"Top Five" one hit wonders


You’ve probably seen a million lists like this and most likely have numerous picks of your own. Yes, it’s the ever-popular “one-hit wonder” theme, focusing on artists who managed to muster enough thunder to pull off a memorable, sometimes great song, but for one reason or another, could never repeat the success a second time. Though the careers of these five distinguished one-timers faded away rather than burned out, rest assured they are living quite handsomely off the royalties from these classic songs in the movies, commercials and other forms of popular culture that have deemed them immortal.

“Cars” – Gary Numan
This synthed-out new wave staple was penned as a response to an incident of a road rage attack that Numan narrowly escaped when he locked his doors and sped off. This song is an ode to the safety and isolation one feels while driving in their car, but for many, it is the ultimate driving song regardless of its meaning. Listen especially to the instrumentation that actually mimics car noises from the ignition
starting at the beginning of the song, to the sounds of switching gears, and of course, Numan’s robotic vocals.

“Rappers Delight” – Sugarhill Gang
Though it wasn’t the first hip-hop song ever recorded or to become popular, “Rappers Delight” probably did more than any other song of it’s genre to move hip hop from boom boxes in New York City parks to the ears of future rappers around the world. Using a sample from the Chic song “Good Times”, Sugarhill Gang captured lightning in a bottle with improvised freestyling over the already popular disco/dance track. The studio version clocks in well over ten minutes – perfect for a late night block party.

“Turning Japanese” – The Vapors
The meaning of this song has been said to be sexual in nature, which has been alternately confirmed and denied by songwriter Dave Fenton depending on which interview you read. However, the meaning isn’t really important because it’s just a fun, goofy song with an upbeat new wave sound and some twinges of ska. The song didn’t do much for the Vapors being taken seriously, as they never had another successful single in the U.S., but it’s hard not to smile when this lost classic pops up on the shuffle setting of an iPod.

“Spirit in the Sky” – Norman Greenbaum
Though singer and songwriter Norman Greenbaum was and still is a practicing Jew, he wrote this Jesus-rock tune in 15 minutes after watching a performance of Porter Wagoner singing a gospel song on TV. This song has been used in countless movies, TV shows and advertisements over the years that have allowed Greenbaum to survive off of royalties without ever having another hit in the U.S. The lyrics however, take a back seat to the overwhelming psychedelic riffs of Greenbaum’s  Telecaster played through a fuzz box.

“Little Green Bag” – The George Baker Selection
Born Johannes “Hans” Bouwens in Holland, Baker and his band performed this classic that set itself on a crash course with Quentin Tarrentino’s 1992 film “Reservoir Dogs”. The song might not have anything to do with the ultra-cool, signature scene in the movie, but its spy-rock, swingin’ ‘60s sound was a perfect choice for the soundtrack. Because of the time the song was released in the late ‘60s, the imagery of a green bag and Baker’s Dutch heritage, many believe the song is a reference to marijuana, but regardless of the subject matter, this song is so infectious it’s hard to believe the band is a one hit wonder.

Compiled by Jason Yurgartis.