Music in the 90’s, more so than any other era, saw a melting pot of various genres of music throughout the entire decade. The 80’s is widely considered the MTV era, but as more families were able to subscribe to cable television, the 90’s would see the advent of other specialty music channels such as Rap and Hip-Hop (BET), Grunge, Adult Contemporary and Rock, and Pop (VH1), and Country Music (CMT and TNN). All of these channels featured music videos, among other types of programs, that made an impression for a 90’s kid like myself.
The decade also seemed to feature more “crossover hits” than ever before. Artists from the Country, R&B, Rap, and even Contemporary Christian genres suddenly became pop stars featured on Top 40 radio stations all around the country. My article today is going to focus on several different genres of the decade that I would consider One-Hit Wonders. Some of these chart toppers were national phenomenons, so much so that these songs have become part of 90’s lexicon and forever etched in the music industry. If I’m ever scrolling through social media and run across these Top-10 list sites, I will often stop for things that are 90’s related, and I’ve seen numerous folks rank their top one-hit wonders of the decade.
Rather than add another similar list to the multitude of ones out there, I think I’ll approach this one a bit differently. I’m going to attempt to play a little game with myself in creating this list. The first thing I need to figure out is “What Exactly Defines a One-Hit Wonder”? I pondered this for a while before deciding that there should be two criteria that are met. Number 1- The song must have charted in the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 and Number 2- The artist or band must NOT have had any other song in the US chart in the Hot 100 at any other time in their career.
Here is my attempt to find what I would consider the absolute 10 Best One-Hit Wonders of the 90’s, and as each one is listed here, that will be the order in which the song popped into my head. Some of these jumped to my head immediately, and with others I used my personal iTunes music library to help jog my memory of the song. If I thought of a song, but it failed to meet one of my two stated requirements, then I’ll list it here as well and mention what made it fail to qualify. Here goes….
#1 Guess: Chumbawumba – Tubthumping (Billboard Hot 100 #6) ✔
As the first one mentioned here, I’m not surprised this song meets both requirements. I’m pretty sure no similar list can truly be taken seriously if Tubthumping doesn’t make the cut. The year is 1997, and I can remember being introduced to my friends in the church youth group, and most of them were proudly singing this song over, and over, and over. It got old real fast. And I also remember the kids debating if the lyric they heard was actually correct when they sang “Pissing the Night Away”. OK. Off to a good start!
#2 Guess: Mark Morrison – Return of the Mack (Billboard Hot 100 #2) WRONG
I gotta say, this is one of my favorite dance hits of all time. At my wedding, we specifically asked our DJ to play this one and everyone always has a good time with this one. It still hits HARD in 2023. BUT….to my surprise, I can’t call this a one-hit wonder, because Morrison actually had another single that charted in the Hot 100 (Moan & Groan) – a song that I have never ever heard of.
#3 Guess: Tag Team – Whoop! There It Is (Billboard Hot 100 #2) ✔
This is another song that I would have bet the farm would meet the requirements. Gosh, 10 Year Old Chad thought he was so cool knowing this chorus. This was such a popular song and phrase in our household at the time that that I remember even Mom and Dad knowing this one. I’m sure we heard it on our local radio station in 1993. My favorite memory of this song, and there is video proof somewhere of this, is of me on Christmas or Easter (I can’t remember which holiday) being surprised with a video game that I had apparently hoped to receive, opening it and being so happy to have gotten it that my sister, Mom, Dad, and myself celebrate the moment by reciting the chorus all in unison while I held the game over my head like I had just won the championship.
#4 Guess: 69 Boys – Tootsie Roll (Billboard Hot 100 #8) WRONG
This one was all over the radio, and I even had the cassette single, but this doesn’t qualify as the group had another Top 100 Hit at some other time.
#5 Guess: Lou Bega – Mambo Number 5 (Billboard Hot 100 #3) WRONG
This one often makes most people’s one-hit wonder list, but to my surprise, Lou Bega had another Top 100 hit called Tricky, Tricky. (Who knew?)
#6 Guess: Skee-Lo – I Wish (Billboard Hot 100 #13) ✔
I loved this song. Specifically the music video. The whole vibe of this hit single to a kid that hadn’t quite reached the teen years really connected with me. Hip-Hop (although very mild lyrics in comparison to what was out there at the time) and basketball were two elements that made me very fond of this song. This was another one I remember buying the cassette single of.
#7 Guess: House of Pain – Jump Around (Billboard Hot 100 #3) WRONG
I couldn’t think of any other songs by House of Pain, but apparently they did chart with another hit.
#8 Guess: Del Amitri – Roll With Me (Billboard Hot 100 #10) WRONG
Another one that is synonymous with the 90’s to me, but again, they had another hit single chart in the Top 100.
#9 Guess: Natalie Imbruglia – Torn (Billboard Hot 100 #42) WRONG
This one doesn’t qualify because it didn’t chart in the Top 20, but I remember this song being played all over the place in the late 90’s. I figured with the amount of airtime it got, it would have been a bit higher on the chart.
#10 Guess: Meredith Brooks – B*tch (Billboard Hot 100 #2) WRONG
The shock factor of hearing the word B*tch on TV and Radio was a bit surprising at the time, but Brooks had another hit single in the decade (What Would Happen).
#11 Guess: Fiona Apple – Criminal (Billboard Hot 100 #21) WRONG
Criminal- I remember the music video being a bit risque for the time period, but this one only got as high as 21, so it didn’t crack the Top 20.
#12 Guess: Aqua – Barbie Girl (Billboard Hot 100 #7) WRONG
This might be the most surprising choice that doesn’t meet the requirements. Did anyone else know Aqua had another Top 100 Single Besides Barbie Girl (Lollipop)? This one is also one I see often on the 90’s one-hit wonders list.
#13 Guess: Shawn Colvin – Sunny Came Home (Billboard Hot 100 #7) ✔
Finally! I was on a bit of a losing streak there with those last 6. This one came to my head after a while, and Colvin had no other chart topper besides this one that many of us remember.
#14 Guess: Right Said Fred – I’m Too Sexy (Billboard Hot 100 #1) WRONG
You’d think this one would be a surefire bet to consider as a one-hit wonder, but yes, they had another Top 100 hit after this hugely popular one. Read about this song in an article I previously wrote for TRN (click here)
#15 Guess: Duncan Sheik – Barely Breathing (Billboard Hot 100 #12) ✔
Ahh Yes, the legendary Duncan Sheik. This was another one I heard in the late 90’s around my newfound church friends going on youth trips. Figured I’d venture this as a guess, and I guessed correctly. Only real hit for this artist, although according to the interwebs he’s still active in the industry.
#16 Guess: EMF – Unbelievable (Billboard Hot 100 #1) WRONG
A huge Euro-Dance hit in 1990, but they had another hit song the following year called Lies. Another song that was mentioned in my previous article for TRN (click here)
#17 Guess: Des’ree – You Gotta Be (Billboard Hot 100 #5) WRONG
Prior to this 1993 hit single, Des’ree had another Top 100 Single called Feel So High.
#18 Guess: BoDeans – Closer to Free (Billboard Hot 100 #16) ✔
A song that was so popular it was also a theme song for the show “Party of Five”. No real connection to this one, and I had to reach quite a ways back in the brain to pull this one out.
#19 Guess: Next – Too Close (Billboard Hot 100 #1) WRONG
A huge hit in R&B, but they had several other hits that landed in the Top 100.
#20 Guess: Sixpence None the Richer – Kiss Me (Billboard Hot 100 #2) WRONG
Kiss Cam Anyone? This one was popular on Top 40 radio in the late 90’s but I had forgotten their other hit single “There She Goes”.
#21 Guess: Eagle Eye Cherry – Save Tonight (Billboard Hot 100 #5) ✔
This one was played quite often on mainstream radio stations in the late 90s. Up until now, I thought this was the name of a group, but to my surprise it’s one dude. Never broke into the charts with any other song.
#22 Guess: White Town – Your Woman (Billboard Hot 100 #23) WRONG
Doesn’t qualify because it didn’t break the Top 20. An odd song with a memorable beat.
#23 Guess: 5ive – When the Lights Go Out (Billboard Hot 100 #10) WRONG
They had another hit single besides their most popular one here. A boy band out of the UK, seems like they got the short end of the stick here in the US when compared to homegrown acts like the Backstreet Boys and N’Sync.
#24 Guess: Jennifer Paige – Crush (Billboard Hot 100 #3) ✔
Yes, this qualifies! I have to admit, my wife and I know every word to this one (somehow) and when it comes on, it’s an automatic start to finish car sing-a-long.
PAUSE: At this point, you guys ought to be learning the extent of my musical prowess here. 🙂 Or with that factoid about the Jennifer Paige song you might have given up on me. Either way, I’ve got to come up with 2 more songs. It’s getting pretty tough to think of the rest.
OK. RESUME LIST!
#25 Guess: Ini Kamoze – Hotstepper (Billboard Hot 100 #1) ✔
Oh man! How could I have almost forgotten this one? This was a cool hit song to know at the time and sing along to. My fondest memory of singing this in 6th grade with a friend of mine in front of the whole class. Not sure why or how this happened, because I don’t recall hearing the song prior to trying to get up there and sing. Perhaps my friend took the lead and I was just the background dancer. Luckily no video exists on this one. OK. One more to go. Can I find it?
#26 Guess: Haddaway – What is Love (Billboard Hot 100 #11) WRONG
A hugely popular hit song that could define 90’s dance music, but Haddaway had another hit song (Life). Probably best remembered for the movie “Night at the Roxbury”.
#27 Guess: Snow – Informer (Billboard Hot 100 #1) WRONG
Another artist who snuck in with another hit besides this chart topper. That other song was called “Girl, I’ve Been Hurt”. Anyone heard of that one?
#28 Guess: Jesus Jones – Right Here (Billboard Hot 100 #2) WRONG
1990 was when this song was produced, but they had another hit song called “Real, Real, Real” which got to #4 in the same year.
#29 Guess: The Proclaimers – I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) (Billboard Hot 100 #3) ✔
This is a song that always felt to me like it belonged in the 80s, but it was released in 1993. The Proclaimers had hit songs in other countries, but here in the states, this one was the only one to achieve any mainstream success.
Whew! That’s it. I have to admit, it was a lot harder than I thought it would be. I was surprised to find out that what most people (including me) would consider to be a one-hit wonder, that if you look deeper into their discography, you’ll see one or two more lesser known singles that charted as well. After 29 songs mentioned, I finally reached 10 true one-hit wonders of the 90s. Here they are again, in short form, along with their YouTube Links.
My Ultimate 90’s One-Hit Wonders
✔ Chumbawumba- Tubthumping
✔ Tag Team- Whoop! There It Is
✔ Skee-Lo – I Wish
✔ Shawn Colvin – Sunny Came Home
✔ Duncan Sheik – Barely Breathing
✔ BoDeans – Closer to Free
✔ Eagle Eye Cherry – Save Tonight
✔ Jennifer Paige – Crush
✔ Ini Kamoze – Hotstepper
✔ The Proclaimers – I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)
What do you think of this list? When I started making the list, I thought surely something in the country music genre would cross my mind as a one-hit wonder, but I really couldn’t think of any (maybe besides Achy Breaky Heart, but I know Billy-Ray Cyrus did have other hit singles). Something as subjective as classifying a song as a one-hit wonder will always leave room for debate amongst different people as to what songs should make it, and which songs might be a stretch to call it a hit. This was just my attempt to try and do something a bit different when building this list. Listen to these 10 hits and maybe you’ll be instantly transported to some moment in time the 90’s like I often do.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, or even which ones of these songs you have fond memories of.
Thanks for reading!