLAY THAT FUNKY MUSIC — WILD CHERRY (1976)
Before there was Vanilla Ice, there was Wild Cherry.
#9 DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY — BOBBY McFERRIN (1988)
Should McFerrin be on this list? It’s another borderline case. He won multiple Grammy’s for Jazz Vocals, but his lone mainstream hit came when “Don’t Worry Be Happy” won both Song and Record of the Year in 1988.
#8 BAD DAY — DANIEL POWTER
Powter hasn’t had any other top 100 songs on the U.S. Billboard since Bad Day, but has had 3 top 25 songs in Canada, hosers.
#7 EVE OF DESTRUCTION — BARRY MCGUIRE (1965)
“You’re old enough to kill, but not for voting. You don’t believe in war, so what’s that gun your toting.”
McGuire’s protest song came along early in the cycle, pre-dating bigger names like “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield and “Fortunate Son” by Credence Clearwater Revival. Also, bonus points for being one of the few songs to rhyme “coagulating.”
#6 NA NA HEY HEY KISS HIM GOODBYE — STEAM (1969)
When you come up with a song that goes on to be featured at stadiums and arenas around the country, you make the list. I’m pretty sure the lead singer looks like one of Philip’s disguises from the Americans.
#5 KUNG FU FIGHTING — CARL DOUGLAS (1974)
Could you even use the line “There were funky China men, from funky China town” anymore? The next generation was exposed to this song thanks to a Panda. It is a true treasure.
#4 BABY GOT BACK — SIR MIX-A-LOT (1992)
I remember listening to “Posse on Broadway” before this ever came around, so it’s hard for me to fathom this as his only top hit, but the former peaked at No. 66, and nothing after ever came close.
The song is so famous that it inspired dumb people to get angry at Blake Lively for making a “LA face with an Oakland booty” reference.
#3 AFTERNOON DELIGHT — STARLAND VOCAL BAND (1976)
A song by some square-looking folks about mid-day sex of the dirty variety. The video below looks like it might be for a cereal commercial. Classic, and it was re-introduced to a mainstream audience when our top comedy, Anchorman, did a scene on it.
Starland Vocal Band won Best New Artist in 1977 on the strength of this hit, the only one on this list to do so. (Debby Boone, who I did not include here for “You Light Up My Life,” also won the next year).
#2 MICKEY — TONI BASIL (1982)
Toni Basil in the cheerleading outfit. Memories of youth.
#1 COME ON EILLEEN — DEXY’S MIDNIGHT RUNNERS
This song ended every “80’s Night” Dance Party in college. I’ll spare you images of my dancing at said parties. I’m surprised the shirtless overall thing didn’t catch on more, that definitely needs to make a comeback.