Top 10 one-hit wonders of the 1990s

| Cadenza Reporter

The one-hit wonder is an essential component of our musical childhood. When one of these classics blares through the speakers, it’s inevitable that you and your friends will scream and shout: “Oh my God, remember this song? It was my favorite forever!” To rank the greatest one-hit wonders of the 1990s—which was essentially the decade of our childhood—we must first establish the guidelines. For all intents and purposes, and for the sake of expediency, a one-hit wonder is first a song that soared to the top of the U.S. Billboard chart. And second, the group or artist who made this wonder has not released another song that came close to such prominence in our musical memory.

The requirements are vague, I know, but the beauty of the one-hit wonder is that everyone knows it when they hear it. Odds are you cannot name another song by the following singers, and if you can it’s probably only because you bought the CD (or tape cassette) that featured the wonder. And with that introduction, let’s take a look at the top 10 one-hit wonders of the 1990s.

10. What is Love? (1993)

This song became an instant dance party fixture, rising to No. 11 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. The popularity of the “Saturday Night Live” film “A Night at the Roxbury” also boosted its wondrousness. Nowadays, when this jam blasts through the amps, it’s a natural reflex to do the sideways head-bang.

9. Barbie Girl (1997)

It’s not that I like this song…it’s just that any kid who grew up in the ’90s knows most of the words to it (I raise my hand in embarrassment). This eternal classic epitomizes one of the central tenets of the one-hit wonder: a catchy hook that the girls love and the boys love to hate. Either way, there’s no denying this song’s presence on this list.

8. Torn (1997)

This unforgettable song failed to reach higher than No. 42 on the Billboard charts, but for good reason. “Torn” was not made available in CD format right away, and at the time the charts excluded songs played only on the airwaves. Nevertheless, we will never forget the classic line from the masterpiece…something about “lying naked on the floor” or whatever.

7. No Rain (1992)

Technically, Blind Melon released one other popular song in the early part of the decade, but “No Rain” makes the cut for two reasons. First, I said the guidelines were hazy, so don’t rag on me for this. And second, this song is a million times more memorable than that other one. This track might bring me back the most to the earliest parts of my radio-music childhood, with the peaceful guitar strums over the smooth lyrics combining to make one of the greatest one-hit wonders of the ’90s.

6. Mambo No. 5 (1999)

I dare you to find someone around our age who doesn’t remember this jam. No doubt most of us can still recite Bega’s continuous name-dropping. The catchy hook and mambo-infused instrumental guaranteed the makings of an instant classic he could never match. “Mambo No. 5” peaked at No. 3 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, with no other Bega song reaching the top 70.

5. Macarena (1995)

This track was undoubtedly captivating, but what made the Spanish jam so memorable and influential was the accompanying dance. A simple step with minimal limb movements, the “Macarena” became perhaps the most popular dance of the 1990s. Reaching the top of the charts across the globe, this ’90s song serves as a cultural icon and a benchmark for popular dance to this day.

4. Ice Ice Baby (1990)

That this song was the first hip-hop track to reach the pinnacle of the Billboard Hot 100 chart says it all. Vanilla Ice actually released other songs that rose near the top of the rankings, but the passage of time has revealed the true legacy of the rapper. The lyrics are clever, the instrumental is catchy (a sample of Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure”), and that a white dude named Robert Van Winkle knew how to rap is a wonder in itself.

3. I’m Too Sexy (1992)

This classic is far too sexy for so many things that it may be too sexy for this list. Here’s a catalog of the things that the group is too sexy for: my love, New York, my shirt, Japan, my car, Milan, your party, my hat, my cat and—most incredibly—the song itself. This one-hit wonder topped the charts and still reveals flashes of brilliance these days by becoming the standard runway model background song.

2. Jump Around (1992)

This is actually my favorite song of the entire list, and is one of the few one-hit wonders of the 1990s that I actively search for in my iTunes library. The instrumental is one of the greatest beats I have ever heard. I first thought that the screaming noise in the background would annoy me after a while, but after 18 years, I have yet to tire of it. “Jump Around” also transformed into a one-hit wonder with its lyrically demanded directions to jump around during the chorus, and to this day all listeners instinctively give in to the command.

1. Tubthumping (1997)

There are just so many memorable elements in this timeless masterpiece. The lyrics are unforgettable, such as “I get knocked down, but I get up again” and “Pissing the night away.” The instrumental blends many sounds—horns, guitar, synthesizers and the vocals, to name a few—that operate perfectly together. And during our childhood the chorus seemed to epitomize the pre-adolescent angst we thought we had. “Tubthumping” is a song for dancing crazy, a jam that helped us to rebel, and the ultimate one-hit wonder of the 1990s.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.