The concept of one-hit wonders is illusive. While technically it defines an artists who has cracked the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 just once and then faded into oblivion. Some would say that artists must have had a No. 1 in the Billboard Hot 100 in order to be considered one-hit wonders. While in a broader aspect, it can be defined as artists who achieve mainstream popularity and become known among the general public, solely for the momentary success of only one piece of work.
While the debate will continue as to what technically best defines a one-hit wonder, we can accept that there are several songs, some of them really good ones too, that makes this list. What matters is that we love these songs. Sometimes it’s just that one song which makes it enough for the artist to have a lasting impression on us and remain in our playlist for years to follow. So here comes Musical Ninja’s very own compilation of the TOP 20 One-Hit Wonders of all times!
1. The Knack – My Sharona (1979)
This debut single by The Knack remained 6 weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and was number one on Billboard‘s 1979 Top Pop Singles year-end chart. With sales of half a million copies it was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America and got fastest gold status debut single of Capitol Records since The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand”.
2. Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Come On Eileen (1982)
The Best British Single at the 1983 Brit Awards, “Come On Eileen” was voted by the British public as the nation’s sixth favourite 1980s number one in a poll for ITV in 2015. It ranked number eighteen on VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs of the ’80s.
3. Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Relax (1983)
This one became one of the most controversial and most commercially successful records of the decade. It sold over 2 million copies in the UK alone, making it the seventh best-selling single in the UK Singles Chart’s history.
4. Falco – Rock Me Amadeus (1985)
The only German language song to peak at number one of the Billboard Hot 100, Rock Me Amadeus topped the singles charts on both sides of the Atlantic making it Falco’s only number one hit in both the United States and the United Kingdom.
5. Bobby McFerrin – Don’t Worry Be Happy (1988)
The first a cappella song to reach number-one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, it displaced Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine” to remain in the position for two weeks. It was originally included in the soundtrack of Tom Cruise’s movie Cocktail and is often mistaken as a song sung by the legendary Bob Marley.
6. The La’s – There She Goes (1988)
The lyrics of this song which said “Racing through my brain” and “Pulsing through my vein” got it into a lot of controversy. It was not clear whether the song was about heroin or just unrequited love. Released not once or twice but four times between 1988 and 2008, it ranked No. 45 in NME Magazine’s list of the 50 Greatest Indie Anthems Ever.
7. Vanilla Ice – Ice Ice Baby (1990)
One of the most iconic hits of the nineties, this song used bassline samples of The Queen and David Bowie‘s hit single “Under Pressure” without giving credits to them. The matter was settled out of court and Vanilla Ice was required to pay financial recompense to the original artists and also put their names in the credits. He inspired Indian Rap artist Baba Sehgal to not only use the same bassline but come up with one of the earliest Hindi raps called “Thanda Thanda Pani” which literally translates to “Cold Cold Water“.
8. Right Said Fred – I’m Too Sexy (1991)
Anyone who has been into music during the nineties would instantly recognize this song, and well remember the video as well. The song was initially rejected by multiple record companies but after some re-vamping of the music and adding a riff borrowed from the Jimi Hendrix‘s “Third Stone from the Sun“, it went on to become No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart where it remained for six weeks. It also topped the charts in Australia, Ireland, and the United States.
9. Sir Mix-A-Lot – Baby Got Back (1992)
This song spent five weeks at No. 1 on Billboard Hot 100 and was the second-best-selling single of 1992, after Boyz II Men‘s “End of the Road“. Its outspoken and blatantly sexual lyrics about specific references to the female buttocks attracted a lot of controversy and was briefly banned from airing their music video by MTV. However, in 2008 it ranked number 17 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs of Hip Hop.
10. Blind Melon – No Rain (1992)
According to Brad Smith who wrote this, “The song is about not being able to get out of bed and find excuses to face the day when you have really, in a way, nothing.” Its intriguing music video which featured Blind Melon drummer Glenn Graham’s sister in a “Bee Girl” character attracted a lot a positive attention and recieved heavy airplay on MTV. The video made No. 22 on MTV’s Greatest Videos Ever Made countdown at the end of 1999.
11. Billy Ray Cyrus – Achy Breaky Heart (1992)
The first single ever to achieve triple Platinum status in Australia and also 1992’s best-selling single there, the songs was originally written in 1990 by Don Von Tress. The music video for the song led to the explosion of the line dance into the mainstream, becoming a global craze.
12. The Heights – How Do You Talk To An Angel (1992)
One of our favorites, this was the last TV theme song to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It knocked off Boyz II Men‘s “End of the Road” which was enjoying a record 13-week run on the spot. In 1993, the song was nominated for an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Individual Achievement in Music and Lyrics“.
13. 4 Non Blondes – What’s Up (1993)
Another one of our favorites, “What’s Up” found success in the United States and in several European countries, peaking at number one in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden and Switzerland.
14. Haddaway – What Is Love (1993)
A massive hit in Europe, this song ranked No. 1 in at least 13 countries. The music video featured Trinidadian-born singer Nestor Alexander Haddaway performing in an old castle, surrounded by vampire-like dominatrices.
15. Crash Test Dummies – Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm (1993)
Despite receiving mostly negative reviews from critics, this song was very successful around the world. It also became a top-five hit on both the UK Singles Chart and the all-genre US Billboard Hot 100.
16. Ini Kamoze – Here Comes the Hotstepper (1994)
Best known for its chorus, which kind of catches on to you, this 1994 hit found its way to the soundtrack of the film Prêt-à-Porter starring Kim Basinger and Julia Roberts amongst others. It remained in No. 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks.
17. Los Del Rio – Macarena (1995)
Originally released on a local label in Spain in 1993 and brought to the United States by the American label BMG, this song spent 14 weeks at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 singles chart becoming one of the longest runs atop the Hot 100 chart in history.
18. Chumbawamba – Tubthumping (1997)
Peaking at number two on the UK Singles Chart, this one topped the charts in Australia, Canada, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand and hit number six on the US Billboard Hot 100.
19. Lou Bega – Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit of…) (1999)
Originally composed in 1949 by the Cuban-Mexican bandleader Perez Prado, German pop musician Lou Bega added lyrics to it, transforming it into a love song for several women, namely Angela, Pamela, Sandra, Rita, Monica, Erica, Tina, Mary and Jessica. In France it set a record by staying at number-one for 20 weeks.
20. Baha Men – Who Let The Dogs Out (2000)
This song is Baha Men’s first and only hit in the United Kingdom and the United States, and it gained popularity after appearing in Rugrats in Paris: The Movie and its soundtrack album.
Other noteworthy mentions:
Kris Kross – Jump (1992)
Chris “Mac Daddy” Kelly and Chris “Daddy Mac” Smith a.k.a. Kris Kross were only twelve and thirteen years old when they recorded “Jump“. It was the fastest selling single in fifteen years and stayed on top of the Billboard Hot 100 for eight weeks, while the album Totally Krossed Out, sold over 4 million copies.
Jordy – Dur Dur D’être Bébé! (1992)
Listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the youngest singer ever to reach number one on a singles chart, Jordy was only 4½ years old when the song was released. It talked about difficulties of infancy where parents are always telling you what to do, when to sleep, when to bathe.