At one time, at least in theory, the music industry offered the chance for anyone to be a star. That was the premise for the movie “That Thing You Do,” about a fictional American band in the 1960s that records what turns out to be its only hit. The group’s name, fittingly, is The Wonders. Then there are the real one-hit wonders.
To determine the biggest one-hit wonders of all time, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data on historical song performance on the Billboard Hot 100. Songs released from 1975 to 2017 that reached No. 1 were ranked based on the total number of weeks spent in the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100. Billboard Hot 100 data is current through Nov. 19, 2022. Data on certified album sales came from the Recording Industry Association of America.
Additionally, artists must have charted on the Top 40 no more than twice, either as individual artists or by featuring on another artist’s song, and must have sold fewer than five million albums in the United States throughout their careers, not including singles. Several of the artists on this list – among them Gloria Gaynor and Captain & Tennille – may have charted other hits, but did not meet these criteria. (Here are some famous musicians who never topped the Billboard Hot 100.)
Of the 50 one-hit wonders on the list,16 were released in the 1970s. Many of the hits were propelled by the meteoric rise of disco and its danceable music. Some of those songs are still played on oldies stations such as Gaynor’s defiant anthem “I Will Survive,” Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music,” and “Boogie Oogie Oogie” by A Taste of Honey.
Other songs from the era were gimmicky, such as the techno Euro-pop song “Pop Muzik” by M., while others were forgettable – for instance the satirical “Disco Duck (Part I)” by radio personality Rick Dees & His Cast Of Idiots and the salacious “Afternoon Delight” by Starland Vocal Band. (You might be surprised at some of the biggest one-hit wonders who are still making music.)
The 1980s and 2000s each place 12 songs on the list. The advent of MTV raised the exposure for singles and extended their presence on playlists. Songs such as “Maniac” by Michael Sembello and “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life” by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes were boosted by appearing in motion pictures – 1983’s “Flashdance” and 1987’s “Dirty Dancing,” respectively.
In recent years, Billboard has changed its tracking methodology to account for new ways people listen to music by incorporating streaming data. Nine of the 10 songs with the longest staying power are from the 21st century.
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