Two Times the Charm: The Best Two-Hit Wonders in Music
One-hit wonders are celebrated just as often as they are mocked. But two-hit wonders? What place do they hold in the annals of music history?
The answer is two-hit wonders don’t get double the respect. Far from it. In fact, as you’ll soon discover, two-hit wonders are often less known than their one-hit-colleagues.
That’s because the one-hit wonder is a common, easily understandable cultural trope. One-hit wonders take over the music scene for a summer, only to be cast back into obscurity. The two-hit wonder tale is much more varied. Some bands release one solid record with two chart-busting songs while others valiantly fight back with a second record. The two-hit artist’s hits are often years apart, making for a messy narrative.
Either way, two-hit wonders deserve respect. DOUBLE the respect, in my humble opinion. It’s time for two-hit wonders to get their due. Let’s go!
The pride of Norway managed to squeeze out more than a mere 15-minutes of fame. The band’s debut album Hunting High and Low broke through the international Billboard charts not long after its 1985 release.
You may recognize the first single off that record. Afterall, a-ha’s hit song “Take on Me” reached number one in the U.S. They followed that up with the top-20 pop hit “The Sun Always Shines on TV” that very same year.
Sadly, the sun wouldn’t always shine on a-ha’s career. The band disappeared into obscurity soon after.
Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch
Before his days of Transformers reboots and talking teddy bears, Mark Wahlberg was a hit-making MC. At least, it says so in my notes.
Mark Wahlberg refused to be known as that kid related to a member of the New Kids on the Block. So, he launched his own musical career as the leader of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. The crew landed two hits in “Good Vibrations” and “Wildside,” but couldn’t sustain their success.
How Mark Wahlberg transitioned from being a Vanilla Ice wanna-be to one of the highest-grossing actors in the game has baffled more than just Vanilla Ice. But that’s a story for another day.
Men Without Hats
Though my uncle would argue that Men Without Hats was a low point for American culture as a whole, he’d probably agree that they wear the two-hit wonder crown.
The Montreal synthpop duo crossed the Southern border into the U.S. with their earworm-worthy track “Safety Dance” in 1982. The song held down number three on the Billboard Hot 100 for four solid weeks and, presumably, drove my uncle mad the whole time.
Just when most people thought that the lights had gone out for good. Five years later, Men Without Hats made their triumphant return with “Pop Goes The World”. Sure, they made more records. But they would never catch the ears of the masses with new music again.
Rapper Tone-Loc paired his raspy voice with electric guitar-centered hip-hop beats to a hell of a lot of success in the late 1980s. Like a gift from the gods, his 1989 debut record Loc-ed After Dark introduced the world to his two hit songs “Wild Thing” and “Funky Cold Medina”. The latter track even earned Tone-Loc a Grammy nomination. Move over Kendrick Lamar.
Although the MC would never equal the critical success of Loc-ed After Dark, that raspy voice wasn’t done earning him a living. Tone-Loc would go onto earn acting credits on King of the Hill and a personal favorite, FernGully: The Last Rainforest.
There are two things that scream wedding reception. One is bottomless glasses of red wine. The other is Young M.C.’s classic “Bust a Move”.
The pride of Queens, New York, Young M.C. was the mastermind behind Tone-Loc’s biggest hits. When he decided to step out in on his own, he did it with a bang. Both “Bust a Move” and his second massive hit “Principal’s Office” were featured on Young M.C.’s debut record, Stone Cold Rhymin’.
He’d never reach those momentous heights again. However, the rapper would go on to record and release seven more albums.
When it comes success in the west, PSY is a grade-A two-hit wonder.
After all, nobody on this side of the world had heard of him until his YouTube video for the infamous “Gangnam Style” went viral in 2012. Within weeks, everyone and their mother was doing PSY’s signature horse dance. The video broke records and overshadowed the singer’s decades-long musical career.
The South Korean followed up the massive “Gangnam Style” with “Gentlemen”, which also earned millions of views and countless hours of international airplay. He’s so big that pretty much anything the guy does will garner page views, but it’s safe to say that PSY remains a two-hit wonder in North America.
It’s not every day that a group of Dutch musicians makes a sizable mark on the North American pop charts. But that’s exactly what Golden Earring did.
The year was 1973, the pants were tight and Netherland’s own Golden Earring were enjoying the success that came with their smash hit “Radar Love”. The guitar-heavy rock anthem provided the perfect soundtrack to going 150 over the speed limit.
But they weren’t done there. The band would return nine years later with the synth-colored New Wave tune “Twilight Zone” in 1982.
Back to the 80s we go to revisit a power ballad for the ages. Cutting Crew left their London homes and set sail for the North American pop charts in 1986.
With their debut album Broadcast, the band had a hit on their hands. Their brief but impactful stay on the Billboard Hot 100 kicked off with “(I Just) Died in Your Arms”. The song effectively put Virgin Records on the map.
The band went with “I’ve Been in Love Before”, which wasn’t as big of a hit as the first one, but still charted. Since Broadcast’s success, it’s been radio silence for Cutting Crew.
KT Tunstall might not be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame anytime soon, but her dulcet tones remain a constant in big-box retail chains and hardware stores across North America. In my world, that’s success.
2006 was a big year for Tunstall. Both “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” and “Suddenly I See” broke through top-20 on the Billboard charts that year. And though she never has quite lived up to her earlier success, she hasn’t given up on her passion for music. She’s released five albums since her biggest one in 2004.
How many of her new material has made the international karaoke circuit though is anyone’s guess.
Natasha Bedingfield of England is unique in that the singer/songwriter’s two biggest hits happened independently of one another. That’s right, two separate albums!
Her first, “Unwritten”, was released as the title track of her debut album in 2004. If the song doesn’t sound familiar at first, then keep listening. Unwritten was featured in countless television ads and won countless awards.
Bedingfield’s second hit would come a full four years later. “Pocket Full of Sunshine” would enjoy success similar to her initial hit. Proving that lightning can indeed strike twice.
If, for whatever reason, you need to explain the 80s to someone really quickly, just show them this video. That’s the video Animotion’s break-out single “Obsession”.
The American synth-pop superstars were a pretty big deal in 1984. Though they were to follow up the success of their first album with a second — featuring their second big single “Room to Move” — their luck wouldn’t carry them for long. The band broke up shortly after “Room to Move” hit the U.S. top 10.
Quiet Riot’s “Cum on Feel the Noize” will be relevant for as long as beer, hot dogs, and live sports venues are relevant. Over the decades, the song has become the quintessential soundtrack to t-shirt cannons and kiss-cams. As such, it’s proven to be quite the cash cow for American rockers Quiet Riot.
“Bang Your Head (Metal Health)” was pretty good in its own right. The song was featured in the popular Kevin Bacon flick Footloose and peaked at number 31 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Moreover, it earned them a gig opening for ZZ Top in 1983.