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 411mania » Music » Columns

The 8 Ball 06.23.13: The Top 8 One-Hit Wonders
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 06.23.2013

Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Music Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, I will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!

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Top 8 One-Hit Wonders

There's one thing that you can always count on the music industry for; it loves a one-hit wonder. Not everyone can be a Rolling Stones, a Bob Dylan, a Madonna or a Jay-Z and while the artists with staying power are in between albums, the industry always needs names that will pop up, give us a catchy little hit to keep our attention and then vanish, never to be heard again. This week I thought we could take a look at the best songs that captivated our attention and placed their artists within a position of noble infamy as some of the great single-hit artists of all time.

Caveat: The term "one-hit wonder" is, of course, a somewhat relative one. Many artists had minor hits but are widely considered one-hit wonders because they have that one song that became really big and overshadowed the rest of their career. Those acts are as much of a one-hit wonder as someone who came along, literally delivered one hit and vanished into obscurity. The primary qualifier I used on this list is that I had to actually like the song; you would think that might go without saying when discussing the best of anything but I feel the need to explain why "Macarena" and "Ice Ice Baby" are nowhere near this one.

It is also worth noting (and may well be pointed out by some) that my list is rather 1980s and 1990s-centric. There's a reason for this; among all categories of music, one-hit wonders are perhaps the most personal in that they reflect a certain era of music. Thus, people tend to gravitate toward a certain era of one-hit wonders that were specific to the eras that were formative to their musical tastes. There were certainly one-hit wonders in the '50s and '60s (as well as the '00s and the '10s to date), but they simply weren't as impactful on me and don't make my list. Doesn't mean they don't belong on yours though!

Just Missing The Cut

Buffalo Springfield "For What It's Worth" (1967)
Proclaimers - "I'd Walk (500 Miles)" (1993)
Falco "Rock Me Amadeus" (1985)
Fountains of Wayne - "Stacy's Mom" (2003)
Chumbawumba - "Tubthumper" (1997)

#8: Carl Douglas - "Kung Fu Fighting" (1974)

While as I noted my list is heavy on the 1980s and 1990s, I couldn't not fit this one on the list. Carl Douglas' "Kung Fu Fighting" is a pure pop culture phenomenon. Carl Douglas had a couple of other hits outside of the United States, peaking at #35 on the UK charts with "Dance the Kung Fu" and #25 with "Run Back." However, this is the song that will always define his career and most people won't know another song of his. The homage to the martial arts films of the 1970s fits all the requirements of a One-Hit Wonder; it's infinitely catchy, gimmicky and a hell of a lot of fun. It wasn't even meant to be a single; it was supposed to be a B-side for the song "I Want to Give You My Everything" and was recorded in just two takes. The record executive heard both songs and wisely insisted that "Fighting" by the A-side, it caught on in dance clubs and the rest is history. One of the things I love about this song is the fact that Douglas has never really shied away from it; some people record novelty songs that become hits and grow bitter. Douglas is anything but and he even performed it live in the UK for a One Hit Wonders countdown special. It's one of the all-time great novelty songs and, clearly, one-hit wonders.

#7: The New Radicals - "You Get What You Give" (1999)

This is one of the more underrated one-hit wonders out there. The New Radicals had a very short lifespan as a band, only lasting two years before they broke up at the end of 1999. Before that happened however the Gregg Alexander-fronted group delivered this single, which would be the only one they would be popularly known for. "You Get What You Give" occupied a particular year or so where alternative rock produced a particularly wide array of one-hit wonders from Shawn Mullins and Eagle-Eye Cherry to Len, Harvey Danger, Semisonic, The Verve, Marcy Playground, Harvey Danger and many more; this was sort of the height of the '90s alt-rock craze and all of these groups have that zeitgeist feeling of instantly summoning up their era which is essential to a one-hit wonder. "You Get What You Give" in particular made for a catchy and surprisingly well-written song; while many one-hit wonders are very gimmicky, this one doesn't feel that way and in fact is a song I could see catching on as a hit had it been produced today. Of particular note was the breakdown at the end in which Alexander attracted a lot of attention for taking shots at Courtney Love, Marilyn Manson, Beck and Hanson. When asked about it, Alexander said that the stanza in question was an experiment in which he took a series of important socio-political issues ("Health insurance, rip-off lying/FDA, big bankers buying/fake computer crashes dining/cloning while they're multiplying") and immediately followed up with celebrities to see which would get more attention from the media. It's funny to see how clearly his point was proven and sad to see that each of those legitimate problems are still major issues today. Few songs that fit this category remain topical for over ten years, and that helps this one place on my chart.

#6: Joan Osbourne - "One Of Us" (1996)

Here's where my love for chick rock comes into play. I very nearly considered not putting this particular song on here, simply because my instinct is to not consider Joan Osborne a one-hit-wonder. The bluesy singer from Kentucky has recorded seven studio albums, all of which have been fantastic pieces of work. Her cover of "Son of a Preacher Man," which appears on her live album Early Recordings, is a particular favorite of mine and Relish is one of my favorite albums of the mid-1990s. However, the truth of it is that Osborne has never hit the charts with any of her other songs, making this a song that very clearly qualifies for the list. As I noted in the introduction for this list one-hit wonders are often more personal than you might expect and this song largely defined my first year of college when it was released. (Yes, I'm dating myself, I know.) Of course, the song was a lightning rod of controversy as Bill Donohue of the US Catholic League became livid that little chanteuse might possibly suggest that God is a human being or has human-like emotions and behaviors. That only made him look silly because anyone who actually listened to it knew the truth; the song is one about questioning your faith--not to become a doubter, but to come out stronger in your belief. Like many people, college was a period in time where many of my world views, philosophies and personal tastes changed, and this song will always remain with me because of that. And for the record, whether it influenced me or not doesn't change the fact that it's a fantastic song that fully deserves placement on this list.

#5: The Buggles - "Video Killed the Radio Star" (1979)

You really can't have a list of one-hit wonders without including the first song ever to play on MTV, in my eyes. "Video Killed the Radio Star" is a part of pop music history for that very reason; just ask anyone who's played Trivial Pursuit or any other game which relies on fun music facts. The funny part is that the song wasn't new when MTV first came around; the Buggles recorded and released the song in 1979 from their LP The Age of Plastic. It's a song about nostalgia, which is ironic when you consider how nostalgic it makes people of my age in the modern day. Many people associate the lyrics of the song with the rise of music videos destroying traditional radio, but in fact the song was written about the rise of television in the 1960s putting an end to radio as a dominant form of family entertainment. You can hear this in the lyrics, with lines like "I heard you on the wireless back in '52" and "Put all the blame on VTR," which is often misheard as "VCR." The Buggles never found huge success beyond that one song, but they don't need to have. They'll always be remembered.

#4: Soft Cell - "Tainted Love" (1982)

"Tainted Love" is probably one of the most covered one-hit wonders in history. In truth, Soft Cell isn't even the first artist to have done it; it was first performed by Gloria Jones in 1965. The one that almost everyone thinks of these days however is the 1982 version, which came off the group's Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret. The song fit perfectly within the era of the early 1980s but it also has a sort of timeless feel. The UK synth-pop duo summoned up the quintessential 1980s sound for this cover but they also introduced a darker overall tone to the song that Jones was lacking. The heavy tones combine with the sharp beat to give an ominous song that helped the track attain a life beyond just the decade of decade of Reagan, Michael Jackson and the rise of MTV. It's also, of course, an incredibly catchy and memorable pop song. Since Soft Cell's version the song has been covered by everyone from Marilyn Manson, David Benoit and Wild Strawberries to the Pussycat Dolls, Max Raabe and more. It's also been sampled by scores of artists to boot. That's the sign of a track with appeal lasting far beyond the band.

#3: Sir Mix-a-Lot - "Baby Got Back" (1992)

The top three are actually very close to me and could easily be switched around; it is difficult to argue with anyone who would claim that Sir Mix-A-Lot had the greatest one-hit-wonders of all time. To start with it is a clear winner for the greatest novelty rap track every recorded and has become a song that is recognized across generations. Just about everyone who has even a slight inkling about pop culture knows this song, from the opening lines of "Oh, my, GOD, Becky. Look...at her butt" to "My anaconda don't want none unless you got buns, hon." This is another song that seems almost unfair to call a one-hit wonder; Mix-A-Lot had a minor hit with "Posse's on Broadway" before this and did some really fun stuff with Kid Sensation as well. However, none of the other songs became anything resembling a mainstream hit, leaving this as his shining moment. And a mainstream hit it was; we can joke all we want about it (and I do), but the fact is that the influence this song had on continuing to drive rap music into the suburbs cannot be overstated. The song was rude, it was juvenile and it was just safe enough to be played in places rap had never been played before. It deserves as much credit for the spread and popularization of rap music as any other track and it's silly fun to boot. If you don't think that this song still reverberates throughout the current pop culture landscape, check out the dust-up that happened when Glee took the Jonathon Coulton arrangement of this song and the furor amongst the internet that caused.

#2: Sinead O'Connor - "Nothing Compares 2 U" (1990)

This is the third song on this list that is almost undeserving of the term "one-hit wonder," and perhaps the least deserving. Sinead O'Connor has nine studio albums and thirty-four singles to her credit; hell, she even has a Greatest Hits album and an "Essential Songs" compilation. So why do I call her a one-hit wonder? Quick...without going to Wikipedia or Google, name one other song of hers besides this one. If you could do so, you're more of a Sinead O'Connor fan that probably a good 95% of the world. O'Connor had a minor hit with her immediate follow-up "The Emperor's New Clothes" but nothing else has even approached the top twenty in the entire twenty-year-plus span of her career, making her an undeniable One-Hit Wonder. The song is an amazing little piece of work, originally written by Prince for his side project The Family. However, it was Sinead's heartbreaking rendition that became famous, and it is truly one of the top songs of the 1990s. Sinead's confrontational attitude--which included infamously ripping up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live--didn't help her career after this one but you can't deny this is a great song and THE one-hit wonder of the 1990s.

#1: The Sugarhill Gang - "Rapper's Delight" (1980)

No other one-hit wonder has had the level of influence on popular music that "Rapper's Delight" did. While the Sugarhill Gang's only major hit wasn't the first single to ever feature rap on it, the song is widely (and correctly) credited with popularizing hip-hop and setting the stage for the genre's eventual rise. This is one where again, just about everyone knows some of the more iconic lines. Just say ""I said a hip hop, the hippie, the hippie to the hip-hip-hop" and I wouldn't doubt that whoever you're with is likely to be able to finish that line. It's one of the rare one-hit wonders that regularly rank on lists of the greatest songs of all-time due to its influence. The track was famously recorded in just one take and subsequently took the trio into the top 40 of the Billboard charts and #4 on the R&B charts. The Sugarhill Gang would never really be heard of after that, but they will always be able to lay claim to the best and most important one-hit wonder in music history.


While it never merited too much consideration for my list (the bar was pretty high), I've always been partial to Tracy Bonham's "Mother, Mother" as a one-hit wonder from the late 1990s. It wasn't as well known as many of its contemporaries but I always had a particular love for it and thought this would be a good opportunity to show it some. Check the song and video out below:

And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.


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