When you hear the term one-hit-wonder, what songs or artists come to mind? You might think of Vanilla Ice, the song 99 Red Balloons, and maybe even Achy Breaky Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus. But funny thing is, while most of us would agree that Cyrus was a one-hit-wonder, there are many people who argue that the singer actually had more hits. So that alone takes him off the list.
But anyway, my point is that there are songs that reached such heights that the artists got to relish in their 15 minutes of fame. We all loved these hugely popular songs, but never heard from the artists again. Sure, it can be seen as a shame. But hey, they all released one major hit! That’s more than we can say for ourselves, right? Let’s go down memory lane with the best one-hit wonders of all time.
And stick around until the end for a custom-made playlist. Enjoy!
My Sharona by The Knack, 1979
“Never gonna stop, give it up, such a dirty mind
I always get it up, for the touch of the younger kind
My, my, my, aye-aye, whoa!
So here’s the story: Lead singer Doug Fieger this song about a girl he saw when he walked into a clothing store. She was a high school student named Sharona Alperin and worked in the shop. She was eight years younger than him and in a relationship, but he didn’t care. He invited Sharona to one of his shows. He even broke up with the girlfriend and professed his love for Sharona. And Sharona even came with her boyfriend to The Knack shows. Fieger wrote this song when they weren’t even together. But about a year after they first met, Sharona gave in and they started dating.
What’s Up? By 4 Non-Blondes, 1992
“And I say, hey yeah yeah, hey yeah yeah
I said hey, what’s going on?
And I say, hey yeah yeah, hey yeah yeah
I said hey, what’s going on?”
Linda Perry was the lead singer and songwriter. Although this was their only big hit, Perry continued to write hits for other musicians and singers. She produced Pink’s album Missundaztood and co-wrote many songs, like “Beautiful” for Christina Aguilera.
The title never appears in the song’s lyrics. But, the phrase “what’s going on?” is included in the chorus. What’s up with the title? The title was chosen because they wanted to avoid confusion with Marvin Gaye’s 1971 song “What’s Going On.” Linda Perry told Rolling Stone that she heavily disliked the song’s production.
Maniac By Michael Sembello, 1989
“She’s a maniac, maniac on the floor (I sure know)
And she’s dancing like she’s never danced before
She’s a maniac, maniac on the floor (I sure know)
And she’s dancing like she’s never danced before”
Luckily for Sembello, the song was included in the movie Flashdance after his wife accidentally included it on a tape sent to executives at Paramount Pictures. They were looking for music to use in the film. Funnily enough, Sembello had written the song as a horror theme after seeing a slasher film.
The song was covered more than once. Dance Act 4 Rhythm covered “Maniac” in 1995 and their version reached number 28 in the Irish Singles Chart. Then “Maniac 2000” where Mark McCabe rapped over the 4 Rhythm version reached No. 1 on the Irish Singles Chart.
Rockin Robin by Bobby Day, 1958
“He rocks in the treetops all day long
Hoppin’ and a-boppin’ and singing his song
All the little birds on Jaybird Street
Love to hear the robin go tweet-tweet-tweet”
This song was extremely popular in the ’60s and ’70s, and was covered by many, including Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent, Michael Jackson, The Hollies, Cliff Richard and The Spinners. And in 1980, it was featured on The Muppets.
“Rockin’ Robin” was written by Leon René under the pseudonym Jimmie Thomas, but Bobby Day recorded it in 1958. It was Day’s biggest hit single, becoming a number two hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Then, Michael Jackson recorded his own version of the song in 1972, which reached greater success than Day’s version.
How Bizarre by OMC, 1996
“Pele breathes words of comfort
Seena just hides her eyes
Policeman taps his shades
Is that a Chevy 69?
This song reached #1 in eight different countries, starting in New Zealand in 1996. It also was #1 in Australia, Canada, and the US. Despite being a big radio hit, it never entered the Billboard Hot 100.
The music video shows the lead singer, Pauly Fuemana, driving a 1968 Chevrolet Impala. He’s also dancing, rapping, throwing around money and breathing fire. The budget was $7,000 from NZ On Air and it was shown on US networks about 15,000 times in 1997 and 1998. Other than Pauly, it features vocalist Sina Saipaia and a Filipino man named Hill who stood in for Brother Pele.
Ice Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice, 1990
“Ice ice baby
Ice ice baby
All right stop
Collaborate and listen”
This was actually the first single by a rapper to hit #1 in America. It was nominated for a Grammy in the category Best Rap Performance, which was only the second year of being a category in the awards show.
Ice’s real name is Robert van Winkle. After people began to see Van Winkle as a novelty act and pop star rather than a real rapper, his popularity started to decline.
Eminem said that when he first heard Ice Ice Baby, He “felt like I didn’t want to rap anymore. I was so mad, because he was making it real hard for me.” Van Winkle lost credibility among hip hop fans as a result.
Tubthumping by Chumbawamba, 1997
“I get knocked down, but I get up again
You are never gonna keep me down”
This song was the group’s only US Top 40 hit. They were a band dedicated to the destruction of the UK government. In case you were curious, in England, a tubthumper is a politician and tubthumping is “going on the stump” or campaigning.
Video Killed the Radio Star by Buggles, 1979
“What did you tell them?
Video killed the radio star
Video killed the radio star”
This song goes down in history because it was the first video to air on MTV. They launched the clip on August 1, 1981, and it was the first piece of evidence that MTV was going to be a success.
Everyone in the world knows and still loves the next song.
Who Let the Dogs Out By Baha Men, 2000
“Who let the dogs out
Woof, woof, woof, woof, woof
The party was nice the party was pumping
Ah yepee ah yo”
The song was written by Anslem Douglas, a musician from Trinidad. He wrote it two years before The Baha Men recorded it and it was originally called “Doggie.” The Baha Men toned down the calypso rhythm so it would be more appealing to Americans.
Come On Eileen by Dexy’s Midnight Runners, 1982
“Come on Eileen, I swear (well he means)
At this moment, you mean everything
You in that dress, my thoughts I confess
Verge on dirty
Ah come on Eileen”
This was the band’s first single released in US and the only hit for the band. Most of the song’s success is due to video which got constant airplay on MTV. It’s still one of the most memorable and beloved clips of the era.
Spirit In The Sky Norman by Norman Greenbaum, 1969
“Prepare yourself you know it’s a must
Gotta have a friend in Jesus
So you know that when you die
He’s gonna recommend you
To the spirit in the sky”
This one-hit wonder has been used a lot in TV shows and movies, including Contact and Wayne’s World II. It was also used in commercials, including American Express, JPMorgan Chase, and a 2017 spot for Lyft with Tilda Swinton and Jordan Peele as astronauts.
99 Luftballons by Nena, 1984
Auf ihrem Weg zum Horizont
Hielt man für UFOs aus dem All
Darum schickte eine General”
The song, sung in German, is obviously hard to understand if you don’t speak the language. The song is about the dreams of the German people after World War II. The 99 balloons represent all the dreams that each person had.
Don’t worry Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin, 1988
“Here’s a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note
Don’t worry, be happy”
This song hit #1 on the US pop charts, which was pretty incredible for an a cappella. McFerrin recorded it with no instruments, using only his body to make all the sounds. He won the Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance and Song of the Year in 1989.
Mambo No. 5 by Lou Bega, 1999
“Jump up and down and move it all around
Shake your head to the sound, put your hand on the ground”
Lou Bega said about the song: “When I wrote the song, I believed it could be the thing it is today. All people hate it completely, that’s what I thought. I knew it wouldn’t swim in the middle because it was too different from all the stuff that was outside, so I’m quite happy with it. Mambo makes you happy, Latin music makes you happy, its sexual, its erotic, energetic, I think that’s the point.”
Tainted Love by Soft Cell, 1981
Once I ran to you (I ran)
Now I’ll run from you
This tainted love you’ve given
I give you all a boy could give you
Take my tears and that’s not nearly all
In America, Soft Cell is a one-hit wonder, but they did pretty well in the UK. In 1981, this song was Britain’s best-selling single. It hit the charts again in May 1991, reaching #5. And you probably heard the cover by Marilyn Manson from 2001.
Kung-Fu Fighting by Carl Douglas, 1974
“Everybody was kung-fu fighting
Those kicks were fast as lightning
In fact it was a little bit frightening
But they fought with expert timing”
This widely popular song rose to the top of the British, Australian and American charts, as well as the Soul Singles chart. It received a Gold certification from the RIAA in 1974 and made disco popular. It sold eleven million records worldwide, making it one of the best-selling singles of all time.
Macarena by Los del Rio, 1996
This was Los Del Rio’s first and only hit in the US since 1962. It was originally released on a local label in Spain in 1993. The next year, American label BMG bought the Spanish version and set out to make it a hit in America.
They marketed an English version to dance clubs and cruise ships. In the summer of 1996, Macarena started a dance craze in America. The song went to #1 in July and stayed there for 14 weeks.
Closing Time by Semisonic, 1998
Open all the doors and let you out into the world
Turn the lights up over every boy and every girl.”
This is still a popular song played at bars when they’re about to close. The band’s vocalist and songwriter Dan Wilson said: “I really thought that that was the greatest destiny for ‘Closing Time,’ that it would be used by all the bartenders, and it was actually. It still is. I run into people all the time who tell me, Oh I worked in this one bar for four years and I heard your song every single night.”
Save Tonight by Eagle-Eye Cherry, 1998
“Save tonight and fight the break of dawn
Come tomorrow, tomorrow I’ll be gone”
The singer’s name is Don Cherry’ and his career hit a standstill when he released his second album in the wake of 9/11. He eventually moved back to Sweden, living a quieter life in Stockholm, where he’s rarely recognized and still makes music.
Bitch by Meredith Brooks, 1997
“I’m a bitch, I’m a lover
I’m a child, I’m a mother
I’m a sinner, I’m a saint
I do not feel ashamed”
Meredith Brooks actually began singing at the age of 15, but she was 38 when this song came out. “Bitch” is a borderline offensive word, so there were some issues when it came to radio stations playing it on air.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Deep Blue Something, 1995
“And I said “What about Breakfast at Tiffany’s?”
She said “I think I remember the film
And as I recall, I think we both kinda liked it”
And I said “Well, that’s the one thing we’ve got”
Lead singer Todd Pipes wrote this song after seeing Audrey Hepburn in the film Roman Holiday, but he thought “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” would be a better title. The band was formed by four college students from the University of North Texas. This was their only song that had success.
Nobody Knows by The Tony Rich Project, 1996
“I pretend that I’m glad you went away
But these four walls close in more every day
And I’m dying inside and nobody knows it but me”
This was Tony Rich’s debut single, reaching #11 on the soul singles chart, and #2 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks charts. He got a nomination for the 1997 Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance but lost to Eric Clapton’s “Change the World”.
One of Us by Joan Osborne, 1996
“What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Tryin’ to make his way home?”
This song was nominated for a few Grammys: Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal. She was also nominated for Best New Artist and album of the year. But she didn’t win.
Walking in Memphis by Marc Cohn, 1991
“Then I’m walking in Memphis
Walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale
Walking in Memphis
But do I really feel the way I feel”
Marc Cohn won the 1991 Grammy for Best New Artist award, and even beat both Boyz II Men and Seal. But he never matched the success of this song. Cher did a cover for her 1995 album It’s a Man’s World, and her cover version hit #11 in the UK.
To Be With You by Mr. Big, 1991
“I’m the one who wants to be with you
Deep inside I hope you’ll feel it too
Waited on a line of greens and blues
Just to be the next to be with you”
The lead singer Eric Martin wrote the song when he was a teenager about a girl named Patricia Reynolds, who he was infatuated with. But by the time the song came out, he knew that he and Patricia were not meant to be. “I wrote it mainly to impress my sister’s girlfriends,” he said.
I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) by The Proclaimers, 1988
“But I would walk five hundred miles
And I would walk five hundred more
Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles
To fall down at your door”
This song became a hit in the US after it was placed in the movie Benny & Joon. The director heard the song being played and loved it. The group had no idea it would be even featured in the film.
Too Shy by Kajagoogoo, 1983
“You’re too shy shy, hush hush eye to eye
Too, shy shy, hush hush, eye to eye
Too shy shy, hush hush eye to eye
Too, shy shy, hush hush”
This song was Kajagoogoo’s first single, and it was a major hit in England. In America at the time, MTV just launched and many British bands, like this one, with interesting looks had some success in America just because they got airtime on the popular TV channel.
I’ve Never Been to Me by Charlene, 1976
“Ooh I’ve been to Georgia and California, oh, anywhere I could run
Took the hand of a preacher man and we made love in the sun
But I ran out of places and friendly faces because I had to be free
I’ve been to paradise, but I’ve never been to me”
Charlene the song in 1976, and it only got to #97 on American charts. And then six years later, it was re-released after a Florida radio station started playing it and people started to love it. By then, Charlene moved to England and was working in a candy shop in Ilford, Essex.
Just a Friend by Biz Markie, 1989
“You, you got what I need but you say he’s just a friend
But you say he’s just a friend”
Biz Markie is a rapper that actually sings in this song, albeit very poorly. He was one of the first to do so. About 10 years later, a trend started when rappers would sing on their records. Rappers like Ja Rule and Nelly had hits where they were sang poorly, but wasn’t supposed to be ironic.
Teenage Dirtbag by Wheatus, 2000
“Cause I’m just a teenage dirt bag, baby
Yeah I’m just a teenage dirt bag, baby
Listen to Iron Maiden, baby, with me, ooh”
This one-hit wonder was released in July, 2000 as the lead single from their debut album. The song was written by lead singer Brendan B. Brown and it was inspired by a childhood experience of his.
(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life by Jennifer Warnes and Bill Medley, 1987
“Now I’ve had the time of my life
No, I never felt like this before
Yes I swear it’s the truth
And I owe it all to you”
This song won the 1987 Grammy award for Best Vocal Performance by a Duo and an Oscar for Best Film Song. As you know, it was featured in the climactic scene of Dirty Dancing, with Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey.
The Ketchup Song by Las Ketchup, 2002
This song became a huge international hit. It reached #1 in a number of countries and took a while to break in America. It was first played on a New York City dance station WKTU. And then within 24 hours, it became the most requested song on the station.
The lyrics have snippets of the 1979 Sugar Hill Gang song “Rapper’s Delight.” The lyrics are all in Spanish, but it’s really just gibberish based on the Sugar Hill Gang song. The version that was released in the US had some English gibberish mixed in.
Magic by Pilot, 1974
“It’s magic you know
Never believe it’s not so
It’s magic you know
Never believe it’s not so”
This song was Pilot’s first and only hit single. In 2009, Selena Gomez recorded a cover of the song for the soundtrack CD of the Disney Channel’s Wizards of Waverly Place.
Dancing in the Moonlight by King Harvest, 1973
“Everybody’s dancin’ in the moonlight
Everybody’s feelin’ warm and right
It’s such a fine and natural sight
Everybody’s dancin’ in the moonlight”
The song was written by keyboard player and songwriter Sherman Kelly in 1969 after a trip he made to the Caribbean island of Saint Croix. He was attacked and left for dead. While recovering, he wrote this song. “I envisioned an alternate reality,” Kelly said. “The dream of a peaceful and joyful celebration of life.”
Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl) by Looking Glass, 1972
“The sailors say: “Brandy, you’re a fine girl” (you’re a fine girl)
“What a good wife you would be” (such a fine girl)
“Yeah, your eyes could steal a sailor from the sea”
The song was based on the name of the lead singer Elliot Lurie’s high school sweetheart Randy. After this major hit, the band appeared on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and at Carnegie Hall, but they never came close to matching this song’s success.
Sugar, Sugar by The Archies, 1969
“Sugar, ah honey honey
You are my candy girl
And you got me wanting you”
The Archies were unique in that the group performed on the Saturday morning cartoon Archie. The group itself was never actually seen, only the cartoon characters were. The song was written with preschoolers in mind.
Wipe Out by The Surfaris, 1963
This popular instrumental track had a repetitive but significant surf rhythm. And the only vocal was the phrase “Wipe Out.”
The Surfaris were a band of teenagers with hardly any money to record their work. Their breakthrough is due to drummer Ron Wilson, who did such a good job on the long drum solos that it eventually became one of the most famous drum solo breaks ever played and recorded.
If you remember 1997, the next song was THE song.
In A Big Country by Big Country, 1983
“In a big country dreams stay with you
Like a lover’s voice fires the mountainside
Stay alive, here we go”
This was the only Big Country hit that made its way to America and didn’t even get much radio air play but the video was huge on MTV. Lead singer Stuart Adamson explained that they weren’t much of a “message band,” and they were happy if listeners could dance to their songs and identify with them in some way.
Somebody’s Watching Me by Rockwell, 1984
“I always feel like somebody’s watching me.
And I have no privacy.
Woh, I always feel like somebody’s watching me.
Tell me is it just a dream?”
Yes, Michael Jackson sang backup on this song. Rockwell’s sister Hazel was actually married to Michael’s brother Jermaine. Rockwell knew he could get the song released if he could convince Michael to sing on it. And it looks like he did. But this was Rockwell’s only successful hit.
Life is a Highway by Tom Cochrane, 1992
“Life is a highway
I want to ride it all night long
If you’re going my way
I want to drive it all night long”
This was Cochrane’s only US Top-40 hit, hitting #6 in 1992. This song has maintained its popularity due to its heavy use in commercials. There was a National City Corp commercial and the series VIPER.
Jump by Kris Kross, 1992
The Mac Dad will make you jump jump
Daddy Mac will make you jump jump
Kris Kross will make you jump jump”
Kris Kross went on to make other songs in the 90s, but they were never able to match the success of this debut song. Chris Kelly and Chris Smith ended up going separate ways after they released an album in 1996 and went on to have solo careers.
There She Goes by The La’s, 1988
“There she goes
There she goes again
Racing through my brain
And I just can’t contain
This feeling that remains”
This song was released four times, the first was one the UK Singles chart in 1988, reaching #51. The second was in 1990, which was the peak at #13. The third release was in 1999, hitting the UK Singles at #65. And then the fourth release was in 2008, on vinyl only for the song’s 20th anniversary, hitting #181.
Hey! Baby by Bruce Channel, 1962
“When I saw you walking down the street
I said that’s a kind of girl I’d like to meet
She’s so pretty, Lord she’s fine
I’m gonna make her mine all mine
Hey, hey hey baby
I want to know if you’ll be my girl”
Delbert McClinton is the one who played the harmonica part of the song. At one of Bruce Channel’s shows, a then-unknown Liverpool group, the Beatles, was there in support. John Lennon loved the harmonica intro so much that he asked McClinton how to play it. A year later, a harmonica similar to that one was featured on their song “Love Me Do.”
You Get What You Give by New Radicals, 1998
“But when the night is falling
You cannot find the light
You feel your dreams are dying
This was the first song to use the word “Frenemies” in the lyrics. The word started showing up in the late ’90s to reflect the relationships where you could be both friends and enemies at the same time.
Sleeping Satellite by Tasmin Archer, 1992
“I blame you for the moonlit sky
And the dream that died
With the eagles’ flights
I blame you for the moonlit nights”
This song, to date, is Tasmin Archer’s only charting single in America, peaking at #32 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1993.
Mickey by Toni Basil, 1981
“Oh Mickey, you’re so fine
You’re so fine you blow my mind, hey Mickey,
It took some time before MTV got a hold of the video and started playing it, but once they did, the song exploded and hit #1 for a week in 1982. Remember the video? The cheerleaders were members of a championship squad from Carson High School in Los Angeles.
Black Velvet by Alannah Myles, 1989
“Black velvet and that little boy smile
Black velvet and that slow southern style
A new religion that’ll bring you to your knees
Black velvet if you please”
Alannah Myles was a Canadian from Toronto, and she wrote the song about Elvis. Myles won a Grammy award for Best Female Rock Performance and several Canadian Juno Awards. She also won a Diamond award for sales in excess of 1,000,000 in Canada, which was the only time an artist has won this. She was awarded the ‘Millionaire Award’ in 2005 for over 4 million radio plays in America. Not too bad!
Walk This World by Heather Nova, 1994
“With the light in our eyes it’s hard to see Holding on and on to what we believe
With the light in our eyes it’s hard to see
I’m not touched but I’m aching to be
I want you to come walk this world with me”
Although Heather has 9 full-length albums, this was her only song that made a dent. It reached #13 on American charts.
You know the next song from every party you went to in the early 90s.