In the music industry, a one-hit wonder is an artist or song which achieves great, transient success before vanishing without a trace, whether unintentionally or by design. The term is defined somewhat loosely, in the sense that many 'one-hit wonders' may have several minor hit singles which are overshadowed by a much greater hit - for example, The Knack's 'My Sharona', Soft Cell's 'Tainted Love' and Free's 'All Right Now' have come to obliterate careers which, at the time, encompassed several popular songs. Many one-hit wonders are also novelty songs, which are to an extent deliberately transient, recorded for humor or to cash in on the latest pop culture fad. The 'classical' one-hit wonder must be part of a deliberate attempt to establish a musical career.
Furthermore, some 'one-hit wonders' are only fleeting in the pop arena; long-time AOR and rock acts such as The Grateful Dead ("Touch of Gray"), Pink Floyd ("Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2"), Radiohead ("Creep") and Jimi Hendrix ("All Along the Watchtower") are all examples of substantial, established acts who have nonetheless only briefly pursued pop success.
International acts who are successful in one territory but who nonetheless swiftly come and go in another are controversial cases; particularly so in the case of non-English speaking acts who record a handful of English tracks (such as famous one-hit wonders Nena, Trio and Falco). Usually the singer and the song have their moment in the spotlight and disappear, but occasionally, as with Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe" or Terry Jacks' "Seasons in the Sun" the song has enough impact to carry over into a career, often via cover versions. Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky", for example, has been a one-hit wonder twice (in the 1960s and, for Dr and the Medics, in the 1980s) whilst its author, Norman Greenbaum, was also a one-hit wonder twice in the 1960s under two names.
The phenomenon of one-hit wonders was celebrated in Tom Hanks's film That Thing You Do!, which featured a band first called the Oneders (pronounced "wonders") and later The Wonders that broke up shortly after their one and only hit single.
- One-hit wonders in Canada
- One-hit wonders in the UK
- One-hit wonders in the United States
- One-hit wonders in classical music