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One Hit Wonder

Updated on March 7, 2012

By: Wayne Brown

Today I found myself thinking about the various professions in which the ‘artist’ is engaged. It did not take me long to get to music. I started thinking about the various pitfalls that one could encounter in launching a musical career. The possibilities were staggering and far too immense to consider. So, I thought, forget about the people who want to and consider those who have and look at it from that perspective. So I did.

Through the wonders of the Internet, I was able to research all of the people who have launched careers in Pop/Rock Music and at least make it to the charts one time. Yep, I took a look at the one-hit wonders as they spanned the decades. But, let me say this, even just looking at that sector, the information base is still quite broad and it contains a multitude of artists who barely charted. So, to make this a more interesting process, I took the top 100 One-Hit Wonders from each decade from 1950 thru 2000, basically that era that has been the backdrop of rock and pop in the USA. Now we have some manageable information. Let’s take a look and see what we can learn from it about the potential success of our musical careers.

One thing quickly becomes obvious about our data. It is all from the past so we cannot go back and take advantage of the opportunities that occurred in that time span. On the other hand, we can look at what occurred and see if we can use that to guide our choices for the future. After all, there is a popular belief that history often repeats itself, so why not in the area of music. At the same time, I suspect there are a numerous bits of information here that will serve as a good basis for future superstitions in the music arena.

So, let’s just say we are considering launching us a musical career. Let’s think of some questions that, with the aid of our data, will be our guide to making the best choices. For example, is one year better than another for launching your career? The short answer is a resounding ‘Yes!”. In our fifty year period, the absolute worst time to launch a career was in any year that ended in a ‘zero’. So, for all you aspiring musical artists out there, who do not want to end up as one-hit wonders, do not launch a career this year. A whooping 53% of the top 100 acts that ended up as one-hit wonders launched their careers in a zero-ending year.

No other year within each of the five decades considered is even a close second. The next in line was years ending in ‘2’ that accounted for only 10% of the top 100. Over the fifty year period, there were two years that were significant in terms of occurrence. The first, 1970, was the year in which 21% of the top 100 one-hit wonders came upon the scene. To put that in perspective, the year beginning the previous decade, 1960, saw only a 7% occurrence of the one-hitter, while the decade following the 70’s, starting with the year 1980, saw only an 8% occurrence. The situation occurred again in 1990 when 17% of the Top 100 over this fifty year period achieved the one-hit wonder status. Based on the interval, it is apparent that the year 2010 will produce an above average crop of one-hitters most likely approaching double the normal amount of other years.

So what was the best year? I have that answer too! I also have some good news and some bad news to share with you in that regard. The good news is there is a tie for the best years which is shared between 8 and 9. In any years that ended in either of those numbers during the 50 years there was only a 2% occurrence of the one-hit wonder phenomenon. Sounds pretty good, huh? Well, to some maybe, but consider that anyone planning a new career will now have to wait another 8 to 9 years to take advantage of this possibility. Oh, and stay away from next year, those ending in one hold the third highest portion at 8% of the flock. You really should have launched last year based on our data.

Okay, let’s not get too depressed, there are other considerations that just might change your luck. For example, what is the best letter or number to use as the first letter or number in the name of your group? Oh, you thought it didn’t matter, huh? Well, I am here to open your eyes with facts. Over the entire fifty year period, those groups or individuals making it into the top 100 who used the letter ‘B’ to start the artist name accounted for 17% of the one-hit wonders, the largest single group. Next worse was ‘T’ at 13% followed by a tie between letters ‘C’ and ‘J’ at 7%. So what was the best letter you might want to ask? There are a few that did not show up in the data so you can conclude one of two things a.) All the names associated with that letter suck b.) Groups using that letter had more than one hit. You decide. The letters are H, O, Q, V, X, Y, Z. I’ll bet you are instantly thinking about groups like Z-Z Top going, ‘yeah, I chose answer B!

Let’s look at song choice as there may be some allure in making a good decision in that area. Based on the top 100 one-hit wonder song titles of the 50 year period, only 1% started the title with a number and that number was ‘9’. So, in terms of numbers, you are safe using 0 thru 8 for future hits. With regard to letters for the beginning words of the song, you should absolutely stay clear of the letter ‘I’ in your choice of song titles. The letter ‘I’ accounted for 12% of the one-hit occurrences in the total population. ‘I’ barely edged out ‘T’ for the first place honor as ‘T’ logged in at 11%. These were the only two letters with double-digit results in the population. The next grouping was represented by a tie at the level of 8% by letters ‘M’ and ‘S’. So, you asked, were there good letters here as well like there was in the artist names. Yes, there were but fewer choices. There were no occurrences associated with the letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z. Not much there!

Well, that about wraps it up as I do not want to take you on an endlessly boring waltz through statistical ‘la-la’ land. On the basis of the data that we have gathered and analyzed, I would make a musical career recommendation to you that should be worth considering. Here it is: Launch your career in 2018 using the name “Hop-A-Long Quixote” with your first song being “X-ra-Z Until You Quit”. That should really up your chances of becoming a star and allow you to avoid a ‘one-hit wonder’ fate.


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    • activewriter profile image

      activewriter 8 years ago from Heber Springs, Ar

      ...and a researcher to boot! Good job.

    • Wayne Brown profile image

      Wayne Brown 8 years ago from Texas

      Thank you Poppy...they say it's all in the timing!

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 8 years ago

      Terrific hub, Wayne. It is far easier now to make it in music today because the labels have lost their power and glow. Having said that, it's still a long shot.

    • Wayne Brown profile image

      Wayne Brown 8 years ago from Texas

      Thanks Michael J...glad you enjoyed it and I hope you will stop by again!

    • Michael Jay profile image

      Michael Jay 8 years ago

      Great hub,Wayne! I enjoyed reading it. Thanks for sharing. --Michael Jay

    • Wayne Brown profile image

      Wayne Brown 8 years ago from Texas

      thanks voice yu da man!

    • thevoice profile image

      thevoice 8 years ago from carthage ill

      thanks for read great hub