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The 100 Best One-Hit Wonder Songs

on September 21, 2016, 12:00am

90. Shocking Blue – “Venus” (1969)

“Venus” is really two or three great pop songs crammed into the space of one, which might explain why we never heard much else from Shocking Blue; they blew their whole cache of hooks on just one single. But my, what a single it is! From that jangly, stuttering guitar line that kicks off the tune to perhaps the great pre-chorus of all time (“She’s got it!”), this one takes no prisoners on its way to psych pop nirvana. Speaking of Nirvana, Shocking Blue’s “Love Buzz” found a second life as one of the grunge trio’s early covers. That kind of qualifies as a hit, right? –Collin Brennan

Two-Hit Wonder? “Love Buzz”

89. Mark Morrison – “Return of the Mack” (1996)

As both a video time capsule of fantastic mid-‘90s R&B fashion (offset black leathers! high-cropping turtlenecks!) and a surprisingly effective kiss-off song, “Return of the Mack” sampled the Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love” and threw the most inescapable hook possible atop it. (Seriously, try to get this out of your head after playing it.) While Morrison had a few hits in his native England, “Return of the Mack” was it for him Stateside, despite climbing all the way to No. 2 during its chart run. A fun thing to do next time you get in an argument: Respond with a “you lied to me” in Morrison’s exact inflection. –-Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

Two-Hit Wonder? “Crazy”


88. The Cascades – “Rhythm of the Rain” (1962)

It’s probably not a surprise that a song called “Rhythm of the Rain” was written during a thunderstorm. Still, Cascades songwriter John Gummoe couldn’t have foreseen that a song he wrote while on watch in the Navy would one day sell a million copies and become a hit in 80 countries. Beyond the stormy sound effects and raindrop keys, the brief song manages to tap into all the regrets, pining, and holding out hope that come when “the only girl [we] care about has gone away.” Ironically, when Gummoe’s bandmates drop in with their harmonies, it creates the effect of him seeming truly alone with only his thoughts and the raindrops as companions. While the band never found another song that captured the public’s imagination like “Rhythm of the Rain”, it’s hard to imagine them being forgotten – not as long as broken hearts and rainstorms persist. –Matt Melis

Two-Hit Wonder? “The Last Leaf”

87. Luscious Jackson – “Naked Eye” (1996)

Luscious Jackson aren’t an easy band to pin down, with a catalog that fluctuates from disco funk (“Here”) to chilled-out alt-pop (“Take a Ride”). As with their friends and labelmates the Beastie Boys, there’s something definitely “New York” about the group, and that might end up being the best way to describe their particular sound. Their 1997 single “Naked Eye” embodies this facet of their identity with its cool urban groove and spoken-word verses, both of which exude the vibe of pre-9/11 Manhattan. Listening to “Naked Eye” in a modern context, the song comes across like Sleater-Kinney by way of Lilith Fair, which is to say it embodies the late ‘90s rock sound quite perfectly. –Collin Brennan

Two-Hit Wonder? “Here”

86. Pilot – “Magic” (1974)

Some songs often serve as punctuation, calling cards for certain moments (think: Queen’s “We Will Rock You” pre-game and “We Are Champions” post-game). Produced by Alan Parsons, Pilot’s breadwinner, “Magic”, conjures all sorts of giddy feelings, the type of anthem you might want to hear after a surprising-yet-enviable left turn in life. Which is why the single has popped up in a handful of films, most of them not very good, but out of the bunch worth mentioning: Happy Gilmore. Anyone who’s ever seen the joy that races across Adam Sandler’s face when he finally gets the golf ball in appreciates the brilliant marriage of sound and screen. As for Pilot, those Scottish rockers (and former Bay City Rollers) would move on to other big-name outfits like The Alan Parsons Project and 10cc, where they’d find … well, you know what to do. –Michael Roffman

Two-Hit Wonder? “January”

85. The Darkness – “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” (2003)

There was a brief moment in 2003 where the success of The Darkness’ “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” made many wonder whether ’80s-inspired glam was set to return. Well, it wasn’t, making The Darkness a singular hit-maker for an entire genre revival. It’s for the best that butt rock didn’t come back, though The Darkness do make a compelling argument for its merits with glass-shattering vocals, flexing guitar solos, and karaoke-ready lyrics. The Darkness found more success abroad and still hold their share of apologists, but the song’s success is still surprising to this day. –Philip Cosores

Two-Hit Wonder? “Growing On Me”

84. Wall of Voodoo – “Mexican Radio” (1982)

New wave bands were a dime a dozen back in 1982, so you had to do something kind of different if you really wanted to stand out. In Wall of Voodoo’s case, “something kind of different” involved adding a whimsical mariachi organ melody and a maddeningly repetitive chorus to their one-hit single, “Mexican Radio”. The band would go on to release three more albums before breaking up in 1988, but they’d never did recapture the insane catchiness of “I’m on a Mexican radio!” Considering how many folks had that line permanently stuck in their heads throughout the ‘80s, that might be for the best. –Collin Brennan

Two-Hit Wonder? “Far Side of Crazy”

83. Republica – “Ready to Go” (1996)

In the mid-to-late-‘90s, if you needed a song that screamed “alternative” for your teen film and/or extreme sports clip package, you called in for “Ready to Go”. The English techno-punk band rose to prominence around the same time as Garbage, and the similarities are conspicuous before long. After singing the hook on N-Joi’s “Anthem” a few years prior, Saffron was enlisted by Republica’s founders, and so a hit was born. It’s all snotty alt-rock attitude, but in a decade that bred some of the loosest possible interpretations of the genre, it’s an effective reminder of a sound that came and rather quickly went. Though the band went on hiatus for much of the aughts, they reunited in 2008 and are still playing new material today. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

Two-Hit Wonder? “Drop Dead Gorgeous”

82. The Vines – “Get Free” (2002)

After the insane blowup of “Get Free” from their first record, the song became the epitome of what a badass Australian rock band sounds like. It creates a surge of adrenaline that makes you want to party hard or get in a high-speed car chase, emotions that strum the chord of superstardom. From the very beginning, sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll were at the forefront for The Vines, especially for frontman Craig Nicholls, who had an insane punk rock meltdown during their performance on The Late Show with David Letterman; you know you’ve entered the threshold of superior punk when Letterman has to ask on-air if “you’re alright.” They’ve put out a few records over the years, including a pretty solid single that was released in April of this year. –Frances Welch

Two-Hit Wonder? “Ride”

81. Everything but the Girl – “Missing” (Todd Terry Club Mix) (1994)

Everything but the Girl is a wild story, so allow me to digress: In the beginning, the English duo, comprised of Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt, were heavily invested in a brand of jazz and soul dubbed “sophisti-pop” and spent much of the ’80s and early ’90s working in that revue — and mostly unnoticed. That all changed in 1995 when Brooklyn DJ Todd Terry remixed the second single off their eighth (!) studio album, “Missing”. What was a light, low-tempo ballad about separated lovers turned into a global hit, burning through nightclubs and, eventually, up the charts in countries everywhere. It was a major crossover success.

According to Thorn, though, it was always intended to be a club hit: “It was written with that idea in mind, totally … we put on sort of a laid-back house groove instead. Then when we gave it to Todd, he took it in a really, really strong New York house direction, which had a real simplicity to it, but it was very infectious.” Whether you credit Thorn or Terry (or both), one thing’s for sure: “Missing” is still one of the best late-night grooves to ever save the night — and was quite influential on the outfit. From there, they would go on to continue experimenting with electronica on 1996’s Walking Wounded and 1999’s Temperamental. –Michael Roffman

Two-Hit Wonder? “Wrong”