Music

Here Are The Top 20 One-Hit Wonders Of ’90s Alternative Rock

The 1990s were the pinnacle for alternative rock. After all, the very name of the genre is owed to the fact that these sorts of bands were seen as the alternative to the prevailing rock music of the late ’80s, when hair metal still reigned supreme. There was grunge, post-grunge and other bands that had no associations with grunge. It was a weird time; you look back at some of the songs that became hits, and realize that the mainstream is probably never going to be that idiosyncratic again. Indeed, while some of the era’s bands were able to find a great deal of lasting success and create a lasting influence on the rock music that came after them, some weren’t able to sustain anything beyond a single hit. We’re here to honor the latter.

Our process for putting this list together was highly scientific. (Not really.) Basically, we considered any band a “one-hit wonder” if they had only one song ever crack the Billboard Hot 100. Even then, we made a couple of exceptions for bands that never had a top-100 hit, and for bands that had another song barely crack the Hot 100 if that song has since become a cultural afterthought. (See if you can guess which bands had more than one Hot 100 song in the comments.) Once we got our 20, we used a loose formula of chart and sales success, cultural influence, lasting impact and our own personal tastes to come up with the rankings you see below. Of course, we’re sure you’ll tell us where we went wrong in the comments.

20. The Nixons – “Sister”

Year: 1996
Billboard Hot 100 Peak:
 No. 39
Billboard U.S. Rock Peak: No. 6

The Nixons had one of those lead singers who sounded like a parody of Eddie Vedder, which were fairly common in the ’90s. It worked, though; given the success of Pearl Jam, many bands found success vaguely approximating Pearl Jam’s sound. Still, The Nixons were the least impactful band on this list. Given that this is a list of one-hit wonders, that’s saying something. The band released three albums before and four after Foma, which housed “Sister,” and none produced a relevant follow-up single.

19. Queensryche – “Silent Lucidity”

Year: 1991
Billboard Hot 100 Peak:
 No. 9
Billboard U.S. Rock Peak: No. 1

Queensryche is different from a lot of bands on this list. Most of them came and went quite quickly. Queensryche, though, has been around since 1982 and is still active. They’re a metal band with a devoted fan base. For one brief moment, though, they were stars. If you are a metal band, and you aren’t Metallica, that’s a real impressive accomplishment. As for the song itself, they may be a metal band, but this isn’t that metal of a song. It’s an acoustic-metal ballad. Your mileage may vary on that. While the song was a huge success at the time, it hasn’t aged as well as others on this list; hence the lower placement.

18. Jars of Clay – “Flood”

Year: 1995
Billboard Hot 100 Peak:
 No. 37
Billboard U.S. Rock Peak: No. 12

Christian rock. Wait, don’t stop reading! Yes, Jars of Clay is a Christian rock band, and Bart Simpson may assert that all the best rock groups are affiliated with Satan. But “Flood” was a crossover hit because it was as interested in the “rock” part of the equation as the “Christian” part. It’s just a good song, regardless of religious affiliations. While that was Jars of Clay’s only time in the mainstream, they are still churning out music for their more, um, devoted audience.

17. Nada Surf – “Popular”

Year: 1995
Billboard Hot 100 Peak:
 No. 51
Billboard U.S. Rock Peak: No. 11

The fact is, teenagers buy a lot of music, and they tend to wallow in the angst that is trendy during that point in life, and so “Popular” was able to really find an audience. It has a spoken-word style reminiscent of the equally silly “Institutionalized” by Suicidal Tendencies, which, if nothing else, makes it notable. It also has an amazing music video. But a quick word for the teens out there: It gets better. “It” being your taste in music.

16. Local H – “Bound For the Floor”

Year: 1996
Billboard Hot 100 Peak:
 No. 46
Billboard U.S. Rock Peak: No. 5

Local H has been active since 1987, and has taken to recording a lot of covers, including Britney Spears’ “Toxic” and Lorde’s “Team.” “Bound for the Floor,” however, is probably most notable for using “copacetic” in the chorus. While Local H was never able to reach this level of success again, they did continue to do important work, like asking a pressing question with the album title Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles?

15. Butthole Surfers – “Pepper”

Year: 1996
Billboard Hot 100 Peak:
 No. 29
Billboard U.S. Rock Peak: No. 1

Butthole Surfers didn’t do their popularity any favors with that band name, but it’s not like the kind of music they play was likely to be all that popular anyway. And yet, “Pepper” was a hit, perhaps the most inexplicable on this list. That’s not as much about the quality of the song, but the style of it. It’s largely spoken word, and the lyrics are weird and dark. Shockingly, a band with an album called Locust Abortion Technician did not find sustained success.

14. Seven Mary Three – “Cumbersome”

Year: 1996
Billboard Hot 100 Peak:
 No. 39
Billboard U.S. Rock Peak: No. 1

“Cumbersome” actually first existed in an extended format on Seven Mary Three’s first album, 1994’s independently distributed Chum. They later re-recorded it and cut it down for their major label debut American Standard, and thus success was born.

13. Candlebox – “Far Behind”

Year: 1994
Billboard Hot 100 Peak:
 No. 18
Billboard U.S. Rock Peak: No. 4

Candlebox’s 1993 debut album was a big hit, going platinum four times over. The big single from that album was “Far Behind,” a giant rock ballad with some idiosyncratic vocal stylings from Kevin Martin and a major guitar solo. It feels a bit like a throwback, even if Candlebox is often categorized as a grunge band. Hey, subgenres are nebulous, but a big rocking song is a big rocking song. You can still hear “Far Behind” on rock radio today.

12. Toadies – “Possum Kingdom”

Year: 1995
Billboard Hot 100 Peak:
 No. 40
Billboard U.S. Rock Peak: No. 4

Interestingly enough, Toadies’ one hit is actually a continuation of a story from a previous song. The band recorded “I Burn” about cult members setting themselves on fire to attain a higher plane of existence. “Possum Kingdom” is about one of these cult members becoming smoke and going to Possum Kingdom Lake to try and find somebody to join him. Did this register with the people who made this a hit? Maybe not, but anybody can recognize a strong opening guitar riff.

11. The Verve Pipe – “The Freshmen”

Year: 1997
Billboard Hot 100 Peak:
 No. 5
Billboard U.S. Rock Peak: No. 1

This song tells a real bummer of a story about love and loss and drug overdoses. Few hit songs have the lyrics “guilt-stricken, sobbing, with my head on the floor” in them. That didn’t stop The Verve Pipe though, who rose to prominence around the time The Verve also hit with “Bittersweet Symphony,” a one-hit wonder in their own right. The ska band Mustard Plug did a cover of “The Freshmen.” It’s really good.

10. Dishwalla – “Counting Blue Cars”

Year: 1996
Billboard Hot 100 Peak:
 No. 15
Billboard U.S. Rock Peak: No. 1

While Dishwalla is a pretty distinct name for a band, “Counting Blue Cars” is not necessarily the most grabbing song title, which can be problematic when trying to remember which one-hit wonder somebody is talking about. For future reference, this is the “Tell me all your thoughts on God” song. Dishwalla also had a single called “Charlie Brown’s Parents,” which is a much more interesting song title and makes one wonder how that song didn’t at least generate a little buzz in the wake of “Counting Blue Cars.”

9. Spacehog – “In the Meantime”

Year: 1996
Billboard Hot 100 Peak:
 No. 32
Billboard U.S. Rock Peak: No. 1

You can probably recognize the opening yodel from this song. Also, one of the guys in the band was married to Liv Tyler for a while, so there’s that.

8. New Radicals – “You Get What You Give”

Year: 1998
Billboard Hot 100 Peak:
 No. 36
Billboard U.S. Rock Peak: No. 8

Cover your ears, Beck, Hanson, Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson. While the particular lyric taking aim at those artists has not aged well, and frankly felt weird and petty even at the time, this song had a delightful energy to it, and it still sounds fresh today. While New Radicals didn’t last, frontman Gregg Alexander has had himself a fine career as a songwriter, winning a Grammy for co-writing “The Game of Love” by Santana and Michelle Branch, and being nominated for an Oscar for his music work on the film Begin Again.

7. L7 – “Pretend We’re Dead”

Year: 1992
Billboard Hot 100 Peak:
 N/A
Billboard U.S. Rock Peak: No. 8

Hey, we told you we were going to factor our own personal tastes into this list, hence L7’s one “hit” appearing here at No. 7, despite never cracking the Hot 100. The ladies of L7 had just as much rock credibility as all the men dominating the grunge scene, and a list of controversies to their name that rival any of their peers. They helped influence a generation of female rockers. Despite their gruff exterior and brusque actions, “Pretend We’re Dead,” while very much a grunge song, is poppy, and one could even say pretty, at times.

6. Semisonic – “Closing Time”

Year: 1998
Billboard Hot 100 Peak:
 No. 11
Billboard U.S. Rock Peak: No. 1

Some people talk trash about “Closing Time.” Those people are wrong. Yeah, there’s something silly about it. Nevertheless, it’s very catchy, and provides the perfect soundtrack to the closing down of anything. Yes, playing it in such a situation may be on the nose to the point of irony, but that won’t keep you from humming along. Also, singer Dan Wilson may be the most successful of any of the guys on this list in his second career. Dude won a Grammy for his work co-writing Adele’s 21. You can’t argue with that.

5. Harvey Danger – “Flagpole Sitta”

Year: 1998
Billboard Hot 100 Peak:
 No. 32
Billboard U.S. Rock Peak: No. 3

There’s a lot of good stuff going on with this song. The lyrics are funny, and it has the kind of recognizable, singalong chorus that keeps it played at sporting events to this day. By the way, Harvey Danger frontman Sean Nelson has also gone on to great success elsewhere in the music industry: He co-owns the prized indie label Barsuk Records, founded The Long Winters, and has played on albums for bands like The Decemberists and, hey, Nada Surf.

4. Marcy Playground – “Sex and Candy”

Year: 1997
Billboard Hot 100 Peak:
 No. 8
Billboard U.S. Rock Peak: No. 1

“Sex and Candy” is a weird song, and it had a weird music video to boot. That may be part of the appeal, though. Unfortunately, Marcy Playground couldn’t find that kind of accessible weirdness with any future songs. At least it surely wasn’t a dream.

3. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – “The Impression That I Get”

Year: 1997
Billboard Hot 100 Peak:
 No. 23
Billboard U.S. Rock Peak: No. 1

Ska’s flirting with the mainstream in the ’90s didn’t last, a fact that would end up being lampooned in an episode of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated. Still, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones were one of the most popular bands of the ska boom (they were in Clueless!), with “The Impression That I Get” making a real impact on the charts. That’s probably because it’s a really good song, good enough to get people thinking, “Am I going to become the kind of person who listens to ska?” Unfortunately, a lot of those people eventually decided on “no,” and that was the end of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ popular success. At least they left a fair amount of folks with one ska album in their collection.

2. The Breeders – “Cannonball”

Year: 1993
Billboard Hot 100 Peak:
 No. 44
Billboard U.S. Rock Peak: No. 2

Kim Deal helped shuttle in the “quiet, loud, quiet” style of song production with her work in Pixies, but The Breeders was a chance for her and sister Kelley to take the reins in ’90s rock. While their only lasting impact was “Cannonball,” it’s still quite the legacy in itself. If you don’t remember this song, just throw it on, and the opening bass line should be instantly recognizable. It’s one of the best bass lines ever, for what it’s worth.

1. Blind Melon – “No Rain”

Year: 1992
Billboard Hot 100 Peak:
 No. 20
Billboard U.S. Rock Peak: No. 1

Blind Melon shouldn’t be a one-hit wonder. Before Shannon Hoon’s death from a drug overdose in 1995, they produced a catalog full of really good music. But for some reason, “No Rain” was the only song of theirs to make an impact. Maybe it’s the dancing-bee-girl video. Regardless, while Blind Melon may technically be considered a one-hit wonder, they’re one that everybody remembers, and not with irony. People still genuinely love this song, and for good reason. It has become a cultural touchstone; not just one of the ’90s biggest hits, but one of the most indelible singles in recent music history.

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