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In the '70s, we were singing along to hit after hit from iconic singers and musicians like Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, and The Eagles. But every once in a while, a song managed to rise to the top of the charts from an artist who came out of the blue, like "Kung-Fu Fighting" by… whatshisname?
They were like shooting stars in the psychedelic sky. But just as quickly as they showed up, delighting us with their funky grooves, they were gone again. These songs may not have led to incredible music careers, but at least for one beautiful, foot-tappin' moment, they made us all very, very happy. Here are 20 of our favorite one-hit wonders from the '70s. And for more nostalgia, check out the 25 Reasons We're Glad We Grew Up in the '70s.
"Stuck in the Middle With You" by Stealers Wheel
Gerry Rafferty, the singer-songwriter from Stealers Wheel who wrote this hit song, apparently meant it as a parody of Bob Dylan's paranoia, or so we learned in his obituary in The Telegraph. According to the newspaper, Rafferty was in "utter disbelief his parody, composed as little more than a joke but with a catchy pop arrangement, struck gold, selling more than a million copies." Sometimes, it's the ones you least expect. And for more '70s memories, here are 20 Amazing Photos Every '70s Kid Can Relate To.
"Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" by Looking Glass
This is easily the most famous song ever written about a sailor's inability to commit. The only disappointing part was learning that it's not based on a real relationship, which was the big rumor going around among music fans in the '70s.
According to urban legend, there's a tombstone in New Jersey with the name "Mary Ellis," who was supposedly a spinster who wasted her life waiting for a sailor she loved to come back to her. Well, "Brandy" songwriter Elliot Lurie admitted in an interview with the Tennessean that the whole story is made up. The song was named after a high school girlfriend whose name was Randy with an R, but he changed it to Brandy because it sounded more like a barmaid who might fall in love with a sailor. Now we're just as crushed as Brandy all over again.
"Dancing in the Moonlight" by King Harvest
For a song this festive and upbeat, "Dancing in the Moonlight" sure did have a depressing origin story. According to the band's keyboardist and main songwriter, Sherman Kelly, he was inspired to write it after getting beaten up by a vicious gang during a visit to a Caribbean Island. As he lay in the hospital recovering, he "envisioned an alternate reality," as he explained on his website. "The dream of a peaceful and joyful celebration of life." Wow. That's a whole lot deeper than what we thought during our high school dances in the '70s. And for more on this groovy decade, check out the 25 Huge Bands from the '70s You Totally Forgot Existed.
"Afternoon Delight" by Starland Vocal Band
If you don't already know what this song is about, we're not going to be the ones to break it to you. Spoiler alert: It is not about sky rockets in flight. It won two Grammys and was named one of the sexiest songs of all time by Billboard, but Starland Vocal Band could never duplicate the success of "Afternoon Delight."
"I Love the Nightlife (Disco 'Round)" by Alicia Bridges
One of the best disco songs ever recorded about leaving your man to go to a disco was, ironically, written by two women who weren't all that into disco: singer Alicia Bridges and her writing partner, Susan Hutcheson.
As Bridges told Atlanta Magazine, "I'd been looking at Billboard magazine at all the hits with disco in their title." So, she and Hutcheson decided to do their own take. The song was a smash—the only one of Bridges' career, but she didn't have the reaction you'd assume. "When it hit, I was mortified," she told the magazine. That's like finding out that U2 hates streets that don't have names! And for the next decade's best hits, check out the 20 One-Hit Wonders Every '80s Kid Remembers.
"Kung-Fu Fighting" by Carl Douglas
Few songs from the '70s—or any other decade, for that matter—were as fun to sing along to as this martial arts-themed pop hit. Whether it's those kicks that were as fast as lightning (and also a little bit frightening) or the part where they're chopping them up and then chopping them down, the lyrics are just wall-to-wall goofiness. Sure, there were '70s tunes that were more complex and musically interesting, but nothing that required you to dance while doing karate chops. This was lightning in a bottle. No wonder Carl Douglas couldn't match it again.
"The Hustle" by Van McCoy
Despite his one-and-done hit in the music industry, McCoy's legacy lives on: Any time somebody gets married and an uncle or father of the bride has a few too many cocktails, he'll ask the DJ to play "The Hustle" so he can show off his dance moves. It's happened before, and it's going to happen again—many, many times.
"The Boys Are Back in Town" by Thin Lizzy
It was one of Rolling Stone's 500 greatest songs of all time (and the only U.S. hit for the Ireland hard rockers), but the band members didn't even want to release it. "We weren't initially going to put 'The Boys Are Back in Town' on the Jailbreak album at all," guitarist Scott Gorham once said in an interview with Classic Rock. "But then the management heard it and said, 'No, there's something really good about this song.'" We're glad somebody talked some sense into them—otherwise, we never would've heard of Thin Lizzy.
"O-o-h Child" by Five Stairsteps
There are two types of people in the world: 1) Those who heard "O-o-oh Child," the '70s hit by the Five Stairsteps in the 2014 film Guardians of the Galaxy and thought, "Wow! How have I never heard this song before? It's beautiful!" And 2) People who heard "O-o-oh Child" in Guardians of the Galaxy and thought, "Wow! How has it been over 40 years since I've heard this song? I forgot how beautiful it was!"
"Play That Funky Music" by Wild Cherry
The hard-rocking band Wild Cherry—whose name was inspired by a box of cough drops frontman Rob Parissi saw during a hospital stay—was performing at a club one night when someone in the audience yelled something that changed their lives. The patron was clearly more interested in disco than Wild Cherry's heavy beats, so, he shouted, "Play some funky music, white boy!" Parissi knew instantly it was the perfect title for a song. Sure, it was the band's only big hit, but it was a massive one. And if you can't get enough nostalgia, get some sent straight to your inbox by signing up for our daily newsletter.
"You Light Up My Life" by Debby Boone
In the '70s, this was hands-down the most romantic song on the radio. When it debuted, everyone in the world was like, "That's it! Everyone can stop writing love songs now. We've officially reached peak love song."
"You Light Up My Life" spent 10 consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 100 in 1977. And deep in our hearts, we seriously thought that 50 years later, people would still be saying, "Well obviously the first dance at my wedding will be that Debby Boone song. I mean, what other choice do I have?" Times really do change.
"Rock the Boat" by The Hues Corporation
One of the first disco songs to hit it big, "Rock the Boat" is basically just that song from Guys and Dolls but sexier and more danceable. One of our favorite quotes about this disco classic came from band member St. Clair Lee, who said during an interview with journalist Gary James, that it was a song "you could cuddle (to) or you could get crazy if you wanted." Why not both? If anything could inspire crazy cuddling, it was "Rock the Boat."
"How Long?" by Ace
If you're like us, you probably grew up thinking this song was about adultery, or at the very least, the beginning of a breakup when one person discovers that the other is cheating on them. As it turns out, that's not what it's about at all. It's about Ace bass player Terry Comer, who the rest of the band had recently discovered was moonlighting with other groups. They were angry about it, so they wrote this song, which sadly remains Ace's only hit. And now, all we can see when we listen to "How Long?" is a very guilty-looking bass player, saying, "Guys, guys, I can explain!"
"Hooked on a Feeling" by Blue Swede
Here's another song that Guardians of the Galaxy gets much of the credit for making famous among millennials. But those of us who grew up in the '70s were singing "ooga-chaka ooga-ooga" long before Chris Pratt teamed up with a raccoon and a tree to save the galaxy. Still, none of us can remember anything else Blue Swede did before or after that.
"All Right Now" by Free
"All Right Now" is just another love story about a boy who meets a girl and tries to pick her up with awful lines like, "Let's move before they raise the parking rate." No offense to this song, which has a killer guitar riff and makes us want to dance every time we hear it, but listening too closely to the lyrics can really make our heads hurt. Somehow the hero gets her back to his place and he's like, "Don't you think that love can last?" And she's like, "Lord above!" And we're like, "What is even happening? Is he… I don't… this is getting super confusing." No wonder Free couldn't come up with another hit after that.
"In the Summertime" by Mungo Jerry
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that this song is about being young and having a blast in the summer. As its singer-songwriter Ray Dorset once explained in an interview, "In the Summertime" was his attempt to "conjure up a celebration of life, especially if you're a young person: It's a great day, you've managed to get a car—preferably with the top off—you're cruising around, and if you're a guy you're picking up girls." Listening to it again is all it takes to be transported back to the carefree days of your 1970s youth. If Mungo Jerry had to have one hit, this is a good one to have.
"Do You Wanna Make Love" by Peter McCann
"Do You Wanna Make Love" is a song about intimacy so saccharine and adorably innocent, it didn't even freak us out when our parents started singing along. We may have never heard from Peter McCann again, but we'll give him that much.
"Magic" by Pilot
Any song that begins with the lyrics "Ho, ho, ho, it's magic" sure does sound like it's probably going to be about Santa Claus, doesn't it? Instead, this is a song about… well, we're not entirely sure. We can't pinpoint exactly why this song always makes us so happy, but it does. Wait, who sings it again?
"My Sharona" by The Knack
Probably the truest moment in the 1994 movie Reality Bites was when a bunch of twentysomethings danced in the middle of a gas station when "My Sharona" came on the radio. That's just the reality of this song from the never-heard-from-again band The Knack.
When it comes on, you have to stop everything and dance. The beat is that infectious and the girl at the center had a totally bizarre name. As The Knack guitarist Berton Averre admitted in an interview with LA Weekly, "It's a truism in rock music that you run out of girls' names. Sharona was a name that hadn't been used before, and it was distinctive to the ear."
"Layla" by Derek and the Dominos
Yes, it'd be an understatement to say Eric Clapton had other hits, but this was the only one with his "super group" Derek and the Dominos. It's a super-catchy song about unrequited love that gets even more fascinating when you learn it's about Clapton's feelings for George Harrison's wife. Even worse, Clapton was best friends with the former member of The Beatles.
But here's the real kicker for this one-hit wonder: The band only released one album and it was called Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. That really says it all, doesn't it? And for more epic songs of the past, check out The 50 Best One-Hit Wonders of All Time.