The 1990s were the Golden Age of One-Hit Wonders: Amidst the grunge stalwarts from the early part of the decade and the rise of teen pop toward the end, other random bands would strike gold with one song, become overnight sensations and just as quickly fade away into obscurity. Below is our ode to some of the best ’90s-era artists who never managed to find mainstream staying power in the United States.
A couple of quick notes before we begin, though. First: Some of these bands have had other hits of moderate stature or may have charted more successfully abroad, but the common thread that runs through them all is that one song has ultimately wound up wholly defining them in the United States. Second: This list is not ordered by how successful the songs were—otherwise “Macarena” and “Ice Ice Baby” might have had to come first. These are merely our personal favorites, with some consideration given to the overall impact the songs had on the decade at large.
Oh, and needless to say I was disappointed at having to exclude one-hit wonder classics like “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” and “Who Let the Dogs Out?”, which were both hits in 2000.
25. Natalie Imbruglia
The beautiful Australian actress-turned-singer had more luck in her homeland and the U.K. than anywhere else in the world after the breakout success of “Torn,” an infectious pop song that even haters of pop music found themselves begrudgingly admitting to tolerating. However, her success has been marginal since that smash hit, especially in America, where she only managed to slightly dent the charts with 2002’s “Wrong Impression.” (Anybody remember it?) All this was undoubtedly even more frustrating for the original writers of the song, grungy contemporaries Ednaswap.
24. Eagle-Eye Cherry
“Save Tonight” (1997)
The coolest thing about Eagle-Eye Cherry might be that he doesn’t use a stage name: His real name is legitimately “Eagle-Eye Cherry.” As the son of famous jazzman Don Cherry and the half-brother of trip-hop singer Neneh Cherry, musical blood runs in his family, but the Sweden native’s only real smash was the light acoustic ballad “Save Tonight,” which has become synonymous with his name at this point. Cherry has charted (very) modestly in the years since on various European charts, but “Save Tonight” remains his only chart appearance of any kind Stateside.
23. Deep Blue Something
“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1995)
Perhaps the best example of a band that exploded onto the scene out of thin air, then vanished without a trace. Can you name a single other song by Deep Blue Something? Or a better question: How many of you knew this catchy, highly recognizable song was by a band called “Deep Blue Something”? This alt-rock four-piece actually released another single, “Josey,” which managed to make the U.K. Top 40, but they were never heard from again in the U.S. or elsewhere. Their hometown of Denton, Texas, however, has gone on to produce some of our favorite musicians (Midlake, Seryn, Sarah Jaffe, Norah Jones).
22. The Verve Pipe
“The Freshmen” (1996)
Not to be confused with The Verve, who we’ll get to later. The sleepy, soft song “The Freshman” had lyrics that contained enough angst to vaguely fit into the post-grunge fallout, painfully detailing the suicide of his girlfriend. This candid portrayal of tragedy obviously struck a chord with swarms of listeners, carrying the song to No. 5 in the U.S. It seemed this song was all The Verve Pipe had to offer, though, as the rest of their music consisted of safe, generic lite-rock that wanted to be radio singles but lacked the solid hooks. The band recently churned out a “family-friendly” children’s album.
21. Baz Luhrmann
“Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” (1998)
It’s still kind of puzzling that Baz Luhrmann, predominantly a director and screenwriter known for films like Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet, briefly crossed over into the music industry, because he’s not a musician in any respect. His highly successful single “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” is a spoken word piece where Luhrmann recites the poem “Wear Sunscreen” by journalist Mary Schmich (not Kurt Vonnegut, as it was so widely believed), which she wrote as a theoretical speech to a graduating class, over bright, hopeful and unobtrusive music that gives the inspirational, clever lyrics ample space to shine.