Two-Hit Wonders That Peaked with the Wrong Song
In music, as in life, the biggest isn’t always the best.
In the world of Top 40 pop, the term “one-hit wonder” can be misleading. Some of the musical acts we put into that category actually belong in another one: two-hit wonders.
The confusion is understandable. Occasionally, when we love them two times (just enough to send only a pair of their singles into the Top 40 of Billboard’s Hot 100), a music act’s biggest hit ends up overshadowing and overwhelming the other one. Casual Top 40-pop fans might forget the lesser hit even happened.
For instance, did you know that Vanilla Ice, Snow, and Eddie Murphy — who bought us the number-one singles “Ice Ice Baby” and “Informer” and the number two “Party All the Time,” respectively — all returned to the Top 40 of Billboard’s Hot 100 one more time? They pulled it off with, respectively, “Play That Funky Music” (number four), “Girl I’ve Been Hurt” (number 19), and “Put Your Mouth on Me” (number 27).
Whether you think of the artists below as one- or two-hit wonders, they all deserve to be best known for a song other than the one that gave them their highest-charting hit.
Biggest hit: “Lean on Me” (number one, 1987)
Best hit: “Why You Treat Me So Bad?” (number 39, 1987)
For its number one hit, Club Nouveau plundered pop’s past, and with its next hit, the group directed pop’s future. Sampled on numerous singles over the decades (including Luniz’ I Got 5 On It,” Puffy Daddy and R. Kelly’s “Satisfy You,” Jennifer Lopez and Nas’s “I’m Gonna Be Alright,” and Ashanti’s “Only U”), “Why You Treat Me So Bad?” also inspired the musical direction of Love. Angel. Music. Baby., the debut solo album by Gwen Stefani. The singer said she had a musical epiphany about how she wanted it to sound while listening to Club Nouveau’s second and final Top 40 single.
Biggest Hit: “Funny Face” (number five, 1973)
Best Hit: “The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.” (number 11, 1972)
When I used to listen to my mother’s 8-track recording of Fargo’s The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A. album as a kid, I had no idea that the title track, Fargo’s first chart single, wasn’t the massive crossover hit. Despite its undeserved lower ranking on Billboard’s Hot 100 (both were number-one country hits, the first and second of Fargo’s six), it remains her signature song, the one for which she’s rightly best known today.
Biggest Hit: “Electric Blue” (number seven, 1988)
Best Hit: “Crazy” (number 14, 1988)
Given a choice between darkness and light in song, I always will be a nightbird. Yeah, I’ve gotta be out of my mind… crazy.
Biggest Hit: “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” (number five, 1984)
Best Hit: “All of You” (number 19, 1984)
Have you ever actually paid attention to the lyrics of Iglesias’s duet with Willie Nelson? It’s a load of “thank you, next” schmaltz, with the “thank you” and “next” in the wrong order. His duet with Diana Ross, in comparison, is classy and elegant, steamy and sexy, a far more enticing musical representation of endless love than the 1981 Ross-Lionel Richie duet that inexplicably spent nine weeks at number one.
Biggest Hit: “Something About You” (number seven, 1986)
Best Hit: “Lessons in Love” (number 12, 1987)
Once again, UK pop fans knew best, sending “Lessons in Love” to number three and making it the British band’s biggest hit on its native shores. As enduring as “Something About You” might be, Level 42’s “Lessons” resonates more with me today. Its musical syllabus was even resurrected by T.C.S. for a 2007 dance hit, credited to T.C.S. Vs. Level 42. I’m still totally schooled — and more enthralled than I ever was as an official student — every time my Spotify shuffle selects it from my “New wave: 1985–1990” playlist and class begins.
Biggest Hit: “I’ve Been Thinking About You” (number one, 1991)
Best Hit: “A Better Love” (number 18, 1991)
The dance-pop band’s chart-topping turn-of-the-decade breakthrough was the pop-single equivalent of Amy Adams, a perfectly ordinary thing that became a global sensation, topping charts in multiple countries. At least the band injected its follow-up with a bit more flava and edge.
Soul II Soul
Biggest Hit: “Back to Life” (number four, 1989)
Best Hit: “Keep on Movin’” (number 11, 1989)
Yes, “Back to Life” remains a classic, but it was the smooth lilt of Soul II Soul’s first hit that had me declaring it the future sound of pop at the time. For a few short years, it was often imitated — on Lisa Stansfield’s “Around the World,” on the remix of Madonna’s “Keep It Together,” and on fellow two-hit wonder Tara Kemp’s “Hold You Tight” and “Piece of My Heart” — but never duplicated.
Biggest Hit: “Voices Carry” (number eight, 1985)
Best Hit: “What About Love” (number 26, 1986)
I know, I know, “Voice Carry” is an ’80s standard, but the haunting and haunted second and final Top 40 single by Aimee Mann’s former band is the one that haunts me to this day. It’s also timeless. “What About Love” still sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday, during a seance for paradise lost.
Was (Not Was)
Biggest Hit: “Walk the Dinosaur” (number seven, 1989)
Best Hit: “Spy in the House of Love” (number 16, 1987)
Maybe the silly dance that went along with “Dinosaur” turned me against it (I generally hate song-and-dance combos). But despite the comic aura that stopped me from taking super-producer-to-be Don Was’s band too seriously, their first hit was solid straight-up late-’80s R&B-pop that lacked even the faintest whiff of novelty foolishness.
Will to Power
Biggest Hit: “Baby, I Love Your Way/Freebird Medley”) (number one, 1988)
Best Hit: “I’m Not in Love” (number seven, 1991)
As brilliant as their pre-mashups mashup of ’70s hits by Peter Frampton and Lynyrd Skynyrd was, I prefer the freestyle duo’s second hit, mostly because I prefer its source material, a 1975 number two by two-hit wonder 10cc.