The term "one-hit wonder" is thrown around derisively, aimed at artists whose pop success were a bit too evanescent – how else could we rationalize Kajagoogoo and Lou Bega to future generations? Here's 20 artists who managed to stick around a little longer. By Keith Harris and Maura Johnston
"Just the Way It Is, Baby" (1990, Number 14) and "I'll Be There for You" (1995, Number 17)
It may have only brushed the lower reaches of the Top 20, but Phil Solem and Danny Wilde's 1995 single "I'll Be There for You" is probably one of the most ubiquitous Nineties pop songs in existence, thanks to its prominent placement in first 46 seconds of carefree ensemble comedy Friends – a syndication staple that's probably playing somewhere right now. The handclap-filled pep-popper presents a stark contrast to the L.A.-based duo's first hit, the breezy (and Squeeze-y) "Just The Way It Is, Baby," an ode to unrequited love marked by Solem and Wilde's wistful harmonies.
"Tenderness" (1984, Number 27) and "I'll Take You There" (1994, Number 22)
After brilliant ska-pop revivalists the English Beat dissolved, Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger hooked up with a pair of Dexy's Midnight Runners, the Specials' bassist, and the Clash's Mick Jones. The buoyant "Tenderness" was General Public 1.0's legacy. A decade later, with all new musicians, Wakeling and Roger returned to the charts by revamping a Staple Singers hit and landing on the soundtrack to the tepid Gen Xploitation flick Threesome – in its climactic scene, Stephen Baldwin lets Josh Charles touch his butt while both dudes are simultaneous sexing Lara Flynn Boyle.
"Good Vibrations" (1991, Number One) and "Wild Side" (1991, Number 10)
In the Eighties, New Kids on the Block fans knew Mark Wahlberg as Donnie's juvenile delinquent younger brother, if they knew him at all. But Mark came dancing into the new decade as the thinking woman's Vanilla Ice, capably delivering ghosted raps over propulsive house music beats on "Good Vibrations," and flexing a beefy social consciousness on the Lou Reed-jacking "Wild Side." And if he was never as good an MC as he was an underwear model, well, no shame in that: There are plenty of legit hip-hop stars who can't rhyme as well as Marky could fill out his Calvin Klein briefs.
"Black Horse And The Cherry Tree" (2006, Number 20) and "Suddenly I See" (2006, Number 21)
This Scottish strummer's first single had a runaway-train feel thanks to its chugging beat and an ample supply of "woo-hoo"s – it was inspired by "old blues, Nashville psycho hillbillies and hazy memories," the singer said. But it didn't capture the ears of American audiences until American Idol runner-up Katharine McPhee performed it on the show in 2006. The optimism-drenched followup "Suddenly I See" had a triumphantly cresting chorus and inspiration from Patti Smith; Tunstall claimed in an interview that the boisterous nature that could make it seem tailor-made for inclusion in a chick flick was completely accidental. On her 2013 album Invisible Empire/Crescent Moon, she swapped in windswept desert brooding for her biggest hits' wide-eyedness.
"He Loves U Not" (2001, Number Two) and "This Is Me" (2001, Number 39)
At the turn of the millennium Total Request Live – the daily MTV countdown show, hosted by Carson Daly – caused crowds to throng in Times Square and pop songs to take off into outer space. One outfit to benefit from the era's teenpop boom was Dream, a P. Diddy-shepherded girl band. Their two biggest hits (both of which were co-written by electro-R&B godfather David Frank) had a supreme confidence that made them catnip for after-school singalongs. The electrified rave-up "He Loves U Not" was a putdown of a pretender to a boyfriend's throne, while the similarly boisterous "This Is Me" declared fealty to a guy who had been done wrong in the past.
"Thong Song" (2000, Number Three) and "Incomplete" (2000, Number One)
Sisqó had seen plenty of heavy-breathing chart action in the Nineties as the lead singer of Dru Hill, but not one of those hits allowed him to share his utter adoration of butts. Like the Royal Teens' "Short Shorts" and Duice's "Dazzy Duks" before it, "Thong Song" recognized that even the greatest of butts needs some skimpy bit of fabric to set off its magnificence. And like those lewd predecessors, "Thong Song" was met with some scorn from tasteful prudes. For them, the more straightforward piano ballad "Incomplete" is recommended.
"Everything About You" (1992, Number Nine) and "Cat's in the Cradle" (1993, Number Six)
Named in direct opposition to L.A. leather-and-lace outfit Pretty Boy Floyd, this California group straddled the line between the hard-rock hookiness that was waning in popularity in Nirvana's Nineties and more au courant alt-rock surliness on their debut single, "Everything About You." It was basically a laundry list of reasons to be displeased with someone, but managed to allow singer Whitfield Crane to show off some not-too-bad MC skills on the bridge. As hard rock bands often did, Ugly Kid Joe followed up its feisty inaugural chart triumph with a weeper that performed even better, giving a pumped-up makeover to Harry Chapin's reflection on the frustrations of modern parenthood.
"(I Just) Died In Your Arms" (1986, Number One) and "I've Been In Love Before" (1987, Number Nine)
The biggest hit by this British band announces itself with pomp and grandiosity. "Ah! I just died in your arms tonight!" declares Cutting Crew founder Nick Van Eede, a choir backing up his claim of sudden expiration (really, a reference to "le petit mort," the French term for reaching one's sexual peak). The song that follows is a mid-tempo lament where prodigious guitar licks complement Van Eede licking his wounds over a woman who walked away after a life-changing night of passion. The less-remembered "Been In Love Before" is a straightforward M.O.R. reflection on relationships gone wrong that still sounds pretty good during angst-filled late-night trips to Sirius-blaring drugstores.
"Society's Child (Baby I've Been Thinking)" (1967, Number 14) and "At Seventeen" (1975, Number Three)
Protest records don't get much weirder than "Society's Child." Produced by "Shadow" Morton, best known for whipping up sonic frenzies on the Shangri-Las' street corner melodramas, this tale of thwarted interracial love, written and sung by 13-year-old Ian, is like Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? starring the Leader of the Pack. Eight years later, "At Seventeen," Ian's sour reminiscence of an adolescence marred by bad skin and getting "picked last for basketball," set a standard for sulk-pop that even our greatest goth whiners and grunge groaners have had difficulty matching.
"Take on Me" (1985, Number One) and "The Sun Always Shines on TV" (1985, Number 20)
In Norway, Paul Waaktaar-Savoy and Magne Furuholmen are reigning pop heroes who scored their 17th Top 10 hit just five years ago. In the U.S., a-ha is remembered for a) a breakthrough music video that playfully mixed animation and live-action, and b) a falsetto so gravity-defiant Prince probably recorded "Kiss" the following year just to spite them. Slight and lovely, "The Sun Always Shines on TV" kept them from being one-hit-wonders. But after that they couldn't even crack the Hot 100 with a James Bond theme. OK, a Timothy Dalton James Bond theme, but still…
"Right Here, Right Now" (1990, Number Two) and "Real, Real, Real" (1990, Number Four)
Fusing guitars with samples and hard electro beats was a novelty when this British group emerged in the late Eighties with its debut album Liquidizer, and critical acclaim naturally followed on that side of the Atlantic. Doubt, Jesus Jones's second album, doubled as its breakthrough in the U.S., thanks in large part to some Big World Event curiosity about the rest of the world (like the locations of the Berlin Wall and the Gulf War) dovetailing nicely with "Right Here, Right Now" and its optimism over "watching the world wake up from history." The next single, "Real, Real, Real," was a slippery snake of a track, worded vaguely enough to be about finding salvation through romantic chemistry or other means.
"Walk Away Renée"(1966, Number 5) and “Pretty Ballerina” (1967, Number 15)
"Walk Away Renée" was a moony farewell to a former love from a New York City teenager named Michael Brown. With delicate strings swirling above delicate vocals resting atop delicate harpsichord, it was as sweet and as light as a cake made wholly of fondant. “Pretty Ballerina” was its worthy follow-up, but by the time the latter hit the charts Brown and the rest of the band were involved in a nasty public spat, dividing the Left Banke's fan base and dooming its commercial career.
"Love Song" (1989, Number 10) and "Signs" (1991, Number Eight)
This Sacramento-based five-piece filled in Headbangers' Ball's hippie-dude gap thanks to the shaggy charm of these against-all-odds songs. "Love Song" summed up Tesla's appeal well: Lead singer Jeff Keith sings of love not being a hopeless cause over a sweet melody, with a guitar solo prefacing a triumphant sing-along of the important takeaway: "Love will find a way." Five Man Acoustical Jam, a recording of a 1990 Philadelphia unplugged show, spawned "Signs," Tesla's boisterous cover of the Five Man Acoustical Band's ode to being rejected by society.
"Wild Thing" (1988, Number Two) and "Funky Cold Medina" (1989, Number Three)
Both hits by this sandpaper-rasped Angelenan dominated MTV with a combination of pickup-artist tales (played for maximum humor) and bare-minimum backing tracks. "Wild Thing" took a sliver from Van Halen's "Jamie's Cryin'" and made it sound like Loc's tales of getting it on were being accompanied by a backfiring car; "Funky Cold Medina" had a slightly wobblier feel, appropriate for a track named after a "love potion" that even had an effect on canines. The success of these two was enough to send the album Loc-ed After Dark to the top spot on the Billboard 200, making Loc only the second hip-hop act history (after the Beastie Boys) to do so.
"Obsession" (1984, Number Six) and "Room to Move" (1989, Number Nine)
"An excuse to have members of the band dress up in fun costumes that come with weird shoes" was as good a rationale as any for a music video in the earliest days of MTV, and the clip for this San Francisco synthpop band's breakthrough – a sinewy duet about shape-shifting in order to get someone into bed – fit the bill in an eye-popping enough way to get into heavy rotation in 1984. After a slew of personnel changes (which included the addition of Cynthia Rhodes, as seen in Dirty Dancing and Toto's video for "Rosanna") the group returned to the Top 10 with the swaggering "Room to Move," a maximalist bit of new wave-inspired soul originally performed by the British duo Climie Fisher.
"Bang Your Head (Metal Health)" (1983, Number 31) and "Cum on Feel the Noize" (1983, Number Five)
Granted, everything seems dirty in early puberty, but from its unsubtly porny misspelled title to the sleazy gusto with which lead cheeseball Kevin Dubrow ordered girls to "rrrrock" their boys, Quiet Riot's cover of the old Slade glam anthem "Cum on Feel the Noize" struck impressionable Eighties teens as downright filthy. Though less successful, "Bang Your Head" was among the decade's great pop-metal rallying cries to adolescent lunacy made necessary by the tedium of American high schools.
"Bust a Move" (1989, Number Seven) and "Principal's Office" (1989, Number 33)
His greatest hit is (deservedly) a wedding DJ staple and (undeservedly) a punchline for snarky people who like stuff like "Stuff White People Like." But in his day, when everyone knew rap would cross over but nobody knew exactly how, this hitmaker and Tone-Loc ghostwriter seemed a contender for stardom – more radio-ready than Kid 'N Play, less kid-friendly than the Fresh Prince, lyrically nimbler than Hammer. Label hassles sidelined him for more than a year and, in the interim, the game did what the game does: changed.
"96 Tears" (1966, Number One) and "I Need Somebody" (1967, Number 22)
An unlikely chart-topper, "96 Tears" is a masterpiece of brokenhearted OCD vengeance, with ? (government name: Rudy Martinez) enumerating exactly how much he wants his ex to cry over nagging organ stabs. These garage-rockers kept the public's attention with "I Need Somebody," again distinguished by a repetitive organ riff before it breaks unexpectedly into "Mary Had a Little Lamb." A third Mysterians tune, "Can't Get Enough You Baby," wasn't a hit until Smash Mouth covered it in the late Nineties.
"Radar Love" (1973, Number 13) and "Twilight Zone" (1982, Number 10)
This chugging Dutch outfit's first chart success came from a pulsing track about a man communicating with his lover while driving – something that's commonplace now, sure, but during the pre-cellphone era it required mental powers of a more advanced nature. The strident "Twilight Zone," which hit for them nine years later, is a spoken-sung chronicle of a descent into madness inspired by the spyjinks of Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Identity. Years after its release, it would be incorporated into the Twilight Zone pinball game.
"Safety Dance" (1983, Number Three) and "Pop Goes the World" (1987, Number 20)
Let other new-wavers moon about nuclear war or impersonate post-apocalyptic pirates – these Montreal goofs bucked the zeitgeist with chirpy utopian glee. To hear Ivan Doroschuk sing of it, "The Safety Dance" wasn't just a (somewhat hazily defined) way of moving your body, it was a (no less hazily defined) way of life. The even sprightlier "Pop Goes the World" was the tale of Johnny and Jenny, a pair who form a synth-pop band and remake our culture in their own adorable image. The keyboard hook was so infectious that the most aggro meathead might wish this twee fantasy was a reality.