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A one-hit wonder is a person or act known mainly for only a single success. The term is most often used to describe music performers with only one hit single or for having one signature song that overshadows their other work. However, the term is used as well to describe other, related phenomenon such as a software company that only has one widely successful release and an athlete known for only one major career event.
Some one-hit wonders are the result of novelty songs during fads. Examples include Rick Dees’ "Disco Duck", related to the disco craze of the 1970s; "The White Knight" by Cledus Maggard & the Citizen's Band, written at the peak of the Citizens' Band radio craze; and Buckner & Garcia’s "Pac-Man Fever", related to the 1980s-era arcade game Pac-Man.
Some artists, such as J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, had their careers cut short by death (in the Big Bopper's case, in a fatal plane crash that also killed two other musicians), while others such as New Radicals broke up immediately after their one hit. In the 1960s and early 1970s, session bands such as Edison Lighthouse (one of many one-hit groups featuring prolific session vocalist Tony Burrows) or Alive N Kickin' producing just a single 45 record were common. More commonly, however, one-hit wonders are serious-minded musicians who struggled to continue their success after their popularity waned.
Because one-hit wonders are popular for only a brief time, their hits often have nostalgic value and are featured on era-centric compilations and soundtracks to period films.
Though the term is sometimes used in a derogatory manner, some fans often have a great passion for these songs and the artists who created them. Some one-hit wonder artists have embraced this following openly, while others distance themselves from their hit in an attempt to craft successful songs with different sounds, or embark on new careers as songwriters (such as Linda Perry of 4 Non Blondes and Gregg Alexander of New Radicals), or entertainers of other media (such as Chuck Woolery of The Avant-Garde, who later became a game show host).
Although an act may have solely one top-40 hit on a national chart such as the UK Singles Chart or the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 (a standard typically used for authoritative compilations of one-hit wonders), such an act may not be popularly considered a one-hit wonder, depending on any number of other factors (such as technicalities preventing another song from the act from charting, success in specific musical genres, or offshoots of other, more successful acts). Such performers are usually widely acclaimed as musicians despite their relative lack of pop chart hits; seminal rock musician Jimi Hendrix ("All Along the Watchtower"), renowned jam band The Grateful Dead ("Touch of Grey"), and country music phenomenon Garth Brooks ("Lost in You," recorded under the pseudonym Chris Gaines) are among those who charted only one pop hit despite far greater success outside of pop singles (at least in their home country; Hendrix and Brooks had somewhat better success on the pop charts abroad, see below). Likewise, an act that has had multiple top-40 hits on a national pop chart (i.e., Tommy Tutone, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Jigsaw) may indeed still be considered a one-hit wonder if one signature song has overshadowed the rest of its body of work and its other hits (or hit, since many of these acts have only had two hits) have been left out of recurrent rotation. Occasionally, an artist with multiple top 10 hits (The McCoys, Cutting Crew, Vanilla Ice) can have a single song overshadow the rest of their work. Some artists can be associated with a song that wasn't their biggest hit (Eddie Floyd, Europe, and in an extreme case, The Romantics), or a song that was affected by a chart technicality (Arlo Guthrie, The Rembrandts, Fastball), A similar case can occur when an act has varying degrees of popularity in different countries; an act (i.e., Dexys Midnight Runners, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Midnight Oil) can be a one-hit wonder in one country but a more major success in others (or, in some unusual cases, such as those of After the Fire and Faron Young, have one pop hit in each country, but with different songs in each country). It is also occasionally possible for an act (i.e., Modern English, Darude, Rebecca Black) who never actually had a top-40 hit, but nonetheless had exactly one song achieve mainstream popularity in some other fashion, to be considered a one-hit wonder.
The term one-hit wonder is occasionally used to refer to an artist, other than a musical performer, who is best known for a single work. Examples in literature include Harper Lee's only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, which sold 30 million copies; and author Joseph Heller, who wrote several novels, but is still best known for Catch-22. Margaret Mitchell never wrote another book after her first novel, Gone With the Wind, was a smash best-seller. The anonymous author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, a seminal Christian text eventually incorporated into the New Testament, cannot be traced to any known New Testament author (early attributions to the prolific writer Paul of Tarsus are now almost certain to be erroneous) and are often attributed to Barnabas, Apollos or Priscilla and Aquila, none of whom authored any other surviving texts. The Eye of Argon, Jim Theiss' only work of fiction, is an unusual example: it is famous (or rather infamous) for its lack of quality. The term is also applied to the film industry: one such case lies in the career of actress Natasha Henstridge, who has yet to match the success of the 1995 film, Species. Renée Jeanne Falconetti's role in the 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc is considered perhaps the finest in film; this was her last movie appearance and only starring role.
The concept can even be expanded to television, such as in the case of the entire cast of Seinfeld; all of the shows that starred a Seinfeld cast member after that show ended were failures (that is, until The New Adventures of Old Christine had a five-season run), prompting allegations of a "Seinfeld Curse" on the participants. McLean Stevenson was likewise notorious for his one-hit performance on M*A*S*H and his string of failed TV series that followed (even the long-running Match Game ended up canceled a year after he joined as a panelist). One-hit wonders in film and television often end up typecast in roles similar (but often inferior) to their signature role, a possible cause of their failures later on.
In drug culture, the term one-hit wonder is often applied to either highly potent specific varieties of substances, such as certain strains of cannabis that require only one "hit" (a single inhalation of smoke), or a "hit" of LSD (a single dose), to achieve the desired psychoactive effects, or a person with a significantly low tolerance to such drugs that it only takes a single "hit" to achieve desired effects.
In the world of web analytics, one-hit wonder is used to describe a user who comes to a site from a search engine, views the piece of content he was searching for, and then leaves, never clicking an ad or engaging in any way with the site. The phenomenon is particularly germane with respect to publishers putting "paywalls" around content, and the recent struggles of news and newspaper publishers in the face of changes brought about by the Internet. The term was first used in this respect by web programmer Tim Burden on his blog, and has also been used by news business pundit Jeff Jarvis.
In the sports world, there are several athletes known to casual sports fans for one event in their careers. Examples include Bill Mazeroski, who is the only player in Major League Baseball history to end a seventh game of the World Series with a walk-off home run (however, Mazeroski is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, due primarily to his status as one of the greatest defensive infielders of all time); Paul Henderson, a Canadian ice hockey player who scored the deciding goal in the 1972 Summit Series; Mike Jones, who tackled Kevin Dyson at the one-yard line on the final play of Super Bowl XXXIV; David Tyree, a wide receiver who became famous for a helmet-assisted catch during the waning moments of Super Bowl XLII; Timmy Smith and Mark Rypien, both Washington Redskins stars that ended up out of football shortly after winning Super Bowls XXII and XXVI respectively; Buster Douglas, who was the first boxer to ever knock Mike Tyson out; and Jimmy Glass, an English football goalkeeper, who is remembered for scoring a goal in the last seconds of the final day of 1998-99 English Third Division that kept his club in The Football League. His subsequently released biography was titled One-Hit Wonder.
Some athletes have become remembered for a single mistake in their careers as opposed to a triumphant moment. Notable examples of such athletes include Buffalo Bills placekicker Scott Norwood, who is infamous for a missed 47-yard field goal that cost his team the Super Bowl; Bill Buckner, who at the 1986 World Series made a fielding error in which a baseball rolled through his legs; and Jim Marshall, who, as part of the Minnesota Vikings, ran 66 yards into his own end zone and scored a safety for the San Francisco 49ers.
In tennis, the term "one-slam wonder" can be referred towards players who have either won only one Grand Slam singles title during his or her career, or players who have currently only won one Grand Slam singles title but have the potential to win even more in their careers. Andy Roddick is said to have enjoyed a successful tennis career, despite winning only one Grand Slam singles title – the 2003 US Open – in his entire career. Other players who won only one Grand Slam singles title in their entire career include Carlos Moyá, Petr Korda, Gastón Gaudio, Thomas Johansson, Albert Costa, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Anastasia Myskina, Gabriela Sabatini and Jana Novotná, among others.
In 2002, the American cable network VH1 aired a countdown of the VH1's 100 Greatest One-hit Wonders, hosted by William Shatner. It listed musicians with only one American hit, regardless of international success, which has been substantial and long-lived for musicians like a-ha and Nena (see below). In fact, if the "only one American hit" criterion had been strictly applied, a-ha and Falco would not be eligible for the list, as they each actually had two top-20 US hits—although as noted above their second hits were greatly overshadowed in the US by the prior hit. The same goes for Vanilla Ice: his follow up to his #1 hit was a #4 hit titled, "Play That Funky Music". Gerardo also had another Top 15 hit. Los del Río likewise had two top 40 hits, though both were versions of "Macarena."
The countdown also omitted acts such as Jimi Hendrix and Grateful Dead who, while technically charting with only one single, became too well known for their entire bodies of work to merit inclusion on the list. They did get mentioned, though, in a short segment of one-hit wonders that had popular followings. The top ten consisted of:
A 2006 television poll, conducted by Channel 4 in the UK, asked viewers to select their favourite one hit wonder from a shortlist of 60. Respondents could also vote by e-mail to select a song that was not on the original list, if they so wished. The top 10 were:
|20||"Tainted Love"||Soft Cell|
|19||"Mambo No.5"||Lou Bega|
|17||"Achy Breaky Heart"||Billy Ray Cyrus|
|15||"I'll Be Gone"||Spectrum|
|13||"Counting the Beat"||The Swingers|
|12||"Slice of Heaven"||Dave Dobbyn & The Herbs|
|11||"Rockin' Robin"||Bobby Day|
|10||"Pass the Dutchie"||Musical Youth|
|9||"Don't Worry, Be Happy"||Bobby McFerrin|
|7||"Spirit in the Sky"||Norman Greenbaum|
|6||"Come on Eileen"||Dexys Midnight Runners|
|4||"Turning Japanese"||The Vapors|
|3||"Video Killed the Radio Star"||The Buggles|
|2||"Born to Be Alive"||Patrick Hernandez|
|1||"My Sharona"||The Knack|
In September 2006, New Zealand's terrestrial music channel, C4, aired an episode dedicated to "One Hit Wonders" on the weekly theme-based chart show, UChoose40, where the chart was ranked entirely by viewer's votes from the website.
The top ten ranking are as follows:
Deutsche Grammophon and Vox Records have both released albums of classical one-hit wonders. Many of the works on the CDs are from composers who have two or more works that are popular in classical music circles, but have a single work that has become popular outside these circles. The two CDs differ, but the works common to both are: