Top One Hit Wonders of the 90s

Updated on August 24, 2018
Rachel M Johnson profile image

Rachel M. Johnson is a lover of all things pop culture. She's been writing about music and entertainment online for over two years.

The 1990s were filled with One-Hit Wonders and saw many bands striking gold with one song, often becoming overnight sensations. However, in a time where rock bands dominated the charts in the early 90s, and the teen pop movement was rising towards the end, these random acts were often forgotten. Let's take a look at some of the most memorable groups and artists who just couldn't achieve staying power.

This list focuses on the group/acts impact in the United States. While some of these songs found success in other countries, this list highlights their performance in the U.S.

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Sir Mix-A-Lot “Baby Got Back” (1992)

Sir Mix-A-Lot's infamous song about female backsides hit radio airwaves in 1992, and with its release came controversy. Many were outraged by the blatantly sexual lyrics about women, and the music video was even briefly banned by MTV. Regardless of the critics, the single went on to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100, where it remained for five weeks.

Sir-Mix-A-Lot discussed the criticism around the song in an interview, stating: "The song doesn't just say I like large butts, you know? The song is talking about women who damn near kill themselves to try and look like these beanpole models that you see in Vogue magazine." The rapper claims that most women respond positively to the song's ultimate message.

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Chumbawamba “Tubthumping” (1997)

Chumbawamba was a British band that formed in 1982 that constantly changed up its musical style, often adopting punk rock, folk and an experimental sound. They also took an anarchist and libertarian socialist stance that was often reflected in their music. The single "Tubthumping" from their eighth studio album was released in 1997, and found massive success. It peaked at number two on the UK Singles Chart and topped the US Modern Rock and Mainstream Top 40 charts.

Vocalist Dunstan Bruce had expressed, "The song is about us--as a class and as a band. The beauty of it was we had no idea how big it would be." The band would attempt to match the success of the album, but ultimately could not. They released an impressive eight more albums since disbanding in 2012. On the band's official website, the members stated, "That's it then, it's the end. With neither a whimper, a bang, or a reunion."

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Marcy Playground “Sex and Candy” (1997)

American alternative rock band Marcy Playground was formed in 1994, and consists of members John Wozniak (lead vocals, guitar), Shlomi Lavie (drums), and Dylan Keefe (bass). Their hit song "Sex and Candy" spent a then-record 15 weeks at number one on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks, and also peaked at number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The band's debut album also went platinum, and though they released two other singles including "Saint Joe on the School Bus" and "Sherry Fraser", neither song saw as much success as "Sex and Candy."

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Right Said Fred “I’m Too Sexy” (1991)

Formed in London in 1989 by brothers Fred and Richard Fairbrass, Right Said Fred reached platinum status with the release of their song "I'm Too Sexy." The cheeky single reached number two on the UK Singles Chart, and topped the charts in six other countries including the United States, Australia and Ireland. The idea of the song came about when the Fairbrass brothers were at the gym and saw a lot of narcissism. Richard jokingly took off his shirt and started singing "I'm too sexy for my shirt" in front of the mirror.

The group would go on to release three more singles from their debut album, including "Don't Talk Just Kiss", "Deeply Dippy" and "Those Simple Things"/"Daydream." While "Deeply Dippy" topped the UK Singles Chart, it failed to impact U.S radio.

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Vanilla Ice “Ice Ice Baby" (1990)

Initially released in 1989 under the album title Hooked, Vanilla Ice's debut album was later reissued under the title To the Extreme on September 3, 1990. The lead single from the album, "Ice Ice Baby", became the first hip hop single to top the Billboard Hot 100. It also topped the charts in other countries including Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. The song was met with critical acclaim, and has been credited for helping diversify hip hop through a mainstream audience.

The single's hook samples the bassline of Queen and David Bowie's "Under Pressure." Neither performers received royalties or credit for the sample, until they threatened to take the rapper to court. Audiences began to view Vanilla Ice as a pop star rather than a legitimate rapper, and his popularity began to decline. Though he would release five more studio albums, none were able to reach the success of his debut.

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The Proclaimers “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” (1993)

Scottish musical duo The Proclaimers is composed of identical twin brothers Charlie and Craig Reid. While the song was released in the UK in 1988, it didn't reach the United States until June 1993 following its appearance in the film Benny & Joon. The single peaked at number 5 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and was certified gold with over 800,000 units sold.

Craig Reid primarily wrote the song, and he recalled, "I reckon I wrote the whole thing in 45 minutes. I knew that it was a good song, maybe even a single, but I had no idea how popular it would become." According to the band, the earnings from "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" are about five times the rest of their catalog combined.

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Lou Bega “Mambo #5 ( A Little Bit of...)" (1999)

German mambo vocalist and singer Lou Bega (born David Lubega) released his debut album A Little Bit of Mambo in July 1999, and with it came his mega hit song "Mambo #5 (A Little Bit of...)". The single reached number 3 on the U.S Billboard Hot 100, and reached number one in the United Kingdom and Australia. The song has been three times platinum in the United States, and Bega was nominated for a Grammy Award for his performance.

Bega would go on to release his second studio album Ladies and Gentlemen in 2001 but it failed to experience the same success. Since his debut, he has released three more albums and continues to perform.

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Meredith Brooks “B*tch” (1997)

Meredith Brooks' debut album Blurring the Edges was released in May 1997, and with it came her mega successful lead single "B*tch." The song would steadily rise on the Billboard charts, ultimately peaking at number two for four weeks in the U.S. "B*tch" also saw major success in the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia. Brooks would receive a Grammy nomination for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance for the song.

There was a popular misconception that the single was actually a song by artist Alanis Morissette, due to the singers' close musical similarities. Some critics felt Brooks was simply a "clone" of Morissette.

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4 Non Blondes “What’s Up” (1993)

4 Non Blondes was an American rock band formed in 1989 by bassist Christa Hillhouse, guitarist Shaunna Hall, vocalist and guitarist Linda Perry, and drummer Wanda Day. Roger Rocha went on to replace Hall, and the band released their only album Bigger, Better, Faster More! in 1992. Their single "What's Up" debuted in 1993, and reached number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S and went gold. The single also reached number one in Ireland and Germany, and number 2 in the U.K and Australia.

Though the band split in 1994, Linda Perry went on to find a lot of success as a writer and producer for other artists. She has collaborated with artists including Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani, Pink, and Adele.

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Aqua "Barbie Girl" (1997)

Danish-Norwegian eurodance group Aqua was formed in 1989 and released their debut album Aquarium in 1997. That same year, the group released "Barbie Girl", which topped the charts worldwide. In the United Kingdom, the song stayed at number one for three weeks. In the United States, the single peaked at number seven on the Billboard Hot 100. It is their only song to reach the top 20 in the U.S. "Barbie Girl" was written after the band saw an exhibit on kitsch culture in Denmark that had featured Barbie dolls.

Toy manufacturer Mattel had sued MCA Records for the song's portrayal of Barbie, but the case was ultimately thrown out. Though Aqua found success in Europe with their next two albums, the group was never able to make an impact in the United States following their one hit wonder.

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Natalie Imbruglia “Torn” (1997)

Australian singer Natalie Imbruglia the single "Torn" in 1997, a cover of Ednaswap's song "Torn". The version soon became a worldwide hit, becoming the most-played song in the U.S in 1998 and throughout the remainder of the 90's. It was also the most played song in the U.K. For the track, Imbruglia received a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. The physical single of the version had sold more than 4 million copies worldwide since its release.

In the United States, the song peaked at #1 on the Hot 100 Airplay chart for a whopping 11 consecutive weeks. Since 1997, Imbruglia has sold 10 million records worldwide, but none were able to match the success of her first, Left in the Middle.

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Edwin McCain “I’ll Be” (1998)

American singer Edwin McCain second studio album Misguided Roses was released in January 1998, and with it came one of the most popular songs of the 90's, "I'll Be". In the United States, the single peaked at number five on the Billboard Hot 100, and became his first and only song to reach the Top 10. Since the single's debut, it has become a popular wedding song. However, McCain has said that "it's really more of a prayer."

The song was used in countless shows and movies, including Dawson's Creek, A Cinderella Story, and The Office. McCain continued to release albums, but none were able to match the success of his sophomore album.

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Sixpence None The Richer “Kiss Me” (1998)

Sixpence None The Richer is an alternative Christian rock band whose album of the same name went platinum upon its release. Their lead single "Kiss Me" became a worldwide success, reaching number two on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S, and spent 16 weeks in the Top Ten. The single was the sixth best-selling song of 1999, and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.

The album was also nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Gospel Album. "Kiss Me" was famously appeared in She's All That, Dawson's Creek, and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. The band's cover of The La's "There She Goes" had some mild success, peaking at 32 on the Billboard Hot 100. However, their most famous song remains "Kiss Me."

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    © 2018 Rachel M Johnson

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