THE mystery song I wrote about last week is by a band many consider a one-hit wonder, which is unfair, because they did have another hit and they’re still international stars today, almost 25 years after their breakthrough song.

It’s really not fair to lump so many acts together under the heading “one-hit wonders.” Some one-hit wonders, like Right Said Fred, probably knew they’d shot their creative load with their one gimmicky, attention-grabbing song. They practically sold their souls to the devil (or at least Casey Kasem) for that can’t-miss hit, knowing full well that they could never duplicate its success. For them, one disposable hit was better than obscurity.

But other one-hit wonders — the ones with actual talent — are probably still scratching their heads, trying to figure out why their just-as-good follow-up songs never connected with listeners the way their big hit did, why they were relevant one minute and discarded the next even though they had lots more to offer.

So here are some one-hit wonders from the past 30 years who got exactly what they deserved and nothing more. (And later this week I’ll list some other wonders who unfairly got the shaft for reasons we may never understand.)

One-Hit Wonders Who Shot Their Loads

Primitive Radio Gods, “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand”: That’s probably where this guy is today — but without the money part.

Toni Basil, “Mickey”: Hey Toni! Choreographers should be happy to get one hit.

Taco, “Puttin’ On The Ritz”: OK, so you’re gonna take a 50-year-old Irving Berlin song and add synths, robotic drums and lethargic, off-key vocals. We’ll let you get away with it once.

t.A.T.u., “All The Things She Said”: Two young Russian lesbians get one hit. And after they reveal they’re not really lesbians? No hits.

Paul Hardcastle, “19”: A dance song about young soldiers, the Vietnam war and post-traumatic stress disorder. Where do you go from there? Funkytown?

Buckner & Garcia, “Pac Man Fever”: They actually had the balls to dip into the well a second time, but follow-up single “Do The Donkey Kong” didn’t score. Jesus, was “Kiss My Asteroids” that far behind?

Chumbawamba, “Tubthumping”: They never did get back up again.

Len, “Steal My Sunshine”: After sampling the Andrea True Connection, there was no more, more, more.

Frankie Goes To Hollywood, “Relax”: They came, they came and they went.

Nena, “99 Luftballons”: Pop!

Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”: He should be happy no one’s strangled him. And he should probably be worried.

Baltimora, “Tarzan Boy”: A Tarzan yell for the chorus? This guy was actually out of ideas before his first song.

Musical Youth, “Pass the Dutchie”: Not a gateway hit.

Crash Test Dummies, “Mmm, Mmm, Mmm, Mmm”: Umm, who were these guys?

Big Country, “In a Big Country”; Living in a Box, “Living in a Box”: If you don’t even have enough ideas for song titles …

The Divinyls, “I Touch Myself”: We got excited by them for a while, then lost interest and nodded off.

OMC, “How Bizarre”: You know what would be bizarre? If this guy’s not busing tables today.

Snow, “Informer”; Vanilla Ice, “Ice Ice Baby”: Before Eminem, solo white rappers got one chance to suck.

Alien Ant Farm, “Smooth Criminal”: Steal a Jacko song, punk it up for the kids, score a hit, and … and then what?

Right Said Fred: “I’m Too Sexy”: But not too talented.

Tag Team, “Whoomp! There It Is”: Turns out there was no there there.

Baha Men, “Who Let The Dogs Out”: Who let these guys near a recording studio?

Lou Bega, “Mambo No. 5”: A little bit of Bega went a long way.

The Dream Academy, “Life In A Northern Town”: Ah-hey ma ma ma, hey-dee-da-na-ya … then all of the work shut down … (OK, I actually like this song. And they did have a second Top 40 hit in the U.S., but not even the band remembers it.)

And while compiling this list, I was depressed to learn that a few other shoulda-been-one-hit wonders actually squeezed out additional Top 40 turds: Aqua (“Barbie Girl”), Gerardo (“Rico Suave”) and Men Without Hats (“The Safety Dance”) all managed to fool us a second time. Go figure …


13 Responses to “ONE AND DONE”

  1. Ugly Kid Joe Says:

    I Hate Everything About You for writing this post.

  2. rockymtranger Says:

    The list is endless on one-hit wonders. I think you forgot the most heinous one of all, though…the Macarena!

  3. 45vinyljunkie Says:

    Wow, there’s a ton of shit on that list, Adam. But then again, I’m not surprised because all of those songs are from the 1980s and beyond. Here’s my short list of favorite one-hit wonders, all of which are from the 1955-1979 era (you know, when popular music was real music):

    1. Bernadette Carroll – “Party Girl” (1964)
    2. The Ad-Libs – “The Boy From New York City” (1965 — Their follow-up single , “He Ain’t No Angel,” did spend one week at No. 100 in Billboard, so technically they weren’t a one-hit wonder. But rules are made to be broken, I guess.)
    3. Patty and the Emblems – “Mixed-Up, Shook-Up Girl” (1964)
    4. The Bonnie Sisters – “Cry Baby” (1956 — Filmmaker John Waters used this song during the opening credits of his movie of the same title. Pre-Elvis [popular Elvis, that is] rock and roll that, if my memory is correct, features a pre-Tina Ike Turner on guitar.)
    5. Mashmakhan – “As The Years Go By” (1970 — Great song, stupid group name. This band was one of the acts featured in the Festival Express mini-tour of Canada in 1970. Others on the three-city tour included Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, the Band and others. With that kind of exposure, one would think this group could have had more hits, but they didn’t. I bet it had something to do with having one of the worst names in the history of popular music.)

    There are many others I’m sure I’d like to list, but these are the ones that come to mind right now.

  4. How about ‘Jimmy Carter Says Yes’ by Waskey Elwood Walls Jr.?

  5. I’m gonna speak up for my man, Bobby McFerrin. He never set out to have a pop career. “Don’t worry” was just a cut he did for fun on one of his typical jazzy, esoteric albums, Simple Pleasures, and it stuck. He’s much happier conducting orchestras and doing classical duets with Yo Yo Ma. But Don’t Worry gave him some unexpected name recognition. Kind of like the instrumental breakthru of jazz flugelhornist Chuck Mangione, Feels so Good,…it was more of an accidental hit, than anything he aspired to.

  6. I thought you’d find this bit of information interesting (see below, from Wikipedia). . .you might want to remove Buckner & Garcia from the list.

    “The pair still frequently collaborates, including writing and performing on many original songs on the Waffle House jukebox.”

    You think just ANYONE snares a steady gig on the jukeboxes at Waffle House?!?

  7. How about “My Girl” by Chilliwack … Think I have that on a tape somewhere

  8. Turns out I’ve slighted a band that’s been playing for more than 30 years and may have had a number of other “hits” (“I Believe,” for example), at least north of the border … I’d like to apologize to all of Canada.

  9. Tod had the world’s first one-song mix tape. Yeah, Chilliwack’s “I Believe” reached No. 33 in the U.S. “My Girl” reached No. 22. And “Whatcha Gonna Do (When I’m Gone)” made it to 41 (so it doesn’t count, but still…!) (source: wikipedia)

    Thank God I forgot about Ugly Kid Joe. And apologies to Bobby McFerrin (as long as he never tried to duplicate “Don’t Worry”‘s success). And Buckner & Garcia just can’t accept that it’s Game Over.

  10. Oh man. I was going to argue that Frankie Goes to Hollywood was NOT a one hit wonder. Problem is, I can’t think of any other hit they had…

  11. Frankie Goes To Hollywood had two other songs that charted in the U.S., but neither made it into the Top 40: “Two Tribes” (reached No. 43) and “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” (reached No. 48) according to But they had lots of big hits in the U.K.

  12. thanks, Adam. must have been listening to them during my UK years. ;)

    btw, appreciated the nod to Baltimora. i think…

  13. Que buen grupo …! Right Said Fred I LOVE …!
    Bandas como esta no hay hoy en dia …!

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