The 20 Best One-Song Bands Of All-Time!

We've all heard of one-album bands, but today we at The Shit are shining the spotlight on the 20 best one-song bands to ever "rock the earth".  Mind you, there are two kinds of "one-song bands", allow us to help clarify the distinction:

The Bad Kind - Also known as "Nine Days Disease" or "Deep Blue Something Syndrome, where a band whose suckitude is fully evident on the rest of their songs, but for one brief shining moment, a "suck vortex" allows an otherwise horribly forgettable band create something magical, at which point, said band immediately returns to sucking as always.

The Good Kind - Also known as "The Vapors" or "Getting The Knack", where a band with a bunch of great songs have the unfortunate luck of attaining such a huge, monster hit that the public unjustly compares everything else to that one song.

For the sake of our own sanity, we will choose to focus on The Good Kind in our definitive list of "The 20 Best One-Song Bands Of All-Time"!




Pilot - Magic

A dear friend posted a Youtube clip of Pilot's "Magic" yesterday and folks immediately came out of the woodwork declaring their love for the song and/or the band, yet when challenged to name three Pilot songs, all remained silent until my friend chimed in: "'Magic', 'January' and 'You're My #1'!"

See, despite a lineage only one degree removed from the Bay City Rollers, Pilot actually made four consistently potent pop records that, to anyone who has heard them, surely puts them on par with Badfinger.
Say such a thing at the next hipster hang and you won't be invited to any others, mark my words.



Wheatus - Teenage Dirtbag

Mere months into a new millennium, a song by the name of "Teenage Dirtbag" begin dominating the airwaves.  While the band was scoring a quick succession of Top 5 singles in the UK, the US branch of Columbia was completely inept in their ability to turn heavy rotation spins into actual record sales and didn't even bother releasing a second single. A year later, they couldn't even muster the enery to release the band's next album, which they would release on their own years later under the name Suck Fony.



That first record, though, is a solid fucking jam.  Seriously, pull it up on Spofity and just pick any song...even their cover of Erasure's "A  Little Respect" is shiver inducing (in the best way).  If they hadn't been so marked by "Teenage Dirtbag", we might have seen them as an entirely different band and they'd have had a career.

After all, what kind of world do we live in where a song as joyously joyous as "Hump 'Em and Dump Em" does not become a giant hit?  And how could radio have not given up a little curiosity airplay to "Wannabe Gangster", with guest vocalist Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden?



The Vapors - Turning Japanese

Great case in point: The Vapors' Turning Japanese - Best Of The Vapors.  What that means by mentioning the name of their one hit in the title, they're hoping to get fans who are killing time in a truck stop on their way to mom's for Thanksgiving, rumaging through some budget bin for something ANYTHING to fill the airspace for even just a portion of the next eight hours.  "Hey, 'Turning Japanese', I haven't heard that song in forever! Five bucks?  Sold!"

Thing is, that album is just absolutely chock-full of potential hits mining an urgent Boomtown Rats-meets-The Jam vibe that might have fared better if not forced to live in the shadow of "The Song".  I mean, they didn't even get to be a cult band that puts out a new record every couple of years and makes enough to pay for the next one.



Dream Academy - Life In A Northern Town

I am ashamed at my own self for unjustly ignoring this band's greatness until picking up a used copy of their magnificent debut album (produced by David freakin' Gilmour, for cryin' out loud) just a few years ago.  Up until then, I was only mildly curious at what other Dream Academy songs might sound like because, for me, "Northern Town" is just about the most perfect slice of ethereal sugar pop ever created.

Imagine my delight upon realizing the whole album was that great, albeit not at all similar to "the hit".  Mind you, the vibe is that of a slow-building, thinking man Thompson Twins, if you will.  Remembrance Days was the stunner, though, but was as well-received Stateside as a-Ha's second album.



New Radicals - You Get What You Give

After two failed solo albums for Columbia, Michigander Gregg Alexander created a fictional band with a decidedly British vibe and quickly found himself all over the radio as the polished "fuck you" of "You Get What You Give" connected with millions of listeners.  Like Gary Numan, Alexander had the formula he wanted and the sole New Radicals album sees him tweaking it endlessly over the course of the album's twelve songs.

"Mother We Just Can't Get Enough" and "Gotta Stay High" come close to equaling the high watermark of "You Get What You Give", but, sadly, the weakest song on the album, "Someday We'll Know", was released as the second single.  Alexander has yet to make another album since this one, choosing to focus on penning hits for the likes of Santana and Ronan Keating, among others.



The Postal Service - Such Great Heights

"Such Great Heights" , aka The Song That Introduced Ben Gibbard To The World, will forever be the only Postal Service song 4 out of 5 doctors recommend, but it also came darn close to ruining Death Cab's own commercial aspirations.  If not for the band's sterling major label debut Plans being a complete work of genius, they very well may have succumbed to the unrealistic expectations created by that song's success.



Fountains Of Wayne - Stacy's Mom

It literally pains me that millions of folks who swear to love "Stacy's Mom" have absolutely no interest in the far-superior tanes found on the band's first two albums.  Come on, who but the lamest of mainstreamers wouldn't rather spaz out to "Radiation Vibe" or "Leave The Biker"?

Admittedly, the zillions of used copies of Welcome Interstate Managers proves that at least folks tried to get into the album, but found nothing to match the lukewarm awesomeness of Stacy's Mom".



The La's - There She Goes

A part of me thinks Lee Mavers knew exactly what he'd done the moment he finished writing "There She Goes".  Not only would he probably never top it, nobody would care if he did,  and everything he'd recorded to that point was made that much weaker by comparison.  

That would explain the ever-changing band members, studios, and producers over a two-year period.  
Mavers and the band abandoned sessions with Steve Lillywhite, who was left to cobble together the songs that would become The La's one and only studio album.  While I'm no fan of "Timeless Melody" (their other notable UK hit), remove "There She Goes" from the equation and songs like "Feelin'" and "I.O.U." start to jump out at you, revealing their chewy hooks and playful psych-era riffs.

As for "There She Goes", the song lives on at pop radio, albeit in neutered form thanks to Christian rock band Sixpence None The Richer's version, which has all but replaced The La's version.



a-Ha - Take On Me

I saw the band in 1987.  They played "Take On Me" twice.  Having said that, they've released nine studio albums over the years, all huge in their native Norway, but non-existent in the U.S., where we're all-too-happy to munch on one song for thirty years.



Recent gem "Analogue" is just as good as anything Coldplay have put out post-"Yellow" yet it didn't even warrant a Stateside release.


Semisonic - Closing Time

Never has overnight success taken so long.  Dan Wilson has been a household name in my domicile since Trip Shakespeare's first album altered my universe in '86.  Twelve short years later and "Closing Time" is blasting out of every radio in the country every five minutes.  Dunno if it was the song or the fact that radio played it to death that forever doomed the band to "one-song wonder" status.



The Verve - Bittersweet Symphony

The Verve perhaps take the cake when it comes to getting the short end of the stick regarding their sole U.S. hit.  Due to the fact that the song featured a snippet of the symphonic version of a Stones tune, the band ended up being coerced by manager-thug Allen Klein to sign away all rights to the song and crediting the song to new "co-writers" Jagger and Richards.  The Verve would break up before the song's chart run was even over, thereby crippling the follow-up "The Drugs Don't Work" before it left the gate.



School of Fish - Three Strange Days

For L.A.'s School Of Fish, "Three Strange Days" was a song that took them from yet another struggling local rock act with dreams of grandeur into a modern rock contender poised to break big.  The band wasn't so much done in by the weight of living up to that monolithic first single, but by the Nirvana tsunami that decimated all that wasn't angty or grunge.

Instead of sticking to their guns, the band tried playing ball by cutting the unnecessarily noisy Human Cannonball, which flopped and got the band dropped from Capitol.  A few years later, guitarist Mike Ward was playing guitar in the Wallflowers and singer Josh Clayton-Felt was losing his battle with cancer. 

Back in those halcyon pre-"Teen Spirit" days, School Of Fish's seminal debut effort is chock-full of songs that would have garnered radio/MTV attention had the landscape not been so altered by the arrival of grunge.




Icicle Works - Birds Fly (Whisper To A Scream)

It wasn't the sort of smash hit single that topped the charts or anything, but if I'd have written a song like that, you can bet I would have immediately called it a day, knowing I had just written the only song folks would ever care about.  For Icicle Works, the song was an attention-grabbing introduction that set us up for a "more" that never came.  At least not here in the States, where most folks who love the song more than likely have no idea who even performs the song.  Meanwhile, these Liverpool lads released five stunningly deep albums, including the criminally overlooked 1987 record, If You Want To Defeat His Enemy, Sing His Song. 



Tommy Tutone - 867-5309

It's amazing how the power of one song ca make folks deaf to anything else that you do.  It can even make folks forget all about the minor hit you had before "867-5309" made anyone in the country with that phone number the recipient of constant crank calls.

Two years prior to having their lives changed by the song's success, the band had landed in the Top 40 with "Angel Say No", a snappy Springsteen-tinged rocker that laid the groundwork for a slow, gradual build rather than the sudden night-and-day success that "Jenny" forced them to accommodate.

Third album National Emotion, saw them chasing a hit rather than staying true to their natural talents and didn't even break the Top 100 a brief year after "867-5309" had gone to #4.





Rick James - Super Freak

While we have since come to learn that Rick was the freaky one, and "Give It To Me Baby" gets the occasional spin on VH-1, it is "Super Freak" for which James will always be remembered, which bodes well for sales of Street Songs, his breakthrough 1981 hit album, but not for the other eleven albums he made as a solo artist.

For better and worse (mostly better), James' next album, Throwin' Down, is an entire album of "Super Freak" clones that is tailor made for '80s dance floors.  That it missed the charts completely and landed with a dull thud in the cut-out bins is no indication of any lack of quality.  In fact, as an album, it is superior to Street Songs by far.





Katrina & The Waves - Walking On Sunshine

While any such one-hit success might be preferable to complete obscurity, never has one song so incorrectly pegged a band as this snappy earworm did The Waves.  Strip that tune from their debut and what you hear is something coser to old-school Pretenders than tomboy Bangles (who would cover "Going Down To Liverpool").  Kimberly Rew, fresh from his stint in The Soft Boys, was the band's secret weapon, delivering stadium-sized hooks for Katrina to hit out of the park.



Divinyls - I Touch Myself

The saddest part about Christina Amphlett losing her battle to cancer last year was the literally thousands of tributes that could only make mention of "I Touch Myself".  To reduce her life to the three minutes of mid-80's mediocrity that the world paid attention to while completely ignoring the band's far superior early work that positioned them as "Blondie's wilder sister", for lack of a better description.



Give the chorus of "Elsie" from their first album a listen and no longer wonder who sounded like Siouxsie Sioux did before Siouxsie did.  I'll wait while you slap yourself for not knowing of this song's existence. Which song would you rather touch yourself to?



Wall of Voodoo - Mexican Radio

When this idiosyncratic L.A. new wave band scored a giant MTV and radio hit with "Mexican Radio", even singer Stan Ridgway new the idea of living up to such raised expectations was a loising proposition.  His answer: leave the band.  In hindsight, it proved to be a bit of a masterstroke, allowing him to continue releasing critically-acclaimed solo albums for the last three decades.

Meanwhile, Wall of Voodoo would continue with singer Andy Prieboy, releasing two great, but poor-selling albums (Seven Days In Sammystown remains our favorite WoV album) before breaking up in 1987.



Til Tuesday - Voices Carry

For young Bostonites Til Tuesday, who went from unknowns in their first local Battle Of The Bands to MTV heavyweights on the strength of one song, success was a double-edged sword upon which the band itself was ultimately impaled after their next two albums failed to deliver the "Voice Carry, Part 2" that the fickle mainstream demanded.

Aimee Mann responded by breaking up the band and all but refusing to play the song during her solo shows. These days, she occasionally (albeit reluctantly) revisits her sole Top 10 hit, but would rather skewer it, as she did in the video for "Labrador" in 2012.



Gary Numan - Cars

As uniformly great as the rest of Numan's 1978 breakout album, Pleasure Principle, may have been, you can literally hear Numan trying to find the perfect combination of the components that made "Cars" such an immediate smash hit at a time when there was literally nothing else like it on the radio.  "Airlane", "Complex", and "Conversation", for example, all adhere to the same formula, but with less radio-friendly results.

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

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