Top 10 One-Hit Wonders

#10. Nena – 99 Luftballoons

The post-apocalyptic nuclear war protest song became an unlikely worldwide hit in 1984.  The band, named after the lead singer’s stage name, never matched that success, and eventually Nena went solo.  She is still popular in Europe to this day, appearing on TV often.  The song that made her famous tells the story of two kids who release 99 red balloons into the sky.  An overreaction from East Germany results in a nuclear war between the East and West that destroys civilization.  The song ends with the main character finding a single red balloon in the ruined world, and letting float off as she thinks of her childhood friend.


#9. Vanilla Ice – Ice Ice Baby

Today it also features on most “worst songs ever” lists, and Vanilla Ice has become a joke, but “Ice Ice Baby” was actually a huge hit.  It was the first hip hop song to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100, and it credited with helping hip hop become popular.  Released in 1990, the song samples a riff from “Under Pressure”.  David Bowie and Queen actually received no credit or royalties until after the song became a hit.  Vanilla Ice was quickly regarded as a novelty act, and thankfully disappeared for the most part.


#8. Right Said Fred – I’m Too Sexy

This criticism of the modeling industry has to be one of the most unlikely hits of all time.  The band is made up of two gym-owning gay brothers Richard and Fred Fairbrass, who released their first single, “I’m Too Sexy” in 1991.  It became massively successful, as it reached number one in Australia, Austria, New Zealand, and the US.  Ironically, it didn’t become number one in the UK, the band’s origin, but yet a later single called “Deeply Dippy” did.  The band’s only hit in the US was “I’m Too Sexy”, but the band is actually not a one-hit wonder in the UK and Germany, where they still remain popular, 7 albums later.


#7. The Knack – My Sharona

Released in 1979, “My Sharona” shot to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, and also reached number one on the Australian and Canadian charts.  The inspiration behind the song was 17 year-old Sharona Alperin, who was the girlfriend of 25 year-old lead singer Doug Frieger at the same.  The song became massively popular, but The Knack soon faced a huge backlash over the band being perceived as rip-offs of The Beatles.  This was coupled with the band’s affection for teenage girls, with many fans upset at the age difference in Frieger and Alperin’s relationship.  When The Knack appeared snobby and rude in interviews when faced with those questions, a “Nuke the Knack” movement was started, and the band’s fame was over.


#6. Dexys Midnight Runners – Come on Eileen

Dexys Midnight Runners can only be considered to be a one-hit wonder in the US, where “Come on Eileen” was their only successful single.  In the UK however, the band had already had a number one hit with “Geno” in 1980, two years before “Come on Eileen” was released.  VH1 named the song the best one-hit wonder of the 80’s, as well as the third best one-hit wonder of all time.  After over 25 years without an album, the band, now known simply as Dexys, is planning on releasing their fourth album in June of this year.


#5. Sinead O’Connor – Nothing Compares 2 U

Sinead O’Connor has always been in the media, normally in a negative light because of her antics, which makes it seem like she has had a successful career.  Its easy to forget that she really only had one hit.  “Nothing Compares 2 U” was actually written by Prince for a side project called The Family.  But when O’Connor covered the song in 1990, it became an international hit, topping the charts in 15 countries.  The iconic music video of her face seemingly floating in a black void also helped to fuel the success of the song, which remains one of the most popular songs of the 90s.


#4. Bobby McFerrin – Don’t Worry Be Happy

In 1988, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” became the first a cappella song to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100.  The song, inspired by a quote by Indian mystic Meher Baba, held the position for 5 weeks, and went on to win Song of the Year and Record of the Year at the following Grammy Awards.  Although McFerrin won an additional 5 Grammy awards during his career, the rest were in smaller Jazz categories, and he never came close to the success of his happy whistling song.


#3. Daniel Powter – Bad Day

The most recent song on this list, “Bad Day” was released by Canadian singer Daniel Powter in 2005.  It was originally successful in his home country, as well as the UK.  But when it was used as a farewell song in the sixth season of American Idol, it immediately rose to number one in the US.  It went on to be named both the number one song of 2005 and the top one-hit wonder of the decade by Billboard.  Daniel Powter never had another song even chart in the Hot 100, making the success of Bad Day even more impressive.


#2. Soft Cell – Tainted Love

When Soft Cell released their cover of a 1965 Gloria Jones song in 1981, their label told them if the single was not popular, the duo would be cut.  Little did they know how popular it would be come.  Synthpop was extremely dominant in UK music at the time, and this helped the song streak up to #1.  In America, it only peaked at #8, but spent a then-record 43 weeks on the Hot 100.  In 2006, Rihanna sampled the song in her hit “SOS”, which helped gain popularity for the forgotten Soft Cell.


#1. Los Del Rio – Macarena

It’s quite possible that no song has ever had such an affect on culture as “Macarena.”  Yet, ask most people who the artist was, and they won’t be able to tell you.  The song was originally recorded in 1993 by Los Del Rio.  But, in 1996, it was remixed by the Bayside Boys, and English lyrics were added.  It became a massive hit, as it hit number one in 13 countries.  The dance it spawned became one of the most famous dances ever in its own right, and the song is widely recognized as the greatest one-hit wonder ever.  It is even listed as #5 on Billboard’s best songs ever.  All that without anyone knowing who actually sung it.


    • Thanks for the comment Keelan. I decided to include Sinead O’Connor because she only had one other song chart in the US, and it only reached 60. Besides Ireland, she never had another song reach the top ten in any country, while Nothing Compares 2 U was number one in 14. As for O-Zone, I excluded them because “Dragostea din tei” was a hit in Europe, but it had no real lasting impact, which is what I was looking for.

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