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N.B. For the purposes of this write-up, I will use the term "one hit wonder" to refer interchangeably to both the artist/band and the song.


I am currently watching a VH1 programme dedicated to one hit wonders and it has set me thinking: What is it about one hit wonders that sets them apart from other hits? Before I answer that question, perhaps it would be helpful to identify the various types of one hit wonder (feel free to /msg me with any further suggestions).

Types of One Hit Wonder*

  • The Notorious Novelty Record - conclusive proof that some people never learn. A novelty record often seems funny at first, but quickly becomes tiresome. The true novelty record seems to be a British affliction (e.g. Bob the Builder, Mr Blobby, Teletubbies), but some of the greatest US one hit wonders do have a certain novelty value (Kung Fu Fighting springs to mind).

  • The One-off Wide Appreciation of a Genuinely Talented Band or Artist - perhaps I am falling into the same trap as the people Orange Julius derides in his write-up, but I honestly believe such one hit wonders exist. These are bands who have large fanbases and successful albums, but are only known by the average MTV viewer for one song. Examples include Blind Melon (No Rain) and Free (All Right Now).

  • The Flash-in-the-Pan Fluke Hit - unlike the novelty record, this is a hit because people appreciate the music, rather than the novelty value of the tune. However, the band never manages to repeat the success with anything approaching the quality of that track. Chumbawamba is a good example, as are some of the other acts Orange Julius mentions.

  • The Deliberate One-Hit Wonder - this is where, for whatever reason, the band or artist only seriously tries for one hit. This could be an actor taking a brief detour from his acting work (e.g. Patrick Swayze) or a distinctly un-commercial band who deliberately write a more mainstream song for commercial success (e.g. Mr Big).

* bear in mind that some one hit wonders fall into more than one category

Well those are the categories, now I can return to the original question. It seems that there are several reasons why people love one hit wonders.

With the novelty record, it is the challenge of buying the single while people still like it. For about two weeks (or sadly much longer in the case of Macarena) everyone will laugh and cheer when you put it on at parties and do their silly little dance. That is the power of the novelty record.

The other three categories are popular for a different reason. These categories are made up of tracks that have got to the top on their own merit. There is no momentum from previous hits; no massive PR machine behind the group. It is all about the music, and that is such a rare occurrence in the MTV Age.