There’s nothing nobler in popular music than being a one-hit wonder. Let the Madonnas, Drakes, and Mariah Careys of the world fill their homes with platinum plaques. Only those artists who manage to crack the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 exactly once know the true meaning of pop music, an ephemeral art form rooted in fads and fleeting pleasures.
The 20 artists on this list of memorable one-hit wonders deserve neither scorn nor pity. They thrilled us for a short time, filling holes in our souls that we didn’t know existed, then got out of the way—voluntarily or otherwise. There are a million no-hit wonders who’d gladly trade places.
1. “Come On Eileen” // Dexys Midnight Runners
Behold, the ultimate one-hit wonder. Dexys Midnight Runners came over from England in 1982 with a weird name and an even weirder song: a Celtic-soul hook barrage about a horny dude trying to scheme some action. The music video showcased the band in overalls and bandanas, a look that might be described as “street urchin chic.” All of this kooky brilliance pushed “Come On Eileen” to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 while virtually ensuring Dexys would never make the Top 40 again. Fortunately, “Come On Eileen” rode again in 1997, when the ska band Save Ferris scored a minor hit with a bubbly cover version of it.
2. “Too Shy” // Kajagoogoo
There’s only one thing more fun than saying Kajagoogoo's name, and that’s singing along to the UK band’s 1983 New Wave fave “Too Shy.” Co-produced by Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran, the synth-pop earworm features head-scratching sexy talk that reads like a medical textbook. (“Moving in circles, won’t you dilate.”) But the chorus is really what seduced America, vaulting “Too Shy” to No. 5 on the Hot 100.
3. “Because I Got High” // Afroman
Afroman was going to write a second hit, but then he got high. Actually, that’s not what happened, but after his 2001 smash “Because I Got High,” a song about how smoking weed can hinder one’s productivity, the singer/rapper/producer born Joseph Foreman was never able to spark the public’s interest again. Still, as long as April has a 20th day, “Because I Got High” will continue to have a place in popular culture.
4. “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)” // Nine Days
This is the story of a band that wrote a song that moved the whole world ... and then was never heard from again. Which is fine, because 2000’s “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)” is irresistible power-pop that eased ‘90s kids into the new millennium with the hope that summery guitar jams like this would keep coming forever. (They didn't.)
5. “Who Let the Dogs Out” // Baha Men
At the turn of the millennium, there was one burning question on everyone’s mind: “Who let the dogs out?” Baha Men weren’t the first to record this novelty tune, but they made it sound like a radio jingle mixed with a club jam, and that made it a hit in America. “Who Let the Dogs Out” peaked at No. 40 on the Hot 100 and would have risen much higher had the chart factored in popularity at sporting events. The strangest thing about “Who Let the Dogs Out”? According to songwriter Anslem Douglas, it’s a feminist anthem aimed at men who catcall women.
6. “Sex and Candy” // Marcy Playground
Creepy, titillating, and a little gross, with a chorus that lingers in your brain like a stalker, 1997’s “Sex and Candy” landed alt-rockers Marcy Playground at No. 8 on the Hot 100. Lead singer John Wozniak nicked the title phrase from a former girlfriend’s college roommate, who once walked in on the couple and said, “It smells like sex and candy in here.” Wozniak claims he doesn’t know what the rest of the song is about, so interpret phrases like “disco lemonade” however you’d like.
7. “Bitch” // Meredith Brooks
When “Bitch” stormed the charts in 1997 en route to a peak position of No. 2, a lot of people thought they were hearing a new Alanis Morrissette single. While the brash, unapologetic song is not entirely un-Alanis-like, Meredith Brooks was very much her own artist. The then-38-year-old singer/songwriter/guitarist had been in the business for more than 10 years and spent the late ’80s rocking with The Graces, featuring ex-Go-Go’s member Charlotte Caffey. There was honesty in the way Brooks sang and, yes, shredded on “Bitch”—a song about the many things a woman can be.
8. “Shut Up and Dance” // WALK THE MOON
An experience with a real girl in a “backless dress and some beat-up sneaks” inspired this 2014 dance-rock chart-burner. She was a friend of WALK THE MOON lead singer Nicholas Petricca, and by coaxing him onto the dance floor one night, she inadvertently planted the seed for a shimmering collision of U2-style ’80s rock and modern club music. In order to finish the lyric, Petricca thought back to his awkward high school days. “Shut Up and Dance” is one for the dorks, and judging by the song’s No. 4 chart peak, they’re a silent majority.
9. “Hit ’Em Up Style (Oops!)” // Blu Cantrell
In 2001, R&B singer Blu Cantrell had some good advice for ladies with philandering boyfriends and husbands: “Get your hands on his cash and spend it to the last dime for all the hard times.” That’s the gist of “Hit ‘Em Up Style,” a song that cleverly samples the Frank Sinatra dude-bro apologia “The Boys’ Night Out.”
10. “Somebody That I Used to Know” // Gotye
Sometimes called a “fluke hit,” this 2011 smash by Belgian Australian singer-songwriter Gotye actually has a lot going for it. There’s a jazzy guitar sample; a suburb melody; an intriguing he-said, she-said lyrical conceit; and a plinking xylophone that gives the whole thing a disorienting vibe perfectly suited to the unhappy subject matter. Of course, it helped that Gotye and duet partner Kimbra got naked and painted in the music video. It all adds up to a breakup song that’s so catchy America had to break up with Gotye afterward.
11. “Tubthumping” // Chumbawumba
In 1997, all the world was a pub, and Chumbawamba had just the song to make everyone hoist a glass and sing their guts out. The UK band was previously known for their anarcho-communist leanings, but “Tubthumping” is a nonpartisan anthem for anyone who has been knocked down or just wants to knock back some beers.
12. “You Get What You Give” // New Radicals
All most people remember about this No. 36 hit from 1998 hit is the closing quasi-rap bit, where New Radicals leader Gregg Alexander disses Beck, Hanson, Courtney Love, and Marilyn Manson. Which is too bad, because “You Get What You Give” is a perfectly crafted pop song about more important matters, like resisting consumerism and believing in yourself. A disillusioned Alexander never made another New Radicals album after this one. He said his piece and moved on.
13. “I Got a Man” // Positive K
There’s one important thing to remember about this 1992 hip-hop smash, a back-and-forth between an insistent male suitor and the reluctant object of his affections: Positive K raps both the male and female parts. To do so convincingly, he relied on studio trickery and his keen observational skills. While some critics have described the No. 14 hit as “street harassment,” the New York City rapper insists “I Got a Man” depicts the kind of innocent conversations you’d hear back in the pre-social media days, when a guy had to ask a woman for her phone number.
14. “Love Plus One” // Haircut 100
Sometimes, a unique sonic palette is enough to cut through the clutter of pop radio. Utilizing marimba, steel drums, bongos, and soprano sax, “Love Plus One” is so light and frothy that nobody seemed to care that the lyrics didn't make any sense. Haircut 100 took this New Wave delight all the way to No. 36 in 1982, shortly before lead singer, guitarist, and primary songwriter Nick Heyward left the band. For what it’s worth, Heyward says he knows exactly what the song is about, but he’s keeping it to himself.
15. “The Promise” // When In Rome
The smoldering 1988 synth-pop classic “The Promise,” a No. 11 hit on the Hot 100, finds exactly the right words to describe the feeling of not having the right words to say to the person you love. The song is earnest as hell but somehow cool, which made it the perfect choice to soundtrack the final scene of the offbeat 2004 comedy Napoleon Dynamite.
16. “Just a Friend” // Biz Markie
With gloriously offkey singing, an interpolated hook from a 1968 soul chestnut, and a relatable lyric about getting played by his lady, Biz Markie made a rap song for everyone in 1989—a time when hip-hop wasn’t yet for everyone. Biz’s timeless tale of loving and losing a girl he refers to simply as “Blah-Blah-Blah” reached No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100, charming everyone within earshot of a radio.
17. “Don’t Wanna Fall In Love” // Jane Child
Jane Child was the real deal. She studied at Canada’s Royal Conservatory of Music and played most of the instruments on her 1990 hit “Don’t Wanna Fall In Love,” which she also wrote and produced. The deceptively upbeat dance-pop single reached No. 2 on the Hot 100, earning her comparisons to Prince. She also became known for her signature fashion accessory, a chain connecting her nose and ear piercings. Unfortunately, she didn’t stick around long enough to make that a nationwide trend.
18. “Life Is a Highway” // Tom Cochran
Canadian rocker Tom Cochran was in a bad place when he wrote this ubiquitous 1991 radio jam. “I needed a pep talk, and it became that for me and for millions of others,” he said. With “Life Is a Highway," Cochran turns what might’ve been a T-shirt or coffee mug slogan into a big ol’ fist-pumping rock song, complete with rootsy harmonica blasts. It reached No. 6 in 1992 and No. 7 in 2006, when the country group Rascal Flatts motored up the charts with a faithful remake. (Cochran's original version has also made memorable cameos in The Office and Family Guy.)
19. “Ex’s & Oh’s” // Elle King
The daughter of Saturday Night Live alum Rob Schneider crafted one hell of a blues-punk stomper with “Ex’s & Oh’s,” a No. 10 hit from 2014. King brags about breaking hearts from Cali to the UK, summoning the kind of “love ‘em and leave ’em” bravado usually reserved for male artists. The best part? It’s all true. “I had a crazy couple of years of touring and dating and falling in love really fast and falling out of love even faster,” King said about what inspired the song.
20. “Steal My Sunshine” // Len
Smash Mouth and Sugar Ray had the market on summer jams pretty well cornered in the late ’90s. Then came the Canadian band Len with three minutes and 30 seconds of pure, doofy bliss. Group leader Marc Costanzo came up with the idea for “Steal My Sunshine” while partying at a Toronto rave. He wrote the lyrics on a napkin and later sang them over a sampled disco beat, creating a song that would reach No. 9 on the Hot 100 and define the summer of 1999. Costanzo has rightly called the song “a perfect storm of the weirdest sh*t.”