10 ONE HIT WONDERS THAT STOOD THE TEST OF TIME
Music is an instrumental part of our lives. We mark time, experiences, and memories with it. Music also gets us up and moving, singing, and celebrating. When it comes to choosing just 10 One Hit Wonders That Stand the Test of Time, it becomes challenging. How do you pick only 10 songs when there are so many out there that make us turn up the volume? You know the songs, the ones you know every word to, but aren’t too sure who the band is. The songs that turn our cars into a karaoke scene on the freeway. They’re the songs that blockbuster films return to repeatedly because they fit our stories so well, or they say the things we wish we dared to say. These are the songs we connect with, that lift our spirits and move us.
Well, we did it. We narrowed down our list to just 10 one-hit wonders we believe stand the test of time.
“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by The Tokens (1961)
Originally written and performed by South African Solomon Linda in 1939 under the title “Mbube,” which means lion in Zulu, the song gained popularity in the United States when Pete Seeger recorded it under the title “Wimoweh.” In 1961, the song became known as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” when George David Weiss added lyrics to the music. When The Tokens recorded the song, it was an instant hit. In 1994, the song surged in popularity when Disney added it to their animated film, The Lion King.
Controversy surrounds the song, too. Other than Linda’s original recording, he received no royalties for his work during his lifetime. His family later reached a contract with Disney for the use of the song in the original Lion King film.
“Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum (1969)
With its smoky, rhythmic intro, “Spirit in the Sky” draws listeners in automatically. Followed by a catchy chorus, the song became a favorite cover song for many other artists, including Elton John. Like many works of art, inspiration comes from all over. The same applies to Greenbaum. From a greeting card to a gospel performance, Greenbaum developed the song over time.
“Sugar, Sugar” by The Archies (1969)
Brought to us by the cartoon band The Archies, Jeffy Barry and Andy Kim wrote the song. The Archies were characters in The Archie Show: Archie, Reggie, Veronica, Betty, and Jughead. The song reached number 1 on the Billboard charts without the band ever performing before a live audience.
“Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede (1974)
It might be surprising to note that the original version of the song did not include the recognizable “ooga-chaka” intro. Musician Mark James wrote the original song in 1968, and B.J. Thomas performed it. The “ooga-chaka” joined the lyrics in 1971 when British musician Johnathan King recorded his version. Then in 1974, Blue Swede recorded a cover version including the chant and went to #1 on Billboard’s top 100.
“Play that Funky Music” by Wild Cherry (1976)
The Wild Cherry’s band leader Rob Parissi began writing the song after an audience member told a band member they “better play that funky music, white boy.” The rock band was in the midst of an influx of funk and disco music, and it was impacting their regular schedule of gigs. Once it was released, it was an immediate hit and even garnered two Grammy nominations.
“867-5309 (Jenny)” by Tommy Tutone (1981)
Anyone who doesn’t have this phone number memorized yet was born after 2016. And if anyone still has that number today, the band isn’t apologizing for it. Tommy Tutone’s song reached #4 on the Billboard charts, and at the time of its release, lawyers, schools, and even ordinary citizens received calls asking for Jenny. One radio station, WLS, went as far as obtaining the number for their own use after the song was released. As popular as the song was and is, the band never had another hit song. Perhaps they just needed to change their number.
“I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)” by The Proclaimers (1987)
The catchy tune written by the duo Charlie and Craig Reid of The Proclaimers gets a lot of movie time. While you may not recognize all the films that add the song to their soundtracks, you will recognize a few. It first appeared in the 1993 film Benny and Joon starring Mary Stuart Masterson and Johnny Depp. The song went acapella in 2012 when it merged with “Titanium” by David Guerra. Like we mentioned before, songs that cause us to take the stage in our cars are worthy of this list. In the comedy, Identity Thief, Melissa McCarthy does just that.
“Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohn (1991)
The soulful “Walking in Memphis” feels a walk through the past that good storytelling evokes. Needing inspiration, Cohn went to one of the music capitals in the United States. He breathed in the sights and sounds of musicians who went before him. The result was a song that charted #13 on the Billboard charts and two Grammy nominations. Cher and Lonestar also covered the song.
“Tubthumping” by Chumbawama (1997)
This pop anthem draws listeners out of their seats. Who doesn’t want to be encouraged to get back up again? The song by the British pop group Chumbawamba could serve as the theme song to many days in our lives. It hit #1 in the UK and #6 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Closing Time” by Semisonic (1998)
The song’s opening lyrics evoke the end of a long night at the local bar. However, the story behind the Grammy-nominated song is something else. Songwriter Dan Wilson explained in an interview in 2008 that the birth of his daughter served as some of the inspiration for the music. Switch out the bar for a delivery room, and the song gives you a whole new perspective.
Now, we know there are more than 10 one-hit wonders that stand the test of time. That’s why we also include a short list of honorable mentions. Crack open your playlists and let us know which one-hit-wonder you keep coming back to.
- “My Sharona” by The Knack
- “Don’t Worry Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin
- “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” by Steam
- “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Deep Blue Something
- “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves