The anatomy of the one hit wonder

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The music industry is a tough one to crack into, and the phrase “you either make it or you break it” certainly applies for many artists and bands who have their go at being the next best thing to grace the radio waves. However, many forget the select few artists who make it then break it. By this, of course, we mean the mystery of the one hit wonder. Those artists who seem to have huge success with one song before disappearing into the abyss, never to be seen in the top 40 charts again. In this article, we will outline what defines a one hit wonder, what their common characteristics are, as well as looking at a few of our favourite one hit wonders hailing from the rock genre.

What exactly is a one hit wonder?

For the most part, an artist can be defined as a one hit wonder if they only have ONE song that they are predominantly known for. If we are talking in more technical terms here, a one hit wonder can be more strictly defined as an artist who has only one song that entered the top 10 in the UK charts in their career. This usually happens due to their future material not having the same appeal as the one hit that has brought them to fame. In some cases, the artist simply won’t have released any further singles.

A good example of a one hit wonder would be the Baha Men – who achieved great chart success in 2000 with their hit ‘Who Let the Dogs Out?’. The song reached the number 2 spot in the UK, entered the top ten in 12 other countries and is still found on the playlists of many cheesy nightclubs to this day. Despite this, the Bahamian group did not achieve much further success with their future releases. The Baha Men have released twelve studio albums throughout their career, and this song about dogs is the only one they are predominantly known for. If that doesn’t sum up what a one hit wonder is, I don’t know what will.


Common characteristics of the one hit wonder

Repetition, repetition, repetition

One hit wonders don’t usually tend to be songs with complex, well-built structures. Many feature choruses with one singular phrase – usually the title of the song – which is repeated over and over again, making the song incredibly catchy. Good examples would include Psy (‘Gangnam Style’), David Zowie (‘House Every Weekend’) and 3 of a Kind (‘Baby Cakes’). We’re all victim to liking a particular song merely for its catchiness, however this love normally fades away as quickly as it arose. We cannot remember the last time we heard Gangnam Style on the radio, as the song eventually became so overplayed that no one ever wanted to hear anything Psy put out ever again. David Zowie hasn’t received any chart success since 2015, and ‘Baby Cakes’ is 3 of a Kind’s only release to this day. In fact, one of 3 of a Kind’s MCs has now found a different career path as a party planner.

The power of film and television

Many one hit wonders receive their popularity with the help of a popular TV show or film that they feature in. We’re sure everybody reading this article would have heard Michael Andrews and Gary Jules’ rendition of ‘Mad World’, which reached the number 1 spot in the UK charts in 2003. However, what you might not have known is that the song was popularised by the 2001 film Donnie Darko, and was pushed to the number one spot two years later by the cult film’s mass following. Moreover, rap duo Partners in Kryme held the number one spot in the UK for four weeks in 1990 with ‘Turtle Power’, which plays during the end credits of the film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Even The Teletubbies have had musical success, with the song “Teletubbies say Eh-oh”. The track was number one for two weeks in December 1997 and has since sold over a million copies, which qualifies the song as a double platinum single!

Who’s this song by?

The nature of a one hit wonder means that they are merely remembered by a singular song rather than the artist/band as a whole. Otherwise, they wouldn’t really be one hit wonders. As a result, people will often recognise one hit wonders but will struggle to place a name on who the song is by. For example, while many people would have heard the 1974 classic ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, a small proportion of these people would be able to tell you that the song is by the Jamaican singer Carl Douglas. Moreover, I doubt many people could claim to know that the song ‘We No Speak Americano’ (if you don’t think you know it, you probably do) is by the Australian band Yolanda Be Cool and producer DCUP. This is the cruel nature of one hit wonders – one minute you have the number one spot and the next people will have forgotten of your existence entirely.

Our favourite rock one hit wonders

Wheatus – Teenage Dirtbag

In the summer of 2000, American rock group Wheatus blessed the world with its high school ballad ‘Teenage Dirtbag’. The song takes us through a rollercoaster of emotions, where a school loser manages to win the love of a girl called Noelle, who ditches her jock boyfriend to go to an Iron Maiden concert with our loveable ‘teenage dirtbag’ of a protagonist. The song reached number two in the UK charts and has since earned its status as an eternal teen anthem. However, Wheatus have not achieved much musical success since, and we would suspect that few people would be able to name any other Wheatus songs off the top of their head. Bizarrely, Brendan B Brown, the lead singer of Wheatus, was recently on BBC2’s Politics Live to speak his mind on Brexit. Don’t worry, we’re just as confused as you are…

Fountains of Wayne – Stacy’s Mom

While it is estimated that around 65% of songs are about being in love, there aren’t many that deal with the specific issue of being in love with your friend’s ‘mom’. This hilarious tune delves into the singer’s efforts to go to his friend Stacy’s house after school in an attempt to get closer to her mother, even resorting to mowing her lawn in the song’s second verse. Despite this song’s questionable subject matter, the chorus is very catchy and it has a pretty great guitar solo. Not to forget the music video, which is just as funny as you might imagine. The song reached the number 11 spot in the UK charts and also achieved success in America, Ireland and Canada. Unfortunately, Fountains of Wayne did not have any further hit singles following this masterpiece and therefore must be considered a one hit wonder.

Smash Mouth – All Star

This rock hit was popularised by the 1999 film Mystery Men and reached the number 24 spot in the UK. The song is an upbeat testament to encourage listeners to excel in whatever they do, reminding them that ‘only shooting stars break the mould’. While this song doesn’t technically count as a UK one hit wonder, it reached number four in America and number two in Canada, so we’ll allow it. The music video, which features cameos from Ben Stiller and Hank Azaria, currently has 190 million views on Youtube, and the song has since acquired its reputation as a god-tier internet meme (don’t ask us why…).

So there you have it! Hopefully we have enlightened you further to this strange phenomenon with our investigation into the anatomy of the one hit wonder. If you think your band has what it takes to surpass this dreaded title and achieve superstar status, then contact Kore Studios today.