The Greatest One-Hit Wonders in Music
The music industry has made huge changes in the last few years. Now, we’re used to being able to access our favorite artists almost 24/7 through public appearances and their social media accounts. Plus, we’re happy to pay a lot more money for concert tickets because so many of us can listen to music for free.
In the past, the radio and TV limited the options for what we could listen to, so songs that were popular took over the airwaves. Because the music was given prominence over the artist who created the song, this led to the rise of one-hit wonders.
Macarena – Los Del Rio
Anyone who has been to a wedding, bar mitzvah, quinceañera, or any other social gathering has probably heard the “Macarena”.
Released by Latin pop group Los del Rios, the “Macarena” is a perfect example of 1990s dance music. In fact, it’s probably one of the most recognizable songs in the world. It hit quadruple platinum in the United States and spent 20 weeks at number two on the charts.
Although most English-speakers know the song well, it may surprise you to learn that this song isn’t just a happy dance tune. It’s about a woman who cheats on her boyfriend after he goes to war.
Tainted Love – Soft Cell
“Tainted Love” has a rich history.
First recorded in 1965 by American artist Gloria Jones, it was the B-side of a total flop. The song was later discovered by British vocal/synth band Soft Cell in 1981. After hearing the song once, they decided that they were going to cover it and start playing it during their live sets.
Soft Cell recorded their cover of “Tainted Love” and it became a smash hit. In fact, it spent 43 weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100.
Who Let the Dogs Out? – Baha Men
“Who Let the Dogs Out?” is the product of a band called the Baha Men, a Bahamian band with at least nine members and a big roster of past members. Despite the silly nature of the song, Baha Men, it would go onto reach the Top 40 in the United States.
Surprisingly, this fun dance tune has a surprisingly feminist message. The writer has said that the “dogs” in the title refers to men who catcall women.
Come On Eileen – Dexys Midnight Runners
“Come On Eileen” is the only well-known song by Dexys Midnight Runners, a pop/soul band that broke up in 1987. The song features the fiddle over lyrics that are based on an Irish folk song called “Believe Me, if All Those Endearing Young Charms”.
Although her identity has been speculated about for decades, all the band members say that there is no real Eileen.
I’m Too Sexy – Right Said Fred
The much-parodied song “I’m Too Sexy” was apparently inspired by a gym where two members of Right Said Fred used to work. It was originally recorded as an indie rock song. However, the song never really caught on until they took the lyrics and added a dance track behind it, along with a riff taken from Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun”.
Once “I’m Too Sexy” caught, it rocketed up the charts. In fact, it hit number two on the UK charts and spent time in the Top 10 in six other countries.
Take On Me – A-ha
It’s not every day that a worldwide hit comes from a Norwegian synthpop band.
Released in 1984, A-ha made their mark with “Take On Me”. Sadly, it was the only one of their songs that was recognizable on a global scale. Part of the reason why the song became so popular was because of the unique music video, which showed the band members running through the pages of a pencil drawing.
“Take On Me” won two 1986 MTV Video Music Awards and was number two on the UK Singles Chart in 1985.
Rapper’s Delight – The Sugarhill Gang
“Rapper’s Delight” is a hugely influential track in the history of hip-hop, even if the artists who created it have faded into obscurity. Created in 1979 by New Jersey hip-hop group The Sugarhill Gang, “Rapper’s Delight” has been parodied and sampled many times. Plus, it has been used as a model for many other hip-hop songs that have come after it.
The original version of the song — which was recorded in one take — is over 12 minutes long. However, the version that was released as a single is only three minutes and 55 seconds long.
Torn – Natalie Imbruglia
Although she did have a career before this song came out, Natalie Imbruglia surprised everyone with her single “Torn”.
Imbruglia started her career as a soap opera star in Australia, appearing on the hit show Neighbours for two years. After that, she decided to try her hand at music. Her first demo — this very song — convinced RCA Records execs to sign her immediately.
“Torn” was originally recorded by Ednaswap. However, Imbruglia’s cover was so popular it hit number two on the UK Singles Chart for 14 weeks.
99 Luftballons – Nena
“99 Luftballons”, often translated into English as “99 Red Balloons”, is the only song by German band Nena that found an audience outside of Germany. An earlier single, “Nur geträumt” made it to the top of a few different European charts, but “99 Luftballons” was the first to make waves in the United States.
Although the band did record an English version, many people preferred the meaning and lyricism of the original German version. Both versions charted at number one all over the world.
What Is Love – Haddaway
Dance hit “What Is Love” was recorded by Eurodance artist Haddaway in 1993. It was an instant hit. The catchy refrain and the head-bopping beat got people out on the dance floor in droves.
The song was used as a signature song in Saturday Night Live sketches that featured Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan as the “Roxbury Guys”. It even experienced a resurgence when the movie A Night at the Roxbury was released in 1998.
“What Is Love” has been covered, remixed, and sampled dozens of times, including one remix by DJ Klaas that charted across Europe.
Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye – Steam
“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” may seem unfamiliar to you until you hear the title sung rather than spoken. The song’s chorus has been used as a mocking call in sports games since it was first played at a Chicago White Sox game in 1977. It’s become so dissociated with the original song that you would be hard-pressed to find someone that could name the original recording artist.
Released by a band called Steam in 1969, the song has been used in everything from sports to politics to make fun of the opposition. When it was first released, the song was a Billboard Hot 100 hit single for months.