There is a fine line between a novelty song and a legit hit and a one-hit wonder tiptoes between the two.
There are also misconceptions about what constitutes a one-hit wonder. Just because an artist is primarily known for one song, yet earned follow-up hits that might not have been as successful doesn't make them a one-hit wonder. It just makes them underappreciated. Or misunderstood. Or sad.
In our minds, the one-hit wonder criteria is simple: The song must be the only one in the artist's catalog to have charted in the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100.
To celebrate National One-Hit Wonder Day on Monday, we compiled 25 of the best songs – from the 1970s through the 2000s, in alphabetical order – that fall under that actual banner.
So to those who cashed in and moved on, we salute you.
Merril Bainbridge, ‘Mouth’ (1996)
Not the most lyrically challenging song (“When I kiss your mouth, I want to taste it” goes the chorus), the Australian singer took a lengthy ride with the pop piffle. Her debut single bowed in her homeland in 1994 but didn’t gain any traction. A rerelease in 1995 landed her at No. 1 on the Australian charts with a U.S. Top 5 breakthrough the following year.
Toni Basil, ‘Mickey’ (1982)
Originally recorded by the British group Racey, the song was flipped from “Kitty” to “Mickey” under Basil’s command. Admirably, the choreographer-briefly-turned-singer managed to turn what is primarily a cheerleading chant into a No. 1 hit.
Big Country, ‘In a Big Country’ (1983)
Evoking the traditional sounds of their native Scotland – guitars ingeniously engineered to sound like bagpipes – and coupling them with a theme of embracing life, the quartet infiltrated MTV with a unique offering. But it was really the voice of singer Stuart Adamson that gave the song its dreamy verve.
Chumbawamba, ‘Tubthumping’ (1997)
There is some irony to the fact that a band known as anarchist punks that flitted around the U.K. charts since the mid-'80s (“Revolution,” “Enough is Enough”) would land their biggest hit at home and in the U.S. with a dancey-rock song. Yes, this is the “I get knocked down, but I get up again” one.
Deep Blue Something, ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ (1995)
Though inspired by “Roman Holiday,” the song secured its title from another Audrey Hepburn movie, the 1961 rom-com that the protagonists in the lyrics “both kinda liked.” The Texas band, founded by brothers Todd and Toby Pipes while in college, scored a worldwide hit with their strummy tune.
Dexys Midnight Runners, ‘Come On Eileen’ (1982)
A No. 1 hit with a ubiquitous video on MTV, the foot-stomper from the British Celtic-folk rockers deployed fiddles, a pub singalong chorus and the lilting vocals of Kevin Rowland to form one of the most unique hits of the ‘80s. “Too-ra-loo-rye-ay,” indeed.
Eagle-Eye Cherry, ‘Save Tonight’ (1997)
The son of jazz artist Don Cherry and designer Moki Cherry, as well as the half-brother of Neneh “Buffalo Stance” Cherry, Eagle-Eye hit Top 5 success with his debut single that blended soul, rock and roughly strummed guitars.
Norman Greenbaum, ‘Spirit in the Sky’ (1970)
Though he was responsible for the ’60s-era novelty tune “The Eggplant That Ate Chicago,” the Massachusetts-born singer raised Orthodox Jewish says his anthem with the fuzzy guitar notes was inspired not by Christianity, but by Westerns. The spiritual element came from watching "mean and nasty varmints get shot and they wanted to die with their boots on. So to me, that was spiritual, they wanted to die with their boots on," Greenbaum said in a 2011 interview.
Hoobastank, ‘The Reason’ (2003)
The power ballad from the California-rooted quartet was indicative of the sound of the era when bands such as Alien Ant Farm and Breaking Benjamin roamed the charts. Theirs was just a whinier approach that nonetheless earned them a four-million-selling single.
Terry Jacks, ‘Seasons in the Sun’ (1973)
Jacks was more of a constant in his native Canada, but his gently rendered ballad with its standalone riff sold more than 14 million copies worldwide. Told from the standpoint of a dying man – it’s based on a 1961 Belgian song, “Le Moribond” – it’s a heartbreaking litany of goodbyes.
Donna Lewis, ‘I Love You Always Forever’ (1996)
The Welsh singer found a successful groove early on with her debut single, a loping pop song instilled with breathily delivered lyrics about unmitigated love. The pulsing declaration of the chorus – “I love you always forever, near and far closer together,” is inspired by a quote from the novel “Love for Lydia” by English author H.E. Bates.
Len, ‘Steal My Sunshine’ (1999)
Sometimes you hear a song and it just sounds like a one-hit wonder. This – and “Macarena” – is that song. But its bouncy backbeat married to a prominent sample of Andrea True Connection's 1976 disco classic, "More, More, More” makes it irresistible.
Los Del Rio, ‘Macarena’ (1995)
You know a song has entered the zeitgeist when it comes equipped with its own dance moves. Of course, it was fun at the time. Of course, that rhythm – popular in Cuban and Brazilian music – was gonna get you. But we’re OK never hearing it ever again, especially in a public setting.
M, ‘Pop Muzik’ (1979)
M is primarily British musician Robin Scott, who hit No. 1 in the U.S., Australia and the U.K. with this spongy slice of synth pop that is more about dancing than making sense. U2 resurrected it as a cheeky opening to its wonderfully garish PopMart Tour.
Musical Youth, ‘Pass the Dutchie’ (1982)
The young British-Jamaican group found an ingenious way to earn a Top 10 hit with a reggae-fied ode to lighting up. Even though the song, which combined elements of U Brown’s “Gimme the Music” and Mighty Diamonds’ “Pass the Kouchie” contained lyrics scrubbed of their original meaning, everyone knew what those lads were passing.
New Radicals, ‘You Get What You Give’ (1998)
The duo of Gregg Alexander and former actress Danielle Brisebois represented the alt-rock-power-pop genre popularized in the late-‘90s with this anthemic earworm. The song’s closing patter might feel dated with references to Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson, but allusions to health insurance and cloning endure.
Owl City, ‘Fireflies’ (2009)
The electronica project of Minnesotan Adam Young resulted in this dewy-eyed confection prompted by the musician’s insomnia. Young’s debut, which he recorded primarily in his parents’ basement, sold more than 10 million copies and he later guested with Carly Rae Jepsen on the 2012 duet, "Good Time."
Pilot, ‘Magic’ (1974)
It makes sense that this ditty from the Scottish-born band bursts with brightness since band member and co-writer David Paton has said it was inspired by the sunrise on Blackford Hill in Edinburgh. The Top 5 hit for Pilot was covered by Selena Gomez in 2009.
Daniel Powter, ‘Bad Day’ (2005)
It’s hard to hear this hug of universal emotion without picturing Powter, in his era-perfect knit cap, on the cover of the single. The midtempo chugger, which reached No. 1, was Powter’s first and last hit, though he returned to Billboard’s Adult Pop Airplay chart in 2012 with “Cupid.”
Sir Mix-a-Lot, ‘Baby Got Back’ (1992)
Was the Seattle rapper’s spiel about his body type preferences a genuine ode to women sporting curves or blatant objectification? That’s a debate that probably sounds different today compared to 30 years ago.
Starland Vocal Band, ‘Afternoon Delight’ (1976)
Perhaps one of the most maligned songs in pop history, this folk-meets-ABBA salute to daytime dalliances was actually inspired by a happy hour menu at a restaurant in Washington, D.C.’s, Georgetown neighborhood that advertised “afternoon delights.” Along with their No. 1 hit, the band scooped up a pair of Grammy Awards in 1977.
Taco, ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’ (1982)
Of all of the oddities to grace MTV in the ‘80s, one of the most indelible sights was Indonesian-Dutch singer Taco gliding around in a tux and tails to Irving Berlin’s 1927 composition. The finger-snapping construction paired nicely with the song’s message of elegance and style.
Tag Team, ‘Whoomp! (There It Is)’ (1993)
It’s goofy and nonsensical, but it’s also undeniable that when this rap pumper from Atlanta’s Cecil “DC the Brain Supreme” Glenn and Steve “Rolln” Gibson blasts through the speakers at a sporting event, wedding, exercise class, or anywhere else people want to move, the effect is magnetic. The duo owes many thanks to Geico for resurrecting the song in a 2021 ad campaign featuring the duo singing “Scoop! (There It Is)” while flinging ice cream.
Tonic, ‘If You Could Only See’ (1997)
The band’s debut album, “Lemon Parade,” achieved platinum status and their third single from the release climbed to No. 11 despite being the poster child for generic alt-rock. Their Top 40 presence disappeared, but the Los Angeles outfit popped up on Billboard’s Adult Pop and Mainstream Rock charts in the ensuing years.
Tracey Ullman, ‘They Don’t Know’ (1983)
The brilliant actress/comedian released two albums in the early ‘80s and found reasonable success in her native U.K. But her sweet, chiming version of a song written by Kirsty MacColl in 1979 proved the bulldozer on the U.S. charts. A cameo by a certain cute Beatle in the accompanying video didn’t hurt, either.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: One Hit Wonder Day: Songs we can't forget from ‘Bad Day’ to ‘Whoomp!'