The Top Ten One Hit Wonders


Oliver Barnfield

Groups and artists are sometimes given their fifteen minutes of fame, and that’s it.

Think of your favorite songs. Without a doubt you’ve listened to their music beyond the song you first listened to. But other times, you simply never listen past that first song, and neither do many others. Bands such as Blur and Modest Mouse may have only one real hit, but critically they are well known, and they have a dedicated fanbase. Yet others have one big hit and disappear, with no other hits under their name and little to no critical acclaim. These are the one hit wonders, and many are justly unknown past their big success. You can count on one hand the amount of people who love Crazy Frog, or can name another song by “him” besides Axel F. But others have a legitimately good hit, and for whatever reason are unknown past it. You may not know their names, but you certainly know their one big song. 


10. Play that Funky Music by Wild Cherry

Four white boys from Ohio made one of the funkiest songs of all time, a fiery disco track about… playing funky music, a subject that the band clearly knew well.  One of the seminal songs of disco, the song was based on a concert they played, where the audience began shouting at them to “play that funky music, white boy.” They used this phrase as the chorus to their biggest hit, backed with an infectious groove. But unlike KC and the Sunshine Band, the other major white disco band, Wild Cherry never topped their hit single. 


9. Bittersweet Symphony by The Verve

Propelled by an unforgettable string hook, this 1997 alternative song is still popular today. With a soaring chorus and great lyrics, it’s surprising that The Verve never equalled its success. Bittersweet Symphony included samples from an orchestral version of a Rolling Stones song, leading to a lengthy lawsuit. The Verve never really recovered from the price they had to pay for sampling, but will always be remembered for their fantastic and powerful single.


8. Tequila by The Champs

The name may not be familiar, but the song is. Led by an infectious saxophone hook, this 1958 jazz rock song has been immortalized forever due to its use in one of the world’s greatest movie scenes, that being Pee Wee Herman’s famous walk across the bar in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.


7. Missing by Everything But the Girl

Originally a slow, acoustic song, this 1995 dance track was remixed by Todd Terry into a pounding club track that makes the song’s melancholy lyrics somehow sadder. A cryptic tone makes it sound like the missing person referred to in the title could legitimately be gone forever. While it might seem like the song is about a lost love, dig deeper and you’ll find a story that is more Unsolved Mysteries than The Notebook.


6. Torn by Natalie Imbruglia

Officially the most played song of the 90s in the United Kingdom, Australian singer Natalie Imbruglia had other songs that were mildly successful in other territories, but this song stands out amongst the others. A fantastic and well-crafted song, Torn features Imbruglia’s clear and melodic voice drifting atop an evergreen instrumentation, and its success was furthered by a creative music video. With a perfect pop song and an appealing voice, Imbruglia seemed destined for super stardom. Sadly, her follow ups weren’t as golden as Torn, and its success hasn’t been equaled.  


5. Melt with You by Modern English

Very few songs capture the feeling of falling in love as well as Modern English’s 1982 new wave smash Melt With You. An almost perfect track, Melt With You features gleaming guitar melodies and a deceptively simple hook, but unfortunately Modern English never released a song as good, or as popular as Melt With You. They still have a small but devoted following, continue to tour, and have recently released a recording of the song performed during quarantine. 


4. Lovefool by The Cardigans

1996’s Lovefool has one of the catchiest hooks of all time, with the unforgettable chorus of “love me love me, say that you love me”, ensuring the song a place in the public consciousness for years to come. The Cardigan’s big hit defies genre, with a vaguely 1960s sound but also a slight 90s edginess that makes the song seem timeless. With a hit as classic as this, The Cardigans probably didn’t need another hit, but they continued to record and have several songs that are quite good, although none have the summery quality that Lovefool possesses. 


3. Flagpole Sitta by Harvey Danger

The 90s alternative scene provided no shortage of one hit wonders, and this song is one of the best. A fast paced and hyper literate pop punk gem, the group behind it sprung from the 90s grunge scene of Seattle. While they never followed it up with anything substantial, lead singer Sean Nelson is now a successful music journalist, which makes sense considering their verbose lyrics.


2. Maniac by Micheal Sembello

The spookiest song on this list, and one of the best, this 80s classic originated from the soundtrack of the hit movie Flashdance. Despite the film’s success, this song has long outlasted it in popularity. A well written pop song with a fantastic hook, it was originally conceived as an ode to a serial killer. Sembello altered it to be about “a steel town girl on a saturday night, looking for the fight of her life”, in his own words. Its memorable lyrics such as these that gave the song more longevity than Irene Cera’s Flashdance theme, the other big hit from the film’s soundtrack. 


1. Standing Outside of a Broken Phone Booth with Money in my Hand by Primitive Radio Gods

While this song may be the most obscure song on this list, it’s also the best. This morose and hip hop inspired alternative song features downbeat vocals and a memorable sample, sounding a bit like a Moby song. The lyrics are some of the best in music history, evoking a faded nostalgia and a sense of forgotten love. As it ascends into clamorous noise, and the sound of airplanes (recorded at frontman Chris O’Conner’s job as an air traffic controller), it reaches a beautiful peak. A song unlike any other, and one that is mostly forgotten today.