There’s no official definition of the term “one-hit wonder” in the music world, but it usually refers to a recording artist who has had a sole No. 1 hit (or one that charted near the top for a substantial stretch of time), with the artist’s other efforts failing to reach similar heights. (Some artists, however, reached those heights 20 times.) Music industry trade publication Billboard applies the term to anyone whose second single falls short of the Top 25.
Sometimes, one-hit wonder artists are great successes in fields other than popular music. Lorne Greene, star of the long-running TV Western “Bonanza,” had a No. 1 hit in 1964 with “Ringo,” a unique spoken-word recording. Radio and TV personality Rick Dees, whose weekly Top 40 claims to be the longest continuously running hit music countdown in the world, topped the charts himself (as Rick Dees and His Cast of Idiots) with “Disco Duck” in 1976. Neither probably expected, nor needed, to repeat that one success.
However, legendary musical artists like Jimi Hendrix, Lou Reed, Garth Brooks, and the Grateful Dead are all technically one-hit wonders, too, in that none had more than one song among the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart throughout their careers. Not having more than one top hit, obviously, doesn’t imply a lack of talent or a thriving music career.
Similarly, 24/7 Wall St.’s list of biggest one-hit wonders includes names you may recognize, such as jazz vocalist Bobby McFerrin, Latino rockers Los Lobos, Irish singer Sinead O’Connor, dancer and choreographer Toni Basil.
Even those performers who have faded from the pop scene, though — the likes of E.M.F., Timmy T., Mims, Divine — have earned a place in music history: They might be one-hit wonders, but they have accomplished a feat few have ever did.
To determine the biggest one-hit wonders, 24/7 Wall St. identified the songs with the longest stays on the weekly Top 40 charts, based on the Billboard Hot 100, from 1980 to 2012. (For the most recent hits, click here to see the most streamed songs in 2018.) Only songs that reached No. 1 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, not including singles. 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 Billboard. Data on certified album sales came from the Recording Industry Association of America.