One-hit wonder  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

In the music industry, a one-hit wonder is an artist generally known for only one hit single. There are hundreds of one-hit wonders. As described below, the one-hit wonders are ranked into lists of songs in pop music, but also some lists in classical music, as well. There are also "two-hit wonders" having only two hit singles. The definition of "one-hit wonder" varies depending on context, such as sometimes viewing only hits in the U.S. despite having other, international, hits. The term one-hit wonder has also been applied to other fields, such as with authors, actors, or athletes, who have only one major success.



Examples include Rick Dees’ "Disco Duck" (related to the disco craze of the 1970s); C.W. McCall's "Convoy" (related to the CB radio craze of the 1970s); and Buckner & Garcia’s "Pac Man Fever" (related to the 1980s-era arcade game Pac Man). Some artists, such as Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, for example, had his career cut short by his untimely death, while others, such as New Radicals and The La's, broke up immediately after their one-hit's chart success. More commonly, however, one-hit wonders are serious-minded musicians who struggled to continue their success after their popularity waned.

Because one-hit wonders are popular for only a brief time, their hits often have nostalgic value and are featured on era-centric compilations and soundtracks to period films. One-hit wonders are normal in any era of pop music, but are most common during reigns of entire genres that do not last for more than a few years, such as disco, new wave and grunge.Template:Fact

Though the term is sometimes used in a derogatory manner, some fans often have a great passion for these songs and the artists who created them. Some one-hit wonder artists have embraced this following openly, while others distance themselves from their hit in an attempt to craft successful songs with different sounds, or embark on new careers as songwriters (such as Linda Perry of 4 Non Blondes and Gregg Alexander of New Radicals), or recording industry executives (such as Gerardo). One-hit artists who possess an artistic legacy with exceptionally commercially unsuccessful recordings (e.g. Randy Newman with 12 Songs or Buffy Sainte-Marie with Illuminations) may however distance themselves severely from their hit single ("Short People", "Mister Can't You See") as they are likely to feel their hit in no way represents what they stand for.

Questions of definition

Most American music industry insiders consider a song in the top forty positions of the Billboard Hot 100 to be a hit. Thus, any performer who recorded only one song that reached the Top 40 is, technically, a one-hit wonder. However, the term is more generally applied to musicians best known for only one song, meaning that some artists who fit the above criteria are not considered one-hit wonders, while others who do not are considered such.

Wayne Jancik's book The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders (Billboard Books, 1998) defines a one-hit wonder rather conservatively, as "an act that has won a position on Billboard's national, pop, Top 40 just once." He therefore includes such performers as Janis Joplin (for "Me and Bobby McGee") or Jimi Hendrix (for "All Along the Watchtower"), solely on the basis of their Top 40 performance. In his definition of an "act", Jancik distinguishes between a solo performer and any group he or she may have performed in; thus Roger Daltrey is distinguished from The Who. He restricts his reporting time to the period from the start of the "rock-and-roll era" (defined by the author as 1 January 1955 to 31 December 1992). The latter date was picked to allow a five-year "lag time" before publication for a listed one-hit wonder to produce a second hit; this unfortunately does not allow for a longer hiatus between hits for a particular performer. For example, Lenny Kravitz is listed for "It Ain't Over 'til It's Over" (No. 2, August 1991);<ref>Jancik 1998, p487</ref> the book therefore misses subsequent hits, such as "Fly Away", which reached #12 on the Billboard chart in 1999.

In the United Kingdom, the term one-hit wonder is used to describe a singer or band who had only one hit reach the Top 75 on the UK Singles Chart.Template:Fact The term was first used by the Guinness Book of Hit Singles from the 1970s, and originally referred strictly to those artists whose first chart action was: "a number one hit, and then nothing else, ever." This is now commonly known as a "true" one hit wonder.

Here are some other criteria that also affect a performer’s status as a one-hit wonder:

Jancik, however, includes many of these artists, as they fall within his strict definition as a single act with a single top-40 placement.

  • Some artists, including Livin' Joy, Wall of Voodoo, and Modern English, never had a top-40 pop hit, but did have a song that received considerable airplay, even long after its day of release.
  • Many popular British artists like Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Robbie Williams, The Verve, Blur, BBMak, All Saints, Billie Piper, Busted and Take That are considered one-hit wonders in the US, although they can remain popular elsewhere. Conversely, two British bands, Wang Chung and Breathe, as well as the Anglo-Australian duo Air Supply, are one-hit wonders in the UK but not in the US; Wang Chung and Breathe reached the US Top 40 five times each, and Air Supply made the Billboard top 5 eight times.
  • Prominent members of popular groups who have only one solo hit typically are not seen as one-hit wonders. Steely Dan's Donald Fagen, The Lovin' Spoonful's John Sebastian, The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, and Michael Nesmith of The Monkees each achieved chart success only once as solo artists, but are all well-known for their contributions to music through their respective bands.
  • Conversely, groups led by popular solo artists are usually not called one-hit wonders. Derek & the Dominos' sole hit "Layla" is associated with group leader Eric Clapton, who had great success and fame before and after the Dominos.
  • Performers who have consistent success in one part of the world but who are known for only one song outside that region are usually considered one-hit wonders in the latter. Austria's Falco, Germany’s Nena and Canada's Tom Cochrane were successful in their homelands, but are considered one-hit wonders in the US and UK.
    • A small number of artists have the distinction of being regarded as one-hit wonders in both the US and UK, but with different songs. American husband and wife duo Art and Dotty Todd scored a hit in the UK with "Broken Wings" in 1953, but did not make it to the top forty in their homeland until "Chanson D'Amour (Song Of Love)" in 1958. Rock band The Icicle Works' sole UK top 50 hit was 1983's "Love Is A Wonderful Colour"; however, in North America, their only top 40 entry was "Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly)" in 1984. Semisonic scored a US hit with "Closing Time" in 1998, but are better known in the UK for "Secret Smile", from their album Feeling Strangely Fine.
  • Performers who are successful in specific genres, but produce only one crossover hit, are generally considered one-hit wonders by the public at large, but not by fans of their respective genres. Celtic music singer Loreena McKennitt and Christian rock group Jars of Clay are popular within their respective genres, but known to the greater public for a single song each. Similar situations are common among crossover country artists and hair metal groups.
  • Performers who had more than one Top 40 hit are sometimes considered one-hit wonders, if one song greatly overshadows the rest of their repertoire. a-ha’s "Take on Me" made the top 10 of VH1's 100 Greatest One-hit Wonders[1], even though the group had two Billboard Top 20 singles: "Take on Me" and "The Sun Always Shines on TV". However, "Take On Me" is much more remembered today, at least in the US (note that "The Sun Always Shines on TV" was a #1 hit in the UK: higher than "Take on Me"). Similarly, Great White is sometimes called a one-hit wonder for "Once Bitten Twice Shy", but "The Angel Song" was also a Top 40 hit. Furthermore, the band had several songs that charted under the Top 40 but did well on genre-specific charts that were quite popular among fans of the hair metal and hard rock genres. Strawberry Alarm Clock's #1 "Incense and Peppermints" so overshadowed their #23 "Tomorrow" that they are often considered a one-hit wonder. The same applies for Falco in the US; his #1 "Rock Me Amadeus" greatly overshadowed its #18 follow-up single "Vienna Calling" in that country. The same is true for German singer Peter Schilling whose international hit "Major Tom (Coming Home)" vastly overshadowed the album it was released on and the titular single from it, "Different Story (World of Lust and Crime)". Billy Ray Cyrus reached #1 with "Achy Breaky Heart" in 1992; although he had many other country hits, he did not return to the Top 40 until 2008 with "Ready, Set, Don't Go"; by that time, he had become better-known as an actor and the father of Miley Cyrus, with whom he stars in the series Hannah Montana.
  • Some artists, such as The Fugees, had a number of hits chart quite high on Billboard's charts. Yet only one of their songs is remembered after the days of their popularity.
  • Performers like Golden Earring, The Foundations, The Left Banke, Maxine Nightingale, Donna Fargo, A Taste of Honey, Mr. Mister, Jan Hammer, Johnny Logan, Vanessa Paradis, The Fat Boys, Pilot and Ugly Kid Joe, who produced two major hits before fading into obscurity, are sometimes called "two-hit wonders," but this term is not as common.
  • Deutsche Grammophon and Vox Records have both released albums of classical one-hit wonders. The de-facto criterion common to the albums is composers who have a single work that has become popular outside classical circles as several of the composers on both albums are known for multiple works inside classical circles. The works on these albums (or fragments and variations) are frequently heard in movies, television shows and commercials.

Other uses

The term "one-hit wonder" is occasionally used to refer to an artist, other than a musical performer, who is best known for a single work. Examples in literature include Harper Lee's only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, which sold 30 million copies; and author Joseph Heller, who wrote several novels, but is still best known for Catch-22. Margaret Mitchell never wrote another book after her first novel, Gone With the Wind, was a smash best-seller. The term is also applied to in the film industry: one such case lies in the career of actress Natasha Henstridge, who has yet to match the success of the 1995 film, Species. Classical composers such as Johann Pachelbel, despite being very popular in his time, known today almost solely for Pachelbel's Canon, are also sometimes described thus. [2]

In the sports world, there are several athletes known to casual sports fans for one event in their careers. Examples include Bill Mazeroski, who is the only player in Major League Baseball history to end a seventh game of the World Series with a walk-off home run;<ref>Mazeroski, however, is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, due heavily to his status as one of the greatest defensive infielders of all time.</ref> Paul Henderson, a Canadian ice hockey player who scored the deciding goal in the 1972 Summit Series; and Jimmy Glass, an English football goalkeeper, who is remembered for scoring a goal in the last seconds of the final day of 1998-99 English Third Division that kept his club in The Football League. His subsequently released biography was titled One-Hit Wonder.

In drug culture, the term 'one-hit wonder' is often applied to highly potent specific varieties of substances, such as certain strains of cannabis that require only one "hit" (a single inhalation of smoke), or a "hit" of LSD (a single dose), to achieve the desired psychoactive effects.

Lists of greatest one-hit wonders

VH1's list of "100 greatest one-hit wonders"

In 2002, the American cable network VH1 aired a countdown of the VH1's 100 Greatest One-hit Wonders[3]. It listed musicians with only one American hit, regardless of international success, which has been substantial and long-lived for musicians like a-ha and Nena (see below). In fact, if the "only one American hit" criterion had been strictly applied, a-ha and Falco would not be eligible for the list, as they each actually had two top-20 US hits—although as noted above their second hits were greatly overshadowed in the US by the prior hit. The same goes for Vanilla Ice - his follow up to his #1 hit was a #4 hit titled, "Play Tha Funky Music". Gerardo also had another Top 15 hit. Los del Río likewise had two top forty hits, though both were versions of Macarena.Template:Facts

The countdown also omitted acts such as Jimi Hendrix and Grateful Dead who, while technically charting with only one single, became too well-known for their entire bodies of work to merit inclusion on the list. They did get mentioned, though, in a short segment of one hit wonders that had popular followings. The top ten consisted of:

  1. Los del Río — "Macarena" (1996)
  2. Soft Cell — "Tainted Love" (1982)
  3. Dexys Midnight Runners – "Come On Eileen" (1982)
  4. Right Said Fred — "I'm Too Sexy" (1992)
  5. Toni Basil — "Mickey" (1982)
  6. Baha Men — "Who Let the Dogs Out?" (2000)
  7. Vanilla Ice — "Ice Ice Baby" (1990)
  8. a-ha — "Take On Me" (1985)
  9. Gerardo — "Rico Suave" (1991)
  10. Nena — "99 Luftballons" (1984)

Soft Cell, Dexys Midnight Runners, Right Said Fred, Baha Men, and Vanilla Ice have had multiple hits in the UK; and a-ha have had continued international success to this day, selling 80,000,000 records,Template:Facts and would therefore not qualify as one-hit wonders. Gerardo has never had any hits in the UK at all. This leaves only Toni Basil, Nena and Los del Río from this list as one-hit wonders on both English-speaking sides of the Atlantic, though Nena has continued her success in Germanic countries.

Channel 4's "50 Greatest One Hit Wonders"

A 2006 television poll, conducted by Channel 4 in the UK, asked viewers to select their favourite one hit wonder from a shortlist of 60 [4]. Respondents could also vote by e-mail to select a song that was not on the original list, if they so wished. The top 50 were:

  1. "Kung Fu Fighting" – Carl Douglas
  2. "99 Red Balloons" – Nena
  3. "Because I Got High" – Afroman
  4. "Sugar, Sugar" – The Archies
  5. "Can You Dig It?" – The Mock Turtles
  6. "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" – Monty Python
  7. "Spirit in the Sky" – Doctor and the Medics (also Norman Greenbaum)
  8. "Who Let the Dogs Out" – Baha Men
  9. "The Safety Dance" – Men Without Hats
  10. "Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps Please" – Splodgenessabounds
  11. "Groove is in the Heart" – Deee-Lite
  12. "Trouble" – Shampoo
  13. "It's Raining Men" – The Weather Girls
  14. "All By Myself" – Eric Carmen
  15. "Jilted John" – Jilted John
  16. "I’ll Be There For You" – The Rembrandts
  17. "Doctorin’ the Tardis" – The Timelords
  18. "Rock Me Amadeus" – Falco
  19. "Flat Beat" – Mr. Oizo
  20. "Video Killed the Radio Star" – Buggles
  21. "Je t'aime... moi non plus" – Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg
  22. "Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit Of…)" – Lou Bega
  23. "Turning Japanese" – The Vapors
  24. "Mickey" – Toni Basil
  25. "Mouldy Old Dough" – Lieutenant Pigeon
  26. "Pump Up The Volume" – M/A/R/R/S
  27. "Lovin' You" – Minnie Riperton
  28. "Axel F" – Harold Faltermeyer (also well known for the Grammy Award winning Top Gun Anthem)
  29. "Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back)" – Eamon
  30. "I'm the Urban Spaceman" – The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band
  31. "Spaceman" – Babylon Zoo
  32. "My Sharona" – The Knack
  33. "Shaddap You Face" – Joe Dolce Music Theatre
  34. "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)" – Baz Luhrmann
  35. "Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs (Lowry’s Song)" – Brian & Michael
  36. "MacArthur Park" – Richard Harris
  37. "Monster Mash" – Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett & The Crypt-Kickers
  38. "Rapper’s Delight" – Sugarhill Gang
  39. "Fire" – Crazy World of Arthur Brown
  40. "The One and Only" – Chesney Hawkes
  41. "Louie, Louie" – The Kingsmen
  42. "Since Yesterday" – Strawberry Switchblade
  43. "My Boy Lollipop" – Millie Small
  44. "Money" – Flying Lizards
  45. "Stutter Rap (No Sleep ‘til Bedtime)" – Morris Minor and the Majors
  46. "Just Say No" – Grange Hill Cast
  47. "Woo Hoo" – The's
  48. "Japanese Boy" – Aneka
  49. "Save Your Love" – Renee and Renato
  50. "Brimful of Asha" – Cornershop

Even this list is riddled with inaccuracies, since at least fifteen of the fifty acts ranked in the Top 50 by the poll had multiple Top 40 hits in the UK singles chart, thus disqualifying them from the appellation 'one-hit wonder', although the success of the other hits was (with one very notable exception) of a lesser measure than those included in the poll:

  • Millie reached No. 30 with 'Sweet William' in 1964.
  • Lieutenant Pigeon reached No. 17 with 'Desperate Dan' in 1972.
  • Carl Douglas reached No. 35 with 'Dance the Kung Fu' in 1974 and No. 25 with 'Run Back' in 1977.
  • The Buggles reached No. 16 with 'Living in the Plastic Age' and No. 38 with 'Clean Clean' in 1980.
  • Splodgenessabounds reached No. 26 with the double A-side 'Two Little Boys' / 'Horse' in 1980.
  • Doctor and the Medics reached No. 29 with 'Burn' in 1986.
  • Falco reached No. 10 with 'Vienna Calling' in 1986.
  • Deee-Lite reached No. 25 with the double A-side 'Power of Love'/'Deee-Lite Theme' in 1990.
  • Chesney Hawkes reached No. 27 with 'I'm a Man Not a Boy' in 1991.
  • Shampoo reached No. 27 with 'Viva La Megababes' in 1994, No. 21 with 'Delicious' in 1995, No. 36 with 'Trouble (1995)' in 1995, and No. 25 with 'Girl Power' in 1996, thus notching up no fewer than five hits including two different versions of 'Trouble'.
  • Babylon Zoo reached No. 17 with 'Animal Army' and No. 32 with 'The Boy with the X-ray Eyes' in 1996.
  • Cornershop reached No. 23 with 'Sleep on the Left Side' in 1998 and No. 37 with 'Lessons Learnt From Rocky I To Rocky III' in 2002.
  • Baha Men reached No. 14 with 'You All Dat' in 2001 and No. 16 with 'Move It Like This' in 2002.
  • Afroman reached No. 10 with 'Crazy Rap' in 2002.
  • Eamon (featuring Ghostface) reached No. 27 with 'Love Them' in 2004.
  • Most notably, The Timelords reached the UK Top 40 eight times—once under that name; once as The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu; once as 2K; and five times, including one #1, under their best-known name, The KLF.

"20 to 1: One Hit Wonders"

In 2005, the Australian series 20 to 1 aired their episode 20 to 1: One Hit Wonders, a list of songs that had been the only one by that artist to have success in Australia.

20. Tainted Love - Soft Cell

19. Mambo No.5 - Lou Bega

18. Venus - Shocking Blue

17. Achy Breaky Heart - Billy Ray Cyrus

16. Mickey - Toni Basil

15. I'll Be Gone - Spectrum

14. Tubthumping - Chumbawamba

13. Counting the Beat - The Swingers

12. Slice of Heaven - Dave Dobbyn & The Herbs

11. Rockin' Robin - Bobby Day

10. Pass the Dutchie - Musical Youth

9. Don't Worry, Be Happy - Bobby McFerrin

8. 99 Luftballoons - Nena

7. Spirit in the Sky - Norman Greenbaum

6. Come on Eileen - Dexys Midnight Runners

5. Funkytown - Lipps Inc

4. Turning Japanese - The Vapors

3. Video Killed the Radio Star - The Buggles

2. Born to Be Alive - Patrick Hernandez

1. My Sharona - The Knack

C4's UChoose40: One Hit Wonders

In September 2006, New Zealand's terrestrial music channel, C4, aired an episode dedicated to "One Hit Wonders" on the weekly theme-based chart show, UChoose40, where the chart was ranked entirely by viewer's votes from the website. Moreover, Meredith Brooks's hit single "Bitch" was mentioned on the candidates list but failed to make the Top 40.

The top ten ranking are as follows:

  1. "The Final Countdown" – Europe (1986)
  2. "Teenage Dirtbag" – Wheatus (2000)
  3. "How Bizarre" – OMC (1996)
  4. "Because I Got High" – Afroman (2001)
  5. "Ice Ice Baby" – Vanilla Ice (1990)
  6. "Eye of the Tiger" – Survivor (1982)
  7. "Tubthumping" – Chumbawamba (1997)
  8. "My Sharona" – The Knack (1979)
  9. "Video Killed the Radio Star" – Buggles (1979)
  10. "Who Let The Dogs Out?" – Baha Men (2000)
  11. "I Touch Myself" - Divinyls (1991)

Classical music one-hit wonders

Deutsche Grammophon and Vox Records have both released albums of classical one-hit wonders. Many of the works on the CDs are from composers who have two or more works that are popular in classical music circles but have a single work that has become popular outside these circles. The works will be familiar to most people because they have been used in commercials or in movies and television shows. The two CDs differ but the works common to both are:

  1. Johann PachelbelCanon in D
  2. Samuel BarberAdagio for Strings
  3. attrib. Tomaso AlbinoniAdagio in G minor (this was actually written by Remo Giazotto and contains no Albinoni material)
  4. Jean-Joseph MouretRondeau from Symphonies and Fanfares for the King's Supper (theme to Masterpiece, formerly Masterpiece Theatre)
  5. Luigi Boccherini – minuet from String Quintet in E
  6. Jeremiah Clarke – "Trumpet Voluntary"
  7. Jules Massenet – Meditation from his opera "Thais"
  8. Pietro Mascagni – "Cavalleria rusticana"
  9. Léo Delibes – "The Flower Duet"
  10. Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov – "Caucasian Sketches"
  11. Amilcare Ponchielli – "Dance of the Hours" from the opera "La Gioconda"
  12. Charles-Marie Widor – Toccata from Symphony for Organ No. 5
  13. Aram Khachaturian – "Sabre Dance" from the ballet "Gayane"
  14. Marc-Antoine CharpentierTe Deum

"Two-hit wonder"

Some artists have managed to gain recognition for just two songs based on one or more of the above descriptions, and are often referred to as two-hit wonders. Though this term is not official in the music industry, the term is used by many fans. Theoretically, the terms "three-hit wonders", etc. could also be used. Notable examples of two-hit wonders in the United States include:

NB: The peak positions shown are in the Billboard Hot 100 only and do not hold true in other countries, where some of these artists have had more than two hits - for example, Neneh Cherry has had nine distinct solo Top 40 hits in the UK and Sophie B. Hawkins four; others have had only one - for example, A Taste of Honey charted in the UK with 'Boogie Oogie Oogie' only and Wang Chung reached the UK Top 40 with "Dance Hall Days" only; and still others have had two but not both the same songs - for example, Billy Ray Cyrus has charted in the UK with 'Achy Breaky Heart' and 'Could've Been Me' in 1992 but did not chart in 2008 at all. Marc Anthony has also had continued success in the Spanish-speaking world, including the Latin music market within the US. The peak positions also do not hold true for other charts in the US—in addition to Anthony's success on the US Latin charts, Vertical Horizon has since charted on the Billboard Adult Top 40 several times, and Billy Ray Cyrus had five top-10 country hits between the two named hits.

See also


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