The 50 Greatest One-Hit Wonders of All Time

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The 50 Greatest One-Hit Wonders of All Time

Since the dawn of the pop charts in the summer of 1940, there have been artists who only ever tumble into the echelons of those lists once. From Gnarls Barkley to Dexy’s Midnight Runners to Sinéad O’Connor, there have been countless—endless—one-hit wonders that have gotten swept up in the always changing, moving and exploding zeitgeist. We here at Paste felt like it was time to pay our respects to the very best of the best—which is no easy feat, given how everyone’s stipulations for what is a one-hit wonder are all over the place.

The internet deems that a one-hit wonder is “an entity that achieves mainstream popularity, often for only one piece of work, and becomes known among the general public solely for that momentary success.” In Wayne Jancik’s book The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders, he calls one-hit wonders “an act that has won a position on [the] national, pop, Top 20 record chart once.” Others define it as an act’s lone Top 40 appearance on the charts. For this list, we’re going to stick with Jancik’s original formula—but with an added twist.

We will only be considering one-hit wonders that hit the Top 20 on Billboard’s Hot 100 mainstream chart in the United States, to narrow down the playing field and zero in on the very best of the best. That means tracks like Semisonic’s “Closing Time” or Fountains of Wayne’s “Stacy’s Mom,” both of which hit the Top 10 on the Mainstream Top 40 chart, or the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” and the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star,” both of which barely made it into the Top 40 but have left lasting impressions on pop culture and music history, are ineligible—even though they are all top-tier tracks. And several of the artists on our list had a cultural impact that goes well beyond their “hit” (Devo, T. Rex, Fiona Apple, to name a few).

This list’s focus is not just on the tracks that shaped the eras they charted during. A primary focus is just how good, catchy and worthwhile each entry is. By enacting that balance, we’ve created a comprehensive list that paints a pretty wide-ranging portrait of the last 60+ years of popular music. Without further ado, here are our picks for the 50 greatest one-hit wonders of all-time. —Matt Mitchell & Miranda Wollen

50. Lou Bega: “Mambo No. 5 (a Little Bit Of…)”
There are few songs—and I don’t say this lightly—as totally bonkers and off-the-wall as Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5.” And I mean that as the highest of compliments. Here came a bald little dude with a pencil-thin mustache and a wide-brimmed hat, taking this beautiful mid-century jazz and dance instrumental and glazing the jankiest, horniest lyrics ever over it. A trend with the one-hit wonder is its novelty factor, with many of its plays coming from a place of confusion and curiosity and parody as much as they do musical enjoyment. I, for one, always find myself wondering who these women are, and why Bega is wooing them with song all at once. That has to be a suboptimal strategy, no? Nevermind—it’s fun because of its own ludicrous aura. Bega shimmies out there in a purple suit and gleaming white spats, and you’ve gotta let yourself get carried away by the electronic backing, the silken saxophone and our singer’s tongue-in-cheek recounting of his sexual escapades. “Mambo No. 5” is an earworm of the highest caliber, and it will be played at weddings until the end of time—better to accept its infectiousness. Take some time to celebrate all the Rita’s, Monica’s, Erica’s and Tina’s in your life today. If you don’t, Lou Bega will and he’ll send it all the way to the Top 5. —Miranda Wollen

49. Vanilla Ice: “Ice Ice Baby”
I’ll set the scene. The year was 1990. Jelly sandals. Slip dresses. The color burgundy. A white guy named Robert Van Winkle sampled the Queen/David Bowie masterpiece “Under Pressure” without either party’s permission to create one of the rap songs of the decade. The origin of “Ice Ice Baby” is random and a little eyebrow-raising, as is the song itself (like, really kind of questionable—the titular saying is the chant of national African American fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha), but damn it if it isn’t catchy. There are very few songs out there that manage to tiptoe the line between listenable music and novelty rap, and Van Winkle figured it out—no matter how accidentally. There’s something infectious in his soul-patchy whisper rasping brashly over the melodies of artists arguably far more legitimate than he ever has been. Much like “Mambo No. 5,” it’s one of those ridiculous, inescapable songs that you just kind of have to allow yourself to love—and one that is impossible to keep out of the #1 chart spot. Vanilla Ice for all! —MW

48. Aqua: “Barbie Girl”
The best joke songs are aware of their own ridiculousness while being proud enough to lean into it to the fullest. Aqua went all in for “Barbie Girl,” one of the most bizarre and enjoyable songs to top the charts in the past three decades. Slightly off-putting recreations of Barbie and Ken (with unmistakable Northern European accents) poke at the sexualized nature of the famed doll in popular culture, and the ickiness of this children’s toy being transformed into a female ideal—three-centimeter waist and all. At the same time, the piece is hypnotica and oozing with Europop dance architecture. Lene Nystrøm’s childlike croon only adds to the shiftiness—and the irresistibility—of it all. It’s cartoonish and grotesque, earwormy and out-there. “Barbie Girl” is certainly not derivative, and it’s clearly stood the test of time beyond its #7 peak on the charts: Ice Spice and Nicki Minaj recently collaborated with Aqua on an updated version to match the Mattel character’s new blockbuster movie. Come on Barbie, let’s go party, indeed.—MW

47. The Surfaris: “Wipe Out”
The only instrumental track on our list, the only hit song by Glendora, California surf rockers The Surfaris was a defining catalyst in the genre. Released only a few months before the Beach Boys would unveil their first-ever #1 hit “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” “Wipe Out” is pretty legendary for helping get the colloquial language of surfing out of Southern California and into the mainstream. Much like Dick Dale’s surf-rock rendition of “Misirlou” a year prior, “Wipe Out” peaked at #2 on the Hot 100 and became crucial in making reverb-heavy, electric guitar arrangements a prominent flavor within the zeitgeist. —Matt Mitchell

46. 4 Non Blondes: “What’s Up?”
Released in 1994, “What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes is one of those tracks that worms its way into your music taste with ease. 4 Non Blondes was founded by Third Eye Blind frontman Stephan Jenkins and vocalist Linda Perry, the latter of whom would perform lead on “What’s Up?” and provide that legendary, funky bravado. It’s such a perfect touch on a neo-psychedelic arrangement. Though their album Bigger, Better, Faster, More! was not great, “What’s Up?” remains a critical hit song embedded in its tracklist. It peaked at #14 on the Hot 100 before winning an MTV Video Music Award for Best Alternative Rock Video. —MM

45. Cheryl Lynn: “Got to be Real”
Catch me in the pit when this song comes on, as I’m a devoted Cheryl Lynn truther. Her 1978 hit “Got to be Real” is one of the most underrated disco tracks ever. Peaking at #12, it didn’t find the same success as many tracks by other disco acts like the Bee Gees, but it did place Lynn’s name in conversations around the genre. Lynn would, unfortunately, never have another hit like “Got to be Real,” which is a real bummer for a disco head like myself—but I’m grateful for what she gave us when she did. Lynn had only been two years removed from getting her singing career started while doing backup vocals in a traveling rendition of The Wiz, so her quick shot to fame cannot be left overlooked. She wouldn’t achieve such heights again, only ever coming close when she sang backing vocals on Toto’s meager Top 50 song “Georgy Porgy” a year later. —MM

44. Frankie Goes to Hollywood: “Relax”
I’m not certain that Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s 1983 Top 10 hit “Relax” has aged all that well, at least not sonically. Though it’s a great and important part of synth-pop’s history, especially in conversations around how the sub-genre hit the mainstream, it’s hard to overlook over-produced arrangements. However, what makes “Relax” such an important one-hit wonder—and song altogether—is how it was perceived by audiences. The BBC banned the song from its airwaves in Europe (except for on John Peel’s shows) for its sexual suggestiveness, but it quickly climbed the charts in the US and even spawned one of the few really good jokes on Friends. Its way of incorporating sexual imagery into popular music spheres was essential 40 years ago, and it has since paved the way for many, many pop artists who’ve followed suit. —MM

43. Toni Basil: “Hey Mickey”
A track that is pretty trapped in the era it was made in, Toni Basil’s 1982 #1 hit “Hey Mickey” still rocks 40 years later. Its bubblegum attempt at new wave doesn’t necessarily stick the landing like other bands in the genre did around the same time, but Basil was able to take her charm and spin it into stardom. Critics were mixed on the song when it came out, with rock critic Robert Christgau unloading some of the worst jabs against Basil—accusing the singer and actress of making a radio hit about anal sex. Basil waged a rebuttal against Christgau and criticized the double-standard thrown at women in rock ‘n’ roll who write songs that can, at all, be perceived as sexual. “Hey Mickey” has gained much more favor in the years since it came out, and it’s #1 hit status gave it lifelong immortality in Billboard history. After getting nominated for a Grammy Award for Word of Mouth in 1984, Basil would later work with Devo and return to acting, never hitting the charts like she did with “Hey Mickey.” —MM

42. Devo: “Whip It”
As a native Northeast Ohioan, I hold a lifelong bias to Devo and all they have done. However, “Whip It” is not their best work—but, it is what propelled them to mainstream fame. Fresh off of their breakout 1980 album Freedom of Choice, “Whip It” showcased Devo’s pivot from post-punk and art-rock to the fringes of new wave and synth-pop. Led by Mark Mothersbaugh, the Akron band donned their infamous energy dome hats for the first time—and thus, a mythical immortality was born. More commercially palatable than something like “Uncontrollable Urge,” “Whip It” peaked at #14 and made Devo household names forever. —MM

41. Pilot: “Magic”
Scottish pop rockers Pilot have only really accomplished one big thing in their 50 years as a band, and it was releasing “Magic” in 1974. What a beautiful and underrated glam-infused soft-rock song that sounds both timeless and wholly emblematic of the era it was conceived in. Those backing harmonies are still, to this day, sun-soaked and hypnotic. “Magic” peaked at #5 on the Hot 100 and then fade into rock ‘n’ roll obscurity, as many other bands cracked the zeitgeist’s algorithm better than Pilot—and the latter wound up never becoming big forefathers of music, though “Magic” could have definitely gotten them there had the band harnessed the momentum better. Selena Gomez would later cover “Magic” and her rendition would hit the Hot 100 as well, albeit peaking at only #61—further proof that the song’s formula is timeless. —MM

40. Mungo Jerry: “In the Summertime”
Who would’ve predicted that a British rock band named Mungo Jerry could make one of the most essential summer songs in the history of rock ‘n’ roll? Well, in 1970, the Middlesex quartet did just that. “In the Summertime” became an instant classic, peaking at #3 on the Hot 100 and having that irresistible counterculture-era sound. One of the most prominent skiffle hits in the history of popular music, Mungo Jerry’s one-hit wonder status is well-earned—and there are few songs that are so unequivocally beloved across generations. It’s taken on a new life in the last 20 years, as films like Mr. Deeds, Despicable Me 2 and X have used it on their soundtracks. Bandleader Ray Dorset’s vocals sound as cherry today as they did 53 years ago. —MM

39. Men Without Hats: “Safety Dance”
If you or your parents were born anywhere near the 1960’s, you know this song—though perhaps against your will. You know that classic, Princess Bride-esque moment we’ve all experienced, where your whole medieval village joins together in ‘80s-synth celebration at the arrival of a floppy-haired rockstar. “Safety Dance” peaked at #3 on the charts and was apparently written “in protest to club security,” after new wave fans were thrown out of dance venues for “pogoing”—aka jumping up and down to music, á la moshing. It opens thunderously, inviting you to the dance floor with its synthy siren call. “Safety Dance” is silly and poppy, the perfect level of unserious and a giddy, anti-establishment electropop track anchored by accessible lyrics and rhythmic, join-along claps. It’s a safe, clean rebellion track with a propulsive beat, hooky without veering too parodic; a perfect one-hit wonder for its message and its catchiness. —MW

38. Sinéad O’Connor: “Nothing Compares 2 U”
Initially written by Prince for his side band The Family, “Nothing Compares 2 U” became the career-defining song for Irish singer/songwriter Sinéad O’Connor in early-1990. Not only did it top the Hot 100 that year, but Billboard crowned it the best single of 1990, too. Through heavy airplay on MTV and a bevy of VMA and Grammy nominations, few vocalists were bigger at the dawn of the decade than O’Connor was—and seven-million copies of her album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got cements that truth. Though she hasn’t made any music that’s registered as great a response, O’Connor remains one of our loudest human rights advocates. One song vaulted her into household name status, and she’s only used that platform to elevate the voices of her peers. I’d say “Nothing Compares 2 U” did pretty well. —MM

37. M: “Pop Muzik”
Before doing research for this list, it had been years since I listened to M’s 1979 hit song “Pop Muzik”—and I’m so frustrated that I’d gone so long without it. What an absurd little synth-pop gem. It (surprisingly) topped the Hot 100 in 1979, which feels like a once-in-a-lifetime accolade. Synth-pop had not yet fully taken over the mainstream charts, as it was still an outside in the zeitgeist. But, through implementing experimental rhythm and disco architecture and harmonies, M’s only big hit was done perfectly. “Pop Muzik” is one of those tracks you can spend an entire day deconstructing. There are so many different styles being implemented in just a 3:21 runtime, but “Pop Muzik” creates its own world. —MM

36. Deep Blue Something: “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”
Released in 1995, Texas-bred rock band Deep Blue Something’s only hit song, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” is one of the most explosive hits of the decade. The track peaked at #5 on the Hot 100 and was inspired by the film Roman Holiday—even though it’s titled after a different film starring Audrey Hepburn. With a story surrounding a couple on the brink of breaking up, the song is nostalgic, honest and a bit charming. In the same community as a track like “You Get What You Give” by the New Radicals, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is still as energetic as it was 28 years ago—and its bright chorus merged with power-pop instrumentation still sounds crisp as hell. It’s a shame that Deep Blue Something couldn’t replicate the success of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” because I’d listen to a hundred iterations of that enchanting melody. —MM

35: ? and The Mysterians: “96 Tears”
Perhaps you’ve never heard of ? and The Mysterians, and you’re probably in the majority there. The Michigan-bred garage rock band made the electric organ sound cooler than anyone else and they were big players in the early proto-punk movement. Their lone hit single, “96 Tears,” hit #1 in 1966 and sounds exactly like the era it was released into. Conjuring the West Coast psychedelia that was consuming rock ‘n’ roll at the time, “96 Tears” feels like it had to get made when it did—otherwise it would’ve landed in the caverns of obscurity just as quickly as it came. I think of the Music Explosion’s one-hit wonder “Little Bit O’ Soul,” which peaked at #2 on the Hot 100 in 1967. It landed higher on the Billboard Year-End chart than Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and The Association’s “Never My Love.” Rock music (that wasn’t made by the Beatles or Beach Boys) was weird and unpredictable in the mid-1960s. ? and The Mysterians never made waves again, but they found the formula once—and not many bands can even say that. —MM

34. Jean Knight: “Mr. Big Stuff”
Jean Knight’s lone hit song, “Mr. Big Stuff,” went double-platinum in 1971 and was her debut single in a career that has spanned almost 60 years. Released through Stax Records, Knight became a funk maven overnight and “Mr. Big Stuff” finished the year at #18 on Billboard’s Year-End chart. It couldn’t quite outmuscle the Bee Gees’ “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” and wound up stalling at #2—which is still, by all means, a huge feat. Knight would perform the track on Soul Train and the track would appear on the hit Starz show Minx over 50 years later, once again renewing it to the eyes of the mainstream. Like many soul tracks that came out around that time, it still feels timeless. —MM

33. Marcy Playground: “Sex & Candy”
The world of rock ‘n’ roll in the 10 years after Kurt Cobain’s death is a wild ride to examine. Though the late-1990s were nominated by nu-metal bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit, the post-grunge era could not sound more like Marcy Playground’s 1997 hit single “Sex & Candy.” A drawling, psychedelic alt-rock track that centers bandleader John Wozniak’s slacker charm, “Sex & Candy” is the epitome of a love song written by someone born just after Woodstock but still too young to remember disco. The track peaked at #8 on the Hot 100 and Marcy Playground never really made many waves afterwards. The Minneapolis band would slowly fade into the background like other one-hit wonder alt-rock bands of the era. “Sex & Candy,” however, will endure—even if Marcy Playground continues to get more forgotten as years go by. —MM

32. Elvin Bishop: “Fooled Around and Fell in Love”
Singer/songwriter Elvin Bishop had never really busted out of his Southern rock bubble before striking gold with “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” in 1976. Produced by Eagles engineer Bill Szymczyk for Capricorn Records, the song eclipsed at #3 on the Hot 100 and became a mainstream country benchmark of its era. With a beautiful guitar solo drenched in blues infatuations, “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” is perfect for a slow dance, long drive or bender. What’s great is that Bishop doesn’t even sing on his only hit song. Instead, he invited vocalist Mickey Thomas to helm the lead. Thomas would later become the co-lead vocalist of Jefferson Starship and tackle new heights on singles like “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” and “We Built This City.” But first, he made waves on the immortal, undeniable groove of hopeless romanticism on “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.” Not a bad resume to have. —MM

31. Ace: “How Long”
Though Ace’s 1975 debut single “How Long” has gained more attention after recent TikTok virality, it found massive success upon its release 48 years ago. Peaking at #3 on the Hot 100, “How Long” is an essential, unforgettable piece of proto-yacht rock. Released around the time that the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan were forging their own successes, Ace came out with a bang—and maybe too big of a bang, to that point. Their first-ever major-market single proved to be a modern-day Icarus, as the band came so close to immortality and never even sniffed the Top 50 again. “How Long,” though, is fantastic as it is, even if Ace could never strike gold a second time. This song is still a heavy feature in my playlist rotation, and it’ll never leave. —MM

30. King Harvest: “Dancing in the Moonlight”
There’s a sweet, persuasive sense of joy in King Harvest’s breakout 1972 hit “Dancing in the Moonlight.” It’s relatively impossible to meet a hater of this song, and for good reason. Replete with jazzy piano, jubilant harmonies and a comforting, punchy guitar, the song peaked at #13 and reads like a user’s manual on inoffensive pop-rock. Sherman Kelly wrote the song in the wake of a vicious gang attack, envisioning an alternate utopia while he recovered. There is an unreality to “Dancing in the Moonlight,” but it reads as hopeful. It’s cheesy and goofy in that bell-bottomed, trademark ‘70s way, but that just adds to its loveliness—as if the song comes from some far-off nostalgia land filled with grassy meadows and shimmering, gentle psychedelia. It’s no mystery that “Dancing in the Moonlight” has gained exclusive status in the upper echelons of immortal pop-rock. When you’re listening to the track, everything’s all right in the world. —MW

29. The Monotones: “The Book of Love”
In an era when many doo-wop vocal groups would find multiple instances of chart success, New Jersey outfit The Monotones were truly an anomaly in a sea of far-ranging prosperity. The band only had one hit song. “The Book of Love” peaked at #5 on the Hot 100 in 1958 and the Monotones would cease to exist less than five years later. Still, the track is one of the greatest doo-wop singles ever and would find an audience again through its inclusion in George Lucas’ 1973 hit film American Graffiti. “The Book of Love” was the unofficial debut single for the Monotones, but the band would go on to release five more A-sides after before fading into obscurity. They’d regroup in 1980 and go through numerous lineup changes until permanently disbanding in 2005. —MM

28. Gnarls Barkley: “Crazy”
Up until I started writing my blurbs for this list, I thought Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” was a #1 hit. I was mistaken, as the track only peaked at #2 in 2006. But back then, it was such a popular and beloved song that it felt like it ruled the top of the charts for weeks. Gnarls Barkley—the duo of CeeLo Green and Danger Mouse—found success in not just “Crazy,” but their debut album St. Elsewhere was also lightning in a bottle. Not only did “Crazy” win a Grammy Award, but it remains one of the greatest psych-soul and R&B tracks of the last 30 years. Green would go on to find solo success in the decade after “Crazy,” while Danger Mouse would produce records for everyone from ASAP Rocky to Beck to U2. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that “Crazy,” however, is the definitive musical moment for both artists. —MM

27. Minnie Riperton: “Lovin’ You”
Released in early-1975, Minnie Riperton’s lone Top-50 single hit #1. “Lovin’ You” is, in no short terms, perfect. The track was produced by Stevie Wonder, but it’s Riperton’s angelic, whistle register harmonies that shine brightest. She had a five-octave vocal range that was fully on display across “Lovin’ You.” Riperton co-wrote the song with her husband Richard Rudolph after their daughter Maya was born, and it has become a timeless ballad of love, devotion and awe. Though Riperton would only ever find success once, “Lovin’ You” endures as one of the sweetest songs ever composed, one that remains a perfect documentation of one of the world’s most gifted singers at the apex of her own stardom. —MM

26. Jimmy Eat World: “The Middle”
It’s safe to say that most of the one-hit wonders from the 2000s were just, frankly, not good at all. It’s easily the weakest decade, as most of the tracks have not aged very well or were never very good to begin with (and their chart presence is puzzling). But, “The Middle” outmuscles all relegations of negativity, and it cracked the Top 5 on the Hot 100 in 2001. I’m not going to argue about whether or not it’s the Jimmy Eat World song (it’s not), but it must be noted that, out of all of the rock tracks that found the Top 20 in the 2000s, “The Middle” is easily one of the best. It was a definitive anthem for the generation that came before me (elderly Millennials), yet its timelessness bleeds into the zeitgeist of the present-day with ease. Bleed American is a great alt-rock record that laid a terrific blueprint for the wave of pop-punk and emo that was about to blow up with the popularity of My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy and pre-hiatus Blink-182—but it’s always fun to look at how Jimmy Eat World predated all of it and then assimilated into the transition perfectly. “The Middle” is a bridge between the post-grunge, nu-metal rock world and the alt-pop about to take over. —MM

25. Simple Minds: “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”
Picture this: you’re 11 years old and you’ve just started to grasp the concept of rebellion. You watch The Breakfast Club for the first time, and your jaw is on the floor. Judd Nelson narrates that triumphant note to a tutting principle, puts on some rockin’ shades and turns into freeze-framed fist-pump—as “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” blares into your prepubescent ears. This is the coolest thing you’ve ever seen. Simple Minds’ hit track holds a unique identity on our list because it was engineered specifically for the movie it premiered in—it wasn’t written by Simple Minds, and they were initially reluctant to record it. They did a marvelous job, though, as the tune is affecting and edgy, full of youthful panache and effortless celebration. Power chords and deliciously ‘80s synth lines underlie a whispery croon that balloons into an anthemic chorus. You hear that “Hey, hey, hey!” at the song’s outset and you’re transported right back to this perfect, romanticized depiction of growing up while feeling misunderstood. —MW

24. Gotye ft. Kimbra: “Somebody That I Used to Know”
2011’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” is remarkable for the fact that it’s got a lot more surface-level weirdness—which is just to say it’s musically complex—than much of the music on this list. It’s an art-pop song; a full, funky symphony of “Baa Baa Black Sheep”-inspired xylophones and Brazilian jazz guitar. But Gotye’s hit song with 1.45-billion streams came to define the 2010s music scene much for that very reason: It’s the perfect mixture of off-kilter and familiar. The lyrics are simple and easily traceable, the pouty boy-girl duet a simple enough idea—allowing the song to be elevated rather than de-poppified by unique instrumentals and a low-budget, risqué visualizer. There’s a shock-factor element to many one-hit wonders, but “Somebody That I Used To Know” isn’t a flash in the pan—if its appearance on the scene was surprising, it was only because of the unlikeliness that a song so thoroughly left-field of the glittery dance pop of the day could rise to such ubiquity, and define the mainstream of the era. —MW

23. Chumbawamba: “Tubthumping”
It’s the most indecipherable song on this list, but it doesn’t matter. Tattoo “Tubthumping” on my forehead, baby. I don’t know what Chumbawamba were on in the studio that day, but God bless ‘em for it. I’m a little jaded that this song didn’t top the charts. A peak of #6 just isn’t enough. Released in 1997, Chumbawamba would never get to these heights again—nor could they ever have. “Tubthumping”—and Chumbawamba’s sound altogether—are relics of a musical era that, very quickly, vanished as quickly as it got popular. This song would be unmarketable in 2023. Hell, it was unmarketable by 1999, if we’re being honest. But what’s great is that, even now, I can tap into this track and find something to adore about it. “I get knocked down, but I get up again” is a great battlecry for the generation that practically invented cyber-bullying. I don’t know what it means to tubthump, but I’m going to figure it out one day. —MM

22. T. Rex: “Bang a Gong (Get It On)
The only big hit for glam rock icons T. Rex, “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” hit #10 on the Hot 100 in 1971. It was a cornerstone track on the band’s album Electric Warrior, and it’s become a mainstay in popular culture ever since. With bandleader Marc Bolan running the show, T. Rex would never eclipse the starpower they exuded on “Bang a Gong (Get It On),” nor could they ever have. It’s one of those perfect, unmovable, generational tracks that only a select-few rock acts ever get an opportunity to write. “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” is as timeless as it is fresh and hypnotic. Tapping into it 52 years later is like tapping into it for the first time, even on the 500th listen. There’s a whole cosmos of boogie that lives inside of “Bang a Gong (Get It On),” and what a joy it is to untangle it with every listen. —MM

21. The Proclaimers: “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”
You’ve seen it, I’ve seen it, we’ve all hummed it afterwards against our will. At least, I have. That fateful Season 2 episode of How I Met Your Mother has officially cemented The Proclaimers into my brain for the rest of my waking life, and if you’ve ever heard it, you’ll know exactly why. There’s something about that scruffy Scottish croon of twins Craig and Charlie Reed that just burrows into your brain before you have the time to scoff at the song’s absurdity, leaving you helpless against its advances. It’s silly and oh-so-1980s; a catalog of musings on love’s effect on the monotony of everyday life, with the brash forward momentum of two 26-year-old brothers who wrote a love song in a dingy Edinburgh flat. A thrumming drumline and gratuitous usage of “da-da-da” makes the tune impossible not to tap along to, and so be it. If it’s good enough for Ted and Marshall, it’s good enough for me. I’ll let it get stuck in my tape deck any day. —MW

20. Philip Bailey ft. Phil Collins: “Easy Lover”
“Easy Lover” is a bit of a cheat code on this list, mostly because Phil Collins has had a handful of charting singles and Philip Bailey was a part of making hit songs in Earth, Wind & Fire. However, as a solo artist, Bailey is a one-hit wonder, thanks to his collaboration with the former Genesis frontman. And let’s be frank here, “Easy Lover” is one of the catchiest songs of its era. We will gladly revel in any loophole that affords us the opportunity to give love and respect to dance-rock at its absolute finest. I wish Bailey and Collins had made a billion songs together, because I’d listen to every single one of them over and over and over again. If Foreigner hadn’t put out a ballad like “I Want to Know What Love Is” around the same time, “Easy Lover” would have hit #1 and become immortal in the halls of mainstream greatness. The track had to settle for a silver medal, but it takes the gold in our hearts. —MM

19. Terry Jacks: “Seasons in the Sun”
What I love most about Terry Jacks’ lone #1 hit is how singular it was when it came out. Released at the end of 1973, “Seasons in the Sun” took over the top spot on the Hot 100 chart the next year. Initially composed in the early-1960s by Belgian singer/songwriter Jacques Brel, “Seasons in the Sun” is a novel soft-rock classic. The song was originally supposed to be recorded by the Beach Boys for their Surf’s Up album in 1970, but the sessions never led to anything substantial—which led to Jacks making his own version, and reaping all of the rewards that the surf-rock purveyors just simply couldn’t muster. It’s much more mythical that Jacks got all of the glory for “Seasons of the Sun,” as he wouldn’t have another Top 50 hit in his career. But, when you make something as whimsical, charming and perfect as “Seasons of the Sun,” not replicating that success isn’t the worst thing. —MM

18. The Knack: “My Sharona”
This song—this song? This one’s just a certified banger. Is it creepy that it was written by a 25-year-old to a 17-year-old? Yes. Is it one of the catchiest rock songs to come out of the late ‘70s? Also yes. It’s sexy and summery and danceable; a decadent, late-century rock song at its best. Doug Fieger sounds like he’s about to explode with the horned-up passion he’s imbued into the tune’s soft-porn lyrics. It’s deliciously low-brow with a bangin’ guitar solo that you can’t help but imagine the lead singer on stage mic-stand grinding to before he makes those annoyingly catchy mid-coital groans over it. And what about it? The ‘70s were scuzzy, and The Knack took that ickiness and made it into the song of summer ‘79. Let’s not forget this was the band’s debut single. The way Fieger barks those verses is bound to get your finger tapping, as is the immediately-recognizable bass line which blooms into a full-throated orgy (sorry) of guitar and drums. It’s hooky and gross and perfect. Good on The Knack for making such an awesome, dirty song and then disappearing into the slimy Sunset Strip night. We’re lucky for it, and so, too, is John Stamos (iykyk).—MW

17. Big Country: “In a Big Country”
I’m usually ambivalent to self-titled songs, but Big Country really nailed the attempt in 1983 when they released “In a Big Country.” I suppose, if you’re only going to score one hit song in your career, why not have it be your own name? That’s double the recognition, and you can’t go wrong with that. But, the Scottish rock quartet truly made something larger-than-life on “In a Big Country.” In a perfect blend of Celtic rock, new wave and synth-pop, the song is a sprawling horizon of hope and potential. Few pop songs from the era had such beautiful prose lyrics, but “In a big country, dreams stay with you, like a lover’s voice fires with the mountainside” is a pair of lines that will stay with you. “In a Big Country” would peak at only #17 about seven months after its release, but it has the staying power of a #1 hit. The song has never sounded better, even 40 years later. Few artists can claim that truth about an era packed to the brim with hits, tricks and masterpieces. But Big Country is forever and always. —MM

16. Gary Numan: “Cars”
British singer/songwriter Gary Numan only had one hit song, but, boy, is it a great one. “Cars,” the centerpiece of his debut solo album The Pleasure Principle in 1979, is one of the best synth-pop albums of all time. You can look at this track and see every way in which it pioneered the new wave movement that flooded the pop charts in the 1980s. If “Cars” had come out in 1984 instead of 1979, it would have been a massive #1 hit. But, it still found a way to #9 on the Hot 100—which is an achievement altogether, as it helped usher in a popularity towards electronic music that hadn’t yet found its footing outside of disco. Numan would never have another single chart like “Cars,” but he changed the landscape of synth-pop forever. It’s hard to argue with a game-changing, landmark track. Even if it didn’t hit #1, it’ll never lose its luster. —MM

15. Sixpence None the Richer: “Kiss Me”
If you don’t like this song, you have no sense of joy. Sorry, I don’t make the rules—“Kiss Me” by Sixpence None the Richer is a perfect, sugar-drenched profession of love that’s wreathed in light acoustics and honeyed soprano. Not to mention the cellos and accordions which bring the tune to treacly heaven. It’s lighthearted and innocent, a simple request with no strings attached. The lyricism is self-indulgent and sincere, filled with twilit dances and twirling dresses. “Kiss Me” is the soundtrack to your middle-school fantasies, and it’s a glorious one. The song’s doe-eyed aura is upheld throughout its runtime, both sonically and thematically to a heroic extent, without reaching the level of cheesiness that leaves you mildly nauseous post-listen. It’s impressively open, too, vulnerable in a way we rarely let ourselves be. There’s something cathartic in the open-armed trust-fall Sixpence None the Richer trace in “Kiss Me”; it gives you permission to indulge in the gushiest, most saccharine parts of yourself. What a glorious thing. It’s also pretty cool that “Kiss Me” was the first song Taylor Swift ever learned to play on guitar. —MW

14. Blind Melon: “No Rain”
Los Angeles rock band Blind Melon only made three albums together, but they found great adoration in their 1993 hit single “No Rain.” Along with hitting #20 on the Hot 100, it also topped the Album Rock Tracks and Modern Rock Tracks charts that same year—cementing it as one of the decade’s very best rock ‘n’ roll songs. In company with bands like the Black Crowes, Blind Melon were making really slick psychedelic alt-rock at the turn of the 1990s, and “No Rain” is not just their most popular track; it’s their very best. Its blend of soft-rock and hippie charm helped make Blind Melon a platinum-certified band. Shannon Hoon’s imperfect, folk-singer bravado is still as charismatic as ever 20 years later. —MM

13. Metro Station: “Shake It”
The first time I heard Metro Station’s “Shake It”, I was on Vine in the context of some guy dancing to it with a fake gun to his head (I think he ended up peeing his pants.) It should stand as a testament to this late-aughts pop-punk masterpiece that my first instinct was to Find. That. Song. Everything about “Shake It” is perfect: The little “come on!” ad-libs, the dance-floor synths, the Brendan Urie-esque scream-singing. It’s self-propelled and echoey and has this indescribable, unparalleled Depeche Mode x Justin Bieber vibe to it that you can’t get out of your head. Its singers even sport swoopy emo shags and flaunt angel bite piercings as they rock out in someplace that’s a cross between the space outside their mom’s storage unit and the ballroom of a Marriott. Indeed, this song was meant to be screeched in somebody’s parents’ half-finished basement at the ripe, rebellious age of 15. But “Shake It” continues to be that song because it’s just so, well, impossible to shake. —MW

12. Five Stairsteps: “O-o-h Child”
Chicago soul group Five Stairsteps were the original “First Family of Soul,” before the Jackson 5 entered the musical world. They’d get their first real taste of success in the business when they began working with Curtis Mayfield, but they finally broke through in 1970 upon the release of their hit song “O-o-h Child.” It’s one of the greatest R&B songs to ever hit the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, let alone one of the greatest one-hit wonders of all time. Down to the core, “O-o-h Child” is a benchmark of the Chicago soul sound that birthed labels like Vee-Jay, Chess, OKeh and Chi-Sound. There’s something utterly beautiful and unbelievable about the way the harmonies just click across this track. Only a band with the chemistry of family members could band together and assemble something so singular. —MM

11. Looking Glass: “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)”
New Jersey legends Looking Glass made the most timeless soft-rock songs of all time in 1972 when they released “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl).” With nautical imagery running rampant, Looking Glass tell a mythical story about a barmaid in a port town who lost her soulmate to a life spent at sea. It’s a heartbreaking image beyond the poppy instrumental and Elliot Lurie’s whiskey-and-smoke vocals. “Brandy” would inspire everyone from Barry Manilow to KISS, and it makes sense. It’s one of the coolest songs ever penned, with one of the best horn arrangements of the entire decade. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single soul in this world who doesn’t love “Brandy.” It’s a unanimously beloved #1 hit—and a career-defining benchmark that Looking Glass could never replicate. But, truth be told, songs that are as perfect as “Brandy” don’t need a second act. —MM

10. La Roux: “Bulletproof”
Here is the part in our list where, at least per my metrics, we start to get into songs that are just great. I think my mouth was actually agape the first time I heard La Roux’s impossibly catchy piece of electronic, dance-pop magic. It’s the perfect mixture of ‘80s synth-pop, ‘00s girlboss messaging and easily memorizable choral repetition. Seriously, they should study this one in music theory seminars. There’s something practically Pavlovian that happens when you hear that long, proudly announced, “This time baby, I’ll be bulletproof”—against what might be your better judgment, you simply must sing along. La Roux captured some indescribable Human League, Tears For Fears and Depeche Mode ‘80s dance-craze essence and turned it into a feminist breakup anthem. We should all thank her for that for the reset of eternity.—MW

9. When in Rome: “The Promise”
This is just the one. Though it’s not in our Top 5, I can safely say that few songs from any era, all-time, elicit such perfect, immeasurable feelings of love and wonder and hope within me. When in Rome’s lone hit, “The Promise,” just conjures goodness from all who listen to it. With a peak of #11 on the Hot 100, “The Promise” holds so much coming-of-age energy that it’s hard to picture it doing anything but soundtracking a perfect, unforgettable movie moment—and that’s exactly what it did at the end of Napoleon Dynamite in 2004, nearly 20 years after the song’s original release. From that opening piano arpeggio to the glittering synthesizers that define the track’s destiny, “The Promise” is a one-in-a-million success that is timeless 36 years on. —MM

8. Soft Cell: “Tainted Love”
The only hit song for Soft Cell, “Tainted Love,” is a perfect synth-pop rendition of the Edward Cobb-penned track originally made famous by Gloria Jones. But the English new wave duo transformed the greatness of “Tainted Love” by giving it a contemporary shine that was a bold, formulaic masterpiece that hit #8 on the Hot 100 in 1981. Though Soft Cell could never replicate “Tainted Love,” their debut album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret is one of the greatest synth-pop albums ever made. Rihanna would sample “Tainted Love” on her song “SOS,” and VH1 called it one of the greatest one-hit wonders of the 1980s. We concur, and would go ever further by saying it’s one of the greatest electronic songs ever made. —MM

7. Doris Troy: “Just One Look”
A song that peaked at #10 on the Hot 100 in 1963, Doris Troy’s “Just One Look” is one the prettiest R&B compositions of all time. There’s a story that James Brown saw Troy perform at a nightclub under a different name and got her signed to Atlantic Records, but the real truth around how she made it there and recorded “Just One Look” is a little less mythical. After recording a demo of the song and having it rejected by Sue Records, Jerry Wexler at Atlantic scooped it up. “Just One Look” is a pre-counterculture-era song that stands the test of time. Tapping into it in 2023, Troy’s vocals are as sharp and picturesque as ever. Few songs from that time period were ever so well built to last, but “Just One Look” is an anomaly that demands to be celebrated. —MM

6. The Archies: “Sugar, Sugar”
Speaking of hits built to last, the fictional cartoon band The Archies did that in 1969 with “Sugar, Sugar.” In fact, “Sugar, Sugar” was so popular that Billboard named it the #1 song of the year. Ron Dante’s lead vocals are pillowy and perfect, as the Archies long predated what the Gorillaz have perfect in the post-Y2K rock world. “Sugar, Sugar” is bubblegum pop doused in extra portions of sweetness. There’s nothing bad to say about the song; it’s an inoffensive masterpiece that can be danced to anywhere, anytime. I hope “Sugar, Sugar” endures for thousands, even millions of years. If the Earth caves in on itself, I’m sure that the Archies will be singing from beneath the rubble. When you make a #1 hit song so intoxicating and dreamy and catchy, it lives on well beyond the rest of us. —MM

5. Norman Greenbaum: “Spirit in the Sky”
Released in the United States at the dawn of the 1970s, Norman Greenbaum’s song “Spirit in the Sky” is one of the greatest hits to never reach #1. Merging garage-rock distortion and a psychedelic solo, Greenbaum had figured out how to put boogie and blues into a mainstream church song. Though Greenbaum is a Jewish man, he saw Porter Wagoner singing a gospel song on TV and opted to try his hand at doing the same. The result was “Spirit in the Sky” and it became a smash—rising to #3 on the Hot 100 and making the Massachusetts singer/songwriter a household name, albeit briefly. Greenbaum would never make another hit song, but “Spirit in the Sky” cemented his legacy. He’d quit music in the 1980s and later become a sous-chef in a restaurant. But, for 50 years, Greenbaum’s been getting everyone to sing “I got a friend in Jesus” loud and proud, no matter their beliefs. That’s the power of catching lightning in a bottle. —MM

4. Chris Norman & Suzi Quatro: “Stumblin’ In”
The greatest duet in the history of mainstream pop music, “Stumblin’ In” combines the forces of Smokie bandleader Chris Norman and vocalist Suzi Quatro. Though neither of them were household names at the time—and neither of them are today—they found immortality with this 1979 hit. It would peak at #4 on the Hot 100, marking Quartro’s only Top 40 appearance and Norman’s only non-Smokie charting song. In recent years, “Stumblin’ In” has gained adoration—especially after being used on soundtracks from Licorice Pizza and Netflix’s Dahmer. Before that, however, the song was a radio fixture that slowly faded into obscurity for 50 years. Though it clocked in at #23 on Billboard’s Year-End chart, it was widely absent from any contemporary conversations around the soft-rock movement. Thankfully, “Stumblin’ In” is one of those 1970s hits that was built to stand the test of time. “Our love is alive, and so it begins” is such a romantic opening line, it makes sense that Norman and Quatro caught such strong lightning in a bottle and then couldn’t replicate it. To me, “Stumblin’ In” is the epitome of a one-hit wonder, as it was once lost in the caverns of immortality’s deep, deep archive—only to be resurrected through generational interest. It doesn’t hurt that the song is catchy and beautiful and everlasting. —MM

3. Nena: “99 Luftballons”
“99 Luftballons” is an anomaly on this list—it’s the only non-English-language track to reach the astronomical success requisite to even qualify Nena as a one-hit wonder. It’s come to be a bit of a joke over the years, but, upon release, “99 Luftballons” held a weighty message. In 1983, the U.S. and the Soviet Union still seemed on the brink of nuclear fallout, with Berlin caught in the middle of it all—and one tiny German singer had something to say about it. “99 Luftballons” tells the story of, well, 99 balloons floating in the air. Easy enough! But then, the balloons trigger false-alarm radars for both countries as unidentified objects and escalate to an eventual global war, destroying the planet in the process. The song became popular in America in its original German appearance, as its message was clear. Nena’s dramatic croon layered smoothly over dramatic synths and punky guitars, couching her political statement into typical ‘80s glitz. Besides being the only song on this list not in English, it also appears to be the only one written about brinkmanship—and any tune that implicates Yuri Andropov in the ‘80s Europop movement deserves the credit. —MW

2. Fiona Apple: “Criminal”
Categorizing Fiona Apple as a “one-hit wonder” is actually a heartbreaking thing to do—but I cannot leave her off of this list, as her 1997 song “Criminal” peaked at #21 on the Hot 100. The third single from her debut album Tidal, “Criminal” put Apple on the map and in rock ‘n’ roll conversations. She’d later win a Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance for the song and earn various listicle accolades over the years, and it’s hard to imagine a 1990s alt-rock scene without “Criminal.” You can hear hints of Apple’s trademark baroque, avant-pop style in the use of Jon Brion’s Chamberlin or Dan Rothchild’s palpable bass licks—making the track not just an essential anthem about a bygone, but a precursor to how Apple would turn pop music inside out in the two decades to follow. In 2023, it’s widely understood that she is one of our most important singer/songwriters in the whole world. But 26 years ago, Apple was a 20-year-old New Yorker on the brink of worldwide stardom. Weird to think about a time when masterpieces like The Idler Wheel… and Fetch the Bolt Cutters don’t exist, but those albums never see the light of day without “Criminal” becoming a sensation. —MM

1. Dexy’s Midnight Runners: “Come On Eileen”
Many of the songs from 1983 don’t hold up 40 years after their release, but that is how the ever-evolving landscape of mainstream music works. You take the good with the bad and embrace the beauty of what has become timeless and what remains stuck in the era it was born into. However, “Come On Eileen”—the lone #1 hit from Dexy’s Midnight Runners—is, arguably, the most timeless song to ever crack open the Billboard Hot 100. What an infectious, dazzling cut of new wave injected with Celtic folk-pop. The modern music world had never seen such a dynamic, soulful song rule the world—which helps make “Come On Eileen” an eternal work of glorious art. That opening fiddle solo, the a-cappella outro (which was nixed from the single version) and the uptempo horn and mandolin that duet across the track’s bridge—how can you not hopelessly fall in love with the song over and over with each listen? “Eileen, I’ll hum this tune forever,” vocalist Kevin Rowland opines. Thankfully, all of us get to take part in that same, perfect destiny. —MM

Check out a playlist of these 50 songs below.

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