One of the special days we celebrated in September was “One-Hit Wonders Day”.
Being a musician and a radio worker, the charm of “one-hit wonders” is somewhat special to me.
By definition, a one-hit wonder is any entity that achieves mainstream popularity, often for only one piece of work, and becomes known among the general public solely for that momentary success.
It’s most commonly used in regard to music performers with only only one hit single that overshadows their other work.
So let’s look at some one-hit wonders.
Bobby “Boris” Picket’s “Monster Mash” deserves special mention.
The 1962 hit with the Bobby and the Crypt Kickers went to #1 in October of that year.
It was also released again in the U.S. in 1970 and 1973 and charted again, although nothing close to the fall of 1962.
It’s still a Halloween season classic.
There’s also a phone number one-hit wonder.
Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309 (Jenny) was a legitimate hit in 1981.
Made me think of “dialing up” another telephone number hit.
In 1940, on a 78rpm disc, the Glenn Miller Orchestra rang up “Pennsylvania 6-500” but Glenn was far from a one-hit wonder.
Back in the day, “Pennsylvania 6-5000” was the phone number of the Hotel Pennsylvania’s “Cafe Rouge” in New York City.
In 1991, Marc Cohen had his date with destiny when he released “Walking in Memphis”.
This one sticks out for me because the first time I heard it was on the radio as we were driving through Memphis.
I thought it was a Chamber of Commerce or Visitor’s Bureau commercial.
Sometimes, one-hit wonders get a lot of play in the movies, commercials or even in sports.
“Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” (1969) became a sports standard of sorts when the organist at a Chicago White Sox game played it as a taunt to the visiting team.
“Hooked on a Feeling” (1974) by Blue Swede (Ooga-chaka, ooga-ooga) was heard in “Reservoir Dogs” and again in “Guardians of the Galaxy.
It was originally a hit for B.J. Thomas in 1968.
In “Happy Gilmore” and “Herbie-Fully Loaded” you’ll hear the 1974 one-hit wonder “Magic” by Pilot.
Bet if I say “Oh, ho, ho, it’s magic!” you’ll remember.
Considered by some to be the top one-hit wonder of all time, A-ha’s “Take on Me” from 1984 was featured during the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics.
Although A-Ha is a true one-hit wonder in the U.S., they had hit after hit in Europe and especially their native Norway.
If I say Rusted Root and “Send Me on My Way”, you’ll probably say, “Huh?”
However, when most hear the first few seconds of lead singer Michael Glabick “talk-sing” a bit of “you-know-what-they-say-about-the-young”, you’ll see how this one-hit wonder made it to the big screen in “Ice Age” and “Matilda”.
The song was also heard in an Enterprise Rent-a-Car commercial and was used as wake up music on the Mars Rover expedition in 2003.
Thanks to the movie “Benny and Joon” in 1993, the Proclaimers got some attention for their hit, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” for the song they released in Europe in 1988.
I have two “faves” when it comes to one-hit wonders.
At the top of the list is “96 Tears” by ? and The Mysterians.
Remember when Prince identified himself with that iconic symbol a few years ago?
Well, Rudy “?” Martinez beat him to the punch in 1962 because he identified himself with that punctuation mark.
He also insisted he was from Mars.
My other top one-hit wonder was Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky”, a chart-topper from 1969.
Greenbaum was inspired to write the song (which took him just 15 minutes) after hearing a Porter Waggoner gospel song on the radio.
One of the lines in Greenbaum’s song is “I’ve got a friend in Jesus” which is interesting since he’s Jewish.
The song nearly got me fired from my first radio job when I played it at 3:00am on a Thursday at the all-religious radio station where I was employed.
(I normally played hymns by George Beverly Shea and Patty Page).
Billboard Magazine listed “96 Tears” in the #9 slot on it’ reader poll of the top 10 one-hit wonders.
“Spirit in the Sky” checked in at #3.
In 1997, one-hit wonder Chumbawamba cut loose with “Tub-Thumping” and what’s notable about this one, the artists urged their fans to steal their recordings.
Tough to make any money on the sales of your hit with that philosophy.
in 1976, a group from my old stomping grounds of Ohio had a huge #1 hit…and that was it.
Wild Cherry released “Play That Funky Music”.
The band was from Mingo Junction, Ohio and played clubs in the steel region of eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania and the West Virginia panhandle.
The group got its’ name from a box of cough drops and frontman Rob Parissi wrote the song after someone in the crowd yelled an insult.
“Play some funky music, white boy” made Parissi grab a drink order pad, borrow a bartender’s pen and write the lyrics to the #1 song in 1976.
Finally, in 2003, Fountains of Wayne had a one-hit wonder, “Stacey’s Mom” and it was actually nominated for “Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group” Grammy.
It didn’t win.
I guess they “wiped out” just liked the Surfaris did with their one big hit, in 1963, “Wipe Out”.
The maniacal laugh and drum solo that served as the litmus test from 60’s rock drummers was from the group’s drummer, Ron Wilson.
All memorable one-hit wonders.