Few things help us truly understand an era quite like the music it produced. And while some hit songs are defined and shaped by the times that created them, others have lived on long beyond their heyday. Admit it, there’s nothing quite like music from the 1970s. Here’s a list of your favorite top one-hit wonders of the ’70s, along with the wild stories that accompany their legendary tunes. So dust off those bellbottoms, say good night to your pet rock, and hop on your extremely uncomfortable water bed — let’s take a journey back to the era of funk, disco, and rock and roll.
1. Play That Funky Music – Wild Cherry
It’s safe to say that there’s no chance you haven’t danced to this. It’s simply an impossibility. But before funk one-hit wonders Wild Cherry conquered the charts in 1976 and made hips sway, they were a hard rockin’ band that just couldn’t catch a break.
The idea for the song came when they were playing at a club to a less than responsive audience. Someone shouted the now infamous line at them. Band frontman Rob Parissi was listening, and the idea stuck. All it took was a genre shift!
2. Kung Fu Fighting – Carl Douglas
This one-hit wonder is just that special and widely known that you’re bound to recognize it from the first two seconds. That’s the mark of true songwriting gold. It features what is known in music as the ‘Oriental riff,’ instantly defining something as East Asian in the American imagination.
One-hit wonder singer Carl Douglas had a wildly successful hit with this 1974 single. It capitalized on the popularity of Hong Kong kung fu movies, whose greatest star, Bruce Lee, had just passed away. You can’t really detect the accent, but Carl Douglas is from Jamaica.
3. In The Summertime – Mungo Jerry
Even if the oddly-named British band Mungo Jerry are remembered as one-hit wonders in music history, they’re probably not too sad about it. After all, their debut single “In the Summertime”, released in 1970, is one of the top singles of all time.
Snatching the top space on music charts around the world, it’s been splashed all over film and television spots. But besides the carefree, almost goofy nature of the tune, there’s one big request we have. Those intimidating mutton chops? Please don’t try to bring that look back.
4. Ring My Bell – Anita Ward
R&B crooner Frederick Knight wrote this tune, having in mind teens who were chitchatting on the phone as his inspiration. It was intended to be sung by singer Stacy Lattisaw, until she signed on with a different label. In came Anita Ward.
Anita Ward became a one-hit wonder as her 1979 version of the song snatched up the spot on Soul Singles charts and the Billboard Hot 100. Listeners interpreted its lyrics as being suggestive, which rubbed Anita the wrong way — her background was in the church.
5. Got To Be Real – Cheryl Lynn
This disco one-hit wonder has appeared in so many films, TV shows, and other pop culture references that it’s practically dizzying. Cheryl Lynn’s 1979 disco tune was enormously successful well beyond the era that created it. So what does she have in common with Michael Jackson and Diana Ross?
Several years before her song hit the airwaves, Cheryl Lynn had gained a major start in her music career by performing in the stage version of The Wiz. As her song climbed the charts, the film version with Jackson and Ross was just being released.
6. Rapper’s Delight – Sugarhill Gang
Orchestrated by master producer Sylvia Robinson, the impact that “Rapper’s Delight” had on the music world is nothing short of earthshaking. This was rap music’s introduction to the mainstream, exported from the streets of the Bronx. And it all began one fateful night in 1978.
Disco giants Chic were playing onstage in New York with Blondie and The Clash. In the middle of Chic’s disco hit “Good Times”, rapper Fab Five Freddy brought his pals and leaped onstage, and they started freestyling. The result is the one-hit wonder that began a whole new era of music.
7. Afternoon Delight – Starland Vocal Band
Sure, “Afternoon Delight” has some lovely harmonies, but that’s not why people took to it. The lyrics were naughty enough to get the point across the giggling listeners, but took enough poetic license (can we call it that?) that it was still radio-friendly.
It skyrocketed (get it?) to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1976 and the band even got its own show. The song received four Grammy nominations, but winning two of those Grammies couldn’t resuscitate them. Apparently, the award Best New Artist has a career-killing reputation to it.
8. Venus – Shocking Blue
Today, you know it from lady’s shaving razors commercials, and you know it from the Bananarama version. And if memory serves, you’ll know the original version from 1970. But did you know the band that sings this ode to a Roman goddess (or…”godness”?) is Dutch?
If that accent sounds a bit peculiar, and if you noticed some of the pronunciation is a bit off, now you’ll know why. This psychedelic song that bids farewell to the groove of the ’60s shot to the top of the charts in nine countries.
9. All Right Now – Free
With all due respect to Free, having just one hit single was probably not crushing for them. After all, they’re one of the best-selling blues rock groups in Britain. They disbanded shortly after getting that hit single, but with a cool 20 million albums sold worldwide – no big deal!
They wrote it in the student union building on campus at Durham University in northern England. Free found incredible success at a ridiculously young age: the youngest member, bass player Andy Fraser, was just 17 years old when he and his band became one-hit wonders.
10. O-o-h Child – Five Stairsteps
With such a positive, kindhearted message, you couldn’t help but enjoy this 1970 hit. It appealed to listeners of a wide array of genres. After all, this was the Vietnam era, with turmoil back home and overseas. Listeners needed to hear those sweet words.
The Five Stairsteps may have been one-hit wonders, but they had something very unique about them that made them stand out from their peers. The entire band were all siblings, products of the Chicago soul scene. Singer Alohe would later leave the group for a very ’70s reason: finding enlightenment.
That one sure brought us back. But just wait for these next nostalgia trips coming up ahead!
11. Magic – Pilot
Have you ever had this song’s simple chorus pop into your head while watching a magic show? Well, we certainly have. Pilot was Scotland’s finest, and their hit sold almost one million copies. It was certified gold less than a year after having been released in 1974.
Though “Magic” climbed to #5 in the US, their next hit “January” was only a big deal in the UK. There’s a chance you’ve heard this without even realizing it: the song took off once again in 2007 when it was used for a Pillsbury commercial!
12. Love Hurts – Nazareth
This pained song, which certainly played in your head through all of your past breakups, is actually a cover. While it’s by no means the first one of its kind, it was without a doubt the most memorable and the most commercially successful.
Scottish rock band Nazareth’s power ballad made it to the Top 10 in the US. It also made #1 in Norway and the Netherlands. Lead singer Dan McCafferty squeezed every ounce of emotion he could out of the tune with his gritty yell over what’s actually a fairly soft song.
13. Turn The Beat Around – Vicki Sue Robinson
Long before Gloria Estefan gave this tune a seriously spicy Cuban makeover, New York singer Vicki Sue Robinson had herself a big hit back in 1976. She toured the nation to promote her song, as it quickly ate up the disco charts at home and abroad.
This one-hit wonder singer didn’t have any more chart toppers, but she certainly spent her time well. She backed up Irene Cara on the hit tune “Fame”, and spent the 1980s working alongside such A-list artists as Cher and Michael Bolton. Not too shabby!
14. Spirit In The Sky – Norman Greenbaum
That opening guitar riff is just unforgettable. It’s a song that has been number 1 three separate times through three separate artists, but the original one was from Norman Greenbaum. He says he saw Porter Waggoner singing gospel on TV, was inspired, and thought he could definitely do it.
He penned it in just 15 minutes and hey presto, a one-hit wonder was born. But the funniest part is the singer’s own background. For a famous hippie ode to Jesus, Norman Greenbaum was actually raised in an Orthodox Jewish home!
15. Feelings – Morris Albert
The title says it all. In 1975, this weepy song was practically impossible to escape. Though the singer, Brazilian Morris Albert, would face copyright backlash for improvising on a tune written by French composer Loulou Gasté, the public didn’t seem to mind.
“Feelings” has been covered across the ages by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Julio Iglesias. It’s taken on its own life as one of the greatest ballads of the ’70s. Nina Simone, playing it live at Montreux, remarked on how sad someone must be to have to write such lyrics.
Haven’t seen your favorite ’70s one-hit wonder on the list? Have no fear — it’s right up ahead.
16. Born To Be Alive – Patrick Hernandez
From the look of things, French singer Patrick Hernandez had quite the stage presence. With his big, bouncy hair, snappy suits, sassy hand gestures, and a penchant for dancing with a cane, it seemed he would have a big future in the business.
Despite his disco groove going to No. 1 on the charts in 1979, he was destined to become a one-hit wonder, but of his own accord. After his song’s success, Hernandez opted to part ways with the music industry. Regardless, we’re still dancing.
17. My Sharona – The Knack
It’s got that unforgettably simple but catchy three-chord riff that’s in exact rhythm with the drums and bass, and we can’t get enough. The top song of 1979 was an easy No. 1, and they had another single lined up called “Good Girls Don’t.” But then came the backlash.
The Knack had some serious haters who quelled their triumph. They were accused of being ‘Beatles rip-offs’, and people thought the song was creepy and referring to underaged girls. “San Francisco artist Hugh Brown launched a ‘Knuke the Knack’ campaign,’ and the band was resigned to one-hit-wonder status.
18. Seasons In The Sun – Terry Jacks
With that glimmering, sunny, shimmering guitar reverb, we all remember this 1974 tune for all the wrong reasons. Once you pay a bit of attention to the lyrics, you realize it’s actually a real bummer of a song. Why oh why does everything have to end?
It’s actually a translation of French-language crooner Jacques Brel, whose original version was also, unsurprisingly, rather gloomy. Terry Jacks recorded the tune with his wife. So, this one-hit wonder was written by a Belgian, translated and reworked by an American, sang and popularized by a Canadian.
19. Video Killed The Radio Star – The Buggles
With its snide, almost taunting tone, “Video Killed the Radio Star” made the top of the singles charts in 16 different countries across the globe. Though it crushed the charts when it came out, this one-hit wonder had another reason for its longevity.
British New Wave group The Buggles covered this immensely popular tune, and their weird spacey video accompanying the 1979 single became the very first music video ever shown on MTV. Some overly sensitive viewers apparently thought it was overly violent because a television blows up in the clip.
20. Me and Mrs. Jones – Billy Paul
What a scandalously good tune! And who but Billy Paul could make something so wrong sound so beautiful? Never has infidelity had so much soul to it. “Me and Mrs. Jones” closed out 1972 at No. 1 on the charts, and that was just the beginning.
The single was certified platinum, selling two million records. Billy Paul managed to snag a Grammy for his hit, and though he had other singles afterward, all were eclipsed by this one’s success. Trivia time: younger generations will definitely remember Turk singing this one on Scrubs, repeatedly.
Did you find yourself singing along without even hearing the song? You’ll definitely remember these next hits.
21. You Light Up My Life – Debby Boone
Sure, being crooner Pat Boone’s daughter certainly gave her the right kind of boost. But this song, and Debby Boone’s career, as a result, took on a life of their own. Nothing before it had spent so long at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.
If you can recall, this song was originally from a film with the same title, starring the lip-syncing Didi Conn, who played Frenchie in Grease. Debby’s 1977 cover won the Best New Artist Grammy, as well as an American Music Award.
22. I Love The Nightlife – Alicia Bridges
Could this 1978 song be any more straightforward about its message? She likes going out, she likes partying and dancing, and she wants you to enjoy it just like her. Don’t let her radically short, punk rock blonde hair fool you, because Alicia Bridges is a disco queen.
You can almost hear a sly wink in her saucy, full voice. Surprisingly, she’s a reluctant hero of her genre. One-hit wonder Alicia Bridges didn’t much care for disco, so she just wasn’t interested when approached to do a full disco album.
23. Stealers Wheel – Stuck in the Middle With You
First things first, because you know it’s the first thing that popped into your head: that gruesome scene from Reservoir Dogs will forever influence the way we hear this 1973 one-hit wonder. But seriously, how can you not know this song?
Scotsmen Gerry Rafferty and Joe Egan recorded it, debuting on Top of the Pops on the BBC in 1973. Behind the scenes, the tune featured the assistance of legendary songwriting pair Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the dynamic duo that had helped propel Elvis to stardom.
24. American Pie – Don McLean
Some one-hit wonders are successful because of the atmosphere that created them, or a genre that was once popular. Then there’s that rare song that breaks the mold. You know this song, your friends know this song, the entire world knows this song, and what’s more, it never gets old.
It may not be entirely fair to label Don McLean a one-hit wonder, but his follow-up singles couldn’t even touch the massive success of this epic tune. McLean proved that not only could a song over eight minutes become the stuff of legends, but that we could learn all the words.
25. Cat’s In The Cradle – Harry Chapin
Wipe away those tears, if you can. “Cat’s in the Cradle” is that song that will make you tearfully call up your dad to remind him you love him. Its haunting lyrics mean that no matter what time of day you hear it, it will strike a chord in your heart.
Chapin’s wife Sandy wrote the poem that inspired this 1974 hit, and it was about her first husband’s relationship with his politician father. But as time went on, Harry Chapin came to realize he was expressing his own fears about his relationship with his son.
Tearing up from the memories? You’ll definitely get a kick from these next songs.
26. The Devil Went Down To Georgia – The Charlie Daniels Band
If you want an incredible slice of home-cooked Americana, look no further. You can just feel the ghoulish flames licking off of the violins in this 1979 hit song, because there’s such fast and furious fiddling, you’d swear they’re on fire.
The song employs a classic story of a boy being dared to a fiddling match with the Devil himself, with his evil adversary being totally surprised. Most recently, a viral video featured a man playing in tune with a washing machine whose rhythm totally matches the song.
27. Lovin’ You – Minnie Riperton
Modern audiences all know Minnie’s daughter, funny gal and Saturday Night Live star Maya Rudolph. This sugary 1975 song was written to soothe her young daughter. Minnie had a formidable vocal talent as a coloratura soprano, but only gave us a taste of it here.
Written by her and her husband, and soaked with calming sounds like chirping birds, it was a perfect vehicle to show off Minnie’s incredible four octave range. Tragically, the singer passed away from cancer just a few years after her song made waves.
28. Baker Street – Gerry Rafferty
Few songs could be so hauntingly wistful, let alone a one-hit wonder. Move over, George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley, because this song has arguably the greatest saxophone solo of all time. Just ask Lisa Simpson. And its guitar solo even influenced Slash’s in “Sweet Child o’ Mine“.
Scotsman Gerry Rafferty was a member of Stealer’s Wheel, which had yet another one-hit wonder themselves, but as a solo artist, there was no topping this legendary tune that hit charts worldwide in 1978. How much does this one take you back?
29. Hooked On A Feeling – Blue Swede
ABBA weren’t the only ones making a splash in the 1970s. As the name would suggest, “Hooked on a Feeling” was indeed sung by a Swedish rock group. In fact, it was made by mashing together two cover songs, one Swedish and one American.
The “ooga-chaka” opening to the song would later take on a life of its own, long after the single went number one in 1974. It accompanied that weird dancing baby from the Ally McBeal TV show that would become one of the world’s first viral videos in the 1990s.
30. Ça plane pour moi – Plastic Bertrand
It’s like the Beach Boys turned nasty. It’s been sung in concert by groups as giant as U2 and Red Hot Chili Peppers, it’s appeared in films from Eurotrip to The Wolf of Wall Street. Chances are, you know this ridiculously energetic song without even realizing it.
Knowing French is not going to help you understand the bizarre lyrics. Belgian rocker Plastic Bertrand wanted to spoof the new genre known as punk. Stealing charts across Europe, this one-hit wonder was a rare instance where a French song also saw success in the US.
31. The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia – Vicki Lawrence
Somehow, the moniker ’70s one-hit wonder seems so absurdly unfair to pin on Vicki Lawrence. After all, as one of the lead character actresses on one of the most successful comedy shows of all time, The Carol Burnett Show, as well as its spinoff Mama’s Family, she remains a force to reckon with in the gilded halls of television history.
But when it comes to the music world, Lawrence took a shot just once, and won big time. Her song’s suspenseful tale of murder and intrigue in the South, with its surprisingly sugary chorus, has become a country cover staple.
32. Hot Child In The City – Nick Gilder
London-born Canadian artist stirred up the charts in 1978 with this #1 hit song. Many people who bopped to its seemingly carefree style didn’t look too deeply into the lyrics. If they had, they might have been rather shocked. The song is in fact about underage girls working the streets, based on a sobering experience he had seen on Hollywood Boulevard.
Gilder technically counts as a ’70s one-hit wonder because this was his only hit song as a solo artist, but to be fair, he also managed to rock the charts both in his band Sweeney Todd, as well as a songwriter for other artists.
33. How Long – Ace
It’s the opening bass riff that an entire generation of young gentlemen just had to learn in order to impress their love interest. The fact that the bass is the lead-in to this popular soft rock ballad is actually rather ironic.
While the song’s lyrics would imply that it’s about being cheated on by a lover, it’s actually about a betrayal of another kind: the lead singer discovered his band’s bassist had been moonlighting with another group! The song has continued to generate a life of its own, having gone on to be covered by such greats as Rod Stewart and Bobby Womack.
34. Driver’s Seat – Sniff ‘n’ the Tears
Heavy guitar riffs, big hair, a frenetic drum beat, the occasional synth lick, and of course, the constant presence of falsettos. When you think of music from the 1970s, it’s as if this song ran down a checklist of features of the music of its era. The song’s international success just wasn’t enough for this band of Brits.
Several members ended up parting ways not long after it raced up the charts in 1979, and the following albums did not produce hit singles. For the songs needed to recreate the feel of an era, “Driver’s Seat” made the cut for the soundtrack of the film Boogie Nights.
35. Black Betty – Ram Jam
Though the rock band Ram Jam became ’70s one-hit wonders, their guitarist already had over a decade of experience in the music business. Bill Bartlett had previously been part of the psychedelic ’60s pop group Lemon Pipers, which had topped the charts with “Green Tambourine” back in 1968. The group Ram Jam was formed around the presence of the guitarist.
The thumping “Black Betty” was a rock reworking of a short song by the legendary blues guitarist Lead Belly. While Ram Jam’s version of the song became an international hit, it was not without its controversy. The NAACP took umbrage with its lyrics, and attempted to institute a boycott.
36. Pop Muzik – M
It’s bizarre, it’s undeniably quirky, it’s hopelessly catchy, and it heralded the beginning of an era dominated by the genre of new wave. Its title’s spelling and the sound of the song would lead you to believe it came out of Germany or another place in Continental Europe that had championed electronic music.
However, the group M was a collaborative project centered around English musician Robin Scott. This synthesizer-dominated song served as the perfect bridge between the dying brand of disco and the electro-pop sound that would define the next decade. Irish rock giants U2 would go on to remix the song and use it to open their tours in the late ’90s.
37. Dancing In The Moonlight – King Harvest
What happens when you gather a bunch of talented American musicians in Paris? The result is this gentle, soothing hit that you can’t help to sway to, just as the lyrics would want you to do. The band King Harvest went through several iterations, and even received support from former members of the Beach Boys.
However, they never managed to attain the success that this ’70s one-hit wonder brought them. Today, modern audiences will be far more familiar with a different version of this song, its instantly-recognizable 2000 cover by Toploader. Chances are, few modern listeners will realize that the hit is in fact a cover.
38. The Rapper – The Jaggerz
Just the name of the band and song alone leave a lot to unpack. Although The Jaggerz’s hit song “The Rapper” came out in 1970 at the height of Rolling Stones mania, no, their name is not a play on Mick Jagger. Rather, they say, it’s based on a Pittsburgh-area slang word for a thorny bush. And of course, the name has nothing to do with the name of the genre that would later come to dominate modern music.
This fun boogie with its fuzzy electric guitar line was only eclipsed on the charts by Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. The band did create several other singles that peaked at #75 and #88 on the Billboard Hot 100, but “The Rapper” remains their one massive hit.
39. Playground In My Mind – Clint Holmes
By the time crooner Clint Holmes topped the charts in 1972 with his hit song “Playground In My Mind”, he already had spent several years in the military, singing in the United States Army Chorus for three years during the Vietnam War.
The hopeful and cheery tone of the song, accented by the children’s vocals in the back, was precisely what audiences needed, given the dark news of the times. Though the song would prove to be his only hit, Holmes would go on to fame in other projects, such as announcing Joan Rivers’ late-night show, and becoming a fixture among Las Vegas stage performers.
40. Beach Baby – The First Class
With a songwriter bearing the surname Shakespeare, chances are, you’re practically guaranteed at least one chart-topping single, and that’s precisely what British pop group The First Class got in 1974 with their single “The First Class”. The group’s country of origin may come as a surprise, because lead singer Tony Burrows manages to pull off a fairly convincing American accent.
Because the song talks about a girl on the beaches of sunny southern California, it’s highly likely he was inspired to try and echo the sound of the Beach Boys — albeit with classic musical stylings and plenty of brass backing him up.
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