Yesterday was “National One-Hit Wonder Day” apparently. The definition of a one-hit wonder is pretty loose; some could be foreigners with great careers back home (A-Ha), some are “album” bands or critical favourites (Led Zeppelin, Randy Newman). In terms of Billboard Top 40 appearances, a dozen such acts can appear each year before vanishing for good.

A much rarer occurrence is an actual Billboard No. 1 one-hit wonder — this dubious honour has been achieved by only a handful of artists. For Listed this week, let’s revisit some memorably brief chart-topping careers.

10. Gregory Abbott - “Shake You Down” (January 17, 1987)

New York singer Gregory Abbott somehow combined harmonica, soul singing and sappy ‘80s pop to winning effect with “Shake You Down.” It was an unlikely one-hit wonder — easy on the ears, without a grating melody or novelty theme / dance. Though its follow-up single “I Got the Feelin’” got some notice on genre-specific Billboard charts Abbott never again visited the Top 40. 

9. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” - Bobby McFerrin
(September 24, 1988)

Make no mistake: “Don’t Worry Be Happy” is a pretty dumb song, featuring the most useless lyrical advice in pop history. But can you imagine a track this simple and breezy becoming a hit today? And considering McFerrin was the first guy to earn a No. 1 single using only his voice since the days of barbershop and doo-wop, it still stands out among the one-hit wonder elite.

8. Sinéad O'Connor - “Nothing Compares 2 U”
(April 21, 1990)

“Nothing Compares 2 U” is an anomaly on this list; it’s actually a great song, and O’Connor didn’t so much fall into obscurity as sabotage her own future in pop music. Written by Prince, its lush sound and graceful melody felt more like a final triumph of ‘80s pop singles than a false start to crappier ‘90s hits.


7. Right Said Fred - “I’m Too Sexy”
(February 8, 1992) / Sir Mix-a-Lot - “Baby Got Back” (July 4, 1992)

Sometimes No. 1 one-hit wonders take years to reoccur, sometimes they happen so close together you’d think the music-buying public suffered temporary, collective brain damage. Two of the dumbest Billboard No. 1 hits of all time landed on the charts within months of each other in 1992 — Right Said Fred’s insufferable “I’m Too Sexy” and Sir Mix-a-Lot’s slightly more listenable booty ballad “Baby Got Back.”

6. Ini Kamoze - “Here Comes the Hotstepper”
(December 17, 1994)

Jamaican dancehall artist Ini Kamoze had something of a career before dropping the reggae-pop track “Here Comes the Hotstepper,” but nothing before or since came close to his lone hit.

“Hotstepper” is also remembered for its video, a classically bad “movie soundtrack” clip with Kamoze awkwardly inserted into footage from the forgotten fashion comedy Prêt-à-Porter.

5. Los del Rio - “Macarena”
(August 3, 1996)

If you’d love to have one monster hit then retire from the music business immediately, writing a song with pre-packaged novelty dance should be plan A. That was the case for Spanish latin-pop group Los del Rio, who infected us all with their musical flu “Macarena” in 1996. If you can still do the dance you’re not alone, but you probably should be.

4. Crazy Town - “Butterfly”
(March 24, 2001)

The watered-down funk of “Butterfly” (almost entirely built from a Red Hot Chili Peppers sample) is the kind of song heavier bands usually drop after years of commercial failure, but it actually appeared on Crazy Town’s debut The Gift of Game (1999). The rest of the record was rap-rock dumpster fodder, but unlike fellow crap-metal crossovers Sugar Ray, Crazy Town never had the good sense to throw their more abrasive side out the window. They broke up in 2003. 

3. D4L - “Laffy Taffy”
(January 14, 2006)

For a brief, frightening period it seemed like “ringtone” hits — songs built on the simplest hooks and ingloriously stupid concepts like leaning back and forth or dancing like Superman — would be the future of rap. Thankfully acts like D4L and their surprise smash “Laffy Taffy” died a quick death. 

2. James Blunt - “You’re Beautiful”
(March 11, 2006) / Daniel Powter - “Bad Day” (April 8, 2006) 

Early 2006 must have been a bad time for white people. Sad-sack songwriters James Blunt and Daniel Powter both went to No. 1 for the first and only times within a month of each other. Powter holds another odd record: he’s the only artist to have the biggest-selling single of a given year without earning a hit before or since.

If you haven’t been to a Sobey’s in six years you might have gotten this song out of your head, and if so ... sorry:

1. Gotye - “Somebody That I Used to Know”
(April 28, 2012)

To be fair Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” only topped the charts earlier this year, but his breakout song has all the signs of a one-hit wonder. Its melody is insanely catchy, its lyrics are simple enough for pre-teens to enjoy and it sounds like nothing else the Belgian songwriter (born Wouter De Backer) has ever put together. If he drops a single even half as successful in the coming years I’ll eat crow, but until then he remains the latest No. 1 one-hit wonder.

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