A Complete Ranking of 15 One-Hit Wonder Albums from Worst to Best
Okay so which is better: Vanessa Carlton's debut or a whole album of Crazy Frog songs?
Let's be real: unless you're the kind of human who despises any form of attention or prefers to make money doing something evil like banking, chances are you've—even just for a single second—harbored dreams of becoming a famous musician. It is, after all, the coolest job of them all, second only to maybe professional skateboarder or Playboy bunny or whatever it is when you slyly sell shit using Instagram.
As we know, people who harbor such dreams sometimes act on them. They cobble together all their pennies for studio time, funnel all their waking hours and energy into writing songs they think other people will like and then they try to get record deals and release those songs into the world. Very occasionally, one of those songs will be a "hit." It will start blasting out of car radios, it will come to define one sticky summer in which everyone seemed to be absentmindedly whistling it in the park over their tinnies and you will somehow know all the words despite never having played it yourself. Meanwhile, the artist or band will celebrate their success. They will cheer and pop champagne. They might buy something new with their sudden riches, like a house or a collection of chow chow puppies. "This is it!" they will think, "I have made it!"
But that's not always where the story ends. One successful song does not a career make. In fact, one hit can sometimes be detrimental, depending on what is released afterwards and whether it lives up to the hype. I'm talking about "one-hit wonders"; artists or bands who make a huge hit, and then never again reach that level of commercial success in the quite same way. And most of them have made whole albums—sometimes multiple.
Anyway, because we are both makers of content and serious music-orientated investigators, we thought it's about time someone listened to the entire albums of these one-hit wonders in order to discover and fully appreciate the expanse of their artistic vision. So I did that, and then I ranked 15 of them from worst to best, because on Noisey dot com, everything must be ranked.
BABYLON ZOO – THE BOY WITH THE X RAY EYES
Babylon Zoo are the band that released "Spaceman," that song with a completely incongruous verse and chorus that make zero sense existing in the same musical space. Seriously though, the chorus sounds like the sudden sickly swell of euphoria 20 minutes after popping a surprisingly pure pill. The verse sounds like being thumped on the head with a large chunk of wood then dragged backwards through thick sludge. Listening to the rest of the album, this doesn't seem to be a general formula that the band uses, other than one song at the end called "I'm Cracking Up, I Need a Pill" which is essentially a few seconds of guttural screaming followed by eerie, almost-silent whispering then back to the screaming again. The rest of the album, honestly, just sounds like the verse of "Spaceman." Next!
MEREDITH BROOKS – BLURRING THE EDGES
You will know Meredith Brooks best for her 1997 hit "Bitch," a song in which she celebrates the multiplicitous, often contradictory nature of the human experience, and which everyone thinks is by Alanis Morissette (lmao). It also combines being kind of grating with making you want to cheerily slap your own knee in its rhythm, which renders it perfect for the closing credits of a feel-good, faux feminist rom com. Anyway, "Bitch" appeared on her debut album Blurring the Edges, a collection of 12 songs with lots of twanging guitar and keyboard beats with lyrics that sound different but basically boil down to "guys, see how much IDGAF!" I have listened to that album, for you, and I have come to the following conclusions: 1) The 90s really weren't as good as you thought they were, please can we stop talking about them now, seriously, you don't even remember them? 2) Especially the late 90s. 3) Specifically this album.
CRAZY FROG – CRAZY FROG PRESENTS CRAZY HITS
In years to come, maybe someone will write a book on Crazy Frog's "Axel F"—about how this little grey, skinny-legged animation was a scarily pertinent pre-warning for what was just around the corner; of relentless viral culture, of rabid hysteria, of the refusal to let things die. In this way, it can be looked back on as the 1984 by George Orwell of the early 2000s (please feel free to quote me on that). The album this song appears on doesn't quite reach those tense dystopian heights, I'm afraid, but there is a rework of "Pump Up the Jam" on there that sounds exactly the same as the original other than the occasional "Brum! Brum!" thrown in between, so you could listen to it for that, I guess. Oh, and there's a song on there called "1001 Nights" which makes really great use of some Middle Eastern beats.
THE RASMUS – DEAD LETTERS
There are some diehard fans of The Rasmus who will probably plot my grisly murder once they discover I have deemed their boys one-hit wonders, and yet here they are, nestled among Crazy Frog and House of Pain, because their last real hit was in 2003 with "In the Shadows" and I am a badass bitch. That said, the album it appears on, Dead Letters, isn't that hard to listen to—if you're into angsty gothic pop rock from the early 2000s and for clinical reasons cannot under any circumstances listen to HIM so need a replacement, immediately, even if it's more terrible. Unfortunately, they do lose at least ten points for having a song on there called "Not Like the Other Girls". C'mon guys.
HOUSE OF PAIN – HOUSE OF PAIN
If any "one-hit wonder" on this list has been particularly rinsed to death it is "Jump Around" by House of fucking Pain. This song came out in 1992, which is the year I was born, and I am a grown ass woman with grown ass woman problems—why are clubs across the country still playing it? Give us a break. We've been jumping around for a quarter of a century now and our legs and spirits are frankly tired to the point of being broken. As for the rest of the album, there are some OK songs on there, like "House and the Rising Sun" (great saxophone, very nice!) or "Life Goes On" (cool, existential!), but really, if we lay them all down, they just sounds like 18 less good versions of "Jump Around," AKA three aggy white dudes rapping.
GOTYE – MAKING MIRRORS
I have a personal attachment to Gotye's hit "Somebody That I Used to Know (feat. Kimbra)" because it came out during my first year of uni and therefore reminds me of 89p cider and super noodles squished between white slices of bread and a genuine, un-jaded excitement about life. But yes, Gotye did release an album a few months later called Making Mirrors and I honestly don't know what to say about it other than it's… nice? Pitchfork gave it a rating of 7.7? If you're over the age of 28, you could probably play this at a dinner party while serving up some potato dauphinois and sweet white wine? There's a track on there called "Eyes Wide Open" which has the kind of yearning, bittersweet melody that makes my chest tighten, but only for like, five seconds. I don't know, man. There are other albums out there in the world. Ever heard Dark Side of the Moon?
THE AUTOMATIC – NOT ACCEPTED ANYWHERE
Aaaw, 2006! What an iconic year for music! Hips don't lie! Boys will be boys! Every time we touch! My humps! Smack dat! I could go on, but this paragraph is specifically dedicated to "Monster" by The Automatic (which also came out in 2006) and the album that song appears on. "Monster" was, and is still, extremely catchy. Helmet hair and matching plaid shirts might be well and truly over, but hearing them spit that chorus with such aplomb still makes me, for want of a better word, pumped. "WHAT'S THAT COMING OVER THE HILL? IS IT A MONSTER? IS IT A MONSTERRR!!!!" See? Anyway, the entirety of Not Accepted Anywhere is kind of like that. Listening to it the whole way through feels like smashing shots of lemon, ginger, cayenne pepper, and tequila over and over again, which is fun at first, if not a bit full-on, but after the fourth or fifth and definitely sixth you're like, stop! STOP THIS!
DANIEL BEDINGFIELD – GOTTA GET THRU THIS
Okay, so Daniel Bedingfield isn't technically a one-hit wonder because he released both a banger and a ballad, which makes two ("Gotta Get Thru This" and "If You're Not the One" respectively), but let's put that aside for now. Can we also acknowledge how weird it is that such a stubbornly average dude with a voice like an actual reed and a face like a beige bean-bag managed to make some tracks, alone in his room on a single PC and a microphone with some cheap software, and arguably change the face of UK pop/garage while nominated for an actual Grammy in the process? Granted, most of the songs on this album are not good ("James Dean (I Wanna Know)" sounds like Michael Jackson covered by Christopher Maloney on a bad day and "Friday" is, for want of a better word, frightening), but the tracks that do slap, slap so hard it makes you not care about the others. If you'd written "Gotta Get Thru This" you could release an album of grunts and it'd still be worth owning. Extra points for falsetto.
MACY GRAY – ON HOW LIFE IS
It feels kind of deep calling Macy Gray a one-hit wonder because she did win a Grammy award and has done a shit ton of collabs, but name me one of her songs other than "I Try" without googling it… I'll wait. Right, now to her album On How Life Is, in which that song appears. What I like most about this album is that it's completely as expected for about three-quarters of the way through (some raspy vocals, a scattering of horn lines and drum beats, some bluesy, bopping rhythms) and then there's this song called "I've Committed Murder" in which she sings the lines, "I've committed murder, and I think I got away" and "I don't feel bad about it." I think this song on Macy Gray's album is a test—a test to see if you've listened to it the whole way through, and if you have, you'll know that this is her confession. Does that make it a concept album? Probably. Props where props are due.
BRAN VAN 3000 – GLEE
For all the anthems that have been created for and about the sesh, Bran Van 3000's "Drinking in LA" is one of most lowkey relatable. In the words of Noisey dot com's Emma Garland, who wrote a whole article about it, the song is "more about the moment of the night where you start to sober up and reflect on where you are, what you've done, and all the life choices you have made that have led you to this moment." And even though Glee—the album in which this song appears—feels kind of like the soundtrack to a low-budget 90s stoner film starring a perennially baked Pauly Shore, it's also a varied and interesting body of work. Tracks like "Gimme Sheldon" that skit between bleary-eyed trip hop, jazz and drum n bass, or "Couch Surfer" which manages to sound exactly like that nonsensical, drifting voice in your head that shows up when you're either trashed or on the brink of sleep, or "Exactly Like Me" which gives you the same warm, easy feeling as opening the curtains on a Sunday morning on a sunny day with no plans.
LAS KETCHUP – HIJAS DEL TOMATE
I was going to write about another 90s indie bro band here like Cornershop ("Brimful of Asha") or Chumbawumba ("Tubthumping") but I really can't be arsed, so let's chat about Las Ketchup, of "The Ketchup Song" fame, who released an entire album called Hijas Del Tomate in 2002. Now, I'm not going to pretend I know anything about Spanish culture or language (I scraped an 'E' in my Spanish GCSE, even though during my vocal exam my teacher really slowly and silently mouthed the answers to me), but this entire album makes me feel as though I'm basking beneath the comforting embrace of the Mediterranean sun, forkful of patatas bravas in one hand, sangria in the other, getting ready to turn the fuck UP. Next time you're in a park with a can during one of those fleeting hours of sun we get here in the UK and your mate passes you the iPhone to choose something on Spotify, put on Hijas Del Tomate and transport everyone to a better, more joyful place. You will not regret it.
EVANESCENCE – FALLEN
Let's get straight to it. Fallen, the debut album from Arkansas nu-metal band Evanescence, the ones who gave us "Bring Me Back to Life" and corsets and chin beards: any good? I have been sat here listening to so many weird-ass albums on this list for so long that I no longer know what's good and what's not, they just merely are, like air and gravity and Dermot O'Leary. What I will say is that it's infinitely more enjoyable than The Rasmus' Dead Letters, which came out during the same year and was equally shoved down our throats by MTV2. There are some bangers on there, if "bangers" is an appropriate expression to apply to operatic goth rock from 2003. "Haunted" has an extremely intense, piano-led build up and opener "Going Under" nearly makes me want to start a mosh pit at my desk (which would realistically consist of me shoving the colleague next to me quite hard who would probably report me to HR for harassment) so there's that. Verdict: yes, acceptable. On a side—but not unrelated—note, here are 19 questions about love and death answered by Evanescene's Amy Lee, who now writes lullabies for children.
FOSTER THE PEOPLE – TORCHES
"Pumped Up Kicks" is a great song, isn't it? So happy. So full of life and zest. If it were a cake, it would be a Battenberg, washed down with a freshly squeezed, ice-cold American lemonade. When someone puts it on, I feel lighter. Like a hot air balloon, but full of vitality and joy instead of heated air. So now, let's chat about the album. None of the tracks on Torches are quite as good as indie lite summer anthem "Pumped Up Kicks", to be sure, but it's still full of upbeat pop gems like "Helena" and "Call it What You Want" and "Don't Stop (Color on the Walls)". You know that 'honey bun baby' meme? I saw one recently that said, "TFW you unabashedly enjoy things and try your best to be unironically kind to people as much as possible because postmodern meta-cynicism is overrated and you don't have enough energy to performatively reject your natural empathetic tendencies and desire to connect in this often cold and lonely existence." That's an accurate description for this album.
CASSIE – CASSIE
Before you try tell me that Cassie has more than one hit, "Long Way 2 Go" only peaked at 97 in the Billboard Hot 100 when it first came out so "Me & You" was technically her only real commercial smash. That said, this entire album has since attained cult status and I can see why. Listening to it now immediately takes me back to being a teenager in someone's parent-free living room spilling neon blue WKD all over my low rise jeans while snogging some boy called Mark with a silver chain and square stubble. I don't remember realising how amazing this was at the time, but in retrospect, Cassie's self-titled debut sounds like a cross between Timbaland-era Nelly Furtado and Janet Jackson if both started giving less fucks and having even more sex.
VANESSA CARLTON – BE NOT NOBODY
Who would have thought that an album called Be Not Nobody (say those words to yourself out loud, let them roll around your tongue, look at them sitting on the screen and tell me it's not the worst possible album name on planet earth) with artwork that resembles a screen-printed shawl from a stall in Lewisham Shopping Centre, could be such a masterpiece. Not just "A Thousand Miles," which we all know was one of the greatest pop songs ever penned (and I used the expression "penned" so you can tell how serious I am), but the other songs too. Songs like "Pretty Baby" in which Vanessa Carlton's voice sounds like full fat cream being poured onto a tin of glistening peaches. Or "Twilight" which sounds like Regina Spektor if she'd been raised on the Disney channel instead of Russian vodka. Or "Unsung" which should have been the lead number in a musical from the early 2000s about a "quirky" girl who was bullied at high school before discovering her true calling as a singer and dancer and revealing her talents during the final scene. I have listened to all these albums, from start to finish, and I am tired and delirious, but Vanessa Carlton's Be Not Nobody is the hands-down winner of the albums by one-hit wonders. Thanks lads, it's been real.
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(Lead image by Ron Shapiro Management via Wikimedia)