One-Hit Wonderful

The One-Hit Wonder Day GRAMMY playlist
  • Photo: Daniel Lewis/
    Baha Men
  • Photo: Paul Warner/
    Billy Paul
  • Photo: Ben Hider/
    Bobby McFerrin
  • Photo: Steve Eichner/PhotoWeb/
    Debby Boone
  • Photo: John Shearer/
    Mason Williams
  • Photo: Jeff Kravitz/
    Shawn Colvin performs at the 2010 MusiCares Person of the Year tribute to Neil Young
September 24, 2010 -- 7:00 am PDT

There is very little information available on National One-Hit Wonder Day, other than that it falls on Sept. 25. Even Wikipedia, God's own source of un-fact-checked information, doesn't touch the subject. That said, we think it's worth celebrating anyway.

One-hit wonders have a rich tradition in pop music. Some great, even trend-setting, songs have been one-hit wonders — songs that made an impact that overshadowed the artists' other work.

What is a one-hit wonder? Well, there's no textbook definition. Some say one Top 40 hit is the qualifier. But over the years, we've seen that many songs that hit the 30s often don't become a universal part of our musical lexicon, while some songs that barely make the Top 40 become unforgettable.

So, for our purposes, the songs listed below are, in our opinion, the songs so associated with the artist, defining who they are, that we consider them, in effect, one-hit wonders. And don't be fooled into thinking a one-hit wonder makes the song or the artist somehow second rate. Sometimes it's just fate at work.


Domenico Modugno (iTunes>)
"Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare)," Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year, 1958

The only foreign-language Record Of The Year winner came the first year GRAMMYs were awarded. The Italian Modugno wrote what became a modern-day standard and then was all but never heard from again on the U.S. charts, save for "Piove (Ciao, Ciao Bambina)," which scratched the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 97 in 1959.


Stan Getz & Astrud Gilberto (iTunes>)
"The Girl From Ipanema," Record Of The Year, 1964; GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, 2000

Another song that has become a standard, this one the signature of the bossa nova movement. Gilberto never made the charts again. Sax great Getz did hit No. 15 with the similarly themed "Desafinado" two years prior to "Ipanema," but that success was clearly trumped.


Gale Garnett (iTunes>)
"We'll Sing In The Sunshine," Best Folk Recording, 1964

The New Zealand-native had her only hit with this catchy, folkish testament to enjoying the moment. Such wanderlust sentiment as "I will never love you/The cost of love's too dear/But though I'll never love you/I'll stay with you one year" must have been a bit surprising coming from a woman in 1964, but Garnett proved her mettle in becoming a successful actress, journalist and essayist after her singing career.


Mason Williams (iTunes>)
"Classical Gas," Best Contemporary Pop Performance, Instrumental, 1968

This guitar-based instrumental hit was huge in 1968, an era that was the heyday for instrumentals. But if you're thinking Williams himself was a one-hit wonder, think again. Before "Classical Gas" ever climbed the charts, he was an Emmy-winning writer for "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour."


Sammi Smith (iTunes>)
"Help Me Make It Through The Night," Best Country Vocal Performance, Female, 1971

Smith's reading of this Kris Kristofferson classic, in which she views sex rather than love as the cure for her loneliness, made her a bit of a female country outlaw in the early '70s. Whether that explains her only pop hit is hard to say, but she did subsequently enjoy a string of country charters.


Les Crane (iTunes>)
"Desiderata," Best Spoken Word Recording, 1971

This spoken-word novelty hit No. 3 on the Adult Contemporary chart, and it became a momentary cultural reference point, even resulting in a National Lampoon parody, "Deteriorata." Crane (real name Leslie Stein), was a talk radio host in San Francisco who ultimately hosted some short-lived TV shows, most notably "The Les Crane Show."


Billy Paul (iTunes>)
"Me And Mrs. Jones," Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male, 1972

This sophisticated and jazzy bit of soul from Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff's Philadelphia International machine went all the way to No. 1. Maybe that's what a song about an illicit affair will do for you. Or maybe it was because it was four-plus minutes of smooth R&B perfection.


Van McCoy (iTunes>)
"The Hustle," Best Instrumental Performance, 1975

Some say — or bemoan — that this was the first disco record. Not really true, as a number of Gamble and Huff records were developing the beat and lush arrangements of disco in the early '70s, as were R&B hits such as the Hues Corporation's "Rock The Boat." Still, this No. 1 single, named for a dance, really launched the genre. Two things may have contributed to McCoy's one-hit wonder status: He was really a producer/songwriter, and he died at the age of 35 in 1979.


Starland Vocal Band (iTunes>)
"Afternoon Delight," Best New Artist Of The Year, 1976

A massive No. 1 record in 1976, the band won the Best New Artist Of The Year award on the strength of this song alone. The group had ties to John Denver, which in 1976 was enough on its own to get you attention. But there was no denying the intoxicating catchiness of the song, or the fact that its omnipresence may have killed their career.


Debby Boone (iTunes>)
"You Light Up My Life," Best New Artist Of The Year, 1977

This song was inescapable in 1977, lasting 10 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Though it lost out for Record Of The Year to the Eagles' "Hotel California," Boone won the Best New Artist Of The Year trophy. Like so many songs that radio puts in endless rotation, this one ultimately suffered some backlash, which may have impacted Boone's trouble in returning to the Top 40.


Bobby McFerrin (iTunes>)
"Don't Worry Be Happy," Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year, 1988

The extremely talented McFerrin has won 10 GRAMMY Awards, but this unusual hit truly stands out. Like "Afternoon Delight" and "You Light Up My Life," this tune suffered from being on repeat for the better part of a year, but it's no doubt one of the few (maybe only) a cappella No. 1 hits.


Alannah Myles (iTunes>)
"Black Velvet," Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female, 1990

This Canadian singer hit No. 1 from out of the blue, which may have been appropriate given the bluesy nature of this song and the fact that it sounded like little else on the radio at the time. Of course, it probably never hurts when your song is about the king of rock and roll. Myles broke the Top 40 the following year with the less-bluesy "Love Is."


Sir Mix-A-Lot (iTunes>)
"Baby Got Back," Best Rap Solo Performance, 1992

Certainly not the only hit that's an homage to the female form, but one graphic and humorous enough to capture mainstream attention in a big way. This track defined Sir Mix-A-Lot's career, even though he had a number of hit albums and was a self-made hip-hop success.


Shawn Colvin (iTunes>)
"Sunny Came Home," Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year, 1997

Neo-folkie Colvin scored a left-field hit in 1997 with this song, off A Few Small Repairs, about either a scorned wife's revenge or a pyromaniac's confession. Either way, it caught fire with fans and critics alike, becoming her only Top 10 hit, earning two major GRAMMY wins. Her follow-up album, Holiday Songs And Lullabies, may help explain why she didn't sustain this level of commercial success, and reveal that she may never have been aiming for it in the first place.


Bob Carlisle (iTunes>)
"Butterfly Kisses," Best Country Song, 1997

If there are "chick song" equivalents to "chick flicks," this is one of them. A touching song about a father watching his daughter grow up, it tugged heartstrings all the way up to No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. It was the only charted single for this primarily contemporary Christian artist.


Baha Men (iTunes>)
"Who Let The Dogs Out," Best Dance Recording, 2000

Perhaps best known for becoming a football anthem, the pervasiveness of the song belied the fact that it only reached No. 40 on the Billboard Hot 100. It became the novelty song to either love or hate that year, spawned covers by the likes of the Chipmunks and added a phrase to the pop culture lexicon.


Norah Jones (iTunes>)
"Don't Know Why," Record Of The Year, 2002

When it comes to artists in the 2000s, it's hard to say whether one-hit wonder status will be lasting, or if they'll make another grand statement. For the moment anyway, Jones' Come Away With Me remains by far her biggest hit, a true debut phenomenon that has sold 10 million copies in the United States alone. "Don't Know Why" only hit No. 30, but Jones had become a mainstream star, though she's deliberately remained a respected musical iconoclast since.


Gnarls Barkley (iTunes>)
"Crazy," Best Urban/Alternative Performance, 2006

Singer Cee Lo Green and producer Danger Mouse made not only one of the greatest singles of the year, but one of the greatest singles of the decade. But this was a pair of individual artists coming together, not a true duo. The result? One transcendent hit, a quick follow-up album, and on to other projects, like Cee Lo's recent unmentionable hit.

What's your favorite one-hit wonder? Drop us a comment and let us know.

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