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    13 One-Hit Wonders And Whether They Deserved To Fade Into Obscurity Or Not

    Scoring a hit is hard. Doing it again is harder.

    Scoring a hit song is HARD. To do it, you have to rise up from among the thousands (millions?) of musicians vying for attention and create a musical masterpiece so catchy, fun, or moving that it captivates the whole world.

    A list featuring the top hits presently atop the charts

    But you know what's even harder? Landing ANOTHER hit now that listeners expect you to deliver something every bit as good as your breakthrough hit. And for every Whitney Houston — who scored three No. 1 hits on her debut album and then four more on her follow-up there are scores of one-hit wonders who couldn't make lightning strike twice.

    Whitney Houston in the early '90s holding a Billboard Award

    So today I thought we'd look at some famous one-hit wonders and ask, Did they really deserve to be one-hit wonders? Or were they worthy of more success atop the charts? To figure this out, we'll listen — and critique — the lead single off their first new album after their big, breakthrough hit.

    The Wonders (a fictional one-hit-wonder band) from the movie That Thing You Do

    1. Legendary one-hit wonder: Vanilla Ice...who scored the song of the summer in 1990 with the hip-hop smash "Ice Ice Baby."

    Vanilla Ice onstage with flashy clothes

    Here's "Ice Ice Baby" (as if you could forget it):

    View this video on YouTube

    Vanilla Ice / Via youtube.com

    What happened to him?

    Vanilla Ice and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles performing The Ninja Rap

    But — for our purposes of deciding whether Ice deserved to be a one-hit wonder — we're going to listen to "Rollin' in My 5.0," the lead single off his second major release, Extremely Live:

    View this video on YouTube

    VanillaIceArchive / Via youtube.com

    How's the song? Ice was clearly trying to replicate the success of "Ice Ice Baby" by heavily sampling another '70s hit, this time "Fly Like an Eagle" by the Steve Miller Band, but the magic isn't there. The song is a brag fest about how cool he is driving his 5.0-liter Fox Body Mustang and features Ice rapping, with 100% sincerity, cheesy lines like, "Zero to 60, four seconds don't play / This ain't no joke, and you can see the smoke / I'm burnin' rubba / You heard me clear, I didn't stutta!" 

    The single failed to chart, which is almost impossible to conceive of, considering that just six months earlier, he had the No. 1 song in seven countries and a debut album that sold 11 million copies.

    Did he deserve to be a one-hit wonder?

    FINAL VERDICT: Oh god, yes. 

    "Rollin' in My 5.0" wasn't an artist on the ascendancy; it was an artist already out of new ideas, trying desperately to repackage the formula of his big hit. And it was cheesy. So, so cheesy.

    2. Legendary one-hit wonder: Toni Basil...who scored a No. 1 hit all over the world with "Mickey" in 1982.

    Toni in the Mickey video

    Here's "Mickey," in case you've somehow never heard it (or just want to get up and start dancing):

    View this video on YouTube

    Chrysalis Records / Via youtube.com

    What happened to her?

    Basil performing Mickey onstage in her classic cheerleader garb in 2004

    OK, it's time to listen to "Over My Head," the lead single off her follow-up album:

    View this video on YouTube

    Chrysalis Records / Via youtube.com

    How's the song? First let me say, "Over My Head" was an unfortunate title for a single desperately trying to live up to the success of "Mickey." To be blunt, where "Mickey" was idiosyncratic and unlike anything else on the charts, "Over My Head" sounds very '80s. The verse melody is about as generic '80s as it gets, and you could say the same about the instrumentation, with its heavy synths, cheesy '80s guitar, and programmed drums.

    I have to say, though, as cheesy as the intro and verses are, the chorus is ingratiating and takes off by the end. The track also shows off Basil's singing ability more than "Mickey." People probably thought the song was OK in the '80s, but fans who fell in love with the quirky "Mickey" likely had little interest in the safer, commercial stylings of "Over My Head."

    Did she deserve to be a one-hit wonder?

    FINAL VERDICT: Yeah. 

    Unfortunately, there was no more quirky magic after "Mickey," and turning in an unabashedly commercial direction made Basil just another singer. Adding insult to injury, Cyndi Lauper released her debut album, She's So Unusual, that same year and became a massive star thanks to the quirky "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" — a fun track with a sound that is cut from a similar cloth to "Mickey."

    3. Legendary one-hit wonder: Chamillionaire...who had everyone singing "They see me rollin', they hatin'" in 2005 with his chart-topping smash, "Ridin'."

    Chamillionaire holding cash in front of a sports car

    Here's "Ridin'" (I'll just be over here waiting for you to finish watching this because I know you're gonna):

    View this video on YouTube

    Universal / Via youtube.com

    What happened to him?

    Chamillionaire rapping in a camouflage hat

    Let's now listen to "Hip Hop Police," the lead single off his follow-up album:

    View this video on YouTube

    Universal / Via youtube.com

    How's the song? Let's be real — matching the insanely infectious magic of "Ridin'" was an almost impossible task, and "Hip Hop Police" doesn't do it. "Hip Hop Police" isn't a bad track, though. It has a good groove and is vaguely infectious, and Chamillionaire and guest Slick Rick rap well. It just doesn't put "Ridin'" in the rearview mirror, especially with an awkward lyrical reference to the previous smash ("Saw that you was ridin' dirty"). 

    Did he deserve to be a one-hit wonder?

    FINAL VERDICT: It was a decent effort, but...yes.

    Chamillionaire didn't disappear from the rap world and has continued to release music that rap fans enjoy. But the mainstream, top-of-the charts success of "Ridin'" (that even had Facebook moms boppin' their heads) wasn't where he was destined to remain.

    4. Legendary one-hit wonder: Tommy Tutone...whose catchy 1981 hit, "867-5309/Jenny," set off a fad of people calling the number and asking for Jenny.

    A promo shot of  lead singer Tommy Heath and main songwriter Jim Keller

    Here's "867-5309/Jenny" so you can have it stuck in your head the rest of the day:

    View this video on YouTube

    Columbia / CBS / Via youtube.com

    What happened to them?

    The band performing onstage

    Now let's listen to the follow-up single, "Get Around Girl":

    View this video on YouTube

    Columbia / CBS / Via youtube.com

    How's the song? Boy, for a group famous for a song ("867-5309/Jenny") that immediately kicks off into high drive, "Get Around Girl" inexplicably gets off to a torpid start. It's the sort of start that probably had people who loved "Jenny" changing the channel within 30 seconds. The song improves a little as it goes on, at times capturing a new-wavy, the Cars–like vibe, but the only phone number you'll want to dial after listening to this misfire is 911.

    Did they deserve to be a one-hit wonder?

    FINAL VERDICT: Absolutely.

    Look, you can't drop a single as underwhelming as "Get Around Girl" — complete with a video that starts with an awkward close-up of Heath singing the cringe lines, "I ask you this / Did you kiss / My best friend?" — and expect to do anything but board a train directly to One-Hit Wonderville.

    5. Legendary one-hit wonder: the Baha Men...who, who, who, who, who released the chart-topping earworm "Who Let the Dogs Out."

    The Baha Men perform Who Let the Dogs Out

    Here's "Who Let the Dogs Out," in case you forgot what the verse sounds like ('cause lord knows you remember the chorus):

    View this video on YouTube

    S-Curve Records / Via youtube.com

    What happened to them?

    Baha Men saying Whooooooo

    Now let's listen to their follow-up song, "Move It Like This":

    View this video on YouTube

    S-Curve Records / Via youtube.com

    How's the song? This track has a singalong quality and a chorus that will stick in your head, but — how can I put this — very much gives off a "playing in the background at a sixth birthday party" vibe. In fact, it sounds as if it could've been written and recorded specifically for a kids movie. You also could see the Wiggles recording it. So...yeah. It's pleasant and inoffensive, but that's about it. 

    Did they deserve to be a one-hit wonder?

    FINAL VERDICT: Yes (but maybe not in another dimension).

    I gave the caveat about another dimension because the song was a modest hit internationally and does have a chorus that sounds like it could've been a hit (at least one that VH1 would've played the heck out of a few years earlier). Overall, though, it was too kid-friendly and lacked the propulsive power of the chorus to "Who Let the Dogs Out."

    "Who Let the Dogs Out" had a novelty-song feel, so escaping their fate as a one-hit wonder was going to be hard even if the Baha Men hadn't leaned hard into their kid-friendly sound. In the end, it probably wasn't so bad for them — they appear to have made good money recording and licensing songs for kids' content ever since.

    6. Legendary one-hit wonder: Deee-Lite...whose smash "Groove Is in the Heart" possibly got more people dancing in the '90s than any other song.

    An image of the band in the Runaway video

    Here's "Groove Is in the Heart" (art-art-art-art-art!):

    View this video on YouTube

    Elektra Records / Via youtube.com

    What happened to them?

    A promo shot of the band

    Now let's check out their follow-up single, "Runaway":

    View this video on YouTube

    Deee-Lite / Via youtube.com

    How's the song? Overall, the track has a nice, bouncy groove to it but doesn't quite take off the way "Groove Is in the Heart" does. This will make it sound as if I dislike the song more than I do, but "Groove Is in the Heart" feels like a song you'd dance to; "Runaway" feels like a song you'd buy shoes to. "Runaway" is a nice track, though, but one that makes you bop your head instead of go crazy on the dance floor.

    Did they deserve to be a one-hit wonder?

    FINAL VERDICT: Not entirely.

    Deee-Lite had a cool sound and were an awesome-looking band — all three members had style for days. They had star power, too, especially Lady Miss Kier, who feels like she could've become a massive star in the '90s. It didn't happen, but in the end, "Runaway" and two more of their tracks hit No. 1 on the US dance charts, so they remained stars in the world of dance music. Who knows? Maybe a slightly better follow-up single would've catapulted them to bigger things (or if they hadn't broken up after just two more albums).

    7. Legendary one-hit wonder: Right Said Fred...who had everyone saying things they were sexier than in 1991 with the cheeky worldwide smash "I'm Too Sexy."

    A headshot of Richard and Fred from the band, side by side

    For a refresher, here's "I'm Too Sexy" (yeah, right...like you need a refresher...you'll be humming it on your death bed):

    View this video on YouTube

    youtube.com

    What happened to them?

    The brothers in the "I'm Too Sexy" video

    OK, folks, here's their follow-up single, "Bumped":

    View this video on YouTube

    youtube.com

    How's the song? Honestly, I'm not sure what anyone could've been expecting as a follow-up to a song as idiosyncratic as "I'm Too Sexy," but what they got was "Dumped," which traded the frisky, up-tempo fun of the hit for a George Michael ballad–lite. Also, if people were expecting more clever lyrics like, "I'm too sexy for my shirt / So sexy that it hurts," they didn't get them. "Dumped" features banal romantic musings like, "All I needed was your love / Even now it's obvious / All I needed was a turtledove to make it right." Wha?

    Did they deserve to be a one-hit wonder?

    FINAL VERDICT: Yep.

    "Dumped" did reach No. 25 in Belgium, so I'll give them a golf clap for that. But I think they found themselves in a tough spot trying to follow up a song viewed by many as a novelty. Escaping the perception that you're a novelty act is hard, and while "Dumped" was an attempt at credibility, they probably had a better chance of scoring another hit by doing something funny and attention-grabbing like "I'm Too Sexy." Of course, trying to repeat the formula doesn't always work, either (see Vanilla Ice). The truth is, not everyone gets to be a major star for years and years! Them's the breaks, no matter how sexy you are! 

    8. Legendary one-hit wonder: Sinéad O'Connor...who broke hearts the whole world over with her colossal fcountry hitworldwide hit, "Nothing Compares 2 U."

    O'Connor famously crying in the video for the song

    Here's "Nothing Compares 2 U," in case you feel like having a good cry:

    View this video on YouTube

    Chrysalis Records / Via youtube.com

    What happened to her?

    O'Connor in the "Fire in Babylon" video

    Now let's listen to her follow-up single, "Success Has Made a Failure of Our Home":

    View this video on YouTube

    youtube.com

    How's the song? The track, a cover of Loretta Lynn's 1962 country hit "Success" (which O'Connor renamed "Success Has Made a Failure of Our Home"), is classy and features beautiful, nuanced vocals that rise in power, a wonderful brass arrangement, and a dramatic ending. Critics surely loved the song, but if the goal was another hit on the Hot 100, "Success" was a misstep — it sounded unlike anything else on the charts at the time and was unlikely to chart too high. 

    Did she deserve to be a one-hit wonder?

    FINAL VERDICT: Hmm. No. But also yes.

    I say no because O'Connor really had everything needed to be a huge, critically acclaimed star: a transcendent, otherworldly voice; impeccable musical taste; a strong point of view; and a distinctive look (a shaved head was her trademark). So many of the artists on this list seemed unsure of what to do after their hit. O'Connor, in contrast, seemed to know exactly who she wanted to be as an artist. She was also unfairly attacked and maligned for her outspoken views, and you can't say that sexism didn't play a large role in keeping her career in a box.

    I also say she deserved to be a one-hit wonder, though, because following up her smash hit with a covers album of mostly jazz standards was basically the anti-recipe for a hit. And while she was put through hell for speaking her mind, she had to know that doing something as radical as ripping up a picture of the pope on Saturday Night Live (to protest the Catholic Church's now-documented sexual abuse of children) was going to have a cost. That night on SNL, she also performed "Success Has Made a Failure of our Home," so courting controversy plus playing a cover of an old country song equals one-hit-wonder status. (For what it's worth, the song did go top 20 in the UK and Ireland.) 

    9. Legendary one-hit wonder: Chumbawamba...who had '90s folks blasting their smash hit, "Tubthumping," every time they went out.

    The band performing Tubthumping in the video

    Here's "Tubthumping," in case you want to time-travel back to 1997 for a few minutes:

    View this video on YouTube

    EMI / Universal / Via youtube.com

    What happened to them?

    The lead singer performs Tubthumping wearing a "One Hit Wonder" shirt

    Now let's listen to their follow-up single, "She's Got All the Friends That Money Can Buy":

    View this video on YouTube

    youtube.com

    How's the song? "She's Got All the Friends That Money Can Buy" is a more subdued song than "Tubthumping," with a '50s doo-wop-ish middle section that is fun but probably scared off radio programmers. The song has a bit of a singalong quality, but the defiant party vibe of their hit is absolutely not here. In fact, the lyrics — about the shallowness of a rich girl — lacked the wit and universality to captivate mainstream audiences the way "I get knocked down, but I get up again / You are never gonna keep me down" did.

    Did they deserve to be a one-hit wonder?

    FINAL VERDICT: Yeah, I mean...yeah.

    Look, Chumbawamba was going to have a have a hard time escaping the "one-hit wonder" tag — their big hit had an outlier, novelty feel, and they were an unusual band with a different sound that had been at it a long time before they went big. Lead singer Dunstan Bruce seemed to know that, cheekily wearing a "One Hit Wonder" T-shirt (seen above) while "Tubthumping" was still atop the charts. "She's Got All the Friends That Money Can Buy" wasn't anywhere near strong enough to overcome all that and make the fame last, but the band survived 30 years together, made fans all over the world, and retired on their own terms. That's pretty impressive (even if they never scored another hit). 

    10. Legendary one-hit wonder: Lou Bega...whose hit "Mambo No. 5" had everyone singing about all the women he needed in his life back in 1999.

    Bega singing into a 40s-era microphone in the video

    Here's "Mambo No. 5," in case you wanted to try to remember who comes after Monica, Erica, and Rita:

    View this video on YouTube

    Lautstark, BMG, RCA / Via youtube.com

    What happened to him?

    Bega performing Gentleman live

    Now let's listen to his follow-up single, "Gentleman":

    View this video on YouTube

    youtube.com

    How's the song? "Gentleman" tries to repeat the "Mambo No. 5" formula by again combining the '40s–'50s throwback sound with modern beats, but it just doesn't hit the same way...at all. Bega's scratchy vocals singing the cloying melody are hard to listen to, especially when he uncomfortably draws out the three syllables in "gentleman."

    Lyrically, it's a bit confused — the verses are about all the sweet things he'd do for a woman, but then the chorus says he's not a gentleman...I guess because he's really after sex? (Lyrics include, "You wouldn't call me gentleman / If you only knew my plan" and "Are you ready to explode with me tonight?") Regardless, the lyrics are generic and lack the fun gimmick of listing a bunch of women's names.

    Sidenote: Interestingly, you may be wondering why Psy of "Gangnam Style" fame isn't on this list. It's because he followed up "Gangnam Style" with a single that was also titled "Gentleman" — but unlike Bega's misfire, Psy's reached No. 5 on the Hot 100 and forever freed Psy from the title of "one-hit wonder" (in the US, anyway — he's huge in his native South Korea, of course).

    Did he deserve to be a one-hit wonder?

    FINAL VERDICT: Absolutely.

    Like a lot of other artists on this list, Bega hit it big with what could be called a novelty song, and it was going to take something really impressive to overcome that and establish mainstream credibility. Releasing a dreadful retread of that hit was just about the worst thing he could do, and, well, that's what he did. 

    11. Legendary one-hit wonder: Natalie Imbruglia...who rode the top of the charts with the breakup song of 1997, "Torn."

    Imbruglia looking fab in a hoodie in Torn's video

    Here's "Torn," if you want to relive all the feels:

    View this video on YouTube

    RCA / Via youtube.com

    What happened to her?

    Imbruglia singing in 2017

    OK, time now to listen to her follow-up single in the US, "Wrong Impression":

    View this video on YouTube

    youtube.com

    How's the song? It's a bit generic and blatantly commercial, but it's also catchy and pleasant sounding. It's totally the kind of song that would play in a movie theater as you wait for the curtain to go up, and you wouldn't mind it (even if you didn't especially pay attention to it). It even cleverly mixes in some slide guitar, echoing the slide guitar in "Torn." 

    Did she deserve to be a one-hit wonder?

    FINAL VERDICT: Not entirely.

    As I said above, her follow-up single was kind of generic, but how many times did artists like Savage Garden score hits in the '90s with tracks like this? It's sort of a surprise that Imbruglia — with her movie star good looks and pleasant voice — didn't score another hit or two. Of course, she did in the UK and Australia, where she remained popular, but in the US, she stands as a one-hit wonder.

    12. Legendary one-hit wonder: Dexys Midnight Runners...who had everyone singing "Toora loora, toora loo rye ay" back in 1982.

    The band in earthy denim performing on banjo and violin in the video

    Here's "Come On Eileen" to refresh your memory of what pure joy sounds like:

    vimeo.com

    What happened to them?

    The band performing Come On Eileen in 2013 on TV

    Now let's listen to their follow-up single, "This Is What She's Like":

    View this video on YouTube

    youtube.com

    How's the song? On the album, "This Is What She's Like" is 12-plus minutes long and starts with two minutes of boring chatter before the music finally kicks in. Extraneous, audience-alienating intro aside, the song is likable at times and representative of their unique style, but subdued and 100% lacking the singalong charms of "Come On Eileen." It eventually builds into a jam that sounds suspiciously similar to the end jam on "Come On Eileen," but music fans who loved "Come On Eileen" were unlikely to get that far into the recording. The single version awkwardly cut the track down to three minutes.

    Did they deserve to be a one-hit wonder?

    FINAL VERDICT: Oh god, yes.

    Plainly put, this band really fumbled the ball. After scoring a mammoth hit, they changed their ragamuffin look (putting on suits and ties) and released an awkward three-minute edit of a 12-minute song (that wasn't that commercial to start with) as their lead single. There was infighting among the band too. Plenty of issues!

    It takes a lot to avoid the "one-hit wonder" trap: writing another brilliant song, yes, but also having a plan for the future, making smart decisions, and staying simpatico with your bandmates. It's not easy, and Dexys Midnight Runners learned that the hard way.

    13. Legendary one-hit wonder: Sir Mix-a-Lot...who had everyone embracing their love of big butts in 1992 with the huge hit "Baby Got Back."

    Sir Mix a Lot in the video

    Oh my god, Becky, look at the video for "Baby Got Back":

    View this video on YouTube

    Reprise / Via youtube.com

    What happened to him?

    Sir Mix-a-Lot standing atop a giant butt in the video

    OK, time to listen to his follow-up single, "Put 'Em on the Glass":

    vimeo.com

    How's the song? "Put 'Em on the Glass" has a lot of similarities to "Baby Got Back" — Sir Mix-a-Lot's distinctive rap, a propulsive beat, and lyrics about a woman's body, this time not a general ode to a woman's posterior, but a woman who presses her breasts against the passenger-side window for him to see while driving (Sample lyric: "Girl, let it all out! / And that's what she did, baby ain't no kid / 36D's a make a man skid").  

    What to say about this song? Musically, it's nowhere near as infectious as "Baby Got Back," but it has a beat and flow that surely sounded great blasting out of car windows and boom boxes. However, it definitely falls into the "similar to the hit but not as good" camp, and that goes for the bawdy lyrics, too, which don't have the universal appeal of "Baby Got Back."

    Did he deserve to be a one-hit wonder?

    FINAL VERDICT: Yup.

    Sir Mix-a-Lot was a good rapper with a unique persona, but a gimmicky one. He leaned hard into the "I'm the super-horny/skeevy rapper" persona, and over-the-top objectification of women just isn't a recipe for longtime mainstream chart success. His horny-guy shtick played well with "Baby Got Back" — especially with a humorous video featuring him rapping atop a giant butt — but when he dropped ANOTHER pervy song, I think people's original impression of "I can't believe he's rapping that, how funny!" turned into "Ugh, this guy is being creepy again and making me uncomfortable. Change the channel!" 

    Final thoughts:

    After you listen to all of these, it really becomes clear how difficult it is for an artist to score that second hit. Some of these artists failed because they tried to cut and paste the formula of their first hit, while others failed because they entirely changed the style that audiences loved. And for groups, the pressures of keeping a chart-topping band together often led to a premature breakup.

    The most basic explanation for their one-hit-wonder status, though, is this: They didn't deliver a follow-up single as unforgettable as their hit.  

    In the end, the recipe for returning to the top of the charts is easy...just record another song that manages to reach the heavens, scoop up a little magic, and capture it in three minutes of sound. Easier said than done, of course!

    Lastly, on the very off chance that any of these artists are reading this, please know that being a one-hit wonder is an incredible accomplishment! You climbed to the very top of the music world, and even if it didn't last long, you were able to look down and see every single musician in the world staring up at you, all of them wishing and hoping — and dreaming about what it would be like to accomplish what you just did.