The Post-Hit Careers of 5 One-Hit Wonders

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One-hit wonders, those unavoidable flash-in-the-pan pop tunes, usually become more about the song than its artist—just try naming the band behind “Who Let the Dogs Out?” from memory. We’ll wait. In the meantime, here are five one-hit wonders who deserve to be remembered for their five minutes in the limelight—and what they’ve been up to since. (Note: We didn't count anything that charted outside of the Top 40 as a hit.)

1. Daniel Powter, “Bad Day”

For most of 2006, the Canadian crooner’s sad-sack anthem was inescapable. The hit soundtracked Coca-Cola commercials and American Idol sob stories alike, going platinum three times over. The piano ballad was a critical darling, too: Billboard, which would later crown Powter as the one-hit wonder of the decade, named the song “one of the great discoveries of the year.” Even a squeaky-voiced Alvin and the Chipmunks cover charted, peaking at #67 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Then Powter kicked up the leaves and the magic was lost. He failed to chart any of his next ten singles on the Billboard Hot 100, and only found lukewarm success in his native Canada with two more top 50 hits. (“Bad Day” only hit #7 there in the first place.) That didn’t faze Powter, who released a best-of album in 2010—which only charted at #65 in Japan, and nowhere else—before taking a hiatus from music until 2012.

2. The Vapors, “Turning Japanese”

In 1980, the British New Wavers knew they had a hit on their hands with “Turning Japanese”—so much so that they saved it for their second single to prevent one-hit wonder status. The band’s first single, “Prisoners,” whiffed, so lead singer David Fenton and Co. brought out the big guns: “Turning Japanese” notched Top 10 slots in the UK, Canada, and New Zealand, and peaked at #36 in the U.S.

A handful of flopped singles and an ambitiously written but poor selling album later (Magnets), the band called it quits. Two years after “Turning Japanese,” Fenton turned to a career in law, guitarist Edward Bazalgette turned to a job as a TV producer at the BBC, and drummer Howard Smith turned to his 20/20 hindsight to wax nostalgic about the tune: “Maybe it would have been better to have made ‘Turning Japanese’ our third or fourth single.”

3. Toni Basil, “Mickey”

Like Eddie Murphy or Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, Toni Basil’s one-hit-wonder-ness only applies to her brief, albeit ridiculous, music career. Twenty-one years after graduating from a stint as a Las Vegas High School Wildcat cheerleader, Basil brought back her acrobatics for "Mickey," a 1981 RIAA-certified platinum smash and famously disputed pseudo-love letter to Monkee Micky Dolenz. The single climbed to the top of Billboard’s Hot 100, but would be the only Basil song to crack Billboard’s top seventy.

With her two-album music career running on fumes, Basil jettisoned her flashy music video know-how (before her pop career took off, she co-directed Talking Heads’ “Once In a Lifetime” with David Byrne) into her choreography repertoire: After acting in films like Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces, Basil went on to choreograph films like Legally Blonde, My Best Friend’s Wedding, and That Thing You Do.

4. Vanilla Ice, “Ice Ice Baby”

The emcee is technically a two-hit wonder, but since his second hit is a cover of another one-hit wonder (a pilfered take on Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music” resulted in a Top 10 hit and a lawsuit), we’ll let that one slide. In 1990, “Ice Ice Baby” stole both its bassline (from Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure”) and the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100, going platinum just four months after its release.

Vanilla Ice burned out on his persona in the mid-90s, but came back with a brand new renovation circa 1996: a passion for real estate. The rapper-turned-real-estate-guru signed on for three seasons of a reality series called The Vanilla Ice Project on the DIY Network in 2009 and published a guide to real estate in 2011. He still releases music on Psychopathic Records, which could prove difficult during his latest exploit: A new series called “Vanilla Ice Goes Amish” is slated for the DIY Network later this year.

5. Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”

McFerrin might be the most accomplished one-hit wonder out there—he has one lone chart topper, but a whopping ten Grammy Awards. Three of those trophies came from the breezy “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” a 1988 hit that took home Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance at the 1989 ceremony. McFerrin refused to sing the song for the Grammys, mostly because he couldn’t: The song features eight tracks of the crooner’s voice dubbed on top of one another.

Though his one hit “ended McFerrin’s musical life as he had known it,” according to NPR, McFerrin channeled his creativity into different outlets. The singer makes regular tours as a guest conductor for symphonies (he’s conducted the New York Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony) and volunteers as a music teacher at public schools. Don’t worry, be happy indeed.

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June 18, 2013 - 5:00pm
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