One-hit wonders of the 1970s

Published 7:12 pm Friday, July 8, 2022

Georg Göbel/picture alliance via Getty Images

One-hit wonders of the 1970s

The 1970s was a huge decade for music. From the emergence of a more layered rock scene to the birth of hip-hop to the development of disco, folk, and funk, the years transformed the industry in a way few other decades have.

Artists like Queen, the Jackson 5, AC/DC, Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Blondie, and Pink Floyd dominated the charts, providing some of the bestselling songs and albums of all time. Their work, along with the efforts of so many others, has led some critics to declare the decade “popular music’s golden age.”

While every artist who put out work in the ’70s helped to shape music as it’s known today, not all are remembered by today’s audiences. There are some who have faded from the cultural zeitgeist into relative obscurity, even while their songs continue to be played at weddings and in bars around the world. In honor of these musicians, Stacker dug into the rich history of one-hit wonders—artists that had only one song reach #1 on the charts—of the 1970s and, in no particular order, chose 25 you might know.

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From folk bands like Mouth & MacNeal to rock groups like Nazareth and hip-hop legends like the Sugarhill Gang to soul artists like Billy Paul, these recording artists all had one enduring popular song, but flamed out before they could replicate that success. Read on to see how many of them you recognize.

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Nazareth perform on stage in 1975

Jorgen Angel/Redferns // Getty Images

Nazareth: ‘Love Hurts’

Scottish rock band Nazareth released its first album in 1971, but it wasn’t until 1975, when its cover of The Everly Brothers’ “Love Hurts” hit airwaves, that the group found mainstream success.

The track went platinum in both the United Kingdom and the United States, but by the mid-’80s the quartet had slipped from the top of the charts to relative obscurity. Still, it persisted, touring and recording with various lineups, to the present day, though only one original member, bassist Pete Agnew, remains.

Portrait of Keith Carradine

Bettmann // Getty Images

Keith Carradine: ‘I’m Easy’

Better known as an actor than a musician, the sole Top 10 hit for Keith Carradine was an uptempo version of a song he wrote for the Richard Altman film “Nashville.” Following the musical’s theatrical debut, Carradine released his Academy Award-winning track “I’m Easy” as a single.

Attempting to capitalize on the love song’s success, he went on to put out two full-length albums, but when they failed to capture much attention he made the decision to return to his acting full time and hasn’t released new music since.

Norman Greenbaum with acoustic guitar

GAB Archive/Redferns // Getty Images

Norman Greenbaum: ‘Spirit in the Sky’

There weren’t many songs with overtly Christian themes that made the Top 10 during the morally loose ’70s, but Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” is the exception. The track was the Jewish artist’s first release in 1970, and it wound up going gold and appearing on the soundtrack of more than 60 films.

In the years following the song’s success, Greenbaum toured the country and released a few other albums, but, lacking a clear genre around which to build a fan base, he never managed to duplicate his success.

Wild Cherry perform onstage

Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

Wild Cherry: ‘Play That Funky Music’

The success of Wild Cherry with the disco/rock crossover song “Play That Funky Music” is a perfect example of what can happen when you refuse to give up on a dream. The original iteration of the band broke up in 1975, having been discouraged by a string of unsuccessful releases, only to reunite with a slightly different lineup a year later.

In 1976, the group made it big with the aforementioned track, which went platinum and earned it accolades like Best Pop Group of the Year, before finally calling the whole thing quits and breaking up for good in 1979.

Willem Duyn and Maggie MacNeal pose for portrait

Steve Wood/Express/Hulton Archive // Getty Images

Mouth & MacNeal: ‘How Do You Do?’

In 1971, Dutch producer Hans van Hemert brought together Big Mouth, a construction worker-turned-rock star, and Maggie MacNeal, a classically trained vocalist, in an attempt to create the biggest pop duo of the 1970s. To the untrained eye, it was an odd pairing, but van Hermert’s gut instinct—that the two could create something magical—wasn’t wrong, and in 1972 they found international success with their repetitive single “How Do You Do?”

Unfortunately, the pair didn’t last long, and a few short years later they broke up, with MacNeal pursuing a solo career and Big Mouth partnering up with his soon-to-be-wife Little Eve.

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Frijid Pink album cover

Parrot Records

Frijid Pink: ‘The House of the Rising Sun’

Frijid Pink holds the distinction of being the first rock band from Detroit to have a Top 10 single. Its psychedelic cover of the Animal’s “House of the Rising Sun” was actually the third song the band released after its first two tracks went virtually unnoticed. Unfortunately, nothing from its subsequent three albums ever gained as much traction as that initial offering, and in 1975, the group disbanded, though in the early ’00s a few of the former members did attempt to get the group back together again.

Alicia Bridges posed with city buildings

Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

Alicia Bridges: ‘I Love the Nightlife’

One of the biggest disco songs of the ’70s, “I Love the Nightlife,” was the lead single from Alicia Bridges’ self-titled debut album. The North Carolina-born songstress typically performed more R&B-inspired music—and, in fact, had originally envisioned “I Love the Nightlife” as an R&B track—so despite her success in the dance-worthy genre, she returned to her roots in all of her later work.

Those later albums never found much commercial success, but Bridges can hold her head high knowing one of her hits did earn her a Grammy nomination.

Carl Douglas performs on stage

Georg Göbel/picture alliance via Getty Images

Carl Douglas: ‘Kung Fu Fighting’

In 1974, Jamaican-born disco artist Carl Douglas recorded his smash hit “Kung Fu Fighting” in just 10 minutes as a B-side track for his more serious song “I Want to Give You My Everything.” An upbeat tribute to the martial arts films that were popular at the time, the song went on to spend two weeks atop the charts and sold an impressive 11 million copies. While Douglas had a handful of other hits in the United Kingdom, none of his records ever found as much international success.

Felix Pappalardi and Leslie West of Mountain perform onstage

Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

Mountain: ‘Mississippi Queen’

The Long Island rock band Mountain is often credited with being one of the driving forces behind the development of heavy metal music. Though the group’s time together was brief—it was formed in 1969 and performed at Woodstock, and broke up in 1972—it made every minute count.

“Mississippi Queen” delighted listeners with its high-energy blend of hard rock and twangy southern blues, and while fans were eager for more songs just like it, the group’s frenetic touring and recording pace left little breathing room to duplicate its initial success.

Mungo Jerry perform on TV show

Tony Russell/Redferns // Getty Images

Mungo Jerry: ‘In the Summertime’

In the Summertime” was British rock band Mungo Jerry’s debut single. The song, which is one of the first recorded tracks to use beatboxing, was written by frontman Ray Dorset in 10 minutes while on break from his day job at the Timex factory. A near-instant hit, the single sold 30 million copies, but the band’s ever-changing lineup and style kept it from repeating the group’s success.

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Ram Jam album cover

Epic Records

Ram Jam: ‘Black Betty’

“Black Betty” is thought to be a African American work song—the first recorded versions are attributed to blues musician Lead Belly. In the mid-’70s, New York City rocker Bill Bartlett rearranged and added to the song, recording it with his then-band Starstruck. After the track found some regional success, two producers helped Bartlett edit and re-release the song with his new band Ram Jam, and it was this version that would go on to be the group’s only chart-topper. The band broke up in 1978.

Sugar Hill Gang perform on stage

Michael Ochs Archive // Getty Images

Sugarhill Gang: ‘Rapper’s Delight’

The first mainstream hip-hop hit, “Rapper’s Delight” paved the way for the genre to exist. The original cut, which hit Black radio stations in the fall of 1979, was 15 minutes in length and had been recorded in a single take. Eventually, a shorter seven-minute version was distributed to pop stations.

The Sugarhill Gang, a trio of New Jersey rappers put together by Sugar Hill Records’ founder Sylvia Robinson, followed up its success with several more popular tracks in the United Kingdom, though none made the charts in the United States, before disbanding in the mid-’80s.

Timmy Thomas posed for portrait by lake

Michael Putland // Getty Images

Timmy Thomas: ‘Why Can’t We Live Together’

Timmy Thomas wrote his 1972 anti-war anthem, “Why Can’t We Live Together,” after watching Walter Cronkite rattle off a Vietnam War daily death count on the CBS Nightly News. The soulful ballad sold more than 2 million copies and has continuously been sampled by artists, like Drake in “Hotline Bling,” in the decades since it first hit the charts. Thomas recorded several other singles, but, not finding much success with them, moved into behind-the-scenes roles like producing by the end of the decade.

Cyndi Grecco with microphone

Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

Cyndi Grecco: ‘Making Our Dreams Come True’

“Making Our Dreams Come True” was the theme song for the highly rated sitcom “Laverne & Shirley.” Cyndi Grecco, who lent her vocals to the tune, released the song as a radio-ready single in 1976. After the series took off, Grecco released an original single, but quickly found that her fans were more interested in her relationship to the show than as a solo artist.

Skylark Album Cover

Capitol Records

Skylark: ‘Wildflower’

Long before he was one of the music industry’s biggest powerhouses, David Foster was a part of the Canadian pop-rock band Skylark. The group only stayed together for two years—in fact, by the time its debut album was released, several original members had already left—which explains why, despite its obvious talent, the group only had one singular hit. Surprisingly, “Wildflower,” the song about a strong woman, wasn’t written by Foster, but by his friend Dave Richardson, a studio musician.

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Bill Legend and Marc Bolan perform on Top of the Pops

Ron Howard/Redferns // Getty Images

T. Rex: ‘Bang a Gong (Get It On)’

In the ’70s, the glam rock band T. Rex was nearly as popular in the United Kingdom as the Beatles had been in the ’60s. The group had a number of songs reach the charts in its home country, but the only track to make the jump across the pond was “Bang a Gong (Get It On),” a tune that is ostensibly about sex—though the lyrics are so nonsensical it’s nearly impossible to be offended by them.

In 1977, T. Rex’s lead singer, Marc Bolan, died in a car accident, essentially putting an end to the band’s official activities.

Pilot pose for a portrait

Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music // Getty Images

Pilot: ‘Magic’

Unsatisfied with their role as substitute players for the Bay City Rollers, three young Scottish musicians set out to make their own soft rock band, which they dubbed Pilot, in the early ’70s. Its biggest American hit, “Magic,” was written for the debut album “From the Album of the Same Name.” Two years after the song cracked the Top 10, the group had essentially folded, with each of the members moving on to solo projects and backup work.

Steve Forbert performs onstage

Paul Natkin // Getty Images

Steve Forbert: ‘Romeo’s Tune’

When he first hit the music scene in the late ’70s, Steve Forbert was talked about as “the next Bob Dylan” thanks to his introspective lyrics and folk-rock vibe. His breakthrough hit, “Romeo’s Tune,” about how the world fades away in the presence of a lover and recorded with the help of Elvis’ pianist, should have sealed the deal. However, a dispute with his record label, which prevented him from releasing new music for a number of years, ensured he’d be a one-hit-wonder rather than a cultural pillar.

Billy Paul performing

Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

Billy Paul: ‘Me and Mrs. Jones’

Throughout his decades-long career, Billy Paul released 15 albums, nearly all of which fall into the Philadelphia soul genre. His only major hit, “Me and Mrs. Jones,” about a man engaged in an extramarital affair, came from his 1972 album and earned him a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance.

Almost all of his other work bears political or social messages, which kept it from resonating with wide audiences, but led to Questlove calling him “one of the criminally unmentioned proprietors of socially conscious post-revolution ’60s civil rights music.”

Starland Vocal Band pose for portrait

Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

Starland Vocal Band: ‘Afternoon Delight’

Composed of two husband and wife teams, the Starland Vocal Band only lasted for five years, from 1976 to 1981. In that time, the folk group managed to churn out two albums and one hit song, the sexually suggestive “Afternoon Delight.” This single earned the group five Grammy Award nominations and two wins, but ultimately the attention proved to be too overwhelming and made the band too nervous to produce anything else of that caliber.

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Phil Harris and Paul Carrack of Ace performing on stage

Dick Barnatt/Redferns // Getty Images

Ace: ‘How Long’

Another band with a short shelf life, Ace only released new music from 1972 to 1977. Ironically, its biggest hit, “How Long,” is about the departure of the group’s bassist, a move that marked the beginning of its downfall. Additionally, the decline in popularity of pub rock in the mid-’70s played a huge role in the British band’s inability to produce a follow-up to its debut single.

Bob Geldof and The Boomtown Rats perform on stage

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The Boomtown Rats: ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’

The creation of Boomtown Rats’ singular hit, “I Don’t Like Mondays” was spurred by a 1979 San Diego school shooting that left a principal and custodian dead, and eight children and one officer wounded. The track’s refrain was drawn directly from an interview the teenage gunman gave the media where she claimed she committed the crime because she “didn’t like Mondays.” The Irish punk rock band only stayed together for six years after their Top 10 hit, which has remained relevant in the U.S. today.

Patrick Hernandez performing

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Patrick Hernandez: ‘Born to Be Alive’

Born on the outskirts of Paris, Patrick Hernandez took the scene by storm when he released his disco track, “Born to Be Alive,” in 1979. Played in clubs around the world, the song’s success led to a worldwide tour for the artist—a tour in which Madonna acted as a backup dancer—but, unable to produce anything else that resonated the same way, he quietly retired from music a handful of years later.

Vicki Lawrence album cover

Bell Records

Vicki Lawrence: ‘The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia’

Actress and comedian Vicki Lawrence is best known for her time on “The Carol Burnett Show” and as the titular character on “Mama’s Family.” Though the screen was her true calling, she occasionally dabbled in music, as evidenced by this 1973 murder ballad that topped the charts nearly 50 years ago. Lawrence’s ex-husband Bobby Russell wrote the hit song.

Hurricane Smith with horses

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Hurricane Smith: ‘Oh, Babe, What Would You Say?’

A writer, producer, and sound engineer, Hurricane Smith spent much of his career working behind the scenes, helping bands like the Beatles and Pink Floyd put out album after album. But in 1972, he had a hit of his own, the pop song “Oh, Babe, What Would You Say?” Originally intended as a demo for another artist, Smith was convinced to release the track as a single, but despite its success, he quickly realized he preferred being on the other side of the studio and only released a couple more songs.

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