That One Song
Their star burned brightly for a good four minutes and after that, they just fell off the face of the earth with no other traces of their existence except that lone song that took them on top of the world for a little while. It just wasn’t easy to replicate their success and while some members pursued solo careers, there are still those who were gone just like that – we never heard anything from them again.
Most of these one-hit wonders had a pop-ish quality to their songs but not all of them. Still, they managed to hit a musical gold mine because their tunes are catchy and appealing enough for the mainstream audience. Keep in mind though that in some cases, they had a string of minor hits but all things considered, they still definitely belong on this list.
So how do we know who’s a one-hit wonder? The rule of thumb is if they only had one Top 40 hit in the US Billboard Hot 100. That’s fair enough, right?
10. Stealer’s Wheel
We’re probably not the only ones who thought “Oh it’s Bob Dylan” the first time we heard their biggest hit “Stuck in the Middle With You.” Stealers Wheel were trying to make a parody of the legend. It’s easy to listen to and sounds fun – perhaps that’s why people still love it even though it’s been over four decades since it was released.
No one expected it to sell more than a million copies, even the band members themselves. So imagine their surprise with the song’s success. It didn’t end there though because Quentin Tarantino used the song for his movie “Reservoir Dogs.”
“That was one of those things where I thought [the song] would work really well, and [during] auditions, I told the actors that I wanted them to do the torture scene, and I’m gonna use ‘Stuck in the Middle With You,’ but they could pick anything they wanted, they didn’t have to use that song. And a couple people picked another one, but almost everyone came in with ‘Stuck in the Middle With You,’ and they were saying that they tried to come up with something else, but that’s the one.” – Quentin Tarantino
Just two years later, the band broke up. But prior to that, their follow-up album was a commercial failure.
9. Blind Melon
“No Rain” wasn’t a huge hit when it was released. But their now-iconic music video was put on heavy rotation by MTV which helped propel them to international stardom. Their eponymous debut studio album had poor sales initially but thanks to the extra exposure by MTV, it earned quadruple-platinum status.
The MV featured the ‘Bee Girl’ played by 10-year old Heather DeLoach. She’s as iconic as the video itself.
“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.” – Blind Melon’s Brad Smith
After its success, their career was brought to a standstill in 1995 when lead vocalist Shannon Hoon was found dead in their tour bus due to cocaine overdose. Blind Melon sought for a replacement for Hoon and even released another album but it didn’t receive the same positive response as “No Rain.”
8. Norman Greenbaum
If you’ve heard of Norman Greenbaum, chances are, you associate him with only one song – “The Spirit in the Sky.” Even if you didn’t know the guy, we’re still betting you’ve listened to the track (or maybe just the intro) at least once. There was a time when it was inescapable.
The single sold over two million copies and earned the gold status. It even peaked at #3 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Although Greenbaum was Jewish, he managed to pen lyrics about Jesus and the afterlife.
“I thought, ‘Yeah, I could do that,’ knowing nothing about gospel music, so I sat down and wrote my own gospel song. It came easy. I wrote the words in 15 minutes.” – Norman Greenbaum
Yep, it took only a few minutes to finish this epic masterpiece. In an interview, John Lennon claimed he liked “Spirit in the Sky” because it’s “simple rock and nothing else.” We couldn’t agree more.
7. 4 Non Blondes
We dare you to name one 4 Non Blondes song other than “What’s Up?”
Tick tock, tick tock – time’s up! You can’t, can you? Don’t fret though because you’re not the only one. Apparently, even the most diehard rock fans fail to think of something else because obviously, they’re probably the epitome of “one-hit wonder.”
“What’s Up?” introduced the band to the international audience as it topped the charts in several countries including Austria and Sweden. It was a gold record and peaked at #14 on the US Billboard 100.
“They wanted one hit, and then who knows after that – they didn’t really develop acts anymore. When we got signed, they knew ‘What’s Up’ sounded like a hit.” – 4 Non Blondes’ Christa Hillhouse
While recording their second album in late 1994, the group disbanded and a year later, lead vocalist Linda Perry pursued a solo career. Perry has also written songs for other famous pop stars.
6. Joan Jett
Joan Jett is proof that you just need that one great song to take you to the top and immortalize your name. And it doesn’t even have to be an original track because “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” is just a cover version. It was originally recorded by English American pop-rock act The Arrows and after seeing them perform on their TV series, Joan Jett recorded it herself and at a time when her career seemed to be going nowhere, she hit the jackpot.
It topped the US Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks and eventually went platinum.
“I think most people who love some kind of rock ‘n’ roll can relate to it. Everyone knows a song that just makes them feel amazing and want to jump up and down. I quickly realized, this song is gonna follow you, so you’re either gonna let it bother you, or you gotta make peace with it, and feel blessed that you were involved with something that touched so many people.” – Joan Jett
She was unable to maintain that level of success but still, she achieved worldwide fame because of that ‘one big hit.’
Free was called by the Rolling Stone magazine as “British hard rock pioneers” but they were a one-hit wonder too. Why? Before “All Right Now” came along, their albums had poor sales. It topped the charts in several countries and had more than a million radio airplays.
It was such a massive hit that Free landed a spot in the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival which wasn’t an easy gig to get.
“Really it was just a one-off for us, and when the follow-up to ‘All Right Now’ died a death – it was called “The Stealer” – and the album that followed, Fire and Water, from which ‘All Right Now’ was taken, when that didn’t do very well, we took it to heart and the band broke up. ” – Simon Kirke
They failed to follow-up “All Right Now” with a hit and it wasn’t long before the band broke up and went their separate ways.
4. Ram Jam
No one’s sure about the origin of the song but one of the earliest recordings was from Lead Belly in 1939. Ram Jam released their version in 1977 and it was such an earworm that it became a huge hit for the group. It cracked the charts not just in the US but also in UK and Australia.
But it wasn’t without controversy. Because of the lyrics, the Congress of Racial Equality and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People both called for boycott of the song.
“Ram Jam is best known for its hit single, “Black Betty”; this electrifying update of a Huddie Ledbetter blues tune layers on plenty of searing electric guitar riffs and a steady 4/4 drum beat that turns the song into a strange but exhilarating blend of heavy metal and disco.” – AllMusic’s Donald A. Guarisco
Some of the things we love about the song are the raw enthusiasm and aggressiveness. There’s no way you cannot like this.
3. The Knack
When The Knack dropped their debut single “My Sharona” in 1979, they were full of promise. For a time, they seemed like they were slated to be the next big thing. It went gold and topped the US Billboard Hot 100 for six weeks.
The riff was easily recognizable. In fact, you only have to listen for a few seconds to know what song it is. “Sharona” was Doug Fieger’s girlfriend.
“It was like getting hit in the head with a baseball bat; I fell in love with her instantly. And when that happened, it sparked something and I started writing a lot of songs feverishly in a short amount of time.” – Doug Fieger
Their follow-up albums weren’t as successful as the first and since they basically lost their momentum, it became inevitable for the band to soon part ways. They made several appearances performing “My Sharona” but that was it.
2. Crash Test Dummies
Some think this song is annoying while others believe it belongs in the ‘worst of the worst’ list but the numbers say otherwise. It cracked the top 5 of the US Billboard Hot 100 and also topped the charts in several countries.
The theme is about isolation and the music video is just as legendary as the track. Thus, it was no surprise that MTV put it on heavy rotation. They shot to fame and achieved mainstream success. They had several minor hits afterwards but everything else paled in comparison to “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm.”
“The song was instantly memorable, if only for the extremely low singing voice of lead singer Brad Roberts.” – The Rolling Stone magazine
It may not be the greatest single ever but to be honest, the song’s not really that bad. Plus, it showcased the incredible baritone voice of lead vocalist Brad Roberts which is easily identifiable too.
1. Wild Cherry
You probably hate the song and because you know the lyrics by heart, you probably hate yourself too. But yes, Wild Cherry was a one-hit wonder. It climbed to #1 of the US Billboard Hot 100 and after selling more than 2 million copies worldwide, it received platinum certification status.
And while the other songs on this list were happy accidents, Wild Cherry on the other hand, were trying so hard to come up with a hit. Frontman Rob Parissi even subscribed to Billboard magazine for the sole purpose of finding the right track that would appeal to mainstream audience.
“Cleveland recording engineer Ken Hammond suggested that the drums and bass for “Play That Funky Music” be mixed up front, something that rock music did rarely at that time with the one notable exception being David Bowie’s “Fame.”” – AllMusic’s Ed Hogan
It’s a real earworm, that’s for sure. And though some find it way too cheesy, it still pushed Wild Cherry to achieve worldwide success.