However, the term is used as well to describe other, related phenomena such as a software company which only has one widely successful release, or for an athlete, known for only one major career event.
Music journalist Wayne Jancik, whose book, The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders, (published in 1997 and covering the period from 1955, the start of the rock and roll era, to 1992) defines a one-hit wonder objectively as "an act that has won a position on [the] national, pop, Top 40 just once."
Jancik's The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders, because of the publisher's limitation on size, only includes the top twenty One-Hit Wonders, or roughly half of the one-hit wonders that made the Top 40 from 1955 through 1992. The author has published a website "One-Hit Wonders," The Book, which now includes all the one-hit wonders profiles he had originally written for the book.
However, this formal definition can therefore include acts with greater success outside their lone pop hit (and who are thus not typically considered one-hit wonders), while at the same time excluding acts who have multiple hits which have been overshadowed by one signature song, or those performers who never actually hit the top 40, but, had exactly one song achieve mainstream popularity in some other fashion (and who are thus considered one-hit wonders). One-hit wonders are usually relative to a given market, either a country or sometimes a genre; a performer may be a one-hit wonder in one but have multiple hits (or no hits) in another.
VH1's list of "100 greatest one-hit wonders"
It listed musicians with only one American hit, regardless of international success, which has been substantial and long-lived for musicians like A-ha and Nena (see below). (Under Jancik's criteria, A-ha, Falco, Vanilla Ice and Gerardo would not qualify for the list, as all four had additional hits in the top 20 outside their signature hits; they are nonetheless commonly considered one-hit wonders because those other hits did not survive in recurrent rotation). Los del Río likewise had two Top 40 hits, though both were versions of "Macarena."
The countdown also omitted acts such as Jimi Hendrix and Grateful Dead who, while technically charting with only one single, became too well known for their entire bodies of work to merit inclusion on the list.
They did get mentioned, though, in a short segment of one-hit wonders that had popular followings. The top ten consisted of:
- Los del Río — "Macarena" (1996)
- Soft Cell — "Tainted Love" (1982)
- Dexys Midnight Runners – "Come On Eileen" (1983)
- Right Said Fred — "I'm Too Sexy" (1992)
- Toni Basil — "Mickey" (1982)
- Baha Men — "Who Let the Dogs Out?" (2000)
- Vanilla Ice — "Ice Ice Baby" (1990)
- A-ha — "Take On Me" (1985)
- Gerardo — "Rico Suave" (1990)
- Nena — "99 Luftballons" (1984)
Channel 4's "50 Greatest One Hit Wonders"
A 2006 television poll, conducted by Channel 4 in the UK, asked viewers to select their favourite one-hit wonder from a shortlist of 60. Respondents could also vote by e-mail to select a song that was not on the original list, if they so wished. The top 10 were:
- "Kung Fu Fighting" — Carl Douglas
- "99 Red Balloons" — Nena
- "Because I Got High" — Afroman
- "Sugar, Sugar" — The Archies
- "Can You Dig It?" — The Mock Turtles
- "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" — Monty Python
- "Spirit in the Sky" — Norman Greenbaum
- "Who Let the Dogs Out" — Baha Men
- "The Safety Dance" — Men Without Hats
- "Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps Please" — Splodgenessabounds
"20 to 1: One Hit Wonders"
|20||"Tainted Love"||Soft Cell|
|19||"Mambo No.5"||Lou Bega|
|17||"Achy Breaky Heart"||Billy Ray Cyrus|
|15||"I'll Be Gone"||Spectrum|
|13||"Counting the Beat"||The Swingers|
|12||"Slice of Heaven"||Dave Dobbyn & Herbs|
|11||"Rockin' Robin"||Bobby Day|
|10||"Pass the Dutchie"||Musical Youth|
|9||"Don't Worry, Be Happy"||Bobby McFerrin|
|7||"Spirit in the Sky"||Norman Greenbaum|
|6||"Come on Eileen"||Dexys Midnight Runners|
|4||"Turning Japanese"||The Vapors|
|3||"Video Killed the Radio Star"||The Buggles|
|2||"Born to Be Alive"||Patrick Hernandez|
|1||"My Sharona"||The Knack|
C4's UChoose40: One Hit Wonders
In September 2006, New Zealand's terrestrial music channel, C4, aired an episode dedicated to "One Hit Wonders" on the weekly theme-based chart show, UChoose40, where the chart was ranked entirely by viewer's votes from the website.
The top ten ranking are as follows:
- "Teenage Dirtbag" — Wheatus (2000)
- "How Bizarre" — OMC (1996)
- "Because I Got High" — Afroman (2001)
- "Ice Ice Baby" — Vanilla Ice (1990)
- "Eye of the Tiger" — Survivor (1982)
- "Tubthumping" — Chumbawamba (1997)
- "My Sharona" — The Knack (1979)
- "Video Killed the Radio Star" — The Buggles (1979)
- "Who Let the Dogs Out?" — Baha Men (2000)
- "I Touch Myself" — Divinyls (1991)
Classical music one-hit wonders
Deutsche Grammophon and Vox Records have both released albums of classical one-hit wonders. Many of the works on the CDs are from composers who have two or more works that are popular in classical music circles, but have a single work that has become popular outside these circles. The two CDs differ, but the works common to both are:
- Johann Pachelbel — Canon in D
- Samuel Barber — Adagio for Strings
- attrib. Tomaso Albinoni — Adagio in G minor (this was actually written by Remo Giazotto and contains no Albinoni material)
- Jean-Joseph Mouret — Fanfare-Rondeau from Symphonies and Fanfares for the King's Supper (theme to Masterpiece, formerly Masterpiece Theatre)
- Luigi Boccherini — minuet from String Quintet in E
- Jeremiah Clarke — "Trumpet Voluntary", more properly known as "Prince of Denmark's March"
- Jules Massenet — Meditation from his opera Thais
- Pietro Mascagni — "Cavalleria rusticana"
- Léo Delibes — "The Flower Duet" from the opera Lakmé
- Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov — "Caucasian Sketches"
- Amilcare Ponchielli — "Dance of the Hours" from the opera La Gioconda
- Charles-Marie Widor — Toccata from Symphony for Organ No. 5
- Aram Khachaturian — "Sabre Dance" from the ballet Gayane
- Marc-Antoine Charpentier — Te Deum
- Tekla Bądarzewska-Baranowska — Maiden's Prayer
Other examples of classical one-hit wonders are Vittorio Monti's Csárdás, Enrico Toselli's Serenata 'Rimpianto' Op.6 No.1, popularly known as "Toselli's Serenade", and Jean Paul Egide Martini's Plaisir d'Amour.
The term one-hit wonder is occasionally applied to other media.
The term one-hit wonder is often applied to either highly potent specific varieties of substances, such as certain strains of cannabis that require only one "hit" (a single inhalation of smoke), or a "hit" of LSD (a single dose), to achieve the desired psychoactive effects, or a person with a significantly low tolerance to such drugs that it only takes a single "hit" to achieve desired effects.
In the sports world, there are several athletes known to casual sports fans for one event in their careers. Examples include Bill Mazeroski, who is the only player in Major League Baseball history to end a seventh game of the World Series with a walk-off home run (however, Mazeroski is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, due primarily to his status as one of the greatest defensive infielders of all time); Paul Henderson, a Canadian ice hockey player who scored the deciding goal in the 1972 Summit Series; Mike Jones, who tackled Kevin Dyson at the one-yard line on the final play of Super Bowl XXXIV; David Tyree, a wide receiver who became famous for a helmet-assisted catch during the waning moments of Super Bowl XLII; Timmy Smith and Mark Rypien, both Washington Redskins stars that ended up out of football shortly after winning Super Bowls XXII and XXVI respectively; NASCAR driver Derrike Cope, who won the 1990 Daytona 500 in a surprise victory after Dale Earnhardt blew a tire on the last lap; Buster Douglas, who was the first boxer to ever knock Mike Tyson out; and Jimmy Glass, an English football goalkeeper, who is remembered for scoring a goal in the last seconds of the final day of 1998-99 English Third Division that kept his club in The Football League. His subsequently released biography was titled One-Hit Wonder.
Some athletes have become remembered for a single mistake in their careers as opposed to a triumphant moment. Notable examples of such athletes include Buffalo Bills placekicker Scott Norwood, who is infamous for a missed 47-yard field goal that cost his team the Super Bowl; Bill Buckner, who at the 1986 World Series made a fielding error in which a baseball rolled through his legs; and Jim Marshall, who, as part of the Minnesota Vikings, ran 66 yards (mistakenly into his own end zone) and scored a safety for the San Francisco 49ers.
In tennis, the term "one-slam wonder" can be referred towards players who have either won only one Grand Slam singles title during his or her career, or players who have currently only won one Grand Slam singles title but have the potential to win even more in their careers. Andy Roddick is said to have enjoyed a successful tennis career, despite winning only one Grand Slam singles title – the 2003 US Open – in his entire career. Other players who won only one Grand Slam singles title in their entire career include Carlos Moyá, Petr Korda, Gastón Gaudio, Thomas Johansson, Albert Costa, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Anastasia Myskina, Gabriela Sabatini, Jana Novotná, and Michael Chang.
The term "cup of coffee" is used to describe a baseball or ice hockey player who has only a short stint (i.e., long enough to drink a cup of coffee and not do much else) in Major League Baseball or the National Hockey League respectively and then spend the rest of their careers in the minor leagues.
- List of one-hit wonders in Canada
- List of one-hit wonders in Ireland
- List of one-hit wonders in the United Kingdom
- List of one-hit wonders in the United States
- Signature song
- Summer hit
- That Thing You Do!
- "One-Hit Wonder" by Blair Packham, a 2004 song about the classic one-hit wonder "Monster Mash" by Bobby Pickett.
- Homo unius libri — Latin phrase meaning "man of one book".
- Mordden, Ethan (1980) A Guide to Orchestral Music. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-504041-4
- Jancik, Wayne (1998). The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders. New York: Billboard Books. ISBN 0-8230-7622-9
- One Hit Wonders, 2003, Dg Deutsche Grammophon, catalog number 472700. The composers DG includes in this compilation are: Richard Addinsell, Tomaso Albinoni, Hugo Alfvén, Samuel Barber, Luigi Boccherini, Joseph Canteloube, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Jeremiah Clarke, Léo Delibes, Paul Dukas, Reinhold Glière, Ferde Grofé, Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov, Dmitri Kabalevsky, Aram Khachaturian, Edward MacDowell, Pietro Mascagni, Jules Massenet, Jean-Joseph Mouret, Carl Orff, Johann Pachelbel, Amilcare Ponchielli, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Emil Waldteufel, Peter Warlock, and Charles-Marie Widor.