The 1980s were a popular time for one-hit wonders. Of the 40 songs with the longest stays on the Top 40 from 1980 to 2012 by artists who only charted once or twice, 15 are from the 1980s, 13 are from the 1990s, 10 are from the 2000s, and two are from 2010 to 2012.
One-hit wonders are often representative of the general trends in the popular music of their day. By the 1980s, for example, disco had largely fallen out of style and was being replaced in dance clubs by synth-pop, a genre that often utilizes the synthesizer as a primary instrument. One-hit wonders from the 1980s that heavily feature synthesizers include “Take On Me” by A-Ha, “Funkytown” by Lipps, Inc., and “Rock Me Amadeus” by Falco.
While genres such as grunge and alternative rock flourished in the 1990s, many of the most popular one-hit wonders of the decade built on the dance-pop and hip-hop trends of the 1970s and 1980s. “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred, “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-a-Lot, and “Macarena” by Los Del Rio are some of the biggest dance and hip-hop hits from the 1990s.
One notable trend during the 2000s was the rise in popularity of indie, emotionally expressive tunes by singer-songwriters. Examples on our list include “Hey There Delilah” by the Plain White T’s and “You’re Beautiful” by James Blunt. Borne of the musical trends of their day — 80s synth-pop, 90s dance-pop, and 2000s indie rock — many of these hits fall out of style as new genres emerge and listener tastes change.
To determine the 40 biggest one-hit wonders, 24/7 Wall St. identified the songs with the longest stays on the weekly American Top 40 charts from 1980 to 2012. Only songs that reached No. 1 on the American Top 40 were considered. Additionally, artists must have charted on the Top 40 no more than twice, either as individual artists or by featuring on another artist’s song, and must have sold fewer than 5 millions albums throughout their careers. Songs that were originally recorded for a film or television show were not considered. The American Top 40 consists of the top 40 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 and was obtained from weeklytop40.com. Data on certified album sales came from the Recording Industry Association of America.