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The 100 Best One-Hit Wonder Songs

on September 21, 2016, 12:00am

40. Phantom Planet – “California” (2001)


People love songs about California. From The Beach Boys and The Mamas and the Papas to Tupac and Red Hot Chili Peppers, the radio waves have long been strewn with references to the sand, trees, and sun of the Golden State. So when Phantom Planet’s “California” became ubiquitous as the theme song of The OC, it spoke to the track’s strength that it was chosen to be the representative California song for the popular series. The LA band had already established a small but devout following before the song’s success, but couldn’t really capitalize on the show and take the project to the next level. That said, the song’s drummer, Jason Schwartzman, enjoys a successful acting career, and singer Alex Greenwald currently performs in the band Phases. There is life after one-hit wondering. –Philip Cosores

Two-Hit Wonder? “Lonely Day”
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39. Flock of Seagulls – “I Ran (So Far Away)” (1982)

The unofficial national anthem for anybody who ever sped through Miami in a drop-top while attempting to solicit cocaine on a brick-sized cell phone, “I Ran (So Far Away)” has become a kind of functional shorthand for the ‘80s by its very sound. A Flock of Seagulls’ top-10 hit is among the most propulsive new wave hits of the era, and for all of its flagrant overproduction and general melodramatics, it’s among the genuine best as well. Though their run was ultimately short-lived (follow-ups to that hit first record failed to perform in line with expectations), the band dropped at least one (and arguably two; see below) songs that stood the test of time when so many of their immaculately coiffed contemporaries came and went. And their one hit even became MTV’s most-played video ever, for a time. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

Two-Hit Wonder? “Space Age Love Song”
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38. Marcie Blane – “Bobby’s Girl” (1962)

You don’t have to ask Marcie Blane what she wants to be. Head cheerleader? Nope. Governor? Pffft. Bobby’s girl? Ding-ding-ding. Right third time. Blane, barely 18 when she recorded her iconic version of “Bobby’s Girl”, sounds even younger on record, and it’s extremely easy to imagine her daydreaming in study hall and scribbling her first name next to Bobby’s last over and over again. It’s a trivial song in the grand scheme of things, but we all remember that irrational age when all that mattered was being with that certain someone – in Blane’s case, a desire made all the more difficult because Bobby’s dating someone else. In 1964, Blane returned with “Bobby Did”, a song in which a girl gets dumped by Bobby, but listeners ultimately preferred being her wingperson over picking up the pieces. Can you blame ’em? –Matt Melis

Two-Hit Wonder? “Bobby Did”
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37. Dionne Farris – “I Know” (1995)

One of the more remarkable touchstones of ’90s alternative was how every band seemingly got together and tossed a bunch of random instruments in a pile to see what’s up. Dionne Farris was hip to that idea. After singing with hip-hop collective Arrested Development, the New Jersey R&B singer called up bassist/producer Milton Davis and eclectic guitarist David Harris, and the three knocked out some demos that caught the ears of Columbia Records. By 1994, Farris was scorching up the Billboard charts and charming the Grammys with her 1994 debut, Wild Seed – Wild Flower, mostly thanks to “I Know”. The hit, which cleverly strung together R&B, dance pop, slide guitar, and acoustic rock, was unstoppable, becoming the No. 1 most played song on mainstream Top 40 radio stations for 1995, while spending 10 consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Mainstream Top 40. She never could follow the song up, though, opting for rootsy covers that she sold to various film soundtracks. –Michael Roffman

Two-Hit Wonder? “Passion”
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36. The Monotones – “Who Wrote the Book of Love?” (1958)

Ah, to live in a more innocent time like the late ‘50s. If I were to walk down the street today asking people who wrote the Book of Love, they’d probably think I was referring to the Kama Sutra. This Book, as sung about by The Monotones, reads far simpler: love her, stay together, keep the passion burning, and don’t part without giving it another go first. Actually, that’s pretty damn good advice, and it’s no less valuable after learning that Monotones lead singer Charles Patrick drew his inspiration from a Pepsodent toothpaste commercial (“wonder where the yellow went” became “wonder who, who wrote the book of love”). So remember, kids: Love her with all your heart, and brush after every meal. –Matt Melis

Two-Hit Wonder? “Fools Will Be Fools”
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35. Real Life – “Send Me an Angel” (1989)

It’s funny when a song has a second life (see above: Everything but the Girl’s “Missing”). For Real Life, the Australian band’s angsty single “Send Me an Angel” touched heaven in early 1984 and once again in 1989. In between that time, the synth-juiced jogger appeared in films like 1986’s Rad, 1987’s Teen Wolf Too, and 1989’s The Wizard. That’s one hell of a lifespan, and much longer than that of the cherub who visited George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. All joking aside, there’s something sad and desolate about the tune, its angelic harmonies soaked in a bleak desperation that congeals with the urgency of vocalist David Sterry and Richard Zatorski’s sweeping synth work. It’s a beautiful song and one they’d never live up to again as the band suffered from lineup changes and a (very sad) reliance on said single. Ahem, it’s been “remixed” over 17 times. “Indiana, let it go.” –Michael Roffman

Two-Hit Wonder? “Catch Me I’m Falling”
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34. Marcy Playground – “Sex and Candy” (1997)

“Sex and Candy”, like its title, combines a couple of unexpected bedfellows, specifically the low-slung guitar and atmospherics of grunge and some serious hippie vibes (“yeah, mama,” “dig it”). John Wozniak’s hitch-stepped guitar adds a dose of mystery immediately undercut by comparing someone to “double cherry pie.” The track ensured that the band’s debut self-titled album would go platinum, but Marcy Playground’s ping-ponging fusion of folk warmth, psychedelia, alternative, and clean rock meant it was difficult to pin down exactly who they were or where they were going. Add to that the fact that they took a few years between records and you can see why the national audience couldn’t latch onto Marcy Playground. That said, they released a record as recently as 2012, so who knows, maybe they have another hit coming. –Lior Phillips

Two-Hit Wonder? “It’s Saturday”
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33. Billy Paul – “Me and Mrs. Jones” (1972)

There’s a lightness and naiveté at the heart of most love songs that climb the charts. Teen girls scribble the names of boys in their diaries, and boys fall in love at first sight with their dream girls – things are almost always new and hopeful. Even when breakups occur, a consoling melody usually accompanies the painful retelling, and we sense that things will ultimately work out. Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones” is not that type of song. We’re years beyond puppy love and high school sweethearts here and have entered into the world of adult relationships, where life complicates quickly. “Me and Mrs. Jones, we got a thing going on,” Paul relates in a soulful croon. “We both know it’s wrong, but it’s much too strong, to let it go now.” Tempted and tormented by forbidden fruit, both the protagonist and the titular Mrs. Jones know the right thing to do, but it’s just not going to happen. Paul, a pioneer of Philly soul, continued recording and performing right up until his death this past April, and his memory will live on with soul fans everywhere each time those illicit lovers rendezvous in secret at the same café. –Matt Melis

Two-Hit Wonder? “Am I Black Enough for You?”
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32. Wheatus – “Teenage Dirtbag” (2000)

Maybe you’re like me and didn’t really know you loved “Teenage Dirtbag” until you heard the soldiers on HBO’s Generation Kill singing it while they stormed Iraq. Regardless, everything about the Wheatus single is trapped in that period of late-’90s/early-aughts, from its power-pop sonics to the McG-esque music video to the fact that said music video features Jason Biggs and Mena Suvari from their film Loser. And that all kind of rules, especially when the lyrics are based on a guy who likes heavy metal and doesn’t want to be judged for it. Who can’t relate to that? As for the band, Wheatus enjoyed more success overseas than in America, even charting in the UK with a cover of Erasure’s “A Little Respect”. –Philip Cosores

Two-Hit Wonder? “A Little Respect”
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31. J. Frank Wilson and the Caveliers – “Last Kiss” (1964)

Part of rock and roll’s appeal has always been its youthful, rebellious spirit. It aims at that age when we feel like the whole world awaits us and no harm can touch us. J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers’ “Last Kiss” depicts those illusions coming to a screeching, life-altering halt for one young man. A simple driving date turns into a deadly accident and a tragic farewell kiss. Some may find the whole trying-to-get-to-heaven angle hokey, but it’s such a powerful coming-of-age moment, when this boy, trying to make sense of tragedy, defies his age by pledging to live for somebody else. Though most people luckily never find themselves in this situation, it’s within our sphere of understanding to imagine having a loved one snatched away from us. That roadside kiss remains one of the most cinematic moments in music history, a scene so powerful that we still can’t look away or change the radio dial all these years later. –Matt Melis

Two-Hit Wonder? “A Teenager in Love”
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