20 Of The Biggest One-Hit Wonders Of The 1960s
Remember "Alley-Oop?" How about "Winchester Cathedral" or "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye?" Many one-hit wonders of the '60s have stood the test of time as true classics; others remain head-scratchers to this day. Do you ever hear the urge to fire up "Mother-In-Law?" And what was up with "Dominique," the French song by The Singing Nun -- how does a song like that get to #1?
All of these songs went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and none of them had a sequel. Although the artists themselves seemed to fade out of sight, many times their songs lived on; either standing on their own, being associated with movies or by being re-recorded by other artists.
Mark Dinning, 'Teen Angel'
"Teen Angel" is a teenage tragedy song that was written by Jean Dinning and performed by Jean's brother, Mark Dinning. It went on to become a #1 hit on February 8, 1960. Mark Dinning never recorded another hit song and died of a heart attack in 1986 at the age of 52, in Jefferson City, Missouri. Strangely enough, the song was included in the soundtrack to the movie American Graffiti, begging the question, “Why didn’t this artist go any further?”
The Hollywood Argyles, 'Alley-Oop'
The song, "Alley-Oop", was written and composed by Dallas Frazier. The song, inspired by the V. T. Hamlin-created comic strip of the same name, was first recorded by Frazier as a country tune in 1957. The Hollywood Argyles, a short-lived studio band, recorded the song in 1960, and it reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 3 on the US R&B chart. It was produced by Gary Paxton, who also sang lead vocals. The chief Argyle, Gary Paxton, was also the leader of Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s Crypt-Kicker Six.
Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs, 'Stay'
"Stay" is a doo-wop song written by Maurice Williams and first recorded in 1960 by Williams with his group, The Zodiacs. Commercially successful recordings of the same song were later also released by both The Hollies and The Four Seasons.
Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs were an American doo-wop/R&B vocal group in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Originally known by the name, The (Royal) Charms. The band went on to change its name (two more times) to The Gladiolas in 1957 and The Excellos in 1958. They finally settled on The Zodiacs. Could all of the confusion with the various name changes have hurt their following? It is also interesting to note that the The Four Seasons, a well-known group of that era, later took “Stay” to #16 on the charts in 1964.
Ernie K-Doe, 'Mother-In-Law'
In 1961, Ernie K-Doe, an African-American rhythm-and-blues singer recorded "Mother-in-Law", written and produced by Allen Toussaint. The song was a #1 hit in the U.S. on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the Billboard R&B charts. Toussaint also contributed the piano solo.
After several unsuccessful takes, Toussaint balled up the composition and threw it away as he was leaving the room. One of the backup singers, Willie Hopper, thought that it was such a good song that he convinced K-Doe to give it one more try.
Bruce Channel, 'Hey! Baby'
"Hey! Baby" is a song written by Margaret Cobb and Bruce Channel, and recorded by Channel in 1961. It was first released on LeCam Records, a local Fort Worth, Texas label. The song reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks, starting the week ending March 10, 1962.
Delbert McClinton blows the harp on this, and it was when Channel was touring with the Beatles that McClinton famously taught John Lennon how to play the harmonica.
The Singing Nun, 'Dominique'
“Dominique" is a 1963 French language popular song, written and performed by Jeannine Deckers of Belgium, better known as Sœur Sourire or The Singing Nun. "Dominique" is about Saint Dominic, a Spanish-born priest and founder of the Dominican Order, of which she was a member (as Sister Luc-Gabrielle).
The song reached and stayed at #1 on on both the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and "easy listening chart" for four weeks in December of 1963.
Deckers never again reached the same success and continued to lead a colorful, but tragic life. Deckers and her companion of ten years both committed suicide in 1985 because of financial and tax problems stemming from the recording of the song. Debbie Reynolds portrayed her in the 1965 film version; Jeanne Deckers left the convent the following year.
The New Vaudeville Band, 'Winchester Cathedral'
"Winchester Cathedral" is a song by The New Vaudeville Band, a British novelty group established by the song's composer, Geoff Stephens, and was released in late 1966 by Fontana Records.
It reached #1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Stephens wrote "Winchester Cathedral", complete with a Rudy Vallée soundalike (John Carter) singing through his hands to imitate a megaphone sound. The song was recorded entirely by session musicians and an actual band had to assembled when it became an international hit. The band toured extensively under the tutelage of Peter Grant, who later went on to manage The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin.
The leader of the New Vaudeville Band, Geoff Stephens, also wrote the hit songs “There’s a Kind of Hush” and “The Crying Game.”
Jeannie C. Riley, 'Harper Valley P.T.A.'
"Harper Valley PTA" is a country song written by Tom T. Hall that was a major international hit single for country singer Jeannie C. Riley in 1968. It later became the basis for a hit film and TV series.
Riley's record sold over six million copies as a single. The song made Riley the first woman to top both the Billboard Hot 100 and the U.S. Hot Country Singles charts with the same song, a feat that would go unrepeated until Dolly Parton's "9 to 5" in 1981.
Zager & Evans, 'In The Year 2525'
"In the Year 2525" is a 1969 hit song by the American pop-rock duo Zager and Evans. It reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for six weeks, commencing July 12, 1969. Zager and Evans disbanded in 1971.
It is unusual for a recording artist to have a number one hit and then never have another chart single. Zager and Evans are the only band to do this in both the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and the UK Singles Chart.
Zager now builds custom guitars at Zager Guitars, which is based in Lincoln, Nebraska. Evans has largely stayed out of the public eye, but resurfaced for some online commentaries about "2525" and his recent life in 2013.
Steam, 'Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye'
"Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" written and recorded by Paul Leka, Gary DeCarlo and Dale Frashuer, attributed to a then-fictitious band they named "Steam". This was a studio-only group and when the song hit, Paul Leka put together a band called Steam to tour behind it. The band broke up before they ever went on the tour, so Leka had to then put together another touring group.
It became a #1 pop single on the Billboard Hot 100 in late 1969, and remained on the charts in early 1970.
In 1977, Chicago White Sox organist Nancy Faust started playing the song when White Sox sluggers knocked out the opposing pitcher. The fans sang the song and a sports ritual was born! The song's chorus remains well-known, and is still frequently used as a crowd chant at many sporting events.
These are a few examples of the “one hit wonders” phenomenon throughout the 1960’s and 70’s. A few more to mention are:
“Telstar” — The Tornados (1962)
“Wipe Out” — The Surfaris (1963)
“Ringo” — Lorne Greene (1964)
“Eve of Destruction” — Barry McGuire (1965)
“They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” — Napoleon XIV (1966)
“Grazing in the Grass”– Hugh Masekela (1968)
“Spirit In The Sky” — Norman Greenbaum (1969)
What is your favorite one hit wonder?
Bobby "Boris" Pickett, 'The Monster Mash'
Bobby "Boris" Pickett may be a one-hit wonder from the 1960s, but he wrote and recorded one of the greatest bops of the decade with "The Monster Mash." Written as a way to cash in on the glut of horror movies and dance crazes at the time, the success of "The Monster Mash" was a huge shock to the singer. He tried to follow up the massive hit with similarly themed monster songs ("The Monster Swim," "The Monster Rap"), but he never achieved the same level of success. The song remains a total banger, and there's nothing wrong with that.
? and the Mysterians, '96 Tears'
Out of all the one-hit wonders of the 1960s "96 Tears" by ? and the Mysteries may be the most memorable. Recorded in the living room of the band's manager, this song hit Number One in 1966. The odd organ sounds and strange, repetitive lyrics essentially created a sub-genre of garage rock but the band was never able to capitalize on the success of their hit song.
Buffalo Springfield, 'For What Its Worth'
It's a shame that one of the more important bands of the 1960s is a one-hit wonder, but we're just going by the numbers on this one. With "For What It's Worth," Buffalo Springfield scored a massive hit that continues to resonate today. Unfortunately, less than a year after the release of their million selling single the band went through a series of lineup changes that saw Neil Young leave the band shortly before Steven Stills followed suit.
Iron Butterfly, 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida'
"In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" by Iron Butterfly is one of the more iconic tracks by a one-hit wonder mostly because it's such a wild song to be a hit. Coming in at a whopping 17 minutes long, the abridged version of the track hit Number 30 on the Billboard charts in 1968. Seen as an early forebear to heavy metal, this bombastic track features both an organ and a drum solo in the midst of a love song that takes place in the Garden of Eden. The '60s were wild and we wish that this kind of song could still hit the charts.
The Surfaris, 'Wipe Out'
It doesn't matter if you were born in time to experience the 1963 hit by the Surfaris or if you were born yesterday, you know "Wipe Out." Or at the very least you know the tom-tom heavy drum pattern that opens the song and the cartoonish call of "Wiiiiipe out" that fills the song. The song spent two months on the Billboard charts, reaching number 2 during its six week run. A true success for a genre that died out from popular culture pretty much the moment that it took off.
Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler, 'The Ballad Of The Green Berets'
Politically charged songs promoting war have been hits in every era, but only in the '60s could a ballad song in a weird talky voice by an actual Staff Sergeant hit Number 1 on the Billboard charts. The single moved more than two million units and the album sold nearly 10 million copies. It's insane that this song was a thing. With success like that it's hard to go anywhere but down, and that's exactly what Sadler did when his followup single, "The A Team" failed to chart as successfully.
The Archies, 'Sugar Sugar'
"Sugar sugar. Honey honey." Can you hear it in your head right now? If so, we didn't mean to ruin your day but it's our job to remind you of these fantastic one-hit wonders. Released in 1969 by the fictional Archies, this song stayed on the Hot 100 chart for 22 weeks during a time of extreme social unrest and massive musical innovations. This fictional Riverdale band continued to release singles into the '70s, but none of them had the same impact as "Sugar Sugar."
Norman Greenbaum, 'Spirit In The Sky'
We wouldn't have "Spirit in the Sky" if it weren't for Norman Greenbaum's habit of channel surfing in the 1960s. One night saw Porter Wagoner on TV playing a gospel song and the rest was history. In 2006 he told the New York Times:
I thought, ‘Yeah, I could do that,’ knowing nothing about gospel music. So I sat down and wrote my own gospel song. It came easy. I wrote the words in 15 minutes.
Those 15 minutes yielded a massive hit song that's kept Greenbaum resting easy for more than four decades at this point. Greenbaum continues to perform to this day, but he's never had a hit as sky high as "Spirit in the Sky"
The Human Beinz, 'Nobody but Me'
Coming in hot at number eight is "Nobody but Me" by the Human Beinz, a bar band from Youngstown, Ohio, who spent much of their early career recording covers of hit songs by other bands. Their hit single is actually a cover of an Isley Brothers tune and it features the most repetitive use of the word "no" in pop music history.
The band followed up their hit with a cover of Bobby Bland's "Turn On Your Love Light" which peaked at Number 80 in America while shooting straight to number one in Japan. The band broke up in 1969 and that's all she wrote.
Napoleon XIV, 'They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa'
The '60s were amazing because someone could score a Top 5 hit with a novelty song like "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" and audiences wouldn't bat an eye. The single, released by Jerry Samuels under his Napoleon XIV moniker was a part of an LP all about being insane, which is pretty fun but obviously doesn't have a lot of staying power. That doesn't mean we can't love this insane track all the same.
This novelty record was a nonsensical and fun hit by Napoleon XIV who was actually just one man using a pseudonym. Jerry Samuels came up with the song during his time at New York's Associated Recording Studios. The song featured a snare drum, a tambourine, and a siren that would go off as Samuels' voice rose to a fever pitch during the chorus.