One-and-done: One Hit Wonders of All-Time

Music to the Ears | Written By, Sachi Kondo |

Sometimes it only takes one massive hit to garner a following of billions. This week, we’ve compiled a number of the world’s greatest hits; some you still sing at the top of your lungs, some you may have forgotten after all this time, but all have one thing in common…

a-ha’s iconic music video for Take On Me (1985) recently hit a billion views on YouTube

There’s no science behind what will be music’s next hit (or miss). Whilst we all have heard of the term, what actually constitutes as a one-hit wonder differs in technicality, according to music critics. (We thought we had it all figured out).

It’s widely used to label acts that gained momentary popularity for a singular piece of work that ultimately cemented the artist’s identity and overshadowed their other work. In a more technical sense, ‘one-hit wonder’ is a title given to those who penetrated the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 once in the band’s lifetime. Those testifying to the latter pay no mind to household names; if you’ve only tasted sweet victory thanks to one high-charting hit, you’re more likely to fall on the same list as this one.

By all means, being a one-hit wonder doesn’t signify ignominy — because, technically, Beck is one despite his multitude of loved tracks and vast fan base.

Stream on Spotify our full set of chart-topping tunes that we’ve loved and perhaps lost overtime. Let’s hit it!

Dancing In The Moonlight by King Harvest (1972)

Undoubtedly timeless and catchy, this ‘70s ultra-dreamy hit is easily everyone’s favourite sing-a-long anthem. It’s also one of the most incorrectly credited classics out there. Adopted by Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, and Toploader (whose cover bolstered the song to a worldwide stage in the early aughts), Dancing In The Moonlight was written in 1968 by Sherman Kelly for his band Boffalongo, which didn’t take off as planned. It reached number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, however, when it was released as a single by King Harvest in 1972.

Come On Eileen – Dexys Midnight Runners (1982)

Before hitting the charts in the United States, legend has it, the ‘80s single was a real-life love story shared between frontman Kevin Rowland and real girl Eileen. The rollicking classic was inspired by their sexual romance they developed when they were both at the young age of 13. Having grown up in a conservative Catholic household, sex and their underage affair was extremely taboo. So, he turned to music and wrote his sole star-studded hit, and one of our all-time favourite dive-bar anthems. 

Take On Me – a-ha (1984)

In Europe, the Norwegian outfit was an ‘80s synth-pop staple, who released hit after hit. Over the pond, they climbed to the top of Billboard Hot 100 in 1985, mostly assisted by a wide exposure from MTV of its avant-garde music video featuring the band in a live-action pencil-sketch sequence. The impact extends until today, when it’s hard to escape the intro without wanting to belt out the climatic chorus.

99 Luftballons – Nena (1983)

German band Nena’s greatest hit bears a rather wholesome background for an anti-war protest song. Guitarist Carlo Karges was at an 1982 Rolling Stones concert in West Berlin when he watched balloons being released and imagined them floating above the Berlin Wall as UFOs. Though its English renditions are equally as popular, the translation arguably doesn’t hit quite the same. But we can all agree the famous hook, rhythm, and crystal-like synth deserved its widespread success in Europe and beyond.

Whats Up? – 4 Non Blondes (1992)

With great airplay success, What’s Up reached number 14 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and peaked as high as number one in European countries, including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, all the way to Australia but never made it back to the top with their other work.

(Ive Had) The Time of My Life by Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes (1987)

Most notably used as the theme song for the 1987 film Dirty Dancing, the million-selling duet bagged an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a Grammy, and topped the Billboard Hot 100 following the film’s release. Medley has then produced more duo songs, without Warnes, such as Unchained Melody.

Mambo No. 5 by Lou Bega (1999)

Lou Bega’s hypnotising hit was originally composed and recorded by Cuban musician Dámaso Perez Prado in 1949 though it didn’t receive the same attention as the former. The mambo jazz number set a record in France for staying at number-one for 20 weeks.

Torn by Natalia Imbruglia (1997)

Another case of successful covers, ‘90s actress Natalia Imbruglia climbed out of her acting career with a victorious international debut that gained more hit titles than the original song from alt-rock band Ednaswap.

Im Gonna Be (500 Miles) by The Proclaimers (1988)

Not only did it become a number one hit in Europe, Australia, and in many’s hearts as an unconventionally sentimental wedding song, the Edinburgh-born track ranked number four on the list of UK’s top one-hit wonders, according to a study by the Digital Media Hub.

Macarena – Los Del Rio (1993)

The Spanish clave rhythm number about a woman called Macarena received several milestones since its early ‘90s release. It became an international anthem and dance craze throughout the second half of the 1990’s, ranked the number one greatest one-hit wonder of all time by VH1 in 2002, and number seven on Billboard’s All Time Top 100 in 2012. With such a considerable impact, the group made their one and only world-hit entirely count.

Baby Got Back – Sir Mix-a-Lot (1992)

In 1992, Baby Got Back was the second best-selling song behind Boyz II Men’s End of the Road. Today, the blatantly sexual lyrics objectifying the female buttocks remain ringing in our heads, at parties and in clubs, as clear as the dialogue intro “Oh my God, Becky!”

Tubthumping – Chumbawamba (1997)

What started as an early eighties politic-centric group that experimented with punk, folk, and dance sounds, British rock Chumbawamba’s most successful one was about getting intoxicated on liquor and beer, leaving an imprint on party anthem essentials beyond the top charts of the ‘90s. In the UK, a tubthumper is actually a term for politician.

Listen to the full playlist below:

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