We’re all familiar with the one-hit wonder—that artist who storms onto the music scene with a smash hit, only to disappear as soon as he or she arrived. Some one-hit wonders continue making music for years but never manage to produce another successful song. Others leave the industry altogether after their mega-hits, cashing in their earnings and quitting while they’re ahead. A few artists on this list may have gone on to release more hit songs, had their lives not been cut short.
Some one-hit wonders released recordings before their big hits, but these lesser-known tracks garnered little or no attention. For others, the songs that made them famous were their first releases. What’s important in defining a one-hit wonder is that whatever else they did, nothing came close to achieving the success, charts-wise or in the minds of their fans, as that one career-defining hit. It shaped careers and is what the performers will always be remembered for.
In celebration of the beloved “one and done” artists of the world, Stacker has rounded up a list of the most iconic one-hit wonders of the past 50 years. You'll learn which 1976 smash hit made a major comeback with its feature in Will Ferrell's "Anchorman," which country-pop ballad was originally offered to Cher, and which of these one-hit wonders was written for a 1980s blockbuster film that made $214 million worldwide box office. This soundtrack, which topped the Billboard charts at #1, won a Golden Globe for Best Original Song, an Academy Award for Best Original Song, and a Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo.
Note that the last entry on this list is 2013—only time will tell who else may emerge as a one-hit wonder. Scroll through and you’ll likely see some of your favorites, and you may just recognize a handful of these from a school dance or two.
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Rhinoceros was a short-lived band established in the late 1960s by Elektra Records that folded shortly after its inception. However, the group managed to produce one big hit, "Apricot Brandy,” an instrumental tune that landed at #46 on the Billboard charts.
British rock group Vanity Fare gained attention for a brief moment when the band's hit "Hitchin’ a Ride” was released in the United States. The song about a lone hitchhiker was Billboard’s #14 song of 1970. The group attempted several more singles in subsequent years, but none ever achieved the same degree of success.
The Beginning of the End was a fitting name for this band, which released "Funky Nassau” in 1971 to enormous success. The song landed at #15 on Billboard’s Hot 100, but the group failed to follow it up with any major hits. "Funky Nassau" was featured more than 20 years later in the 1998 film "Blues Brothers 2000.”
Most people know Carlos Santana. Lesser known is his brother, Jorge Santana, who was part of a San Francisco-based group in the early 1970s called Malo. That band's song, "Suavecito,” was a sweeping success at the time, landing at #20 on the Billboard charts and dubbed "The Chicano National Anthem.” But the band members had a falling out and most of the original musicians left shortly after the song’s release.
Although "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” was originally offered to Cher, she turned it down and lesser-known singer Vicki Lawrence recorded it for Bell Records. The eerie, Southern Gothic-style country pop ballad was an instant hit, soaring to the #1 slot on Billboard’s Hot 100. In 1991, it received new attention when Reba McEntire recorded her own version of the country-pop song.
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Who could forget 1974’s classic disco tune "Kung Fu Fighting”? The uber-popular single by Jamaican-born singer Carl Douglas was a #1 hit on Billboard’s Hot 100 in the United States and sold 11 million records across the globe. Douglas attempted to recreate the magic with "Dance the Kung Fu," but it never caught on with listeners in the same way.
In 1975, American songbird Minnie Riperton captured the #1 slot on Billboard’s Hot 100 list with her surprise hit "Lovin’ You.” Riperton never had the opportunity to follow up on her success, though, as she was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly afterward and died in 1979 at age 31.
Starland Vocal Band, a soft rock group hailing from Washington D.C., soared to success in 1976 with their smash hit "Afternoon Delight,” which dominated the Billboard charts, earning the band five Grammy nominations and two awards. Despite the famous line "skyrockets in flight” and pedal steel guitar sound effects, the song was, in fact, an ode to afternoon romance. The song was later sung a capella in a comedic scene in the 2004 Will Ferrell movie "Anchorman.”
Peter McCann was a one-hit wonder in the late 1970s who epitomized the era with his thick mustache and ubiquitous aviator sunglasses. His 1977 song "Do You Wanna Make Love” nabbed a #5 ranking on Billboard’s Hot 100 list, earning him fast fame. The singer never recorded another hit himself but he went on to write songs for stars such as Julio Iglesias, Kenny Rogers, Reba McEntire, Ricky Skaggs, and Jermaine Jackson.
Canadian rock band Stonebolt, originally called Perth Amboy, achieved fame in 1978 with their hopelessly romantic ballad "I Will Still Love You.” The song hit #29 on Billboard’s charts, but the group never produced another comparable hit.
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Anita Ward certainly made her one-hit wonder status count with "Ring My Bell,” the wildly popular disco hit that topped the charts at #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100, the Soul Singles Chart, and the U.K. Singles Chart. It also earned the singer a Grammy nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.
Although "Whip It” appeared on Devo’s third album, it was the first and only song the band wrote that achieved chart-topping success, landing at #14 on Billboard’s Hot 100 list. Both the song and its accompanying music video were controversial at the time for their perceived sexual undertones, but the band has always maintained the song was about politics.
Long before Coolio released his 1994 single "Fantastic Voyage," the lesser-known funk band Lakeside recorded a song of the same name, which was #1 on Billboard’s R&B chart and slid into #55 on Billboard's Hot 100. In 1996, it was part of the soundtrack to the movie "First Kid."
In the early 1980s, the fictional comedy duo known as Bob and Doug McKenzie (played by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas) released a sketch album featuring the song "Take Off,” which included guest vocals from Geddy Lee of the band Rush. The comedic song became an improbable chart-topper, landing itself at #16 on Billboard’s Hot 100 list. The fictional brothers starred in the cult classic movie "Strange Brew” the following year, but never were involved with another hit song.
Another classic one-hit wonder, Nena was a German New Wave band that topped the U.S. Billboard charts and others across the globe in the mid-1980s with the release of their anti-war protest song, "99 Luftballons.” The hit song has been featured in countless movies and covered by numerous bands and artists since then, including Goldfinger and Rammstein.
People may remember the mega-popular 1984 children’s movie "The Neverending Story,” but fewer people recall that the following year, the film’s theme song was a giant radio hit that landed at #17 on Billboard’s Hot 100 list. The British singer Limahl (aka Christopher Hamill), who’d achieved moderate success with his song "Only for Love” two years before, was unable to produce another hit song. However, his haircut was reportedly the inspiration for the X-Men character Longshot.
The Austrian musician Falco was widely popular in Germany in the 1980s, but the only song he recorded that achieved chart-topping success elsewhere was the 1986 hit "Rock Me Amadeus.” The song, which landed at #1 on Billboard’s Top 100, was inspired by the 1984 movie "Amadeus" about the life of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Falco was killed 12 years later in a car accident at age 40.
Another example of a soundtrack that inspired a one-hit wonder was Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes’ recording of the romantic duet "(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.” Written for the 1980s blockbuster film "Dirty Dancing,” the song won numerous awards, including a Golden Globe for Best Original Song, an Academy Award for Best Original Song, and a Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo. It also topped the Billboard charts at #1.
The California Raisins are perhaps the only animated band to be considered a one-hit wonder. Conceived as part of a Sun-Maid raisins commercial, the characters were created with claymation at Vinton Studios and became an enormous success in the late 1980s. Their remake of the classic Marvin Gaye song "I Heard It Through the Grapevine” landed on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1988, two decades after Gaye's version entered the charts.
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The 1950s song "Iko Iko” was recorded numerous times throughout the years, but in 1989 it launched the British band The Belle Stars into one-hit wonder status. Their version of the tune—which was used on the soundtrack for the movie "Rain Man”—landed at #14 on Billboard’s Hot 100 list that year and was again used in 2009 in the movie "The Hangover.”
Calloway was an R&B duo in the early 1990s that consisted of two brothers from Ohio. "I Wanna Be Rich” was their big hit, which was released in 1989 and hit #2 on Billboard’s charts in 1990. After that, however, the brothers failed to harness further success and fell off the music map.
Right Said Fred is a band whose name is practically synonymous with "one-hit wonder.” The British pop group electrified the charts in 1991 with the hit single "I’m Too Sexy,” which poked fun at the fashion industry and dominated the #1 chart position in United States, Australia, Ireland, and other countries. The band went on to record numerous additional albums, but none ever achieved the same degree of success.
Sir Mix-a-Lot penned this raunchy single to celebrate women with curves. Some found the song too explicit—including MTV, which briefly banned the song—but that did nothing to stop its success, as the single hit #1 on Billboard's Hot 100 by the summer of 1992. "Baby Got Back" later helped Nicki Minaj dominate the charts, as the rapper heavily sampled the song in her 2014 song "Anaconda," which peaked at #2.
Although the New York hip hop group Onyx continues to make music to this day, it was their huge 1993 hit "Slam” that they will always be remembered for. The rough-and-tumble rap song, which landed at #4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and #1 on Hot Rap Singles, has been sampled by dozens of performers including GZA, Eminem, and Shaquille O'Neal. That said, the group has been largely forgotten apart from that song.
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Urge Overkill was another band that got famous when one of its songs was used in a movie. In this case, it was a cover of Neil Diamond’s "Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon,” which the Chicago rock band recorded in 1992. When Quentin Tarantino used it in his movie "Pulp Fiction” two years later, the song soared to #59 on Billboard’s Hot 100 list. Since then, the band hasn’t had any songs that have made it onto the charts.
Rednex was a Eurodance band from Sweden that found improbable success with their twangy, banjo-heavy pop tune "Cotton Eye Joe.” The song peaked at #25 on Billboard’s Hot 100 that year.
"Macarena” was another unforgettable mid-1990s hit performed by the Spanish band Los Del Mar. The song, which encouraged listeners to do the accompanying Macarena dance, was a cover of the original version by the group Los del Río.
It seemed like in 1997 you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing the catchy "Barbie Girl” lyrics playing on the radio. The uber-popular song, which peaked at #7 on the Billboard charts, was infectious, but it didn't amuse everyone. Mattel sued Aqua for trademark and copyright infringement, claiming the song associated "sexual and other unsavory themes with Mattel's Barbie products."
Marcy Playground continues to make music, but the band has never had another big hit since "Sex and Candy” entered the charts in the late 1990s. The popular alternative rock tune, which was released in 1997 and peaked at #8 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1998, was covered in 2014 by Maroon 5.
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Baz Luhrmann is a classic one-hit wonder, but he went on to achieve significant success in other media as a director, producer, and writer. He’s been nominated for Golden Globes, Academy Awards, and Grammys, among others. His inspirational, feel-good 1999 song "Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” was a spoken-word recording of a Chicago Tribune column that offered life advice to graduating college students. After being put to music, the song dominated the radio waves for months, landing at #45 on Billboard’s charts that year.
SR-71 was an American pop punk band that briefly hit the charts at the turn of the millennium with their hit "Right Now.” The catchy song, which hit #2 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart, was later used in the stoner flick "Dude, Where’s My Car?”
When Afroman released "Because I Got High” in 2000, it gave stoners everywhere a new anthem. The song hit #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 list the following year, although the American rapper fell off the map shortly after and never produced another hit.
Fountains of Wayne released "Stacy’s Mom” on their third studio album, but it was the only song for which the rock band ever became famous. The popular single sold more than 500,000 copies, going gold and landing at #21 on Billboard’s Hot 100 list in 2003. Band member Adam Schlesinger said the tune was partly inspired by a childhood friend who had a crush on Schlesinger's grandmother.
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"Listen to Your Heart” was a huge hit in 2005, clocking in at #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 during its peak and turning the obscure Belgian band D.H.T. into a common household name. The euro band fell back into obscurity shortly after, however, and is considered by most critics to have been a one-hit wonder.
The Raconteurs were a rock and roll supergroup in the mid-2000s composed of Jack White of The White Stripes, Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler of The Greenhornes, and solo artist Brendan Benson. "Steady As She Goes,” which peaked at #54 on the charts, was the group’s only big hit; however, they recently announced they will release another LP in 2019. Time will tell if they can overcome their one-hit wonder status.
American pop group Metro Station secured their one-hit wonder status in 2008 with the mega-popular song "Shake It.” The song landed at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 list and went platinum with one million in sales. The group members experienced tension over the years, however, breaking up multiple times and ultimately splitting for good in 2017 without another hit.
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With a catchy sampling of Steam’s "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye,” Kristinia DeBarge’s pop anthem "Goodbye” became a fast hit in 2009, landing at #15 on the Billboard charts. The singer struggled to match the success with future releases, however, and she hasn’t had another hit since the song was released.
Few dance songs were as infectious in 2010 as La Roux’s "Bulletproof,” which dominated the #1 slot on the U.K. charts and peaked at #8 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in the United States. The electropop artist from Britain hasn't had another hit, but there may still be hope: La Roux's third solo album is scheduled to release Feb. 7, 2020, and she has tours planned for the U.K., Europe, and the U.S. and Canada.
When "Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye came out in 2011, it was virtually impossible to go anywhere without hearing the angsty breakup tune coming out of a car window or at a department store, generally with voices belting along to the chorus. It was so catchy, in fact, that the video spawned dozens of spoofs and remakes on YouTube. However, none of the others songs on the album were hits and, despite hitting #1 on the charts the following spring, Gotye hasn’t released another hit since.
Gloriana was a short-lived country band in the late 2000s and early 2010s that had one big hit in 2012 with the release of "(Kissed You) Goodnight.” The song peaked at #34 on Billboard’s Hot 100 list; however, the group broke up a few years later without producing another significant hit.
Icona Pop’s high-energy dance tune "I Love It” was a soaring pop charts hit, landing at #7 with its catchy, in-your-face riffs and going double platinum with over 2 million copies sold. The dance anthem also hit the #1 slot in the U.K.; however, the Swedish pop duo hasn’t released another big hit in the interim.
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