Name some musicians, and you immediately think “one-hit wonder,” like Dexy’s Midnight Runners or Toni Basil. Some other artists are downright household names, but the stats don’t lie: Despite being enormously successful, they only ever had one hit single.
One of the most famous musicians to ever come out of Hawaii (if not the first celebrity from the state after it became a state) crooner Don Ho was a fixture of easy listening radio, nightclubs, and TV variety shows in the 1960s. His signature song: the mellow classic “Tiny Bubbles.” It’s kind of hard to believe that while the song was omnipresent for a while, it was never technically that popular. In 1966, Ho’s version bubbled up to just #57 on the pop chart.
With his suits and huge glasses, Elvis Costello is one of the most recognizable musicians in pop music history. He’s also one of the most respected songwriters, penning classics that transcended the New Wave era in which he first appeared, songs like “Alison,” “Pump It Up,” “Radio, Radio” and “Oliver’s Army.” But none of those ever actually hit the American pop chart. The only time Costello has ever hit the top 20 was in 1989 with “Veronica.” It’s one of the few songs from Costello that he didn’t write by himself—some guy named Paul McCartney helped him out.
The king of chilling out on the beach has got to be the only one-hit wonder in history with a restaurant chain named after that hit. Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville isn’t just an island-themed eatery, it’s also the name of a line of frozen coconut shrimp and home margarita makers. The name comes from “Margaritaville,” which, sorry Parrotheads, is Buffett’s only big hit. It hit #8 in 1977.
With his band the Wailers, he made an entire form of music—reggae—internationally popular in the ‘70s and ‘80s. His greatest hits album Legend has sold tens of millions of copies since his tragic death at age 36 in 1981, and contains all of his empowering and romantic songs, such as “Get Up, Stand Up,” and “Is This Love,” respectively. The only time Marley hit the charts in America was with “Exodus.” It reached #19 on the R&B chart in 1977.
Fewer bands are more well-known than the Grateful Dead. They’ve sold 35 million copies of their dozens of albums, have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and spawned an entire subculture of “Deadheads” who followed the band around on its tour that never seemed to stop for 30 years. The Dead only ever had one big hit, and it wasn’t even in the band’s ‘60s or ‘70s heyday. “Touch of Grey,” a song about aging, reached #9 in 1987, just eight years before the death of frontman Jerry Garcia ended the band. (Still, we’re more partial to the Dead’s 1970 song, “Uncle John’s Band.”)