One-hit wonders who have found success behind the scenes
Published 1:00 pm Wednesday, November 22, 2023
One-hit wonders who have found success behind the scenes
It’s not every day that a song comes out that is so indisputably catchy it somehow manages to defy genre lines, language barriers, and borders. It’s the track you can’t help but know every lyric to, whether you owned the album or not, simply because the song was everywhere. Of course, that kind of success can be incredibly difficult to replicate, sometimes dooming the artist behind the song to slide down from the top of the charts to the dreaded status of “one-hit wonder.”
The one-hit wonders of the world are often overlooked for the contributions they made in the time their songs ruled the pop culture scene. These artists created something that found a place in people’s hearts, whether it was because their songs were incredibly danceable or because the artists’ heartbreaks were similar to their own. Whatever the reason, they left a lasting impression.
In an industry that’s constantly evolving, artists are expected to be able to produce high-ranking hit after hit, and if they can’t, they find themselves pushed into obscurity—at least on the surface. However, many artists who may not have achieved comparable commercial achievements in the spotlight have managed to shine their light in other ways, often unknowingly to the public who once adored them.
Behind the scenes, many of your favorite one-hit wonders have been solid success stories: from building robust investment portfolios to writing for acclaimed TV shows to composing hit songs that spent weeks topping the same Billboard charts they weren’t able to re-climb themselves.
Wanting to pay homage to the musical artists who have scored the soundtracks to our lives, Stacker has put together a list of iconic one-hit wonders who have gone on to have impressive careers despite not exactly recreating the chart-topping success of their first big hit. The 20 artists on this list were selected not only because of the ranks they reached on the Billboard charts but also the legacy their hit has left behind. Read on to see some of the artists who you might have thought were one and done, but who are actually thriving.
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‘Ridin” by Chamillionaire
Chamillionaire had a hit on his hands when he released his single “Ridin'” in 2005. The song, about police officers attempting to pull him over for excessive reasons, proved to be a relevant message that resonated with fans. It peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in June 2006 and stayed on the charts for an impressive 31 weeks. The song also made Chamillionaire a Grammy winner in 2006. In the decade that followed, he continued to release music under his own record label, Chamillitary Entertainment, but he wasn’t able to replicate the success of “Ridin’.”
Meanwhile, he’s built an impressive investment portfolio. He was an early investor in Lyft and Maker Studios, an online video talent agency that Disney later bought, and in 2015, he joined venture capital firm Upfront Ventures. As of August 2023, Chamillionaire’s net worth is estimated to be $50 million.
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‘What’s Up?’ by 4 Non Blondes
Music in the ’90s was known for its grungy garage-band sound and powerful vocals to match. The one-hit wonders 4 Non Blondes followed that trend early and perfectly with their 1992 song “What’s Up?” The smash hit peaked at the #14 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Though the band could never reproduce the single’s success, lead singer Linda Perry, who wrote the chart-topper, went on to become a renowned songwriter outside of 4 Non Blondes. Working behind the scenes, she was responsible for some of the biggest hits of the early 2000s, including Pink’s “Get the Party Started” and Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful,” which earned her the first of five Grammy nominations.
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‘Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)’ by Looking Glass
Thanks to one-hit wonders Looking Glass, Brandys everywhere had their own theme song in the 1970s. In the summer of ’72, their hit “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” started climbing up the charts, peaking at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in August.
Though they did manage another top 40 hit with “Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne” in 1973, the band broke up the following year. Original lead singer and guitarist Elliot Lurie, who wrote “Brandy,” embarked on a solo career, which also failed to match up to Looking Glass’ earlier hits.
Lurie did, however, find success with a new behind-the-scenes career. He continued writing and producing music, but for film and TV, eventually becoming the head of the music department at 20th Century Fox in 1985. He’s continued working on music for movies, serving as supervisor for TV shows including “Nash Bridges” and “Lizzie McGuire” and films like “Something’s Gotta Give” and “Spanglish,” to name a few.
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‘Rico Suave’ by Gerardo
Before the Latin explosion of the late ’90s, there was Gerardo, who many consider one of the first successful crossover Latino artists in the U.S. His hit song “Rico Suave,” co-written by Gerardo himself, was an ode to his Latin lover persona. The term is still used to this day to refer to a smooth-talking person.
The track peaked at #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1991, and was one of the first mainstream hits to feature lyrics in both English and Spanish. “Rico Suave” made Gerardo a household name, but it was nearly impossible to recreate that success, so he took a step out of the spotlight. Instead, Gerardo spent his time focusing on elevating other artists as an A&R executive at Interscope Records. He is credited with bringing Enrique Iglesias to the U.S. and with signing Bubba Sparxxx, of “Ms. New Booty” fame. He’s moved around since then, working at Univision Records and Spotify.
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‘Baby Got Back’ by Sir Mix-a-Lot
The ’90s were a renaissance for hip-hop with hit after hit making its way into the mainstream. And there’s no better example of that than Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back,” which took over the airwaves and spent five weeks on top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1992. The song’s highly danceable beat was part of that success, as were the lyrics that praised the more ample parts of a woman’s body, which were not often given public praise due to the beauty standards of the era that exalted thinness. The massively successful track also scored Sir Mix-a-Lot a Grammy win for Best Rap Solo Performance.
Though he still releases music and performs from time to time, Sir Mix-a-Lot has shifted to a more behind-the-scenes career as an entrepreneur. He had a radio show in Seattle from 2017 to 2019 and he also has a clothing line.
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‘Mickey’ by Toni Basil
Walt Disney may have first made Mickey a household name, but Toni Basil and her infectious song gave the name a whole new meaning. The single hit the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1982 and stayed bouncing around the charts for 27 weeks.
“Mickey” was Basil’s only top 40 hit, but it left quite an impression and is widely considered one of the most iconic songs of the decade. Basil’s music video for the song certainly cemented its legacy for two reasons: The concept of having a music video was still pretty novel in 1982, a year after the launch of MTV; and it featured cheerleader-inspired dance routines choreographed by Basil herself.
After “Mickey,” Basil continued flourishing behind the scenes as a choreographer, something she’d been doing for years as a dancer on late-night shows and in movies like “American Graffiti.” She’s since choreographed tours for David Bowie, Tina Turner, and Bette Midler, and for a variety of major movies from “That Thing You Do!” in the ’90s to the Legally Blonde movies in the 2000s to “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” in the 2010s.
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‘Pump It Up’ by Joe Budden
Joe Budden has managed to stay relevant over the years—but not because of his music. His 2003 song “Pump It Up” was a major hit in hip-hop, peaking at #10 on the Billboard Hot Rap charts and #38 on the Hot 100. The song also earned Budden a Grammy nod. While he had a few other songs that found middling success, none of them measured up to “Pump It Up.”
Budden made his way back to the limelight in epic fashion with his self-titled podcast in 2015, which became a massive hit. Budden proved to have a quick mouth and a lack of a filter that drew fans and star-studded guests alike. Many consider “The Joe Budden Podcast” to be one of the most influential hip-hop podcasts of all time.
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‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’ by Bobby McFerrin
When it comes to one-hit wonders, few have been as ubiquitous as Bobby McFerrin’s a cappella classic “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” which peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1988. It spent two weeks at the top spot and another 24 weeks in all. The hit was beloved for McFerrin’s upbeat message, which also helped the song bridge the generational gap as a family-friendly tune both parents and kids could enjoy. The success led to McFerrin winning three Grammy Awards for the song in 1989, adding to his trophy collection that had included prior wins for jazz and children’s performances.
After “Don’t Worry Be Happy,” McFerrin continued working behind the scenes as a vocal coach and collaborator with artists like Herbie Hancock, Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, and Chick Corea. He has also gone on to collaborate with numerous renowned philharmonics and symphonies, and won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys in 2023.
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‘B—-‘ by Meredith Brooks
In addition to grunge, hip-hop, and Latin music, the ’90s brought another even more specific genre to the mainstream: the Lilith Fair aesthetic, which was fueled by an influx of women singers such as Alanis Morissette, Sarah McLachlan, and of course, the iconic one-hit wonder Meredith Brooks. Her rage-tinged ballad of empowerment “B—-” had a stronghold on the charts in 1997, sticking around for 30 weeks on the Hot 100 and peaking at #2. The song’s brash lyrics sent the message that Brooks was more than just a two-dimensional plaything, redirecting the meaning of the insult used in the title; plus, it earned her two Grammy nominations in 1997.
While she’s continued to make her own music in the decades since, Brooks has stepped into a behind-the-scenes role acting as a mentor, songwriter, and producer for other artists—like Hilary Duff, Katy Perry, and Bebe Rexha—with her own production company, Kissing Booth Music. Brooks was honored for her work in 2022 with the She Rocks Icon Award from the Women’s International Music Network.
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‘Just a Friend’ by Biz Markie
In the ’90s, Biz Markie did indeed have what was needed with his smash hit “Just a Friend,” which peaked at #9 on the Hot 100 chart in 1990. While it was Markie’s only top 40 hit, the song is still considered one of the most well-known hip-hop tracks ever written.
Markie never stopped making music of his own, but he also parlayed his success into a layered behind-the-scenes career in the entertainment industry. Not only did he collaborate with other artists such as the Beastie Boys and Will Smith, but he flourished as a voice actor for video games, TV, and film. His voice can be heard in the game “Def Jam Vendetta,” in the movie “Men in Black II,” and on the groundbreaking kids’ television show “Yo Gabba Gabba,” a modern-day “Sesame Street” that infused hip-hop into the educational lessons. Markie died in 2021 at 57, but his signature sound lives on.
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‘Graduation (Friends Forever)’ by Vitamin C
Vitamin C left her mark with one of the most saccharine-sweet send-offs into one-hit wonderland: her 2000 single “Graduation (Friends Forever).” If you know anyone who graduated high school or college or went to prom in the past two decades or so, you’re probably intimately familiar with the song, which peaked at #38 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Her slightly earlier single, “Smile” managed to perform even better, hitting #18 in 1999, but it lacked the same level of pop culture fame as “Graduation (Friends Forever).” Nevertheless, it would admittedly be more accurate to call Vitamin C a two-hit wonder. These songs weren’t her first foray into the spotlight either; under her real name, Colleen Fitzpatrick, she played Amber von Tussle in John Waters’ 1988 cult classic “Hairspray,” well before it became a musical on stage and screen.
After making it big in the mainstream, however, Fitzpatrick took a step back from center stage. Not only has she produced songs for artists such as Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus, but she became vice president of music at Nickelodeon in 2012 and then moved on to become an executive at Netflix in 2019.
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‘Epic’ by Faith No More
Faith No More’s single “Epic” hit the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1990, peaking at #9. The alternative metal band did have two other songs that cracked the Hot 100, but neither came close to the success of “Epic.”
Though the band didn’t have more than one mainstream hit, their influence has been felt for decades since. That’s due, in large part, to Mike Patton, Faith No More’s lead singer and songwriter. When the band broke up in 1998, Patton continued working in the industry, co-founding his own label, Ipecac Records, in 1999, which focuses on experimental and avant-garde music. He also collaborates with a wide variety of artists spanning genres, from Björk to Dan the Automator to The Melvins.
Eventually, Faith No More reunited in the 2000s and released a new album in 2015—but they still couldn’t manage to outdo “Epic.”
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‘If I Could Go’ by Angie Martinez
Angie Martinez is a household name in hip-hop for two major reasons: First, she’s one of the longest-running radio DJs who’s uplifted hip-hop artists through her platform in New York, and secondly, her early ’00s hit “If I Could Go.” The heavy East Coast influence, combined with the homage to Martinez’s Latina roots, primed the single for success, as did the fact that it launched during the aforementioned Latin explosion of the late ’90s and early ’00s. The track peaked at #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in September 2002.
While she never had another single that reached the same success, Martinez’s seminal role in hip-hop earned her a spot on the “Ladies Night” remix of Lil’ Kim’s “Not Tonight,” featuring Missy Elliot, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, and Da Brat. Martinez has also continued to work behind the scenes in the music industry. She currently hosts her own podcast, “In Real Life With Angie Martinez,” as well as “The Angie Martinez Show” on iHeartRadio. She also released a Latin cookbook in 2015 and her own memoir in 2017, which became a New York Times Bestseller.
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‘Tubthumping’ by Chumbawamba
You may have had little to no idea what Chumbawamba was saying in their smash “Tubthumping” in 1997, but chances are you confidently sang along to the “I get knocked down, but I get up again” part if you survived the late ’90s. The hit song managed to reach #6 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The British rock group, which disbanded in 2012, has more than a dozen former members, but the one with perhaps the most interesting post-Chumbawamba career is Alice Nutter. Today, she is in a completely different role in entertainment: penning scripts for acclaimed shows like FX’s “Trust” and “The Full Monty” adaptation for Disney+, as well as a number of BBC One series.
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‘Song 2’ by Blur
Woo hoo! If you were around in the late ’90s, you already know where this is going. The ridiculously catchy and energizing track—officially called “Song 2” but better known by the emphatic “woo hoo’s” in the chorus—by U.K. grunge-pop Blur may not have performed as well as two of the band’s other songs to make the Billboard Hot 100, but it earned a place in a wide variety of movies, video games, and TV shows over the years. It was also Blur’s only single to be certified double platinum by the British Phonographic Industry, the U.K. version of the Recording Industry Association of America’s similar success standards.
The members of Blur have continued to perform together over the years, but they also went on to pursue their own projects. Lead singer Damon Albarn found a particularly fascinating career for himself behind the scenes in the industry: He recreated himself as a cartoon. As the platinum-selling, world-touring, beloved lead singer of Gorillaz, he fronts a group whose members are 100% animated fictional characters voiced by a variety of artists, including hip-hop artist Del the Funky Homosapien.
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‘California’ by Phantom Planet
The 2000s were a decade when teen dramas were making big waves in the television market. Not only were the shows themselves popular, but the songs on their soundtracks would often make their way up the charts. Such was the case for the indie-rock group Phantom Planet and their song “California,” which served as the theme for the smash hit series “The O.C.” Phantom Planet had released the song in 2002, a year before “The O.C.” premiered, but the show’s debut catapulted it into the mainstream.
While the group continued to make music, and had another song make Billboard’s Alternative Airways chart, nothing has quite come close to the phenomena that was “California.” Many of the band members have gone on to work in entertainment in new ways.
Most well-known is drummer Jason Schwartzman, a member of Wes Anderson’s unofficial acting troupe, who’s appeared in movies like “Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Rushmore,” and “The Darjeeling Effect.” He also continues to create music, both with his solo act, Coconut Records, and for TV and movies. Meanwhile, Phantom Planet bassist Sam Farrar now plays with Maroon 5.
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‘Crazy’ by Gnarls Barkley
One of the biggest songs of 2006 was Gnarls Barkley’s smash single “Crazy,” which peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and held firm on the chart for 29 weeks. The melding of electronic music with funk, hip-hop, and pop earned this genre-bending song both commercial and criminal success—including a Grammy in 2007.
The duo may not have recreated their combined success, but separately, members Ceelo Green and Danger Mouse have flourishing careers both behind and in front of the scenes. Green stayed in the limelight as one of the first coaches of “The Voice” and his own hit single, “Forget You,” also reached #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 charts. Behind the scenes, Green has written songs for artists ranging from T.I. to Pixie Lott.
Danger Mouse, meanwhile, went on to form the ethereal electro group Broken Bells and he’s produced music for Adele, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Gorillaz, Beck, and Norah Jones, to name a few. He now has six Grammys to his name, of 22 career nominations.
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‘Stacy’s Mom’ by Fountains of Wayne
You might not remember this band’s name, but in the 2000s, you couldn’t avoid hearing about Stacy’s mom even if you wanted to. The 2003 earworm by Fountains of Wayne peaked at #21 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
“Stacy’s Mom” also earned the band two Grammy nods, one for Best New Artist and another for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group, but that was the end of their Billboard and Grammy success—at least in that format. Many of the group members continued to perform, either solo or with new acts, but one, Adam Schlesinger, turned his attention to writing music for movies, television, and the stage.
Schlesinger was nominated for a Tony for scoring “Cry-Baby” in 2008, he won three Emmys in the 2010s for The CW musical series “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and for writing the opening and closing numbers for the Tonys, which were performed by Neil Patrick Harris. Though Fountains of Wayne never won that Grammy, Schlesinger earned one for his contributions to a Stephen Colbert Christmas special. Plus, he’d previously been nominated for an Oscar for co-writing the title track of the 1997 movie “That Thing You Do!” Sadly, Schlesinger’s life was cut short in April 2020 when he became one of the first known names to die from COVID-19 at 52.
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‘Whip It’ by Devo
Devo may have only had one smash hit in the ’80s, but with their yellow jumpsuits and red plastic helmets, known as energy domes, the band certainly made its mark. The new wave band first formed in 1973, but it took until 1980 for them to break out with “Whip It,” which peaked at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100. Yes, the band did manage to have two other songs that charted—”Working in the Coal Mine” and “Theme From Doctor Detroit” in ’81 and ’83, respectively—but they didn’t crack the top 40 and Devo eventually broke up in 1991.
They’ve since reunited and celebrated their smash hit with a 50th-anniversary tour in 2023, but in the meantime, lead vocalist Mark Mothersbaugh found a new career: composing for TV, movies, and video games through his production company, Mutato Muzika, which he founded in 1989. If you recall the theme songs to “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” or “Rugrats,” you know Mothersbaugh’s work. He’s also teamed up with Wes Anderson through the years, scoring “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Life Aquatic.” More recently, if you liked what you heard music-wise in “Cocaine Bear,” “Tiger King,” or “Thor: Ragnarok,” you have Mothersbaugh to thank, too.
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‘U Can’t Touch This’ by MC Hammer
There are few crash-and-burn stories more well-known than MC Hammer’s, but there’s a lot that people don’t know about the iconic rapper. His chart-topping smash “U Can’t Touch This” peaked at #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts in 1990, so it would be easy to think that was the start and end of Hammer’s story. Though many consider him a one-hit wonder, he actually had nine more songs hit the Billboard Hot 100 between 1990 and 1994.
Sadly, fame took a quick toll on Hammer. He went from multimillionaire to broke after attempting to take care of a staff of nearly 200 people, coupled with some bad financial investments, on top of a 40,000-square-foot mansion. He filed for bankruptcy in 1996, with a reported $13 million in debt. Despite his quick fall, he went on to build a successful portfolio, investing early in startups like Square and X (formerly Twitter), according to Chamilliionaire. He also reportedly gave marketing advice to Salesforce, and became a bit of a legend in the tech space in the early 2010s.
Additional writing and story editing by Jaimie Etkin. Copy editing by Lois Hince. Photo selection by Clarese Moller.