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Successful Artists Who Were One Hit Wonders

Updated on February 22, 2014

One hit wonder may seem easy to define. It's a singer or band who have had one big hit and disappear forever. Right? It's actually a little more complex than that. So, the Village Voice decided to come up with it's Three Rules To Define The Term "One-Hit Wonder." The article's author Chris Molanphy points out some interesting facts.

Many One Hit Wonders Have a Successful Follow Up Single

When VH1 compiled their list of top 100 one hit wonders much of the list consisted of acts who had more than one hit. According to the Village Voice, 75 of the VH1's top 100 list actually had a successful follow up single. Vanilla Ice made the list with Ice Ice Baby but his follow up Play That Funky Music peaked at #4 on the Hot 100.

More recently Carly Rae Jepsen of Call Me Maybe fame had a successful top 10 follow up with Good Time but hasn't charted since. New artists who've had a big hit often enjoy what Molanphy calls a "honeymoon period" on radio. Robin Thicke is a recent example. Blurred Lines was his first mainstream hit. Radio initially embraced the follow up single Give It 2 U. But the song never really clicked with listeners causing radio programmers to lose interest. The song peaked at #25 on the Hot 100.

All Along the Watchtower is the only top 40 hit by Jimi Hendrix
All Along the Watchtower is the only top 40 hit by Jimi Hendrix

Some Very Successful Artists Are One Hit Wonders

Some examples given by Molanphy are Radiohead, The Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix. He says they are "acts whose popularity is reflected on the album chart more than the Hot 100." Others have success on genre charts like rock, country and R&B. These artists have successful careers and dedicated followers. Many have been influential in music.

Other notable one hit wonders are Iggy Pop, Janis Joplin, Public Enemy, Norah Jones, Garth Brooks, Ben Folds Five, Snow Patrol, Merle Haggard, Arlo Guthrie, and Fountains of Wayne. That's quite an impressive list.

And it's not just nonmainstream artists who have more album than single success. Justin Bieber and One Direction are examples of successful album sellers who often don't have a huge presence on American top 40 radio.

Some One Hit Wonders You May Remember

Perceived One Hit Wonders

Some singers are thought to be one hit wonders even though they've actually had multiple top 40 hits. This is often because they've had one massive hit that overshadows everything else they've done. The Village Voice uses the example of Rick Springfield who is best known for Jessie's Girl. When NPR mistakenly referred to him as a one hit wonder angry fans pointed out that he's had 21 Hot 100 hits, 17 of which made the Top 40. Five of those were top 10 hits. Needless to say, Springfield had a very impressive career.

This can even be a problem for artists who are active now. Ke$ha, as I write this, is at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with Timber. It's been the biggest selling song in the United States for a few weeks (and the biggest iTunes seller worldwide). She's often referred to as a one hit wonder because her first hit Tik Tok was so huge spending 9 weeks at number 1. Yet Ke$ha is one of less than 30 women who have had a minimum of ten top 10 hits in the history of the Hot 100 making her one of it's more successful artists. She now has three #1's under her belt and two of the biggest selling digital singles of all time.

The Latest Potential One Hit Wonder

Seventeen year old New Zealand native Lorde is the latest artist to make a massive debut with the song Royals, which spent nine weeks at the top of the Hot 100. Her fans are breathing a sigh of relief because her follow up Team has entered the top 40. But it may be a premature sigh of relief. With 75% of one hit wonders, according to VH1's list, having a successful follow up, Lorde is definitely not safe yet. We'll know in 6 months to a year whether she has staying power or not.


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    • Learn Things Web profile image

      Learn Things Web 4 years ago from California


      That's right. It is all really about single success or lack of it on the Hot 100 rather than career success overall.

    • profile image

      Chad 4 years ago

      People take one hit wonder a bit too literally. It usually refers to acts that don't have longevity on the hot 100 for whatever reason.

    • Learn Things Web profile image

      Learn Things Web 4 years ago from California


      A lot of successful artists aren't very well know. They're succeeding within a certain genre but often are largely unknown outside of it.

    • WriterJanis profile image

      Janis 4 years ago from California

      I can see how this makes sense between the hits and the albums.

    • Learn Things Web profile image

      Learn Things Web 4 years ago from California


      I was surprised by Hendrix as well. He was quite a bit before my time, so I had assumed he was a chart success since he's still so well known.

    • loveofnight profile image

      loveofnight 4 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

      I was actually surprised to see Hendrix on the list, thanks for the share.