A one hit wonder is a musical artist known for one hit that they had at one point in their career – either as their only hit, or as a hit that was so big it overshadowed any of their subsequent material. They’re often looked down upon in comparison to artists that have had illustrious careers with several hit albums, but let’s be honest – everyone loves a good one hit wonder. No matter how much you assure everyone that you only like quality music, when that jam comes on, you’re singing along just like everybody else (or wishing you were, and then later playing it in the privacy of your own home and singing along there. Don't lie.) Given the chance to listen to one of the songs on this list, or that twelfth track on the fifth album by that critically praised artist, you’re going to go with the one hit wonder. It's fun, it's catchy and it makes everyone listening feel good.
One hit wonders are the musical equivalent of junk food – they might not contain profound lyrics, they might not be tremendous compositional achievements. A lot of them are based on one really catchy riff or chord progression, or lyrics that are barely even real words. However, the wild popularity of every one hit wonder shows that there’s something in them that appeals to audiences, whatever it is – that strange ‘it’ factor. These songs will get everyone dancing and smiling.
For this article, we’re taking it back to a decade that produced a lot of one hit wonders – the 1990s. It wouldn’t be fair to limit the hits to certain years of the decade, so in order to ensure full coverage of the weird and wonderful 90s, I’ve selected the top one hit wonder of every year from 1990 to 1999. You’re going to want to listen to them after reading this, and that’s okay. There’s no judgment here. Crank these and party like it’s 1999 (sorry, had to).
10 Vanilla Ice – "Ice, Ice, Baby" (1990)
Oh, Robert Van Winkle. Van Winkle, who goes by the stage name Vanilla Ice, penned this monster hit at the young age of 16. A lot of people make fun of this song, and it’s been put on many a ‘worst songs ever’ list, but let’s stop, collaborate and listen for a moment. He brought in a brand new invention, and every time it reaches the chorus, no matter who you are, you can’t help but mutter ‘ice, ice, baby’ under your breath. That bass line, will it ever stop? No, and no one wants it to, because this song is nothing if not a crowd pleaser. Check out the hook while his DJ revolves it.
As catchy as it is, he did steal the bass line from Queen and did lose a lot of money because of it.
9 Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch – "Good Vibrations" (1991)
Nowadays, Mark Wahlberg is a serious actor with a lot of great roles under his belt. Back in 1991, he was Marky Mark, and the young, fit 20 year old with the abs of steel rapped his heart out alongside the Funky Bunch. "Good Vibrations" reached number one in several countries – not only the United States, but Switzerland and Sweden as well, and it cracked the top 20 on the music charts in nearly every nation. Everyone loved Marky Mark and the sweet sensations his boxing produced.
8 Sir Mix-A-Lot – Baby Got Back (1992)
This is quite possibly one of the biggest one hit wonders ever. Ever. On paper, it sounds ridiculous – an entire four minutes and twenty two seconds devoted to communicating an appreciation of a specific part of the female anatomy. It doesn’t seem like it would work – yet, it does. No one is saying that Sir Mix-A-Lot is the next Shakespeare, but for whatever reason, whenever this comes on in a crowded room, 75% of people will know at least some of the lyrics (and the other 25% are lying). It was named #1 on VH1’s list of Greatest One Hit Wonders of the 90s, so it has pretty strong credibility as a 90s one hit wonder. It was controversial, but it was equally catchy, and some combination of the straightforward lyrics and simple instrumental drove people crazy.
Maybe it’s because of his message – when you wash away all the explicitness and objectification, he’s saying that women of all shapes and sizes are beautiful. It’s practically a Dove campaign – Sir Mix-A-Lot was ahead of the times.
7 Haddaway – What Is Love (1993)
Who says one hit wonders are restricted to the United States? Haddaway, a German-Trinidadian artist, performed this massive dance hit that reached number one in thirteen countries. It only reached number eleven on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in the U.S. at the time, but I bet most people have heard of it after it was featured in the “Roxbury Guys” sketches on Saturday Night Live. Whenever someone posed the question ‘what is love?’ after 1993, there was a 50/50 chance of the response being “baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more.” That’s cultural impact.
6 Rednex – Cotton Eye Joe (1994)
1994, for whatever reason, wasn’t the best year for one hit wonders, but it did produce this gem. “Cotton Eye Joe” is a song with a longer history, and Rednex only covered the song, but they did so in a truly unique and bizarre way. Rednex is a Swedish techno/folk/bluegrass band, proving that even seemingly disparate genres such as techno and bluegrass can combine to make a one hit wonder. While the song is generally a more low key folk song, in their cover Rednex transformed it into a floor-pounding dance hit. It reached number one on various music charts in Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. That’s mass appeal.
5 OMC – How Bizarre (1995)
“How Bizarre” is a hit released by New Zealand band OMC. If you’ve watched a fair share of 1990s movies or television shows, chances are you’ve come across it at some point. That twangy riff opens it up, the guy starts rapping, and finally the chorus swells and everyone sings along – oooh, baby (ooh baby.) This song was making everyone crazy back then – whether in the good way or bad way is debatable.
4 Los Del Rio – Macarena (1996)
This song will never go away. First of all, everyone loves a song that has an accompanying dance – it makes even the most helpless individuals with two left feet feel like they know what they’re doing (just follow the steps! Heeeey, Macarena!). The Bayside Boys later made a version with some English peppered in, but there are very few people who truly know the lyrics to “Macarena.” Most just murmur through the verses before shouting the one intelligible phrase, but that's half the fun.
According to the charts, it was a huge success, and reached number one in countries across the world. More impressive, however, is its lasting appeal on dance floors everywhere – at any wedding or gathering with guests of a wide range of ages, this is one of the few songs guaranteed to get everyone on the dance floor. For better or for worse.
3 Chumbawamba – Tubthumping (1997)
This is the one hit wonder that no one knows the title of – to give you a helping hand, it’s the one with “I get knocked down!” This hit reached number one on the charts in Australia, Canada, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand and the United States. Fun fact – the term “tubthumper” is used to describe an individual who appears to jump on the bandwagon with a populist idea, and is often used in reference to politicians. While many people sing it as a triumphant anthem about being resilient, Chumbawumba may have had something a little more political and radical in mind.
2 Semisonic – Closing Time (1998)
“Closing Time” is American alternative rock band Semisonic’s most recognizable hit to date. Unlike many typical one hit wonders, it’s not that strange or quirky – it’s a fairly typical alternative song, but while people tend to either love it or hate it, nearly everyone knows it. It has remained popular in the years since its release and been featured in several television shows and movies. For films, it has appeared in Due Date, American Reunion, and was heavily featured in the 2011 film Friends with Benefits, where Justin Timberlake’s character organizes a flash mob to dance to the song. It was also a staple on television, and could be heard on Melrose Place, Friends, The Simpsons, Daria, How I Met Your Mother, The Office, and Rules of Engagement. Not a bad legacy.
1 Eiffel 65 – Blue (Da Ba Dee) (1999)
Any song that has the unintelligible words “Da Ba Dee” in parentheses within the title itself has one hit wonder written all over it. “Blue” was released in 1999 by Italian dance music group Eiffel 65 and immediately skyrocketed to the number one spot on music charts in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Europe, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway… I think you get the gist. It’s the ultimate definition of what a one hit wonder should be – a catchy tune that gets stuck in your head even though it doesn’t always make sense (why is everything blue?). Many critics have skewered the song, essentially calling it a glorified ring tone, but it definitely managed to top the charts across the world (the blue world).
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