What is a One Hit Wonder?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Many popular dance club artists are known as one hit wonders.
Many popular dance club artists are known as one hit wonders.

The term One Hit Wonder describes an artist or band who had great popularity with a single song, and who then never reached such popularity again. Even though many people who technically fall into the One Hit Wonder class continued to write, perform and produce music, they never again reach the somewhat iconic stature that their One Hit Wonder song gave them for a short period of time. Often, songs produced by One Hit Wonder bands become significant of the time period in which they were produced, and such songs are often included in compilation albums representing the period.

Some bands technically only have one hit that reaches the top 40 of the Billboard charts, but they would not be considered One Hit Wonder bands. In some cases, a band, which produces an alternative style of music, simply doesn’t receive the same airplay that other bands do, but are still extremely popular. For example, artists like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, and Siouxsie and the Banshees all only had one such documented hit.

In the case of Hendrix and Joplin, their lives ended too quickly for enough music to earn them more spots on the billboard charts. Siouxsie and the Banshees continued to enjoy modest success as a punk/new wave band, but simply didn’t get much airplay. The Grateful Dead also had only one hit, but their influence in the music world was extremely far reaching. Grateful Dead concerts continued until shortly before the death of Jerry Garcia in 1995.

The true One Hit Wonder does not actually become recognized as a band, or artist. Instead they are generally associated with one song only. The One Hit Wonder often disappears into obscurity after their one popular song.

From the 1950s onward, one can track One Hit Wonder bands or artists. Generally they are associated with the most popular music of their era. So a 1950s artist would have produced rock and roll, while a 1970s artist would be associated with disco. 1980s One Hit Wonder artists are often either heavy metal or new wave artists.

Some 1950s One Hit Wonder songs include:

  • “Cry me a River” performed by Julie London
  • “Earth Angel” by the Penguins
  • “Lollipop” by Ronald and Ruby
  • “Sea of Love” by Phil Phillips and the Twilights
  • “Sh’Boom” by the Chords.

    One Hit Wonder songs of the 1960s include the following:

  • “Harper Valley P.T.A.” by Jeannie C. Riley
  • “Jesus is a Soul Man” by Lawrence Reynolds
  • “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” by Steam
  • “Teen Angel” by Mark Dinning
  • “Wipe Out” by the Surfaris.

    The 1970s saw songs like these become One Hit Wonder songs:

  • “Lovin’ You” by Minnie Riperton
  • “Play that Funky Music” by Wild Cherry
  • “Pop Muzik” by M
  • “Ring My Bell” by Anita Ward
  • “Knock on Wood” by Amii Stewart.

    1980s with the 1970s are the true One Hit Wonder eras in many ways. 1980s One Hit Wonders include:

  • “99 Luftballons” by Nena
  • “Come on Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners
  • “Just Got Lucky” by JoBoxers
  • “Love Plus One” by Haircut 100
  • “My Ever Changing Moods” by Style Council
  • “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell.

    Artists from the 1990s who produced One Hit Wonder songs may fall out of the class if they make successful comebacks. Here are a few One Hit Wonders from the 90s:

  • “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-a-Lot
  • “Come Baby Come” by K7
  • “Groove is in the Heart” by Deee-Lite
  • “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by the Proclaimers
  • “Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohn

    Though some people list One Hit Wonders of the 2000s, it’s a bit early to proclaim such bands as truly finished. It remains to be seen what One Hit Wonder artists will be classified as by the end of the decade and thereafter.

  • Tricia Christensen
    Tricia Christensen

    Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

    Tricia Christensen
    Tricia Christensen

    Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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    Discussion Comments

    anon973124

    To me, there are some great bands who are much better off *not* having a one-off hit. I think of the progressive art band The Residents, for example. Maybe they don't have a song like "Mickey" or "Who Let The Dogs Out?" to play at every concert, but they're still top notch musicians.

    Sometimes these pop hits are so well-crafted that just about any group of musicians anywhere would have had a hit with them. But just because Men Without Hats came up with a catchy song like "Safety Dance" didn't mean they were going to pack out arenas for decades to come.

    anon973120

    I think some of these groups who became one hit wonders were just doomed from the beginning. They got lucky when a producer found a song suited to their style and let them record it, but they didn't really have the overall talent to keep going in the music business. They might have had more hits if another producer found another hooky pop song in the slush pile, but that just didn't happen.

    Rotergirl

    @Pippinwhite -- I remember every one of those songs! I think one of my favorite 80s one hit wonder songs was "The Rain" by Oran "Juice" Jones. We loved to sing that one in the car.

    Remember "It's Raining Men" by the Weather Girls? Hysterical.

    I think you're right. Most of the one hit wonders were really catchy songs. Too bad the singers couldn't come up with follow-up hits.

    Pippinwhite

    The interesting thing about one hit wonders is they often made some of the more memorable music of their times. I was a kid in the 70s, but the songs "Undercover Angel" by Alan O'Day, "Escape (the Pina Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes, "Thunder Island" by Jay Ferguson and "Chevy Van" by Sammy Johns all stick in my head. If any of these artists had another hit, I'm not aware of it.

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      • Many popular dance club artists are known as one hit wonders.
        Many popular dance club artists are known as one hit wonders.