FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY – THE ULTIMATE PLAYLIST OF ONE-HIT WONDERS

12-14 July 2019. North Sea Jazz Festival, Ahoy Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Concert of Macy Gray

Since the UK singles chart was first introduced in 1952, there’s been one type of hit that’s guaranteed to start a conversation; and that’s the good old one-hit wonder. These are often looked down upon, seen as light and fluffy and not great quality; not ‘proper’ music, the marshmallows of pop. But most of these songs had great commercial success and there’s no denying that they’ve endured. You may well pride yourself on owning all of Leonard Cohen’s back catalogue, but we’re certain you can identify the Macarena in less than 10 seconds.

The 80s were particularly great at producing one-hit wonders, maybe because that decade saw the emergence of so many new genres, but other decades have contributed too.

To avoid too many arguments, our definition of a one-hit wonder is a band/artist that is primarily known for a certain hit; some are serious, some are funny, some are just plain weird, but they all captured our hearts and our ears even if just for a short time. So, prepare yourself to be plagued by earworms for the rest of the day, and let’s get going.

MACY GRAY – I TRY

Released in September 1999 with its mix of a great melody and emotional lyrics sung by Macy Gray’s distinctive, soulful voice, it got to number 6 in the UK charts and bagged her a Grammy in the 2001 awards for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. The song was a step away from her usual style and she hadn’t wanted it to be released as a single; she even fought with her record label about it. Listen here.

NORMAN GREENBAUM – SPIRIT IN THE SKY

Inspired by hearing a gospel song on TV, Norman Greenbaum wrote the lyrics to ‘Spirit in the Sky’ in just 15 minutes. With its distinctive, distorted guitar sound and mix of rock, gospel and blues, the song was ranked by Billboard as the No. 22 song of 1970 and it’s kept Greenbaum in cash ever since, partly due to its use in various films and ads. It hit No.1 again when it was covered by Doctor and the Medics in 1986, and Gareth Gates in 2003. Listen here.

THE KNACK – MY SHARONA

Another instantly recognisable track from its bassline alone, ‘My Sharona’ hit the charts in 1979, getting to No. 1 in the UK. Apparently written in 15 minutes, it was one of the most popular songs of 1979 and even called ‘the song of the decade’. It has been credited with signaling the end of disco and the start of the rock era of the late 70s/early 80s and it’s also claimed that it was the inspiration for Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’. Listen here.

Miami, FL, USA: June 2021: Synth-pop and new wave band, The Soft Cell music album on vinyl record LP disc. Titled: Tainted Love album cover

SOFT CELL – TAINTED LOVE

A song that seems to sum up a whole decade in 2 minutes 11 seconds of perfect 80s pop synth, Tainted Love hit the charts in 1981. It reached No.1 in 17 countries and was Britain’s bestselling single of that year. The song was actually a cover of the 1964 song by Gloria Jones (who went on to sing with T. Rex and was in a relationship with Marc Bolan). Soft Cell went on to have 12 top 40 hits, including Bedsitter, Torch, What, and Say Hello, Wave Goodbye, but Tainted Love is the hit that’s usually associated with them. Listen here.

GNARLS BARKLEY – CRAZY

Even 18 years after its release in 2006, the distinctive beat in the first few seconds of this track makes it instantly recognisable. It was the best-selling single of 2006, spent 9 weeks at No.1 and was named Rolling Stones Number 1 song of the 2000s. Gnarls Barkley, who consist of music producer Danger Mouse, who worked with Jay-Z and Gorillaz, and singer CeeLo Green, who wrote Don’t Cha for the Pussycat Dolls, removed the song from record shops after 9 weeks at the top of the charts, so that people would remember it fondly and not be annoyed by it. While both artists went on to do well in other areas, they didn’t replicate the success of Crazy. Listen here.

CHUMBAWAMBA – TUB THUMPING

A battle cry for a whole generation, Chumbawamba’s hit stomped to No. 2 in the UK singles charts in 1997, which was a surprise for everyone, not least the fans of this anarchist collective from Leeds whose speciality was political songs. Always a controversial band, they encouraged fans to steal their CDs from big record shops instead of buying them if they couldn’t afford them, and they famously poured a jug of water over the then Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, at the 1998 BRIT Awards. The song basically lists alcoholic drinks and repeats the phrase ‘I get knocked down/But I get up again/You’re never gonna keep me down’ 29 times. For a band who weren’t interested in mainstream success, their song hit the top ten in 17 different countries and its video was all over MTV. They split up in 2012. Listen here.

BONTIDA, ROMANIA - JULY 16, 2017: American hip hop band from Los Angeles, California, House of Pain performing a live show at Electric Castle festival

HOUSE OF PAIN – JUMP AROUND

Released in 1992, ‘Jump Around’ was House of Pain’s first single. It instantly became a crowd pleaser; the first 5 seconds with its horn fanfare sampled from Bob and Earl’s Harlem Shuffle, are guaranteed to fill a dance floor, partly because of its distinctive ‘squeal’, and partly because no dance skills are required – you just need to be able to jump. It was ranked at 580 in Q magazine’s ‘1001 Best Songs Ever’ and 30 years later it’s still a classic on the dance floor, from nightclubs to weddings; even though the original fans might need to do more of a gentle bounce than an actual jump these days. Listen here.

THE BUGGLES – VIDEO KILLED THE RADIO STAR

The Buggles were only around for five years, and they released ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ in September 1979. It consists of everything you need for a classic pop song and quite fittingly, considering it’s a song about the changing ways that pop music is being consumed by its fans, it was the first music video to be shown on MTV in the US in 1981. One of the co-writers, Trevor Horn went on to become a successful musician and record producer and was so influential he’s been called ‘the man who invented the Eighties’. Listen here.

BABYLON ZOO – SPACEMAN

‘Spaceman’ was released in 1996, slap bang in the middle of the ‘Levis ad’ era which lasted from the mid-80s to the early 2000s. Levis ads were famous for resurrecting classic songs such as ‘Stand by Me’ and ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’ and they used ‘Spaceman’ in their 1995 campaign ‘Planet’. It spent 5 weeks at No. 1 and was the fastest selling debut single in British pop history. However, this went on to be their only hit and, nearly 30 years later, while the song’s hook that was used in the ad is still instantly recognisable in the first 30 seconds, most people would struggle to identify the song from its verse. Listen here.

Camp Bestival - 30th July, 2017:  Brothers Richard and Fred  Fairbrass  with British duo Right Said Fred performing at Camp Bestival, Lulworth, Dorset 30 July 2017, UK

RIGHT SAID FRED – I’M TOO SEXY

If you had a time machine and went back to the summer of 1991, there would only be two songs you’d hear on the radio – Bryan Adams’ ‘(Everything I do) I Do It For You’, which hogged the No. 1 spot for 16 weeks, and the song that was snapping at its heels, ‘I’m Too Sexy’ by Right Said Fred, a band who took their name from a Bernard Cribbins song. Originally recorded as an indie rock song, it was re-worked into a cheesy dance track with an annoying but catchy hook with a riff borrowed from Jimi Hendrix. It stayed at No. 2 for 6 consecutive weeks and while the band did go on to have a No.1 with ‘Deeply Dippy’, it’s ‘I’m Too Sexy’ that people tend to remember/try to forget. Listen here.

VANILLA ICE – ICE ICE BABY

It’s 1990, you’re in a slip dress and some chunky trainers, or maybe a shell suit and a bucket hat; so which song is guaranteed to get you on the dance floor, bumbag swinging? That’s right, it’s ‘Ice Ice Baby’, with its Queen/David Bowie ‘Under Pressure’ sample, and its catchy beat. It reached No. 1 in the UK and was the first hip-hop single to top the Billboard 100. However, Vanilla Ice (or, to use his slightly less hip-hop sounding name, Robert Van Winkle) lost credibility as a rapper and the song was 5th on the VH1 list of ‘50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs Ever’. The fact that it was eventually covered by Alvin and the Chipmunks probably didn’t help its credibility. Listen here.

SEATTLE - April 10:  Indie Rock Star Gotye performs on stage at the Showbox Sodo in Seattle on April 10, 2012

GOTYE – SOMEBODY THAT I USED TO KNOW (FEAT. KIMBRA)

With a xylophone melody inspired by Baa Baa Black Sheep, this 2011 duet spoke to a lot of people about the pain of the end of a relationship. It was No.1 in the UK and was the most successful single by an Australian artist in Australia in the 2010s. It was accompanied by a video that became almost as famous as the song; using stop motion animation that showed both singers gradually being covered in paint. Another unexpected side effect of this song is all the parodies – it seems that everyone has had a go at their own interpretation; including Star Wars, The Muppets and a Dutch choir! Listen here.


The music industry can be really fickle; some bands seemingly stay around forever, some bands come and go, and some come and go and then come back again (read our blog about some of the best musical comebacks). A lot of one-hit wonders are the musical equivalent of eating sweets; a quick sugar high without any nutritional value. Some are novelty songs (Aqua’s Barbie Girl), some are seasonal (this applies to most of the Christmas songs we love to hate), some we associate with being on holiday (hello Las Ketchup’s The Ketchup Song) and some are associated with world events (Fat Les’ Vindaloo – a parody of one of the England squad’s many football songs, which is a whole other one-hit wonder rabbit hole to go down). But they all share one thing in common; they’re catchy and often instantly recognisable from the opening bars.

So, let’s celebrate the one-hit wonder in all its cheesy glory. And in case that isn’t enough ear worms for you, we can’t talk about one-hit wonders without these honourable mentions:

  • The Vapors – Turning Japanese
  • 4 Non-Blondes – What’s Up.
  • Sir Mix A Lot – Baby Got Back
  • Young Radicals – You Get What You Give
  • PSY – Gangnam Style
  • Lou Bega – Mambo No. 5
  • Kenny Loggins – Danger Zone
  • Toto – Africa
  • Dead or Alive – You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)
  • Carly Rae Jepson – Call Me Maybe
  • Deep Blue Something – Breakfast At Tiffanys

These are our top choices, but we’re pretty certain we’ve only just scratched the surface of the one-hit wonder debate, so which ones would you include?

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