As I’ve said before, pop music is a fickle mistress. It’s impossible to know which songs or bands will stick in the public consciousness, and which will simply fade away and be forgotten. The bands and artists who enjoy longevity, scoring multiple hit records and albums across the span of a decade or more, are the minority. Most who make it big only enjoy a short 15 minutes of fame based on the strength of one or two hits.
However, the fleetingness of fame doesn’t diminish the strength of those songs, so let’s acknowledge the artists who didn’t make it big for long by recognizing some of the best one hit wonders in recent history.
1. “Get Together” by The Youngbloods
One hit wonders say a lot about the time they were released. “Get Together” was released in the midst of 1967’s “summer of love.” It’s a slice of hippie-dippie utopia underscored by gorgeously chiming Byrds-style guitars that could only have come out of the idealistic ’60s counter-culture. The hook, the music, and even the sentiment still hold up today.
2. “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” by Iron Butterfly
Originally 18 minutes long, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” was cut down to all of three minutes for release as a single, which became a big hit for Iron Butterfly. In spite of the nonsense title — a garbled version of “in the garden of eden” that stuck, for whatever reason. It’s another ’60s relic that still sounds great today and it can be thanked for pushing psych-rock a few steps closer to the unformed genre of heavy metal.
3. “I’m Into Something Good” by Herman’s Hermits
Ah, but the ’60s wasn’t all psychedelic rock and hippie ideals — it was also an age of sugary mass-produced pop music about love. “I’m Into Something Good,” the debut single of Herman’s Hermits, is a prime example of cheesy ’60s pop music, courtesy of Brill Building songwriters Carole King and Gerry Goffin. It’s the sort of song your cynical side wants to despise, but it’s just too dang catchy and happy to resist.
4. “My Sharona” by The Knack
“My Sharona” was the fastest debut to reach gold status for Capitol Records since The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in 1964. The Knack, of course, didn’t enjoy the same success The Beatles did (indeed, no one has), but it’s easy to see why “My Sharona” captured the culture so effectively in 1979. It’s a powerful new wave riff that just begs listeners to sing and stutter along with the lyrics. The clean production and melodic hook nod back to the ’60s — a combination of old and new that made for one monster hit.
5. “The Hustle” by Van McCoy
This song is a rare exception to the rule that any song with an accompanying dance is automatically terrible. “The Hustle” was released right in the middle of the ’70s and seems to typify that decade in music perfectly. It’s one of the few disco songs that still holds up today, in part because it doesn’t bother with too many lyrics, instead focusing on a lush sonic atmosphere of funk guitar, gospel choirs, keyboards, brass, and strings.
6. “No Rain” by Blind Melon
Blind Melon never got a proper chance to follow up their biggest hit, 1992’s “No Rain,” due to the death of lead vocalist Shannon Hoon just three years later. It’s a shame, because “No Rain” and the accompanying music video featuring a character called “Bee Girl” offers some of the best mainstream alt-rock the ’90s had to offer. The song boasted a crisp guitar tone and mellow atmosphere rather than existing in the shadow of Nirvana like so many other bands of the era.
7. “Spirit In The Sky” by Norman Greenbaum
You might not know what “The Spirit In The Sky” is from the title alone, but you’ve definitely heard it in at least a dozen films and TV shows. The single was released in 1969 and seems to straddle the line between the ’60s and ’70s, mixing gospel with psychedelic rock to create an unusual worldwide hit.
8. “Closing Time” by Semisonic
How late ’90s is this song? Delicate, emotionally honest vocals compliment a softened alt-rock sound with some guitar scraping and a solid pop hook. Semisonic’s signature song is apparently about a bar closing up and clearing out the guests, though bandleader Dan Wilson has stated the song is also about fatherhood and birth — more specifically about “being sent forth from the womb as if by a bouncer clearing out a bar.”
9. “Werewolves Of London” by Warren Zevon
Warren Zevon should have had more hits than this, but alas, he did not. More than a few of his songs were successfully covered by other artists, but “Werewolves Of London” was the darkly comedic rocker’s only significant charting single. It isn’t hard to see why, as the song is anchored by an unforgettable (and oft imitated) piano riff that takes precedence over the delightfully silly lyrics and howling chorus.
10. “Sex And Candy” by Marcy Playground
Another song that reeks of the ’90s, “Sex And Candy” could easily be grating if it wasn’t so rich with melody. Somewhere between Nirvana and Dave Matthews Band, the only song to make it big from Marcy Playground is a prime relic of the age when alt-rock bands ruled the charts, and when a title like “Sex And Candy” was still risque enough to peak the interest of thousands of angsty teenagers.
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