Sometimes, history will unfairly relegate certain people to categories into which they do not belong, and if you’ve read the title of this article, you’ve got a great context for that random observation. It’s one thing to unfairly be labeled a serial killer or to forever be associated with appalling crimes you probably were not exactly capable of, but quite another to be stuck with such a dismissive label as “one-hit wonder”.
Okay, so maybe that isn’t so bad. But like we’ve talked about before, it is surprising how often musical artists afflicted with this label landed other songs inside the U.S. Top 40- even ones who are practically synonymous with the one-hit tag. Take, for example…
10 Tommy Tutone – “867-5309/Jenny” and “Angel Say No”
If “One Hit Wonder” were an actual genre, Tommy Tutone would likely be thought of as pioneers. For people of a certain age, hearing the first three numbers in their phone number-themed smash hit will cause them to immediately blurt out the rest, usually in a singsongish voice, and it’s difficult to overstate just how big a hit “867-5309/Jenny” really was in 1982. It famously caused problems for anyone unlucky enough to be assigned the number, and as recently as 2009- nearly 30 years after its six-month chart run- a rare working number in the New York area was sold on Ebay for $200,000.
While Tommy Tutone come the closest of anyone on this list to actually deserving the label (especially considering the ubiquity of their signature tune), they did actually have another song crack the Top 40- “Angel Say No“, which spent eight weeks on the Hot 100 in 1980, peaking at number 38 . A rare instance of an earlier song charting before the one for which the band is most remembered, even this Snopes page dedicated to the phone number refers to Tommy Tutone erroneously as a one-hit wonder.
9 Falco – “Rock Me Amadeus” and “Vienna Calling”
Only in the ’80s could a song about Mozart by a German rapper have become a monster U.S. hit. Coming on the heels of an Academy Award winning 1984 Mozart biopic, 1985’s “Rock Me Amadeus” would eventually chart in about a dozen countries and spend three weeks at #1 in the U.S. The man responsible, Falco, was quite popular in in European countries- he is to this day the best-selling Austrian artist of all time- and had also penned the original version of the smash hit “Der Kommissar”.
So huge was “Rock Me Amadeus” that literally no one remembers Falco’s follow-up “Vienna Calling“, which was also insanely catchy and hit a respectable #18 on the Billboard Hot 100, also in 1986. Falco’s eternal one-hit wonder status seems particularly unfair given his contribution to European popular music; unfortunately, he was killed in a car crash at the age of 41.
8 Katrina & The Waves – “Walking On Sunshine” and “That’s The Way” (and more)
No way this band had another hit besides “Walking On Sunshine”, you scream in protest? Actually, they had two- “Do You Want Crying” (#37 US, 1985) and “That’s The Way” (#16 US, 1989). It may seem like children are born with an innate awareness of “Walking On Sunshine”, but the song was only a #9 hit- its apparent ubiquity is mostly due to its constant, endless use in film trailers.
If it seems hard to believe that the Waves charted almost as high in 1989, consider that their song “Love Shine a Light” won the prestigious Eurovision songwriting contest in 1997 – and became the band’s biggest hit in the UK, though it failed to chart in the US. It’s a fine song, but as long as there are trailers to be made for wacky romantic comedies, Katrina and the Waves will continue to be the “Walking On Sunshine” band.
7 The Rembrandts – “I’ll Be There For You” and “Just The Way It Is, Baby”
L.A. power pop band the Rembrandts scored a U.S. # 14 hit with “Just The Way It Is, Baby” in 1990- five years before, and three spots higher than, their next hit single, which was called “I’ll Be There For You” and was prominently featured as the theme song for a popular ’90s sitcom about a bunch of friends. While it was the band’s highest-charting single in the United States, “Just The Way…” was also notable for not being broadcast into every living room in the country once per week.
Despite being one-hit poster boys, the Rembrandts also managed to land an additional couple of singles inside the U.S. Hot 100, and several more charted in other countries- all before 1995, when “I’ll Be There For You” apparently catapulted the band to international fame and ended their careers simultaneously. Thier only single to chart in the States afterwards was “Drowning In Your Tears”, a blip on the Mainstream Rock chart at #98, in 1996.
6 Wang Chung – “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” and “Dance Hall Days” (and more)
The reasons these guys remain forever associated with this one tune are obvious: it went to #1 in the US, and the name of their band is right there in the song. You’re begging for just the one hit at this point, unless you’re these guys, who had already done that.
“Dance Hall Days” was a #16 hit in the US two years prior. And really, they could’ve just stopped there, accepted the one-hit label and been proud; “Dance Hall” is very well-produced and written, catchy and atmospheric with vaguely eerie lyrics and strings, plus a great beat. For that matter, they might have become a great band- all told, they notched no less than five top 40 hits in a three year span, a pretty good run. Acclaimed director William Friedkin was so impressed with the band’s 1984 album Points On The Curve that he recruited them to compose the soundtrack for his highly regarded film To Live And Die In L.A. in ’85.
Unbelievably, “Dance Hall Days” is just their second most recognizable song: their second-biggest hit would actually be “Let’s Go!”, which peaked at #9 in 1987.
5 The Knack – “My Sharona” and “Good Girls Don’t”
The Knack dropped the biggest song of 1979- the song that single-handedly put the final nail in the coffin of Disco, the international #1 hit “My Sharona“- and then promptly faded into obscurity. It’s a perfect, pure blast of pop-rock confection, topping the charts for six consecutive weeks, and it arrived at just the right time to cement itself into the cultural consciousness in a way that few songs do.
Except the Knack had been around for awhile, and would be around quite awhile longer. The band had staked a reputation as one of the premier live acts in L.A. before their breakthrough, and all of the songs on their supremely underrated debut album had been endlessly rehearsed in front of audiences- and were, therefore, tighter than a drum. The follow up single “Good Girls Don’t” hit a very respectable #11 on the US Billboard chart, and astonishingly, the lead single from their follow up album- a song that literally nobody remembers called “Baby Talks Dirty”- also grazed the US Top 40 at #38.
4 Berlin – “Take My Breath Away” and “No More Words”
The Tom Cruise vehicle (no pun intended) Top Gun was the highest grossing film of 1986,and its theme song- the dramatic, synth-laden ballad “Take My Breath Away“- was a #1 hit for Berlin, an American New Wave band from L.A. that was not in any way German and, in fact, didn’t have a single German member. The song topped the charts in five other countries, and also won an Academy Award for Best Original Song- not bad for a tune that, according to the band’s manager, was terrible and had no chance as a single. In fact, he famously told the band he’d shave his head if it even cracked the top ten.
It’s the song everybody remembers Berlin for (if at all), because of the association with an iconic film, and because it was their last hit single- not their first, and certainly not the only one. The band had minor MTV hits with “Sex (I’m a…)” and “Metro” before scoring a U.S. #23 hit with “No More Words” in 1984- also from a (slightly less successful) film, Vision Quest. “No More Words” was re-released after charting in its own right as the B-Side to that movie’s theme song, “Crazy For You” by Madonna.
3 Young M.C. – “Bust a Move” and “Principal’s Office”
Increidibly, Marvin Young- the creatively-monikered Young MC- was not put on the Earth solely for the purpose of gifting us with “Bust a Move“, a love-it-or-hate-it-but-mostly-love-it tune that is so incredibly cheerful, and musically nimble (thanks in large part to an uncredited guest appearance on bass by Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers), that it transcended its one-hit status to become a minor rap classic. Young is the ultimate rap one-hit wonder; no, he actually titled his 1997 album “Return of the One-Hit Wonder“. But even HE has it wrong, unless he was just being sarcastic.
For one thing, the follow up single “Principal’s Office“, a Fresh Prince-y take on getting in trouble at school, charted at a decent peak of #33, even spending 14 weeks on the charts. For another, Young also wrote U.S. #2 and #3 hit songs with “Wild Thing” and “Funky Cold Medina”, repectively- ghostwritten for his less talented buddy, Tone Loc.
2 Mr. Mister – “Broken Wings” and “Kyrie”
One of the only serious challengers to Duran Duran for Most Redundant Band Name Ever, Mr. Mister released three albums (!) between 1984 and 1987. The middle effort, Welcome To The Real World, yielded the song for which they are most remembered, the #1 hit “Broken Wings“, and for all its novelty, it’s a pretty good song- catchy and atmospheric, with a percolating bassline and unique arrangement. You could pick a worse song for your one hit, but you know where we’re going with this.
Mr. Mister’s follow-up single “Kyrie” was ALSO a #1 smash hit in the U.S., Canada and Norway, and they also managed to reach #8 with “Is It Love”. If you’re not remembering “Kyrie” it might be because of the weird pronunciation. The song makes frequent use of the Greek Phrase “Kyrie eleison“, meaning “Lord have mercy” and pronounced “KEE-ree-ay LAY-zon”- many of you probably remember it as that song from the 80’s about the guy who needs to carry a laser down the road that he must travel.
1 Men Without Hats – “The Safety Dance” and “Pop Goes the World”
For our final entry, we are firmly within the realm of quintessential one-hit artists; artists that everybody in the world knows only had one SONG, let alone one hit, and Canadian New Wave outfit Men Without Hats certainly qualifies. Why, they may have just as well named their band the Safety Dancers, because their 30-year old monster #1 hit song can be recited by heart by some children whose parents weren’t even born in 1983. It’s the song that asserts that we can dance if we want to, we can leave this world behind, and its maddeningly simple mid C-high C synth line might be the single catchiest thing ever recorded.
Yes, Men Without Hats are known far and wide throughout the Internet and blogosphere as charter members of the One-Hit Wonder Society, totally incorrectly. Because the title track to their 1987 album Pop Goes The World was on the charts for almost as many weeks (twenty) as “The Safety Dance” (twenty-four), charted at number 20, and- get this- when you hear it, you’ll recognize it. It’s nearly as ubiquitous and catchy as their signature tune, but if you knew this was a Men Without Hats song, we will eat our hats in tribute to you and the band.