13 of the best rock one-hit wonders
According to that ultimate bastion of knowledge, Wikipedia, a one-hit wonder is ‘any entity that achieves mainstream popularity and success for a very short period of time, often for only one piece of work, and becomes known among the general public solely for that momentary success.’ Seems about right. One-hit wonders are 10 a penny in the pop world, of course, but every so often they also pop up – pun not intended – in rock. Sometimes, it’s a novelty song from a band who got lucky and then disappeared never to be seen again, other times it’s when an acclaimed band with an already established career in the alternative scene manages, for whatever reason, to push through the barrier to the mainstream before retreating back to their previous habitat. There are, of course, also bands who had big success in the UK but never struck gold in the U.S., and vice versa. All of those are included in the absolutely accurate, objectively correct list below of the best one-hit wonders in rock. We’re off to listen to The Impression That I Get by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Oh – wait a minute…
Green Jellÿ – Three Little Pigs (1993)
Originally released in 1992 when the comedy metallers were still called Green Jellö – something soon changed after legal pressure from Kraft Foods, who own the Jell‑O trademark. The letter change didn’t do anything to hamper the success of their ridiculously over-the-top retelling of the classic fairy tale. Beneath some monolithic riffs, Bill Manspeaker growls out the story as if he were the wolf himself, but the little pigs make appearances courtesy of some ear-piercing falsetto. It made it all the way to the number 5 spot before vanishing from the UK charts forever.
Drowning Pool – Bodies (2001)
The whispers that preface the best known song from Drowning Pool are probably as iconic as the song itself. Taken from their 2001 debut album, Sinner – which reached 14 on the U.S. charts and 70 in the UK – Bodies remains by far the Dallas band’s most successful song, even though they’ve continued to have a fruitful career ever since. That, though, perhaps serves as a touching tribute to original vocalist Dave Williams, who died of heart failure while the band were on tour in August 2002.
Lit – My Own Worst Enemy (1999)
Who doesn’t love trying to squeeze in every breakneck syllable of the ‘’Cause every now and then I kick the living shit out of me’ line in this chorus? Taken from their poppy second record, 1999’s A Place In The Sun – which, incidentally, was a total departure from the gloomfest of 1997 debut, Tripping The Light Fantastic – you could argue that Miserable was also a kind of hit, but with this one getting to 16 on the UK charts it’s by far and away Lit’s most successful song.
American Hi-Fi – Flavor Of The Weak (2001)
Perhaps if this motley crew of power-pop punkers from Boston had altered the spelling of this track for the UK market, it would have climbed higher up the charts than number 31, but that’s conjecture. Either way, this feel-good track about another man’s under-appreciated girlfriend definitely eclipses all their other songs in terms of popularity. It’s not American Hi-Fi’s only brush with fame, though – frontman Stacy Jones was also the drummer for acclaimed alternative rock acts Veruca Salt and Letters To Cleo, and was also Miley Cyrus’ musical director for a while. Weird.
Liam Lynch - United States Of Whatever (2003)
Liam Lynch (real name: William Patrick Niederst) has directed videos for the likes of Queens Of The Stone Age, No Doubt and Foo Fighters, and also directed Tenacious D’s feature-length movie, Tenacious D In The Pick of Destiny. The brainchild behind TV’s irreverent Sifl And Olly Show, he’s also released a bucket load of albums, most of which consist of parody songs. This rambunctious, geeky, apathetic punk strop anthem is an absolute gem, though. Originally written for the Sifl And Olly Show and featuring on his album Fake Songs, this sub-90 second blast of attitude hit number 10 on the UK singles charts.
L7 – Pretend We're Dead (1992)
Even though this song – from their third album, Bricks Are Heavy – came out just over half a year after the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind, it’s still kind of a surprise that L7 ever had a hit this big. Not because the song isn’t good – remember, popularity is not an arbiter of taste – but because the LA band were always raw and rough around the edges. That said, this is one of their least abrasive tunes, so it makes sense that it managed to reach 21 on the UK charts. The band, who were a major influence on the riot grrrl scene, released three more albums before calling it quits in 2001. The one-hit wonders reformed in 2014 to much fanfare, but have never again reached those giddy heights of commercial success.
Crazy Town – Butterfly (2000)
Based on a sample of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Pretty Little Ditty, Butterfly turned Crazy Town into worldwide stars. The song – from the band’s 1999 debut, The Gift Of Game – hit the top spot in the U.S. and Brazil, as well as a whole bunch of European countries including Austria, Denmark, Germany, Norway and Romania. It managed to get to number three in the UK. Nothing else the band released was ever as successful – probably because there was a 13-year gap between their second album, 2002’s Darkhorse, and their third and (so far) most recent effort, 2015’s The Brimstone Sluggers.
Smash Mouth – All Star (1999)
These days, if you Google videos of All Star by Smash Mouth, it won’t be too long before you come across YouTuber Jon Sudano’s (hopefully) ironic covers of this 1999 smash hit, where he sings the vocals over instrumentals of classic tunes such as Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit and John Lennon’s Imagine. Technically, On The Sun, from the band’s 1997 debut, placed slightly higher on both the U.S. and UK singles charts, but it never became a meme or got featured in the trailer for Shrek. As a result, this is the song that people now seem to most immediately associate with the band we’re sticking with this decision. That, and it’s the more rocky of the two. Fight us.
Living Colour – Cult Of Personality (1988)
The opening track on their first album, Cult Of Personality remains the perfect encapsulation of the hard rock/funk/metal hybrid that Living Colour continue to practise to this day. It’s a surprising hit, mainly because its lyrics make reference to political figures such as Stalin, Mussolini, Gandhi and JFK. Founded and fronted by the London-born Vernon Reid (which explains the spelling of ‘colour’), the four-piece never again emulated the success of that song, but – a five-year hiatus aside – have continued making acclaimed music and released their sixth album, Shade, in 2017. Its feature on Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and as WWE star CM Punk’s entrance music probably helped its popularity rocket in recent-ish times.
Third Eye Blind – Semi-Charmed Life (1997)
Here’s a weird thing – Third Eye Blind have always been massive in the U.S., but barely made a dent in the UK. Over in the States, there were five singles from their 1997 debut self-titled album that were all over the charts, but this is the only song that ever made an impression over here. And then, it was only barely, peaking at 33. Still, its upbeat, catchy ‘do do doooos’ are immediately recognisable and tend to initiate a boisterous singalong wherever it’s played, despite being incredibly wordy. Much like their other material, it has great lyrics, but after its release they kind of just died in the UK.
Wheatus – Teenage Dirtbag (2000)
If you didn’t realise that Wheatus have released four albums since their eponymous debut in 2000, you probably weren’t the only one – none of them appeared anywhere near the charts in any country. That first album, however, was a huge success, thanks mainly to the runaway success of this song, which in turn was helped by its appearance in the movie Loser – and the subsequent video featuring Jason Biggs and Mena Suvari, who had both starred in the previous year’s American Pie. It remains the only song by the one-hit wonders that anyone really knows, and definitely gets extra props for the Iron Maiden reference.
Blind Melon – No Rain (1992)
Defined by a deliriously feel-good jangle and Shannon Hoon’s distinctive vocals, No Rain is the one song by Blind Melon that even people who aren’t really aware of the band will know. That’s because the single, taken from the LA band’s eponymous 1992 debut album, was a huge hit for the band, reaching the top spot in Canada, number eight in Australia, number 17 in the UK and number 20 in their home country. Second record Soup followed in 1995, but failed to render any hits. Some eight weeks after its release, Hoon – who had also contributed backing vocals to Guns N’ Roses’ 1991 albums Use Your Illusion I and II – sadly lost his life to a drug overdose.
Ugly Kid Joe – Everything About You (1991)
Unquestionably the best-known song by Ugly Kid Joe, Everything About You’s lyrics might be full of vitriol, but the fun, feel-good nature of its melody meant that people latched onto it in droves. The song first appeared on the band’s debut EP, As Ugly As They Wanna Be, but after it was featured in Wayne’s World, the band also decided to put it on their first album, America’s Least Wanted. Clever move in theory, but Ugly Kid Joe never released anything as popular again and called it quits in 1997. In 2010, after a 13 year break, they got back together.
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