The 1970s introduced us to powerhouses such as The Rolling Stones, Elton John, and David Bowie. Thanks to advances in technology and the rise of commercialization, record labels put out more artists than ever before. This led to some of of the most iconic and best songs of all time to be made throughout the decade. While many of the decade’s artists have led prolific careers until now, others became “one hit wonders.”
Here’s our list of the best one hit wonders from the 70s:
1. “Spirit in the Sky” – Norman Greenbaum
This song from 1970 features lyrics about meeting Jesus Christ, which is notable because Norman Greenbaum was and continues to be an observant orthodox Jewish member. It peaked at number three in the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 list and went on to be certified gold by the Record Industry Association of America, or RIAA. We’re positive you’ve heard and recognize this killer tune from the past.
2. “My Sharona” – The Knack
Legend has it, The Knack’s frontman Doug Fieger took one look at Sharona Alperin and fell madly in love, so much so that it inspired him to write “My Sharona” in fifteen minutes. Upon its release in 1979, it climbed to the number one spot on the Hot 100 List and remained there for six weeks.
3. “Cat’s in the Cradle” – Harry Chapin
Harry Chapin was considered one of the best singer-songwriters at the time with a number of charting albums. However, he’s remembered today for his only number one single, “Cat’s in the Cradle.” The lyrics describe a father too busy with his career to spend time with his young son, only to grow old and have the tables turned when his adult son is too busy with his job and family to spend time with him.
We’re a bit loose with the term “one hit wonder” here, but we still think it applies.
4. “Afternoon Delight” – Starland Vocal Band
This song about “skyrockets in flight” is a quintessential example of a one hit wonder. The Starland Vocal Band debuted in 1977 with “Afternoon Delight,” which peaked at number one on the Hot 100, won two Grammys, and eventually became certified gold by the RIAA.
5. “Stuck in the Middle with You” – Stealers Wheel
Scottish folk rock band Stealers Wheel released their first album in 1972, leading with a single that was initially written as a parody of Bob Dylan’s paranoia of the music industry. Like many other one hit wonders of the 70s, Stealers Wheel disbanded after their initial popularity waned. They experienced a brief revival in the ’90s when the song was included in a famous scene from the film Reservoir Dogs.
6. “Hooked on a Feeling” – Blue Swede
The 1974 song is an up-tempo cover of an already-successful 1968 song and was the catalyst that launched the Swedish band into international fame. Blue Swede’s version of “Hooked on a Feeling” is also famously remembered from the dancing baby scenes in the legal drama show Ally McBeal, among other pop culture references throughout the years.
7. “Cruel to be Kind” – Nick Lowe
By 1979, songwriter Nick Lowe had hung up his pub-rocker hat to become a respected new wave music producer with Columbia Records. However, he pivoted back into recording when executive Gregg Geller discovered a diamond in the rough among Lowe’s old demos. While Geller bet Lowe “Cruel to be Kind” would crack the Top 10, it peaked at number twelve in the U.S.
8. “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” – The Charlie Daniels Band
Country artist Charlie Daniels reached crossover success in 1979 with “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” which details a fiddling contest between the devil and a mortal man who’s “the best that’s ever been.” It peaked at number three in the U.S. as well as charting in other English-speaking markets like Australia and Ireland.
9. “Turn the Beat Around” – Vicki Sue Robinson
When Vicki Sue Robinson arrived at Associated Studios to pick up her sound engineer boyfriend, Al Garrison, she overheard what her boyfriend was working on, a single with a fast-moving drumbeat and lyrics to match. As fate would have it, the label didn’t take Garrison’s song, leaving Robinson free to claim it for her 1976 debut album, Never Gonna Let You Go. In 1994, “Turn the Beat Around” found a new audience when it was covered by Gloria Estefan.
10. “Hot Child in the City” – Nick Gilder
Nick Gilder was already a moderately successful musician, but it wasn’t until his second solo album that he experienced worldwide recognition, thanks to the single “Hot Child in the City.” Afterwards, Gilder continued on to enjoy success in Canada, but “Hot Child in the City” is his only U.S. hit, making him one of the notable 70s one hit wonders.
11. “American Pie” – Don McLean
Like baseball and Fourth of July barbeques, the song “American Pie” is a significant aspect of the American experience. While Don McLean has always remained tightlipped regarding the song’s provenance, many believe it may have been inspired by the 1959 plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens.
Regardless, there are many commentaries on the song’s meaning, we still can’t deny how wildly popular it continues to be today.
12. “Dancing in the Moonlight” – King Harvest
This song about a utopia where “everybody’s feelin’ warm and right” was King Harvest’s one and only hit, reaching the number thirteen spot in 1972. Like many other one hit wonders of the 70s, the Paris-based band went through several lineup changes over the years but failed to produce another hit song after “Dancing in the Moonlight.”
13. “Kung-fu Fighting” – Carl Douglas
With ten minutes left in their three-hour studio rental, Carl Douglas and his music producer recorded “Kung-fu Fighting,” intending it only as a B-side. However, it happened to be released at the height of the martial arts craze, and the song went on to top multiple charts all over the world.
14. “The Hustle” – Van McCoy
By 1975, Van McCoy had written multiple hit songs for R&B and soul artists, such as Gladys Knight and The Ad Libs. With the Soul City Orchestra, he released the single “Disco Baby” which went largely unnoticed. Instead, it was the song’s B-side that caught the public’s attention. Featuring a catchy piccolo riff and lyrics containing about five words at most, “The Hustle” was an unexpected success. Today, it’s considered one of the genre-defining songs of disco.
15. “Play That Funky Music” – Wild Cherry
Initially a rock cover band, Wild Cherry floundered during a time when audiences preferred songs to dance to. In 1976, lead singer Rob Parissa was finally inspired to write their only U.S. hit when an audience member asked, “Are you going to play some funky music, white boys?” In true one hit wonder fashion, Wild Cherry released two more albums with disappointing results and eventually broke up.
16. “The Boys Are Back in Town” – Thin Lizzy
If it weren’t for the band manager, Irish rock group Thin Lizzy wouldn’t have included “The Boys Are Back in Town” in their first album. The 1976 release peaked at number twelve in the U.S. It’s also considered to be one of the best classic rock songs of all time by multiple publications.
17. “You Light Up My Life” – Debby Boone
Daughter of renowned singer-songwriter Pat Boone, Debby Boone’s only pop hit is a cover of the title song from the 1977 film about a wannabe singer. It spent ten consecutive weeks at number one, breaking a record previously held by Elvis Presley, to become the top selling single of the decade.
18. “O-o-h Child” – Five Stairsteps
This song that promises “things are gonna get easier” was Five Stairsteps’ only chart-topper. Originally released in 1970, the song has been covered by dozens of artists, including Hall and Oates and Nina Simone.
19. “Rapper’s Delight” – Sugarhill Gang
In the 1970s, hip-hop was largely an underground movement taking place in basement parties and street corners. Sugarhill Gang then released “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979. The single is credited for bringing hip-hop to the public and priming them for future hip-hop acts to come. In 2011, it was preserved in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.
20. “Seasons in the Sun” – Terry Jacks
With Terry Jacks as producer, the Beach Boys attempted to record “Seasons in the Sun” but ultimately rejected it for inclusion in their album. Terry Jacks ended up recording the song himself for his own label, which paid off. The song went off to sell millions of copies worldwide.
21. “Born to be Alive” – Patrick Hernandez
French singer Patrick Hernandez achieved international fame with his dance hit “Born to be Alive.” By the end of 1979, the song had earned Hernandez over fifty gold and platinum record designations from just as many countries. In spite of the initial success, his follow-up work failed to gain traction in the U.S, sealing Hernandez’s fate as one of the 70s one hit wonders.
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