Sometimes Once Is Enough
It's National One-Hit Wonder Day! Here, to mark the occasion, are 40 classic singles by artists who never had another Top 40 hit.
"Lovin' You" — Minnie Riperton
Riperton soared to the high end of her five-octave vocal range in this ode to her baby daughter, a No. 1 hit in 1975. A follow-up single, "Inside my Love," got stuck at No. 76, but the Chicago-born singer became the subject of a documentary and many tributes following her death from cancer in 1979.
"Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)" — John Fred & His Playboy Band
This first-and-only hit for the Louisiana-based band was inspired by John Fred's mishearing of the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds." (He thought the refrain was "Lucy in disguise...") The single reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1968.
"Hey There Lonely Girl" — Eddie Holman
Although he sang with the Delfonics, the R&B singer is best remembered for his one major hit as a soloist, which promised to "make your broken heart like new." It climbed to No. 2 in 1970.
"The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" — Vicki Lawrence
She was already well-known as a singer and comedian on "The Carol Burnett Show," but this Southern Gothic ballad was Vicki Lawrence's only hit single, topping the charts in 1973. (Fun fact: The song, written by Lawrence's husband, was offered to Cher, but Sonny Bono turned it down because he thought it might offend her fans in the South.)
"Come on Eileen" — Dexys Midnight Runners
Constant exposure on the fledgling MTV channel helped turn this 1982 single into a No. 1 hit. Unable to duplicate that success, the English band broke up three years later.
"Goldfinger" — Shirley Bassey
Her records sold well in the U.K., but only one was a Top 10 hit in the U.S.—this title song from the 1964 James Bond movie, which warned us to be wary of "the man with the Midas touch."
"In the Year 2525" — Zager and Evans
This was the No. 1 song for six weeks in the summer of 1969, at the time of Woodstock and the Apollo 11 moon landing. Zager and Evans have a distinction: No other artists ever reached No. 1 in both the U.S. and the U.K. without even making it into the Top 100 with a subsequent single.
"Dominique" — The Singing Nun
This single was truly a surprise hit—a religious song, performed in French by a Belgian nun, which soared to No. 1 just as the Beatles released "I Want to Hold Your Hand." But the story has a tragic ending. Jeanne Paule Deckers, known as the Singing Nun, later left the convent and, in 1985, committed suicide with her partner, Annie Pécher.
"96 Tears" — ? and the Mysterians
Five sons of migrant workers, the band took its name from a 1950s science fiction movie. This garage-rock classic, written by frontman ? (aka Rudy Martinez), spent a week at No. 1 in 1966. Although the group never repeated that success, the song went on to be covered by artists ranging from Aretha Franklin to Iggy Pop.
"Ring My Bell" — Anita Ward
A schoolteacher with a degree in psychology, Ward became an instant star in 1979 when this disco song topped the Billboard Hot 100. Within a year, Studio 54 closed, disco began to seem passé and so did Ward's singing career. Still, she recorded several more singles—including "It's My Night," in 2011—though none cracked the Top 40.
"Eve of Destruction" — Barry McGuire
This protest song, which topped the chart in 1965, was answered the following year by Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler's"Ballad of the Green Berets," the No. 1 hit of 1966. Sadler was a two-hit wonder—his second single, "The A Team," sold pretty well. In 1972, McGuire was born again and turned his attention to contemporary Christian music.
"Afternoon Delight" — Starland Vocal Band
"I just wanted to write something that was fun and hinted at sex," said band member Bill Danoff, who took the title of this song from a happy-hour menu at a restaurant in Washington, D.C. The result was a No. 1 hit in 1976. after which the Starland Vocal Band hosted a variety show on CBS and, in 1981, disbanded.
"Ringo" — Lorne Greene
"He lay face down in the desert sand / Clutching his six-gun in his hand..." Like an episode of "Bonanza" boiled down to 3 minutes and 14 seconds, this spoken-word ballad recounts the unlikely friendship between an Old West lawman and a gunslinger. Equally unlikely was the fact that, in 1964, Greene followed the Shangi-Las' "Leader of the Pack" to the top of the pop chart.
"MacArthur Park" — Richard Harris
In 1967 he played King Arthur in "Camelot." The next year, Harris made his pop music debut with Jimmy Webb's "MacArthur Park," which reached No. 2 even though some called it one of the worst songs ever written. But the Irish actor soon returned to the big screen, starring in movies like "A Man Called Horse."
"Nothing Compares 2 U" — Sinéad O'Connor
Despite widespread acclaim in the late '80s, followed by notoriety in the '90s, O'Connor had only one Top 40 single, and this heart-wrenching cover of Prince's song is it.
"The Worst That Could Happen" — Johnny Maestro & the Brooklyn Bridge
Another song written by Jimmy Webb, this one peaked at No. 3 in 1969. Almost a half-century later the Brooklyn Bridge still does concerts, though the group never returned to the Top 40. (Fun fact: Webb reportedly wrote both "The Worst That Could Happen" and "MacArthur Park" about the same girlfriend.)
"Mickey" — Toni Basil
Basil, an award-winning choreographer who began an acting career in 1969 when she played a prostitute in "Easy Rider," reached No. 1 with this pop single in 1982. Her first and only hit, it wound up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
"The Boy From New York City" — The Ad Libs
A female lead backed by four doo-wop singers, the Ad Libs had their moment with this Top 10 hit in 1965. The soul group's subsequent singles failed to chart, with one exception: "He Ain't No Angel," which peaked at No. 100 later that year.
"In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" — Iron Butterfly
The 17-minute version of this song was too long for a 45-rpm record, so it was whittled down to just under 3 minutes. The result, released in 1968, was Iron Butterfly's only Top 40 single. The original version, meanwhile, filled a whole side of the "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" album, which went on to sell more than 30 million copies worldwide.
"In the Summertime" — Mungo Jerry
"When the weather's fine / You've got women, you've got women on your mind..." With that upbeat spirit, Mungo Jerry maintained its popularity for a number of years in the U.K., but this debut single was the British band's only hit in the U,S.
"Tainted Love" — Soft Cell
This song began as the B-side of a single by Gloria Jones that didn't even make the charts. Soft Cell gave it a New Wave spin that made all the difference: A Top 10 hit in 1982, "Tainted Love" set a new record by spending 43 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100. After that, Soft Cell had a number of hits in the U.K. but none in the U.S.
"Love Is in the Air" — John Paul Young
Born in Scotland, Young had a string of hits in Australia, where he grew up. But this disco song, which peaked at No. 7 in 1978, was his only hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Ironically, he recorded it with an eye toward the German market.
"The Girl From Ipanema" — Astrud Gilberto
The Brazilian bossa nova singer's only hit sold more than a million copies and won the 1965 Grammy Award for Record of the Year. Several years later, she began writing her own songs and recorded in seven languages, including German and Japanese as well as Portuguese and English.
"Hot Child in the City" — Nick Gilder
Released in 1978, Gilder's only hit as a soloist climbed all the way to No. 1. Some of his most successful songs after that were performed by other artists—such as Patty Smyth's band Scandal, which made it into the Top 10 with "The Warrior."
"Seasons in the Sun" — Terry Jacks
The Beach Boys recorded this English adaptation of a French song, with Jacks as their producer. But when they scrapped the recording, the Canadian singer-songwriter decided to do his own version. Released in 1974, it sold more than 10 million copies worldwide.
"Green Tambourine" — The Lemon Pipers
What happens when a record label pushes a bluesy rock band to produce a light pop song? In this case, you get a chart-topping single—the first bubblegum hit to reach No. 1—and a group of musicians so unhappy that they quickly left Buddha Records and then disbanded.
"I Love the Nightlife (Disco 'Round)" — Alicia Bridges
This crossover hit—a rare disco tune that received some play on country stations—peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Although it remains Bridges' biggest claim to fame, she's still active in music, as a DJ and a producer.
"Black Is Black" — Los Bravos
This debut song, which peaked at No. 4 in 1966, was the first international hit by a Spanish rock and roll band. Los Bravos promptly released three more singles, but none of them made it into the Top 40.
"Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues" — Danny O'Keefe
O'Keefe first recorded this song in 1967 but didn't release it as a single until 1972, when a slowed-down version became his only Top 10 hit. Yet O'Keefe remains a highly respected singer-songwriter whose compositions have been covered by artists ranging from Elvis Presley to Judy Collins. He even co-wrote one song, "Well Well Well," with Bob Dylan.
"Kung Fu Fighting" — Carl Douglas
An early disco hit, Douglas' homage to martial arts movies caught on in dance clubs before it climbed to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974. The Jamaican-born singer recorded nine other singles, but only the follow-up to this one, "Dance the Kung Fu," made the chart, and it rose no higher than No. 48.
"The Game of Love" — Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders
Wayne Fontana's band hit No. 1 with this song at the height of the British Invasion. But unlike the Beatles, Herman's Hermits and other 1965 hitmakers, the Mindbenders never managed to duplicate that success.
"Play That Funky Music" — Wild Cherry
Wild Cherry was performing at a club in the mid-'70s when an African-American in the audience shouted at the stage, "Play some funky music, white boy!" That inspired this 1976 single, a No. 1 hit that went platinum, selling more than 2.5 million copies.
"Come on Down to My Boat" — Every Mothers Son
The oddly named band scored big with this upbeat pop song, a Top 10 hit in 1967, but it was all downhill from there. Every Mother's Son squeezed in two studio albums before breaking up just a year later.
"I Can Help" — Billy Swan
A bass player for Kris Kristofferson in the early '70s, Swan reached No.1 with his debut single. The records that came after that did reasonably well on the country chart, but he never had another Top 40 hit. These days Swan works mainly as a sessions musician and backup singer,
"Get Together" — The Youngbloods
This Top 10 hit captured the youthful idealism of the summer of 1969. It was the only time the Youngbloods got anywhere near the Top 40.
"Indiana Wants Me" — R. Dean Taylor
This song, which Taylor wrote after seeing the movie "Bonnie and Clyde," put the Canadian singer-songwriter in the Top 10 toward the end of 1970. But Lord, he couldn't go back there. After trying to make a comeback in the 1980s, Taylor quit recording.
"They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" — Napoleon XIV
Who was that masked man? New York DJ "Cousin" Bruce Morrow revealed his identity as Jerry Samuels, a veteran performer whose only Top 10 hit was this 1966 novelty song.
"Harper Valley PTA" — Jeannie C. Riley
Although a number of her singles did pretty well on the country chart, none of them had the impact of "Harper Valley PTA," which crossed over and topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 1968. Several years later Riley became a born-again Christian and turned to gospel music.
"Classical Gas" — Mason Williams
A No. 2 hit in 1968, this instrumental composition won three Grammy Awards. But it's not too surprising that Williams (seen here on "The Johnny Cash Show") proved to be a one-hit wonder. As a classical guitarist—and a comedy writer for "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour"—he wasn't exactly the Top 40 type.
"For What It's Worth" — Buffalo Springfield
"Stop, hey, what's that sound?" Granted, Neil Young and Stephen Stills hardly qualify as one-hit wonders, but their mid-'60s band entered the Top 40 only once. "For What It's Worth" peaked at No. 7 in 1967. It's the song that was played when, 30 years later, Buffalo Springfield was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
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