For every Madonna, Rolling Stones, or Bruce Springsteen, there is also a Norman Greenbaum, Fountains of Wayne, or Meredith Brooks. Whether they emulate a group like The Cars or the sound and attitude of a current popular artist like Alanis Morrisette (in the case of Brooks), fame and hits are often fleeting. This is where the adage “lightning never strikes twice in the same place” is heartbreakingly evident for would be superstars.
What factors come into play causing a recording artist to become a one-hit wonder, particularly assuming that their one hit was massive? Did the Baha Men ever find out “who let the dogs out”? Unlikely. One-hit wonders are anomalies, mere accidents where the musical act is in the right place at the right time – for the only time.
Fame at times is unexpected and there are simply no worthy follow-up singles that could possibly rival that one and only hit. Like a viral video on TikTok, an audience gets into something very quickly and tires of it at the same pace. Record labels have a tendency to want to repeat that success with something that sounds like the hit (REO Speedwagon’s “Keep on Loving You” and “Can’t Fight This Feeling” aren’t the same song), and if fatigue has set in, the follow-up goes nowhere.
Pressure to recreate that initial success can lead to drugs, alcohol, lack of sleep and other health conditions that compound the existing pressure to create something worthy of a follow-up. Who hasn’t heard of the sophomore slump?
The most important ingredient to musical longevity? Moving successfully through trends and appealing to your audience as they change, while also garnering new listeners. Easier said than done.
So today, join us to revive, relive, and relate to our list of random one-hit wonders (we’ll continue exploring others in future installments). Here we present ten classic hits in no particular order. If you have a favorite that didn’t make our cut (or disagree with our own list), feel free to share your thoughts within the comments. We’ll definitely take a listen!
POP MUSIK (1979) – M
“New York, London, Paris, Munich…everybody talk about pop musik.”
In the transitionary time between disco record burning and the explosion of new wave, there was English musician Robin Scott, professionally known as “M” performing a bit of a hybrid of the two music genres. In the summer of 1979, “Pop Musik” was everywhere (sing it in the subway), and it quickly raced up the pop charts, hitting #1 in 9 countries. Originally composed with a R&B vibe, it wasn’t the smash it became until a colleague of Scott’s suggested using synthesizers. Together with its non-sensical lyrics, the song was an instant hit. A remix climbed again to #15 in the UK in 1989. As for additional hits, M had a few minor singles (“Moonlight and Muzak – #33” and “That’s the Way the Money Goes – #45) in the UK but was never seen again on the US pop charts. 8/10
Peak Position in the US – #1 / UK – #2
BLACK VELVET (1989) – ALANNAH MYLES
A tribute song wrapped in blues but celebrating the King of Rock ‘N Roll, “Black Velvet” was inspired on a bus trip to Graceland to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. The driving bassline at the center of the tune surprisingly wasn’t an actual bass guitar, but rather a fretless bass sample produced by a synthesizer. Although the second single from her debut album, the track was promoted as her debut single around the world, winning the Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance in 1991. Other than the minor US hit “Love Is” (#36), Myles failed to capitalize on the greatness of “Black Velvet”, never securing another Top 40 hit in either the US or the UK. 9/10
Peak Position in the: US – #1 / UK – #2
SUGAR, SUGAR (1969) – THE ARCHIES
Don Kirshner’s marketing of this single was ingenious. Bubblegum pop music recorded by session musicians sung by seemingly cartoon characters on the Saturday morning show “The Archies”. He partnered with Post Cereal to stick it on the back of a Super Sugar Crisp boxes and see what impact that would make on sales. The answer was a resounding success, with “Sugar” hitting #1 in 16 countries. The song was decades later performed by Josie & the Pussycats on the CW’s series “Riverdale”. 8/10
Peak Position in the US – #1 / UK – #1
FANTASY (1982) – ALDO NOVA
Canadian Aldo Nova struck gold with his debut single, “Fantasy”, injecting the start of both song and video with the staccato beat of helicopter blades, merging into a laser blast before kicking off the driving beat of this hit single. Despite such a stellar beginning to his career, Aldo Nova never again reached higher than #65 on Billboard’s Hot 100. He has since witten songs for the likes of Celine Dion, Blue Oyster Cult, Faith Hill, and Jon Bon Jovi to name a few. When it comes to hitmaking, all we can say is to forget all that you see, it’s not reality. 9/10
Peak Position in the: US – #23 / UK – Didn’t chart
FUNKYTOWN (1980) – LIPPS INC.
Checking in at #37 on VH1’s “100 Greatest One-Hit Wonders of the 80’s” as well as #44 on Time Out’s list of “The 100 Best Party Songs”, the pulsating bass riff and 10-note hook of the disco classic “Funkytown” by Minneapolis’ Lipps, Inc. (composer Steve Greenberg and vocalist Cynthia Johnson), lit up the pop charts around the world, peaking at #1 in 14 different countries. Who doesn’t fight to avoid tapping their toes when Johnson breaks out in a plea to transport her to the party destination of her dreams? 8/10
Peak Position in the: US – #1 / UK – #2
BITCH (1990) – MEREDITH BROOKS
In the context of this debut single from American singer-songwriter Meredith Brooks, the term “Bitch” is used in an affectionate way. Her co-writer, Shelly Pieken, began composing it out of frustration with her stalling music career, crafting a song centered in self-acceptance. Stripping off the mask so to speak, the single raced up the charts, garnering a Grammy nom for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance at the 40th Annual Grammy Awards, losing to “Criminal” by Fiona Apple. 7/10
Peak Position in the: US – #2 / UK – #6
TAKE ON ME (1984) – A-HA
Norwegian pop group A-ha scored with this synth-infused single after two prior versions of the track failed to chart. The introduction of the live action/pencil drawn video and its wide exposure on MTV sent this single to the top of the charts in 12 countries, including the U.S. The song’s popularity has resulted in tributes and visual parodies involving everything from “The Simpsons” to video games, commercials and TikTok filters. 7/10 (Video is a 10/10)
Peak Position in the: US: #1 / UK: #2
STACY’S MOM (1989) – FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE
Emulating the quirky vocals and pop-rock sound of The Cars and featuring a risqué but humorous video starring Rachel Hunter, Fountains of Wayne found the inspiration for this hit single in a friend’s attraction to one of the bandmember’s grandmother. The video is played for laughs, featuring a recreation of the pool scene with Phoebe Cates in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, which of course utilized “Moving in Stereo” by…you guessed it…The Cars. Fountains of Wayne got it going on…but unfortunately just once. 7/10
Peak Position in the: US: #21 / UK: #11
SPIRIT IN THE SKY (1969) – NORMAN GREENBAUM
Although references to Jesus are plentiful within the lyrics of this one-hit wonder inspired by a gospel performance by Porter Wagoner, Greenbaum is actually Jewish. Using a Fender guitar equipped with a fuzz box, the result was “an oddly compelling combination of hard rock and gospel music” (Wikipedia). Next to “Danny Boy”, this is the most requested song to play at memorial services, and most recently was featured on the 2014 soundtrack to “Guardians of the Galaxy”. 8/10
Peak Position in the: US – #3 / UK #1
MICKEY (1982) – TONI BASIL
Clocking in at #6 on VH1’s “100 Greatest One-Hit Wonders of the 80’s”, choreographer Toni Basil hit pop gold with a song originally titled “Kitty”, recorded by a group called Racey. Basil took the original track, added in the hook “Oh Mickey, you’re so fine” line as well as the cheerleading chants, enlisting producer Mike Chapman (Blondie, The Knack, Suzi Quatro) to release this new wave smash. The video was choreographed and directed by Toni Basil (naturally) and featured a cheer squad from Carson California. 7/10
Peak Position in the: US – #1 – UK #2
So, there you have it. What are your thoughts on our list of 10 Random One-Hit Wonders? What did we leave out? What doesn’t deserve to make the list? Leave your thoughts via a comment on the page!
Before you leave, please check out our previous entries in the “Our Ten” series here on Moteventure!