The 1990s – this decade brought us Seattle Sound, sweeping technology innovations, and a President who campaigned by playing the saxophone on a late-night talk show. The music was as eclectic as ever, and no one genre can define the 90s. But, the one hit wonders of the decade often do.
One hit wonders of the 90s run the gamut from grunge to pop to R&B tunes, and they are as memorable as dial-up internet, Beanie babies, and AOL. Doc Martens were the dancing shoes of the 90s, and television shows like Friends were a part of “Must-See TV” each week. 90s one hit wonders are timeless, and some are as popular with Gen Xers today as they were back then.
Without further adieu, let’s get into the top one hit wonders from the 90s:
1) “Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba
No one knows exactly why Chumbawamba titled their only hit “Tubthumping,” but the song’s lyrics are definitely a nod to perseverance. This was the only song released by Chumbawamba, but it would still be the signiture song of the group no matter how many other hits they had.
2) “Mambo #5” by Lou Bega
We’re not sure if Lou Bega ever got into trouble with Monica, Erica, Tina, or Angela because of his womanizing ways, but we’re sure he had fun while it lasted. This fun-loving song was a hit at proms and parties across the country, and it was played relentlessly on radio stations as well.
3) “Steal my Sunshine” by Len
Len was a part of the post-grunge sound of the late 90s, but the catchy “Steal my Sunshine” was a hit on pop radio stations as well. Although the tune was upbeat, Len later revealed that the song was about depression. The overall message is a positive one, however – protect one’s emotional well-being from those who would “steal” it.
4) “Loser” by Beck
Every high school kid that never fit in could identify with Beck’s “Loser.” Although Beck had many other recognizable songs throughout his career, “Loser” won the hearts of many music fans. The lyrics are totally nonsensical (“shave your face with some mace in the dark,” for instance), but teens and college kids absolutely loved this song.
5) “The Freshmen” by The Verve Pipe
This one-hit wonder drew on the lead vocalist’s personal life. He and a friend dated the same girl during high school. She became pregnant, but the father’s identity was uncertain. Although the girl in the song commits suicide, the actual inspiration for the song does not. 90s kids related to the song; it was definitely a reflection of true life situations that weren’t often discussed in song.
The 90s were an awesome time for R & B groups. Keith Sweat, Jodeci, New Edition, Boyz II Men – all these groups offered romantic, sexy songs that were played at high school dances and weddings throughout the decade. At the same time, a few offered a story of love gone wrong.
6) “Nobody Knows” by The Tony Rich Project
Songs about unrequited love always garner lots of popularity, but The Tony Rich Project’s “Nobody Knows” gives listeners the chance to really look into the singer’s heart and feel his pain. If you’ve ever loved and lost, this song definitely resonated.
7) “Return of the Mack” by Mack Morrison
A top pick for break-up songs, “Return of the Mack” is the story of a man whose girl lied to and cheated on him, so he’s decided to let her go. The best revenge of all is returning to the strong man he was before her wily ways distracted him. This song made it to Number 2 on U.S charts.
8) “Freak Like Me” by Adina Howard
Borrowing a phrase from popular rap songs of the 90s, Adina Howard sang about “the dog in me” in her 1995 hit “Freak Like Me.” Howard’s song was about women’s empowerment in a music industry dominated by male singers.
9) “I Try” by Macy Gray
Macy Gray’s 90s one hit wonder actually won her world-wide fame. The song was a hit in the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand as well as in America. Gray won a Grammy (“Best Female Pop Vocal Performance”) for the song, and the song was nominated for “Song of the Year” as well.
10) “Candy Rain” by Soul for Real
Soul for Real was a group made up of harmonizing brothers who, sadly, had one hit, “Candy Rain.” Rapper Heavy D produced the single, but the group saw no other major success after this song was bumped from the number one spot by Madonna (“Live to Tell” would take the top spot within a few weeks of “Candy Rain” achieving an appearance there). The song has been re-done by Bruno Mars.
Movies such as Urban Cowboy and Smokey and the Bandit may have made country popular in the 1970s for a brief time, but one popular movie in the 1990s, Pure Country did the same for one particular artist and country music as a whole. However, one country artist with a mullet became a household name because of his one hit wonder. The following are some great country one hit wonders from the 90s:
11) “Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus
This earworm song became a popular song for line dancing in country music bars across the country. Unfortunately – for Gen Xers, that is – Billy Ray’s 90s one hit wonder was played on radio stations regardless of genre, in movies, and on television. The song is still played when it’s time for a country version of the electric slide dance. It’s even more popular than his feature in “Old Town Road” released more recently.
We consider this Billy Ray’s defining song of the 90s, so in a way it’s a one hit wonder (although, we admit this is a bit of stretch from the traditional definition of a one hit wonder).
12) “Dust on the Bottle” by David Lee Murphy
Country music of late is all about driving on backroads and pretty girls, and many of those songs are influenced by David Lee Murphy’s 1995 one hit wonder, “Dust on the Bottle.” The tune remains Murphy’s signature song.
13) “Butterfly Kisses” by Bob Carlisle
Lots of Southern brides who married in the late 90s and early 2000s utilized Bob Carlisle’s “Butterfly Kisses” as the daddy-daughter dance at their wedding reception. The song is a reflection of middle-aged fatherhood and the bittersweet event of letting Daddy’s little girl grow up and make a life of her own.
14) “Should Have Asked Her Faster” by Ty England
Ty England was once a member of Garth Brooks’ backup band, and his first album seemed to do well, but his second album was met with mixed reaction. “Should Have Asked Her Faster” came in at number three on the Hot Country Songs chart.
15) “Daddy’s Money” by Ricochet
Country musicians are known for singing about pretty girls, and the subject of “Daddy’s Money” is no different. The lyricist has spotted this good-looking girl who “has her daddy’s money” at the bar, and apparently she’s showing interest in return! Ricochet was never able to achieve further fame after this one hit wonder.
16) “What I Really Meant to Say” by Cyndi Thomson
Cyndi had an immense amount of success with her first release, but the following year, she would announce that she was planning to leave the music industry. “What I Really Meant to Say” immediately became a number one single. Thomson would give a musical career a second chance in 2006, but she would never have the same success as she did with this initial hit.
Alternative music wasn’t exactly new in the 1990s; the Cure, the Smiths, and others had carved a niche for this music genre in the 1980s. However, with Seattle Sound sweeping through the Pacific Northwest and replacing the party rock of the 80s, alternative music became increasingly popular.
17) “All for You” by Sister Hazel
Sister Hazel was popular in certain regions of the United States, but nationally, their sole hit song was “All for You.” Another notable Sister Hazel song found its way on to the 10 Things I Hate About You soundtrack, “Your Winter.”
18) “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Proclaimers
This song was included on the Benny and Joon soundtrack, and it enjoyed heavy rotation on most radio stations. The song was actually released in the United Kingdom in 1988, but it’s place in the popular Johnny Depp movie made it a one hit wonder in 1993.
19) “Possum Kingdom” by Toadies
This one hit wonder wound up on radio stations across the United States and was even the subject of a discussion on MTV’s “Beavis and Butthead.” Once this song was released, the Toadies never released another song. Like many bands of the post-grunge era, the Toadies fell off the musical radar.
20) “One Headlight” by The Wallflowers
Lead by Bob Dylan’s son Jakob, The Wallflowers had a wildly successful hit with “One Headlight.” Although the group was together until 2005, they never had another hit song. The album on which “One Headlight” was included, Bringing Down the Horse was a best-selling album itself. (Another song on the album, “6th Avenue Heartache,” received a lot of radio airplay, but it didn’t take off the way that “One Headlight” did. It was actually their song “Sleepwalker” that reached the Billboard Top 100 list.
21) “Closing Time” by Semisonic
Semisonic was another great group from the post-grunge era that seemingly disappeared after its one hit wonder, “Closing Time.” Released in 1996, “Closing Time” was a popular graduation song that year and for a short time thereafter.
The 90s was a time of great change, and the music of that era reflected those changes. The internet was new, and people still bought cassettes and CDs. The economy was one of the best since the end of World War II, yet people began enjoying music that reflected their views of the world around them. The country elected Bill Clinton, one of the first presidential candidates to make the rounds of late-night talk shows. In one decade, music went from alternative to grunge to post-grunge, catchy pop songs, and even country songs were popular across the nation due to hit movie soundtracks.
Did we miss any of your favorite 90s one hit wonders? Let us know by contacting us today and we’ll add your suggestion to the list if we missed a good one!
As the Head Editor at Music Grotto, Liam edits content produced from over 30 professional music/media journalists and contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.