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One-Hit Wonder Day: 10 of the greatest

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Posted at 7:02 AM, Sep 25, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-25 11:02:04-04

One-hit wonder status. The only title more ridiculed in the entertainment business may be “YouTube sensation.”

Artists such as Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Kajagoogoo and Sir Mix-a-Lot all became overnight sensations, each with only one track that cracked the Top 40 of Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles chart. They were never heard from again.

But some of the most iconic artists in music history have struggled to hit the Top 40. Despite being one of the most influential artists of all time, Bob Marley never had a single crack the Hot 100, let alone the Top 40.

Since today is National One-Hit Wonder Day, let’s look back at 10 celebrated popular artists that were technically one-hit wonders.

Garth Brooks
His only hit: “Lost in You” - #5 in 1999

Garth Brooks onstage in 2012. (Getty Images)

Arguably the biggest name in country music history, Garth Brooks is proof that selling a ton of records doesn’t always make you a hit singer. He’s had 19 singles top Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart since 1989 but only one track in the mainstream Top 40 — and he recorded it under a different name. “Lost in You” was recorded under Brooks’s pseudonym Chris Gaines, which he donned for a Hollywood movie that was never made.

Brooks is the second best-selling solo albums artist in music history, according to the Recording Industry Association of America and has moved more records than anyone in the business since 1991. But he’s still a one-hit wonder.

Jimi Hendrix
His only hit: “All Along the Watchtower” - #20 in 1968

Jimi Hendrix at the amusement park Gröna Lund in Stockholm, Sweden, May 24, 1967. (Wikimedia Creative Commons)

No one would question the influence Jimi Hendrix has had on rock music but the iconic guitarist only hit the American Top 40 once. Appearing on The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s chart-topping album “Electric Ladyland,” the band’s powerhouse cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” peaked at #20. All three of Hendrix’s studio albums peaked in the top five of the Billboard 200 but he never had another single in the Top 40.

Frank Zappa
His only hit: “Valley Girl” - #32 in 1982

Frank Zappa plays live in December 1971, Musikhalle Hamburg. (Heinrich Klaffs / Wikimedia Creative Commons)

Throughout the course of his career, it’s estimated Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-inductee Frank Zappa wrote more than 1,000 songs — yet only one cracked the Top 40. His first single was released in 1966 and his long body of work has resulted in 99 albums, including 37 released since his death in 1993. Zappa may go down as the hardest-working one-hit wonder in the history of music.

Public Enemy
Its only hit: “Give it Up” - #33 in 1994

Chuck D and Flavor Flav of Public Enemy perform. (Getty Images)

Few acts in the history of rap music have been as revered as Public Enemy. Sure, Flavor Flav may be known more for his VH1 reality television shows but the music he made as part of this group is nothing but serious. Despite a long career that got them inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, Public Enemy’s only Top 40 single was 1994’s “Give it Up.” The group did have four songs that topped the Billboard Hot Rap Songs chart.

The White Stripes
Its only hit: “Icky Thump” - #26 in 2007

The White Stripes at the 2007 O2 Wireless festival in London. (Fabio Venni / Wikimedia Creative Commons)

They were one of the most popular and original American alternative bands of the 2000s but before calling it quits, The White Stripes only had one Top 40 single. 2007’s “Icky Thump” may not be the band’s most-heard track — that distinction would likely go to “Seven Nation Army” — but it was their most popular mainstream song. The band won three Grammy Awards for Best Alternative Music Album but would still be considered one-hit wonders.

Ozzy Osbourne
His only hit: “Mama I’m Coming Home” - #28 in 1991

Ozzy Osbourne performs in 2014. (Getty Images)

In addition to being one of the most iconic singers in rock history, Ozzy Osbourne has been a reality television show star — and a one-hit wonder to top it all off. After decades of headbanging, Osbourne’s power ballad “Mama I’m Coming Home,” dedicated to his wife Sharon, remains his only Top 40 solo single. But after selling almost 29 million albums in America, it’s likely he’s not worried about that distinction.

Grateful Dead
Its only hit: “Touch of Grey” - #9 in 1987

Grateful Dead at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco, October 9, 1980. (Chris Stone / Wikimedia Creative Commons)

“I will get by / I will survive” is the classic refrain from Grateful Dead’s only Top 40 hit and it likely sums up the band’s feelings about being one-hit wonders. The Dead basically invented the Jam Band genre with its legendary marathon live shows, but its songwriting style never equated to mainstream radio play. In its career, Grateful Dead sold more than 35 million records but had to wait until 1987 to see its first hit single.

N.E.R.D.
Its only hit: “She Wants to Move” - #39 in 2004

Shae Haley, Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams of N.E.R.D. (Getty Images)

In the decade since N.E.R.D.’s only Top 40 single, frontman Pharrell Williams has become one of music’s most recognizable faces. Williams has been producing hits since the 1990s but exploded into the mainstream with recent chart-toppers “Happy” and “Blurred Lines” with Robin Thicke. His rock-rap group N.E.R.D. (No One Ever Really Dies) has released four albums since 2002 but have yet to crack the Billboard Hot 100 a second time.

Rush
Its only hit: “New World Man” - #21 in 1982

Geddy Lee of Rush performing with the band in 2013. (Getty Images)

Among progressive rock fans, the name Rush towers above all others. The band has been the subject of several documentaries and completely dominated the 2009 bromance classic “I Love You, Man,” but has only had one true hit. From 1982’s album “Signals,” “New World Man” was the band’s highest-charting American single. Rush has had several top 20 tunes in its native Canada and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.

Beck
His only hit: “Loser” - #10 in 1994

Beck sings at the 2014 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California. (Getty Images)

Beck Hansen may be royalty in the world of alternative rock but in terms of mainstream singles, he’s a one-hit wonder. From his breakthrough record “Mellow Gold,” the self-deprecating track “Loser” remains his only Top 40 song in 20 years. Beck is proof that creativity and experimentation often don’t add up to hits.

Clint Davis is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @MrClintDavis.