Rolling Stone Readers Pick the Top 10 One-Hit Wonders of All Time
Last week we asked our readers to vote for their favorite One Hit Wonders of all-time. Some famous one hit wonder bands (The Vapors, The Buggles) existed barely long enough to record their lone hit, while others (Los del Rio, The Knack) continued to plug away for years after their brief moment at the top. Some (Sir Mix-A-Lot) revel in the notoriety their hit continues to brings them, while others (Devo) see that hit as the very thing that killed their career. Any way you look at it, the industry is littered with one hit wonders. Here are your top 10.
The Vapors – ‘Turning Japanese’
While widely regarded as one of the dumbest songs in pop history, it’s impossibly to deny that the Vapors’ 1980 hit “Turning Japanese” is insanely catchy. They broke up the year after it came out, but it’s been in so many commercials and soundtracks that songwriter David Fenton should be able to live off the royalties forever. The playground rumor at the time was that the song is a big joke about masturbation, but Fenton has long denied it. In 1995 Liz Phair cut a memorable cover of the tune.
? and The Mysterians – ’96 Tears’
As Steve Van Zandt is quite happy to tell you, the Sixties garage rock era produced a veritable smorgasbord of one-hit wonders. It has a lot of competition, but “96 Tears” by ? and the Mysterians could be the most memorable. Originally titled “69 Tears,” the Michigan-based band recorded the song in their manager’s living room in 1966 and it hit Number One in October of that year. They followed it up quickly with some very minor hits, before fading away from the spotlight completely. Frontman Rudy “?” Martinez has fronted many incarnations of the band at oldies shows over the past few decades — and he continues to insist that he’s an alien from Mars. No joke.
Chumbawamba – ‘Tubthumping’
Chumbawamba are a perfect example of how a band's lone hit doesn't always paint a complete picture of the group's sound. The band formed in England in the early Eighties and wrote intensely political songs that fused folk, punk and dance with just about every other genre of music you can imagine. In 1997 they released "Tubthumping," which is basically about getting hammered. It blew up all over the world, and turned the group of self-described anarchists into celebrities. They event went on Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher and urged fans to steal their albums. As you can imagine, that really pissed off their label – who had no idea that Napster was coming within a year. Anyway, they never had a follow-up hit in America, though they still have a surprisingly active fanbase across Europe.
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Blind Melon – ‘No Rain’
In 1993 it seemed like MTV played nothing but Aerosmith's Alicia Silverstone videos, Dr. Dre's "Nuthin' But A 'G' Thang" and Blind Melon's "No Rain." The latter group was a hippie grunge band from California that seemed like the next big thing. They played at Woodstock 1994 and had a massive radio hit with "No Rain," but lead signer Shannon Hoon was hopelessly addicted to drugs and he died on tour in October of 1995. The group reformed with a new singer in 2006.
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The Knack – ‘My Sharona’
For a very brief period in 1979, the Knack looked like the future of rock & roll. It was the summer of the infamous Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park and many old-school rock fans were ready to embrace a new band. Into this void stepped the Knack, whose flawless debut Get the Knack blew up on the strength of their power-pop classic "My Sharona." The song was inspired by Knack frontman Doug Fieger's girlfriend Sharona Alperin, who now works as a real estate agent. Their second album didn't fare very well, and they split in 1981. Five years later they got back together, but any momentum they had was long gone. They played to a cult audience until shortly before Fieger's death in 2010.
Soft Cell – ‘Tainted Love’
“Tainted Love” seems like the quintessential Eighties song, but it actually dates back to 1965, when it was recorded by Marc Bolan’s future girlfriend Gloria James. It wasn’t a hit at the time, but in 1981 British synthpop duo Soft Cell New-Waved it up and created a masterpiece. They never had another American hit, but singer Marc Almond went on to a rather respectable solo career – and in 1989 scored a solo smash with “Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart,” a duet with Gene Pitney. Soft Cell reformed in 2001 and still tour occasionally. In 2001 Marilyn Manson covered “Tainted Love” for the soundtrack to Not Another Teen Movie.
Big Country – ‘In a Big Country’
Big Country were sort of a Scottish poor man’s U2. Their 1983 debut album The Crossing blew up with the release of the anthemic “In A Big Country,” where they somehow made their guitars sound like bagpipes. Like many bands on this list, they quickly lost favor in America but retained a decent following in England. In December of 2001 the band’s frontman Stuart Adamson hung himself in a Hawaii hotel room. Last year they group recruited Mike Peters of the Alarm to lead them on a reunion tour of Europe.
Norman Greenbaum – ‘Spirit In The Sky’
In the late Sixties Norman Greenbaum came across Porter Wagoner playing a gospel song on tv. “I thought, ‘Yeah, I could do that,’ knowing nothing about gospel music,” Greenbaum told the New York Times in 2006. “So I sat down and wrote my own gospel song. It came easy. I wrote the words in 15 minutes.” The result was “Spirit In The Sky,” a gigantic hit that’s kept Greenbaum wealthy for the past 40 years because it’s been used in countless movies and TV commercials. The irony is that Greenbaum – who penned the words “I got a friend in Jesus” — is Jewish.
Dexy’s Midnight Runners – ‘Come on Eileen’
Dexy’s Midnight Runner’s frontman Kevin Rowland says that his massive hit “Come On Eileen” was inspired by a real girl. “It’s about somebody I grew up with,” he told Melody Maker in 1982. “It’s absolutely true all the way. I was about 14 or 15 and sex came into it and our relationship had always been so clean. It seemed at the time to get dirty and that’s what it’s about. I was really trying to capture that atmosphere.” The video benefited from the fact that MTV was brand new and desperate for anything they could broadcast. The constant play helped Dexy’s Midnight Runners score a huge smash, but they broke up just three years later after failing to match it in America. Rowland has toured Europe with different incarnations of the group over the past few years.
A-ha – ‘Take on Me’
Tell anybody in Europe that A-ha are one-hit wonders and they'll look at you like you're crazy. Over there — and especially in their native Norway — A-ha scored hit after hit and were massively popular. They even played at the Lillehammer Olympics in 1994. In America, however, they are the band with the cool animated video and the singer with the insanely high range. Last year the group went on a farewell tour, and they talked to Rolling Stone about the legacy of "Take On Me." "I have no doubt that the video made the song a hit," said keyboardist Magne Furuholmen. "The song has a super catchy riff, but it is a song that you have to hear a few times. And I don't think it would've been given the time of day without the enormous impact of the video."
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