The Ultimate One-Hit Wonders
September 25th is National One-Hit Wonder Day, a day to celebrate artists who only hit the top 40 of the U.S. pop chart on one single occasion. Some of these artists only had one song of note in their resume, while others are legends of rock, country, rap (or some other genre) but only had a brief and possibly flukish flirtation with pop listeners.
Obviously, there are a great many artists who neither court nor care about top 40 chart success. The fact that the Grateful Dead, Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Emmylou Harris, and Patti Smith each only had one top 40 pop hit to date is a mere footnote to their long and storied careers. But it is fascinating to note those occasions when their art intersected with mainstream interest.
Other members of the one-hit wonder club are seen as amusing novelties. The Buggles, Steam, Dexys Midnight Runners, The Lemon Pipers, Kajagoogoo, and Right Said Fred (perhaps better known by their respective single hits “Video Killed the Radio Star,” Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye,” “Come On, Eileen,” “Green Tambourine,” “Too Shy,” and “I’m Too Sexy”) seem lucky to even have that one hit by which people remember them.
But let’s take a peek into an even more exclusive club: artists who have managed the unusual feat of topping the American singles chart but never again made even one appearance in the pop chart at all (a.k.a., the “hot 100”).
“Surely,” you might think, “if an artist had the skills and/or luck to get to #1, they'd have some further or previous success, right? Even if they never manage another top 40 hit, surely they’d be at least be able to sneak in a #99 single sometime!”
While that is usually true, it turns out that the feat has been accomplished a number of times.
Some of the instances this has happened have been technical, in that a one-off star duo hit #1 without any other charting single under that duo name: Barbra & Neil, Brandy & Monica, Dionne & Friends, Puff Daddy & Faith Evans. I throw these occasions out the window as not truly a #1-and-done.
Similarly, the chart-topping 1992 hit from the TV show The Heights, "How Do You Talk To An Angel" could fall under this category as well. The lead singer, Jamie Walters, also had a #16 solo hit two years later.
Another ad hoc band that was #1-and-done was USA For Africa with "We Are the World." But, again, I don’t consider this a true example as it was a project always intended to only record one song.
A borderline case is "Slow Motion" by the rapper Juvenile. Although Juvenile had other hits, “Slow Motion” was officially credited as “featuring Soulja Slim.” Soulja Slim, who had died prior to the song’s release, never had another song in the hot 100. However, he isn’t included in the list below as he is not the primary artist for the single.
Here are, then, the occasions when this feat has truly happened, when an artist topped the U.S. singles chart and never appeared in the hot 100 before or since:
1958 – The Elegants, “Little Star”
1963 – The Singing Nun, “Dominique”
1969 – Zager & Evans, "In the Year 2525"
1979 – M, "Pop Muzik"
1982 – Vangelis, "Chariots of Fire"
1985 – Jan Hammer, "Miami Vice Theme"
1988 – Bobby McFerrin, "Don't Worry, Be Happy"
1989 – Sheriff, “When I’m With You”
2001 – Crazy Town, "Butterfly"
2006 – Daniel Powter, "Bad Day"
A fascinating, if perhaps dubious, accomplishment for all!