42 One Hit Wonders That Left Their Mark

Some songs bring their artists short but impressive success, causing the song and the artist to be given the “one-hit wonder” status. Despite these artists’ short-lived popularity, many of their hit songs influenced pop culture and music history with their unforgettable tunes.

Keep reading to learn about some of the best one-hit wonders.

Come on Eileen – Dexys Midnight Runners and The Emerald Express

This was a hit throughout the US, the UK, and Australia. The lyrics were based on Kevin Rowland’s younger teen years when he dated a girl named Eileen and began to grow up during the relationship. The song is unique among 1980s hits, relying on real instruments rather than the synthesizers that dominated popular music during the decade.

Tainted Love – Soft Cell

Gloria Jones first sang this track about a toxic relationship in 1964. Soft Cell had something of an accidental hit with it in 1981. The song also became a symbol of the AIDS epidemic, which affected numerous lives in the 1980s.

Related: Be the star of karaoke night with these sing along 80s songs.

Macarena – Los Del Río

This one-hit wonder is a dance song that is still popular at parties and beyond to this day. It has been released numerous times, with slightly different stories about a young woman named Macarena present in each version. While this was Los Del Río’s only national hit in the United States, they were popular outside of the country years before this hit was released.

Related: Check out more easy 90s karaoke songs.

Spirit in the Sky – Norman Greenbaum

This is a religious rock song, which is exactly what Norman Greenbaum wanted it to be since he wanted to write “my own gospel song.” The God themes in the lyrics were inspired by a Porter Wagoner song, traditional southern blues music, and folk revival tracks.

Related: Find this song on our Guardians of the Galaxy songs playlist.

Bitter Sweet Symphony – The Verve

This popular song looks at day-to-day life’s sometimes senseless and boring state. Richard Ashcroft wrote the song after realizing that money and professional success don’t always bring happiness to one’s life: “Try to make ends meet, you’re a slave to money, then you die.” The lyrics are bittersweet, indeed.

Related: See our playlist with more music from Cruel Intentions.

Take on Me – A-ha

‘Take on Me’ finds its protagonist warning a romantic interest to take a chance on him before he leaves for good and their opportunity to be together has passed. The cartoon-focused music video for the single helped it become a huge hit song in the United States.

Related: You won’t want to miss these good throwback songs.

Rockin’ Robin – Bobby Day

This is the same track that many listeners today attribute to Michael Jackson’s famous cover version. Many popular artists recorded the track between solo artist Bobby Day’s original and Jackson’s cover. The fun-filled lyrics paint a robin in a treetop as a rock star of sorts: “All the little birds on Jaybird Street love to hear the robin go tweet-tweet-tweet.”

Related: Hear the Jackson 5 version on our list of the best songs with birds.

Dancing in the Moonlight – King Harvest

King Harvest imagines a joyful place where everyone spends the night dancing in harmony. Sherman Kelly wrote the song after recovering from an attack while traveling in Saint Croix; the song helped him imagine a more peaceful alternate reality. Every last word in each lyric rhymes with “moonlight.”

I’m Too Sexy – Right Said Fred

Rich Fairbrass of Right Said Fred said that his dance studio history and a loop playing on a computer inspired this humorous song. In the lyrics, a male protagonist considers himself too attractive for everything in his life, sometimes in absurd ways. The track’s guitar riff was interpolated from a Jimmy Hendrix Song titled ‘Third Stone from the Sun.’

Related: You’ll get a kick out of the best funny sing along songs.

Rapper’s Delight – The Sugarhill Gang

‘Rapper’s Delight’ became the first rap song to hit the US Hot 100 Billboard chart in 1979. Its release was meant to introduce rap music to a larger audience, and luckily, it did once it found mainstream success. The lyrics encourage listeners to enjoy and dance to good beats, including the beat of the song.

Related: Here are the most famous 70s songs.

No Rain – Blind Melon

This track explores the dark and powerful feelings of hopelessness one might experience when going through a depressive time and feeling lost or empty. Brad Smith of Blind Melon wrote the song before he was a member of the group during a rough patch in his own life.

Related: Splash around with this music about rain.

Save Tonight – Eagle-Eye Cherry

Eagle-Eye Cherry explores the importance of life, love, and excitement in the nighttime with this hit. He spends one last night with a lover and makes the most of it within the lyrics. The song was popular in the singer’s home country of Sweden before slowly gaining traction in the UK and the US.

Related: Listen to more of the best one night stand songs.

Sugar, Sugar – The Archies

Cartoon band The Archies performed this 1969 track on the children’s cartoon series Archie. In reality, a group of session musicians played the song. While the song uses candy imagery to appeal to children, it also appeals to adults with its themes of finding someone wonderful and sweet to love.

Related: Carry on a sweet tradition with our wedding cake cutting songs playlist.

Turning Japanese – The Vapors

This song is about having a strong passion for someone on a romantic and physical level. It shows how anxious a young man can feel when he is away from the woman he is interested in. It also demonstrates the powerful if overbearing feelings that young people tend to experience.

Hey! Baby – Bruce Channel

This became the Billboard Hot 100 chart’s first number-one track with an exclamation point in its title. In the lyrics, Bruce Channel asks a girl to be his girlfriend because he is very interested in being with her. The harmonica introduction is similar to the one in The Beatles’ ‘Love Me Do.’ That’s because a young John Lennon was inspired by Channel’s introduction when the band supported him at a show.

Related: Dance along to more Dirty Dancing movie songs.

Magic – Pilot

Here’s an ode to the mystery of magic. This was Pilot’s first single; it was the band’s only song to become a hit in the United States, but they found further success in the United Kingdom. Selena Gomez covered the song for the Wizards of Waverly Place TV soundtrack in 2009, which helped the original find new fans.

Related: Poof! Here are some songs about magic spells.

96 Tears – Question Mark and the Mysterians

This band’s anonymous frontman wrote the song ’96 Tears’ and mysteriously claimed that 96 had a serious philosophical meaning. The lyrics find a man hurting over being left by someone who feels high and mighty. He vows to cause the same pain he is feeling one day.

Wipe Out – The Surfaris

Here is a song for surfers. The track is mostly instrumental; the title is the only lyric, which is repeated occasionally. The band’s drummer gets most of the credit for this song’s success, as his solos are considered some of the best drum solos in music history.

Play That Funky Music – Wild Cherry

This track was heavily inspired by The Ohio Players’ ‘Fire.’ Wild Cherry’s frontman Rob Parissi was also inspired by an actual request to play “funky music” that he received at a gig. Vanilla Ice also recorded a cover of this song, which became his last hit.

Related: Get funky with our list of the best funk songs.

Don’t Worry Be Happy – Bobby McFerrin

Bobby McFerrin tells listeners to remain happy during even the most absurdly unlucky times in this a capella piece, which is likely the only a capella track to hit number one on the United States Billboard Hot 100 chart in history. All sounds in the song are made with McFerrin’s body.

Related: You’ll love our list of the most popular reggae hits.

My Sharona – The Knack

This song is about The Knack lead singer Doug Fieger’s real-life girlfriend Sharona, who only agreed to go out with him because of his persistence. She eventually broke up with him, as she wanted to find her own success outside of being the muse for a song. She became a successful real estate agent for celebrities in California.

Related: This tune is one of the songs from Reality Bites.

99 Luftballons – Nena

’99 Luftballons’ exists in German and English, though the translation never had as great of an emotional effect or achieved the success of the German original. The song finds World War III beginning due to world powers mistaking balloons flying in the sky as missiles. The track has anti-war themes as was released during the Cold War in 1983.

Related: Count up these great songs with a number.

What is Love – Haddaway

This was Haddaway’s only US hit, but he found success with other songs in Europe. The track has an upbeat dance rhythm, but the lyrics are quite sad, as they find a narrator feeling heartbroken that the woman he loves doesn’t feel the same about him and asks her not to hurt him anymore.

O-o-h Child – Five Stairsteps

Here’s a comforting and hopeful song; it’s likely the uplifting themes of better times ahead led to its success. The track has had several notable covers and multiple pop culture appearances.

Baby Got Back – Sir Mix-a-Lot

While this song is often considered from a humorous perspective, it was actually meant to open a discussion on the lack of acceptance for black women’s natural figures in media and society. The song inspired numerous other tracks of the same nature, particularly in the rap genre.

Don’t You (Forget About Me) – Simple Minds

This song finds its narrator hoping a lover won’t forget about him years after they have parted. The song was largely popular due to its feature in the iconic film The Breakfast Club and is still used to parody or refer to its connection to the film in modern pop culture.

Related: Head over to The Breakfast Club song list.

Closing Time – Semisonic

On a literal level, this track is about leaving a bar at closing time. More metaphorically, it is about being born into the world and leaving the safety of the womb. The song is popular in bars at closing time to this day.

Related: Hurry up and listen to these running out of time songs!

Mr. Big Stuff – Jean Knight

Jean Knight warns a lady’s man that his monetary worth won’t impress her in this track. Instead, she will wait for love, even if the man for her is less than wealthy. She’s seen him break others’ hearts and won’t subject herself to that treatment for any amount of money.

We’re Not Gonna Take It – Twisted Sister

This staple has become an anthem for anyone who wants to stand up for their rights in the face of authority figures. The generic authority painted in the song helps the track remain a timeless classic. You’ll be surprised to learn that a rock band released a song written to the tune of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful.’

Related: Rise above the rest with our playlist of songs about underdogs.

Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit Of…) – Lou Bega

This hit was originally recorded by Perez Prado in 1952. Lou Bega’s version is a dance-fueled track that finds Bega enjoying the company of attractive women as he finds flirting to be a sport. The names used in the lyrics come from women Bega met in his youth.

Related: Listen to the best wedding reception playlist on your wedding day.

The Safety Dance – Men Without Hats

Men Without Hats encourage nonconformism in this tune. It’s also a very anti-authority piece, even though some have actually interpreted the song to be about safety in terms of passionate moments or war.

I’ll Be There for You – The Rembrandts

This theme song for the iconic US television series Friends is a rare theme in that it became a hit in its own right. This is largely because it sounds good all the way through rather than just during the show’s opener. The lyrics are about being there for others who are also there for you.

Related: Show your bestie you care with these songs to sing to your best friend.

Always Something There to Remind Me – Naked Eyes

Numerous artists performed this Lou Johnson track before Naked Eyes had a hit with it in 1983. Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote the track; Bacharach said he enjoyed Naked Eyes’ version.

Pass the Dutchie – Musical Youth

This song makes more sense when you realize the “dutchie” cooking pot referred to in the title was originally a more controversial reference. In the lyrics, the narrator finds himself among a group passing this cooking pot to each other.

Related: You’ll hear this one on our list of the best songs about smoking.

Afternoon Delight – Starland Vocal Band

‘Afternoon Delight’ is named after an appetizer menu, but it is also a discreet reference to passionate encounters at a certain time of day. Starland Vocal Band found their only hit with the track, winning the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1976.

Electric Avenue – Eddy Grant

While this song has a fun and catchy sound, the lyrics send an important message about equality and race relations. The title refers to a real-life shopping area in London, while the song’s protagonist is a hard-working man who can’t afford the finer things that this area represents: “Workin’ so hard like a soldier. Can’t afford a thing on TV.”

Related: Feel energized with the best electric songs.

There She Goes – The La’s

Here’s a unique track—it was released as a single four times! While the lyrics may sound like they’re about a female love interest, a closer inspection shows listeners that it is about being addicted to substances. The track has been covered by such notable artists as Robbie Williams and has appeared in a number of films.

Somebody That I Used to Know – Gotye

This song is one of the more recent one-hit wonder songs. While this song may have been Gotye’s biggest hit internationally, the album it appears on was popular in its own right in Australia. Within the song’s lyrics, Gotye reflects on a past relationship and wishes the woman in question hadn’t cut him out of his life. Featured artist Kimbra sings as this other party, telling him why she had to get away.

Related: You’ll want some tissues while you listen to our playlist of songs about heartbreak.

(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life – Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes

This track features prominently in one of Dirty Dancing’s most pivotal scenes, which is how this song about having a wonderful time with a fantastic love interest became so popular. The fact that it starts with the chorus makes it even more interesting to the listener’s ear.

Related: Grab a buddy and have fun with these good karaoke duets.

Tubthumping – Chumbawamba

Tubthumping is a slang term for a politician in England. The political theme of this track isn’t unusual for Chumbawamba, as the band was extremely anti-government. This was a major hit for the group in the UK and the US and was their only chart-topper.

Related: This song features on our playlist of the best songs with trumpets.

You Get What You Give – New Radicals

New Radicals encourage listeners to change the world through kindness to others in this motivating and positive track. The band also sings that music can help one accomplish this goal. The song also criticizes injustice in society and government with an anti-capitalist stance. The lyrics name-drop celebrities in an attempt to create a social experiment; it turns out that the name-dropping did garner more attention than the societal issues mentioned.

Related: Celebrate your achievements with these graduation party songs.

What’s Up – 4 Non Blondes

This is a staple that can help listeners deal with feelings of frustration when things aren’t going right in the world. The song’s longevity and popularity could be attributed to the fact that no direct political influences were mentioned in the lyrics, making the piece both timeless and universal.

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About Ged Richardson

Ged Richardson is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of ZingInstruments.com. He has been featured in Entrepreneur, PremierGuitar, Hallmark, Wanderlust, CreativeLive, and other major publications. As an avid music fan, he spends his time researching and writing about new and old music, as well as testing and reviewing music-related products. He's played guitar in various bands, from rock to gypsy jazz. Be sure to check out his YouTube channel, where he geeks out about his favorite bands.

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