The 45 Best One-Hit Wonders

by Michael Musto
Like musical hit-and-runs, one-hit wonders make an impact with a solitary musical achievement (namely a Top 40 Billboard hit), then promptly fade into way lower chart numbers. Here are the ones that should have signaled brighter careers. I'll start with the 1960s, when the wonders really began clogging up the landscape.

1. The Exciters, "Tell Him" (1963): A buzzy, hopped-up ditty, full of sass and vinegar.

2. The Singing Nun, "Dominique" (1963): If you didn't like this unlikely French-language pop song by a Belgian nun, you were going to hell.

3. Astrud Gilberto, "The Girl from Ipanema" (1964):  The ultimate bossa nova song of summer. Just listening to it, I felt tall and tan and young and lovely.

4. Cilla Black, "You're My World" (1964): Brit chanteuse Cilla had the pipes and the pizzazz. She should have had more hits.

5. Shirley Bassey, "Goldfinger" (1965): The ultimate Bond theme, sung to perfection by throaty Shirley.

6. Neil Hefti, "Batman" (1966): A catchy theme for TV's campy caped crusader.

7. The Capitols, "Cool Jerk" (1966): One of the most covered songs of all time. "Can you do it, can you do it...?"

8. Paul Mauriat and his orchestra, "Love is Blue" (1968): Tasteful, high-class instrumental stuff, a cut above the crap.

9. The Hesitations, "Born Free" (1968): A more soulful version of the movie theme, and very cool. The lion must have loved it.

10. Richard Harris, "MacArthur Park" (1968): Of all the nutty versions of this insane song, Harris's is the nuttiest. He truly left his cake out in the rain.

11. Tiny Tim, "Tiptoe Through The Tulips with Me" (1968): The high-pitched oddity trilled his way to perfection through this wacky chestnut.

12. Jeannie C. Riley, "Harper Valley PTA" (1968): I love a good story song with a strong message, and Jeannie rang it out, telling off all those small-town hypocrites with country gusto.

13. Brooklyn Bridge, "The Worst That Could Happen" (1969): Finding out that a girl I love is marrying someone else was never one of my big problems, but this weepy ballad made a good case for it.

14. Spiral Staircase, "More Today Than Yesterday" (1969): A sweet, rollicking pop hit, and oh so romantic.

15. Steam, "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" (1969): Ditto. I love these off-the-cuff, sincere love ditties.

16. Five Stairsteps, "O-o-h Child" (1970): One of the sweetest, most sincere hits ever -- a lilting song of hope and love.

17. Lynn Anderson "(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden" (1970):
Well, Lynn did promise us a twangy sensation of a song, and she sure delivered.

18. T. Rex, "Bang a Gong (Get it On)" (1971): With this hit, British glam rock came to the charts and changed the world, sequin by sequin.

19. Lou Reed, "Walk on the Wild Side" (1972): Can you believe this real-life tale of drugging, fellating transsexuals made it to the top 40? There is a God.

20. Carl Douglas, "Kung Fu Fighting" (1974): Total kitsch silliness, and I fall for it every time.

21. Shirley & Company, "Shame, Shame, Shame" (1975): An impossible to resist dance number, with Shirley screeching it to the rafters. It's used well in the new movie Pride.

22. Elvin Bishop, "Fooled Around and Fell in Love" (1975): Blues guitarist Bishop really hit a nerve with this wail about whoring and falling. A classic.

23. Vicki Sue Robinson, "Turn the Beat Around" (1976): This was one of disco's finest moments, a percolating, rhythmic attack that keeps you twerking.

24. Debby Boone, "You Light Up My Life" (1977): This heartfelt love song was written by Joe Brooks, who committed suicide after being accused of serial rapes and whose son killed a woman in a bathtub, but the song itself is way better than the back story.

25. Odyssey, "Native New Yorker" (1977):
A swirling ode to NYC that just captivates. ("You're no tramp, but you're no lady...")

26. Patti Smith Group, "Because The Night" (1978): How great was it to have punky Patti on the chart with this power ballad co-written by Bruce Springsteen?

27. Cheryl Lynn, "Got To Be Real" (1978):
Cheryl became a star after she did well on The Gong Show. Her amazing pipes were served well on this disco smash.

28. The Sugarhill Gang, "Rapper's Delight" (1979): The hip-hop trio endeared with this sweet bit of bragging that paved the way for much darker stuff in the genre. I mean, much darker stuff.

29. Devo, "Whip It" (1980): The lyrics were supposedly an imitation of Thomas Pynchon and the synthesizer licks were vaguely S&M, and the whole thing was extremely one of a kind.

30. Soft Cell, "Tainted Love" (1982):
A  taunting remake of an obscure Gloria Jones song, and sexily inviting thanks to Marc Almond's vocals.

31. Dexy's Midnight Runners, "Come on Eileen" (1982):
From the Celtic fiddle to the tempo change, this was an exotically appealing bar song that lives on.

32. Tracey Ullman, "They Don't Know" (1983): Tracey's cover of Kirsty MacColl's bouncy song proved she had the pop star chops, but alas, this was her only time at the rodeo.

33. Patrick Swayze featuring Wendy Fraser,  "She's Like The Wind" (1987): This romantic ballad from Dirty Dancing -- co-written by Swayze -- was really lovely. Yes, the guy was multifaceted.

34. Sinead O'Connor, "Nothing Compares 2 U" (1990): Old Shiny Head's Prince cover was super focused and scarily intense, but it turned out to be her only hit. She should have ripped up a photo of Prince.

35. Deee-Lite, "Groove is in the Heart" (1990): One of the best dance songs of all time, "Groove" was kooky, jazzy, exciting stuff, and surprisingly the group's only visit to the Top 40.

36. Oleta Adams, "Get Here" (1990): A plaintive, beautiful ballad written by Brenda Russell. Love that "caravan/Arab man" rhyme.

37. k.d. lang, "Constant Craving" (1992):
Gentle lesbian crooning at its finest, but k.d.'s constant craving for chart success was never fully gratified before or after.

38. Robin S., "Show Me Love" (1992): Hot, danceable, and delicious. But maybe Robin would have done better with a last name?

39. Joan Osborne, "One of Us" (1995): A controversial but actually quite beautiful song about God was Joan's only chance at deification.

40. Everything But The Girl, "Missing" (1995): A British music duo wafted by with this haunting hit, buoyed by lovely Tracey Thorn vocals.

41. Fiona Apple, "Criminal" (1997):
The golden Apple struck paydirt with her hypnotic rocker about feeling dirty, but alas, she couldn't get arrested after this.

42. Macy Gray, "I Try" (2000):
With that uniquely raspy voice, Macy seemed to be chartbound for life. Wrong. But she tried.

43. Norah Jones, "Don't Know Why" (2003):
The best kind of elevator music, Jones' sultry song scraped the Top 40, but she never managed that again. Don't know why.

44. Gnarls Barkley, "Crazy" (2006):
Another Gnarls album is reportedly forthcoming, so calling them a one-hit wonder might be "crazy" -- and premature.

45. Amy Winehouse, "Rehab" (2007):
With that fiery talent, Amy should have been an enduring force, not a one-hit wonder. Tragic tuna.

As for acts in the 2010s: Ah, give them a chance. They might have a second hit!

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