Rock Out at Home: A few of Our Favourite One-Hit Wonders
Published on 29 May 2020
Did you ever hear that saying: ‘Everybody has one good book inside them’?
Some bands are like that. They’ve got one amazing song, or at least one really popular song, and then nothing.
It’s like they never existed after the hit. You don’t really know what they look like any more, or what they’ve been up to in the years following that one epic smash, but everyone still knows their song!
We don’t know if it’s a nice thing or not, since we’ve not had our hit song yet, but today we’d like to gather together ten of these strange cultural artefacts for all to enjoy.
Now, there are definitely more than just ten one-hit wonders out there, that’s for sure. Some acts, like those dubious Russian teens Tatu, had three discernible hits before giving up the ghost, so they don’t count as one-hit wonders. We also found the likes of Mr Blobby to be too tedious/creepy to indulge another surfacing, so that was struck off, too. It’s one of those types of lists, really.
Anyway, please enjoy our pick of ten great songs from bands who may well have been good, mediocre or just incredibly lucky. Let us know your favourites, and those that we missed, in the comments.
My Sharona – The Knack
These guys certainly had a knack for writing one decent tune! With a groove that’s as effective as it is basic, this ‘drunk uncle at a wedding’ anthem still creeps up in adverts and such to this very day. The song’s author, Doug Fieger, wrote My Sharona about his girlfriend, and admitted that he wrote it “from the perspective of a 14-year-old boy”. We don't really know what to make of that, to be honest. It’s referred to as The Knack’s ‘debut’ single, which is technically is, but who ever heard the follow-up?
Black Betty – Ram Jam
This song somehow occupies a similar headspace to My Sharona, with its groovy riffin’ and late 70s ‘white American guys’ vibe. The song’s actually ancient, being attributed to Leadbelly (the most highly-referenced-by-hipsters Blues guy ever) but it probably pre-dates even him.
Nick Cave also made a version in the mid 80s, but it’s the 1977 Ram Jam version that gets the prize. These guys look like they’re straight out of a slightly more chill Texas Chainsaw Massacre, playing out on the lawn of their big ol’ house in the country, surrounded by hot, grooving friends. It’s a pretty excellent video, frankly. What are these guys up to now?
You Only Get What You Give – The New Radicals
This one-hit wonder is a rare beast indeed: an optimistic song that gets political and makes fun of celebrities, all whilst sounding like it’s having fun. Writer/singer Gregg Alexander says he wrote the celebrity-attacking lyrics as a test to see which part of the song got the most press.
Or, he was bitter at being snubbed at Hollywod parties or something. In fact, his decision to wear all of his clothes outside-in on Top of the Pops, as well as his penchant for Stone Roses cica 1991 bucket hats, were deemed the most press-worthy mentionables at the time. Still, great song, with some interesting lyrics, regardless of the regrettable headwear.
Closing Time – Semisonic
Can a band actually fail by being too vanilla? We think this may have happened to Semisonic. In the mid-to-late 90s, the Alternative Rock genre allowed a lot of distinctly mediocre music to find a home on MTV2, back in a time period between the greatness of Nirvana and the...something of Limp Bizkit. Nevertheless, Semisonic’s hit song was nice enough, we suppose, and appealed to people who bought most of their music at Tesco during their weekly shop. Singer Dan Wilson has gone on to enjoy a long and successful career as a writer, producer and solo artist. Go on, Dan!
You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet – Bachman-Turner Overdrive
This is a bit of a funny one. Canadian rockers Bachman-Tuner Overdrive have actually sold over 30 million albums worldwide, so they’re nothing like a one hit wonder! Having said that, how many songs of theirs do you know besides this one? Does anyone? Those 30 million sales may well all be in North America, frankly, since nobody over here knows much about this mysteriously massive band.
Now, if all of their songs are like this little gem of soft rock energy, then we are the ones missing out! It’s from 1974 and, like all good Rock songs from the 70s, is about a guy meeting a ‘devil woman’ and being ‘given some love’. Ah, for simpler times!
Len – Steal My Sunshine
Evoking a strangely nostalgic pre-Millennial time in culture, Len’s infectious one-hit wonder came around when poppy songs often mixed Rock, sampling and skate culture credibility in a kind of sound that doesn't really exist right now.
This song, released in March 1999, features the dual vocals of brother and sister Marc and Sharon Costanzo, which somewhat alters the expected dynamic... The tune also contains a sample from the 70s disco classic ‘More, More, More’ by Andrea True Connection, which itself is something of a one-hit wonder. What remains is an uplifting, open-hearted Summer song with a happy attitude. Now's a good time for such a song!
99 Luftballons – Nena
Is it technically a one-hit one when there are two versions out there with different language vocals? Yes. It’s the same song.
This instantly evocative anthem from 1983 creates a real mirage of the 80s, a synth-led upbeat tune that somehow also manages to also be rather heartbreaking. It can’t be anything to do with the lyrics, which seem to be OTT madness describing UFOs and war ministers. We’d go with the German language version, where our linguistic obliviousness works in our favour.
99 Luftballons has appeared in many films over the years, usually used in stark contrast to visually heavy or dark scenes. A terrifying drug deal in Boogie Nights springs to mind, but there are more...
Can You Dig it? – The Mock Turtles
We’ll need that New Radicals guy's hat for this one! If ever a song described Manchester’s ‘baggy’ scene, it would be this one. Until Vodafone bought it and used it for the last 50 years in every single marketing campaign, that is.
Who were the Mock Turtles? No idea. The name comes from a sad creature in Alice in Wonderland, which doesn’t exactly scream ‘Hacienda’ at us, but that’s where it came from! The song does instantly bring to mind a certain swaggery walk/dance and slurred, drunken male facial expression, which is too bad really. The song was originally a B-side (remember them?) and the title was a quote from bonkers gang-violence movie The Warriors.
Video Killed the Radio Star - The Buggles
This ambitious pop epic was put together by studio-wizard Trevor Horn. He since went on to some quite big things (Grace Jones, Frankie Goes to Hollywood), so calling this a one-hit wonder doesn’t so much relate to him as it does his band, the Buggles.
Who were the Buggles? Well, you may have heard of the keyboard player. He went on to write the theme tune for ITV game show Going for Gold! Good gig! Plus, he also ended up scoring other things like Gladiator, The Dark Knight and Inception...
Yup, Hans Zimmer was a Buggle!
Is he on this tune? Well, you can definitely see him in the video if you keep your eyes peeled, so maybe... Either way, Video Killed the Radio Star is a bit of a random delight, with a touch of that same vague, melancholic ache present that we’ve been noticing in a few of these one-hit wonders. Why random? Well, both Trevor Horn and non-Hans keyboardist Geoff Downes went on to join Prog-legends Yes shortly after this! Curveball!
Teenage Dirtbag – Wheatus
No way did this guy ever go to see Iron Maiden. With a lyric that stands as the apotheosis of geek wish fulfilment, Wheatus’ only big hit told a tale of the teen loser winning the hand of the hot cheerleader or whatever, amidst a whiny voice, a catchy grungy chorus and that Stone Roses bucket hat AGAIN!
Teenage Dirtbag was released (people didn’t ‘drop’ songs until many years later) in 2000, when teen movies were massive. The song was a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic, leadin straight on to...an Erasure cover? Why do that? Though an undeniably great tune, this was a silly move for any brand-new band to make. Didn’t they have more of their own songs?
One-hit wonder status secured, Wheatus are, to their credit, still at it. The hit (no plural) may be a long time in the past, but enough people still want to hear it, and presumably the Erasure song, so fair dos!
Well, after swimming through that quite excellent selection of songs, we are led toward only one possible conclusion: one-hit wonders are a massively important part of our cultural and emotional journey as music fans! What a surprise! But really, where would we be without the one-hit wonder?
Some bands are around for a good time, not a long time. We’re fine with that, and we look forward to more concentrated nuggets of greatness from those bands that can give only that and no more. We take your offerings and we thank you!
Thanks for reading