Judging by the many, many, many VH1 specials chronicling one-hit wonders, it’s obvious people love the idea of a musician striking gold once and then fading away into utter obscurity. That one song is usually a hook-laden earworm that won’t leave your head for the next week after hearing it, and thus most one-hit wonders are relegated to “novelty” status. They were interesting for three minutes and that was it.
Except that’s almost never the case. Most of the groups people deemed one-hit wonders actually hit the charts several times over. In a couple cases, the song they’re most famous for was NOT even their most popular song. It was, however the one most likely to stick in your brain twenty years later, and thus it gets the glory.
Whenever you write a song about masturbation, featuring a hot girl on vocals, you are almost guaranteed a hit. So it is with the Divinyls, who’s 1990 hit I Touch Myself was a huge success, reaching #2 on US charts and number 1 in Australia. And then, with the public having grown tired of pretty Australian girls with pouty lips singing about touching themselves, the Divinyls disappeared.
Unless you lived in Australia, because they were all over the place there. From 1981 to 1996, nineteen of their singles charted, with six placing on the top 20. And then over in America, the band had a hit before I Touch Myself; 1985’s Pleasure and Pain reached #12.
9. Natalie Imbruglia
Speaking of pretty Australian girls with pouty lips, Natalie Imbruglia hit the ground running with Torn, a 1997 mega-hit that still gets played incessantly today. However, the song’s overplayed nature, combined with the fact that it was a cover, plus Britney Spears showing up at roughly the same time and being far more blatantly sexual, seemingly sent Natalie back to the Outback permanently.
She remained quite popular in her native Aussie though, with three additional top-20 hits, though even they have grown sick of her over the past few years. Italy, however, has it big for her; not every one of her singles charts, but when they do, they chart big. Her 2009 single Want, seemingly heard by Natalie and her mom and that’s about it, managed to make it to #6 in Chef Boyardee’s homeland. Being naked save for a body-stocking in her video probably didn’t hurt either; rumor has it Italians like hot women too.
8. Lou Bega
Yes, the mambo guy. He hit it huge in 1999 with Mambo #5, a poorly-sung ode to all his fictional girlfriends, sung over a very extensive sample of a 1949 instrumental mambo of the same name. He then took his one note and rode it for all it was worth, even recording a song on the same album with the SAME CHORUS. Seriously, listen to this song and tell me you didn’t sing A LITTLE BIT OF _____ in its place.
Bega appeared to be the very definition of a one-hit novelty wonder, and yet he has at least three follow-ups that did well. France even took the imaginatively-titled Mambo Mambo all the way to #11 back in 2000, though nothing since 2001 has even come close to being considered a hit. Perhaps we’re not such a stupid species after all.
7. A Flock of Seagulls
If there’s any 80’s group that would be the definition of “one-hit-wonder”, it would be these guys. This 80’s synth-pop band with a hairstyle made famous in all the wrong ways by There’s Something About Mary got on the map with 1982’s I Ran (So Far Away). The song reached #3 in the US, #1 in Australia, and forever pigeonholed the band as having one song and that’s it. Perhaps the song’s video, where the lead singer shows off his mad finger-on-piano-key-other-finger-on-other-key skills, had a little something to do with it
Oddly enough, not only did the Seagulls have several other hits, one of them, Wishing (If I Had A Photograph Of You) performed far better than I Ran despite being largely forgotten about by this point. It reached #10 in England, whereas I Ran only made it to #43, and it equaled I Ran in the US with a #3 position. Must be all them fancy parentheses.
6. Toni Basil
She sang Mickey. You might not actually have recognized her by name alone, so I decided to be nice and help out. Her 1982 cheerleader sing-a-long put her on the map, hitting #1 in the US and leading more than a few listeners to assume her name really was Mickey.
Really, all she’s remembered for is the ‘hey Mickey you so fine’ chant, though she did exceedingly well in US dance charts until the time she decided to stop recording things. In the two years after Mickey, she had three songs make the Top 10 in US dance, including a little ditty called Shoppin’ From A to Z. Based on her lack of work from 1990 on, she might want to reduce her shopping list to maybe a couple letters of the alphabet and that’s it.
5. Dexy’s Midnight Runners
Another quintessential 80’s novelty band, Dexy and his Runners are known for one thing, and one thing only: Come On Eileen, the banjo-and-fiddle-laden ditty that rode Dexy’s overalls all the way to #1 everywhere. Many people probably think they recorded one song and that’s it.
Not only is that untrue, and not only have they had other hits, but they even had a #1 years before Eileen: Geno was #1 in 1980, two years before Eileen. Admittedly, that was only in the UK, and it never charted at all anywhere else. Actually, aside from Eileen, nothing else the Runners have done have been a hit outside of England. Perhaps the Brits know something we don’t. Somebody volunteer to overdose on tea for a few years and get back to us with any new Dexy-related insights, ‘K?
4. Big Country
In many people’s eyes, a band naming their one hit song after themselves absolutely reeks of putting all your eggs in one musical basket. Big Country did just that in 1983, hitting #3 in the States with In A Big Country. The fact that they added “In A” to the title did little to deter confusion and pretty much everything else the band did has been forgotten about by the general public. Perhaps they’re afraid of being confused further by follow-ups like Leaving The Big Country or Trouble Re-entering a Big Country
Too bad, because Big Country (the band, not the song) had more than its share of hits, including one, Look Away, which was a bigger hit than Big Country (the song, not the band) ever was. It was their highest-charting song in every country save the US but, even there, Look Away still reached #5 in 1986. Such an accomplishment in a year that brought us such classic gems as Eddie Murphy’s Party All The Time and TWO Mr. Mister songs, cannot be understated.
3. Bow Wow Wow
The hit that these guys are known for, I Want Candy, barely charted anywhere but England, which seems to be the Island Of Misfit Toys for 80’s artists quickly forgotten by other countries. MTV’s constant playing of the video, coupled with the lead singer’s knack for being female, barely clothed, and barely legal, ensured this song would be remembered for years to follow.
But even in England, Candy was overshadowed by another song, Go Wild In the Country, which hit #7 months before Candy, which made it to #9. The singer, breaking from her tradition of being barely clothed, decided instead to go with no clothes at all for the album’s cover shoot; that might have played a part or two.
2. Crash Test Dummies
In late-1993, the Dummies hit pay dirt with Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm, a song about how the singer had no idea what to write about that day, so he warbled some random stories about white hair and birthmarks, and then let us know how much he loved Campbell’s Soup. This somehow became a huge hit, despite the singer’s voice being so low that anglerfish in the deepest, darkest depths of the ocean tell him to turn that crap down.
Outside of their native Canada, the Dummies were literally one-hit wonders, not charting high before or after Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm. In Canada though, they were huge, with eight songs in the Top 20, all of which equaled or surpassed Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm in popularity. No #1’s though; Canadian love only goes so far, you know.
1. Vanilla Ice
Why yes, this guy DID have more than one hit. And if you were a music consumer back in 1990, you might well have let this happen. Aren’t you ashamed?
It didn’t have to be this way. Ice could’ve been a literal, world-wide one-hit wonder after Ice Ice Baby ran its course, but no. Capitalizing on the success of Baby, Ice’s label re-released his first single, Play That Funky Music. It had flopped the first time around but, now that Ice was popular, they decided to give Funky another go. And yes, the public lapped it up. Despite being nothing more than a rap cover of the Wild Cherry song of the same name, it reached #4 in the US and hit the top 20 in many other countries. After THAT, we finally woke up and Ice was banished to the Pit Of Mordor, never to chart again. The record-buying public wasn’t stupid after all; just a little slow.