Happy National One-Hit Wonder Day, everyone! This list of “one-hit wonders” may seem inaccurate upon first glance, since that categorization usually refers to artists like Nena, Los Del Rio, and Right Said Fred. But the rule for inclusion on this list is simple: one U.S. Top 40 Pop hit.
No Alternative hits. No Adult Contemporary charts. No Country, no Jazz, no R&B, no Anglo-Saxon Hardcore, no Canadian charts. No “Big in Japan.” No hits with five other supergroups where they stood in the background and made faces for the camera.
I also don’t care if they’ve had a dozen No. 1’s on the Album charts. That’s an entirely different level of success. The point is, believe it or not, none of these otherwise very successful artists ever scored more than one Top 40 single.
Amy Winehouse, “Rehab” (peak chart position: No. 9)
Considering the high profile of her tragedy, it seems her catalog should be far better known, yet commercially “Rehab” was her high point and only Top 40 single. Ironic? Or just so perfectly scripted it hurts? Godspeed.
Garth Brooks, “Lost in You” (peak chart position: No. 5)
Oh, he was part of some horrific various-artists thing called “Voices That Care,” but it wasn’t billed as Garth Brooks … and neither is his only pop hit “Lost in You,” which is credited to none other than Chris Gaines! Country fans may have always worshiped the ground this guy walked on, but other record buyers waited until he got weird.
Public Enemy, “Give It Up” (peak chart position: No. 33)
There’s an axiom somewhere that says something along the lines of “No artist of quality to appear post-1977 will ever have a hit with their best work, but with some passable tune that no real fan cares about.” That’s a long axiom.
Fiona Apple, “Criminal” (peak chart position: No. 21)
Remember that weird “Is this an American Apparel ad?” music video Fiona made for this song, where she looked too young for us to be watching her sitting around in her underwear? Well, that video probably helped her score her only Top 40 crossover hit.
Beck, “Loser” (peak chart position: No. 27)
The Voice of a Generation or the Voice Inside His Head? You decide!
Frank Zappa, “Valley Girl” (peak chart position: No. 32)
According to the pop charts, Frank Zappa didn’t exist until the 1980s, when he and daughter Moon Unit worked on this novelty song together. Zappa, however, always had a high-standing critical reputation and, more importantly, a loyal cult following that purchased everything he’s done to keep his estate rolling in the dollars.
Ted Nugent, “Cat Scratch Fever” (peak chart position: No. 30)
According to the pop charts, Ted hasn’t been relevant since 1977.
Liz Phair, “Why Can’t I?” (peak chart position: No. 32)
Hipsters overpromised on her greatness, then abandoned her when she ditched them for a wider pop audience. But the move paid off, as this song fared better on the singles chart than anything off her critically acclaimed albums Exile in Guyville or Whip-Smart. Phair currently writes music for film and television.
Bryan Ferry, “Kiss and Tell” (peak chart position: No. 31)
Americans really don’t know what to do with British guys not from the original “Invasion” of the 1960s. Ferry lived on the left of the dial during the ’80s, while a strummer like John Mellencamp held court on the middle of the dial with his brooding tendencies. I don’t know. Maybe Ferry should’ve worn more denim. And driven a truck.
Siouxsie & the Banshees, “Kiss Them for Me” (peak chart position: No. 23)
It’s so hard explaining things to kids brought up in an environment where tattoos are standard TV fare and crazy hair is just a personal choice. I no longer know what gets you beat up or at least harassed these days, but when Siouxsie was in her prime, she was sent to college radio with the rest of the freaks and her fans lived on the edge of something we all knew existed. It’s amazing she ever broke the Top 40 at all.