We’ve seen it happen many times: a band or solo artist releases one song that becomes a massive hit, playing on all radio stations across all countries, flooding social media and streaming services, only to disappear after a few months never to be heard of again. The phenomenon has a name: one-hit-wonder – and it happens quite often. We’ve seen it countless times before, and so did our parents, grandparents, and those before them. And we’re seeing it as we speak, with countless one-hit wonders of the 2000s emerging for a season with literally one hit single before going to the place where musicians with a ruined career go to retire.
While we live in a connected world where songs go viral in an instant, this is still not the best time for one-hit wonders. Actually, many of the best-known – and most fondly remembered – shooting stars emerged (and disappeared) in the 1980s and the 1990s, without the help of social networks and the internet.
Vanilla Ice, born Robert Matthew Van Winkle, is an American rapper who made waves all over the world with his one hit single “Ice Ice Baby”. On one hand, it was a massive hit, on the other, it was subject to serious scrutiny because, in 1990, Ice was threatened with a massive copyright suit for using samples of Queen and David Bowie’s hit “Under Pressure”. The matter was ultimately settled out of court.
“Ice Ice Baby” was a massive phenomenon, becoming the first hip-hop single to top the Billboard 100 and topping charts in several countries from Australia to Zimbabwe.
Survivor will always be remembered for the hit single “Eye of the Tiger” that served as a theme song for Sylvester Stallone’s sports drama “Rocky III”. Stallone wanted to use Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” as a theme for the movie but was denied permission. The song topped the charts across the world in 1982, holding the #1 spot on Billboard for six consecutive weeks, and won the group a Grammy.
“Eye of the Tiger” was the only Survivor song to top the charts, even though the band released several albums that were pretty successful. 30-odd years later, though, it’s the only song they are remembered for.
Chumbawamba was a British band of constantly shifting genres, going from punk to alternative, from folk to pop-rock. It was alive for 30 years, releasing more than a dozen studio albums and winning several awards. Still, the only song they are remembered for by the masses is their 1997 hit “Tubthumping”.
Tubthumping peaked at #2 on the UK Singles Chart, #6 on the Billboard Hot 100, and topped the charts in Australia, Italy, Canada, and New Zealand. The song was released on the band’s eighth studio album, and it was followed by eight more, yet it is the one song they are remembered for to this day.
David Lubega is a German recording artist who is remembered to this day for his 1999 summer hit “Mambo No. 5”. You know, the one with “A little bit of Monica”. The song was the first single released from his debut album “A Little Bit of Mambo” that fared pretty well. The singles that followed were far less successful, though, even if they charted pretty well out of inertia.
“Mambo No. 5”, a cover of Dámaso Pérez Prado’s 1949 original, topped the charts in pretty much every country in continental Europe, did well in the UK and the US and stayed in the #1 spot in France for 20 weeks.
Lubega released three more studio albums in the 2010s but he will always be remembered as the “Mambo No. 5” guy.
Robert Keith McFerrin Jr., best-known by his stage name Bobby McFerrin, is an American jazz vocalist and a musical genius. He is famous for two things: using only his voice to perform entire compositions, overtone singing, improvisation, and vocal percussion (his entire repertoire needs an article on its own) and his hit single “Don’t Worry Be Happy”, released in 1988 – it was his only true mainstream hit, and this makes him qualify for this list. What makes the song stand out is that it doesn’t use musical instruments at all – every single “instrument” is “played” by McFerrin’s voice and overdubbed in the studio.
“Don’t Worry Be Happy” was first released in 1988, with the movie “Cocktail” starring Tom Cruise but it didn’t do well in the charts, topping at 88 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was, in turn, re-released later in the year, and this time, the public embraced it wholeheartedly: it knocked Guns’n’Roses’ “Sweet Child O’Mine” out of the top spot of the Billboard Hot 100, reaching top spots in many charts across the world, and leaving a lasting impression on popular culture. And it won three Grammies in the process.