Top One Hit Wonders of the 1960s
The 1960s were turbulent times, and that was just as true for music as it was for politics and social order. The doo-wop groups of the 1950s slowly faded out of fashion, and songs without lyrics occasionally hit number one on the charts. The most important bit of music history, of course, is that the 1960s saw the rise of an entirely new type of music that took the world by storm — rock ‘n' roll.
In that genre, new hit makers started to fill the airwaves with amazing songs. Unfortunately, those hit makers weren’t always able to repeat their success after their first huge hit. These one hit wonders represent some of the top songs of the ‘60s, even though the bands and singers quickly faded away. Take a look!
"Wipe Out" - The Surfaris (1963)
For decades, the ubiquitous drum solo from "Wipe Out" has been used by drummers as a means to gauge their speed and ability. Released in 1963 — near the height of surfer rock — this track from The Surfaris is known all over the world by people of all ages.
"Wild Thing" - The Troggs (1966)
Things got wild in the 1960s, and The Troggs were prepared for it. Their hit "Wild Thing" still pops up in modern popular culture from time to time. Although the English lads never achieved the same level of success after "Wild Thing," they did receive some recognition for "Love Is All Around," which has been covered by many groups, including R.E.M.
"The Lion Sleeps Tonight" - The Tokens (1961)
Many people have a love/hate relationship with The Tokens' 1961 hit "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." Although it's melodically soothing and incredibly catchy, it has also permeated pop culture in a way that very few songs can — which explains why some find it so irritating.
"Born to Be Wild" - Steppenwolf (1968)
Although Steppenwolf played together until 2018, their most famous tune hit the airwaves and record store shelves way back in 1968. Still used today in action movies and coming-of-age stories, "Born to Be Wild" helped a generation — maybe even a few generations — of young people rock out.
"Summer in the City" - The Lovin' Spoonful (1966)
John Sebastian of The Lovin' Spoonful looked a lot like John Lennon, but he certainly didn't sound like him. Jaunty, poppy and remarkably catchy, "Summer in the City" raced to the #1 spot on the Billboard charts in 1966 and stayed there for three consecutive weeks!
"Louie Louie" - The Kingsmen (1963)
"Louie Louie" blasted onto radios in 1955, but it didn’t become a success until a little group called The Kingsmen decided to record a cover. One of the first successful garage bands, the group from Portland, Oregon, capitalized on the dance-friendly catchiness of the tune and reaped the rewards.
"If You Wanna Be Happy" - Jimmy Soul (1963)
Jimmy Soul shared his advice with the world in 1963 when he released "If You Wanna Be Happy." The song is humorous and light-hearted and easy to dance to with friends. The message of the song — stay away from beautiful women and marry someone ugly — might not hold much water today, but it sure did back then.
"In the Year 2525" - Zager and Evans (1969)
The melancholy crooning of Zager and Evans — accompanied by trumpeters, a marching drum beat and fanciful guitar strumming — changed the way people in the late 1960s viewed music and what it represented. The lyrics explored the possibilities of humanity's future, both the good and the bad.
"Spirit in the Sky" - Norman Greenbaum (1969)
Norman Greenbaum has only one claim to fame. In 1969, he wrote and recorded one of the most eternally popular rock songs in history. Even though the song is now more than half a century old, it continues to raise the spirits and the voices of fans around the world.
"Eve of Destruction" - Barry McGuire (1965)
In the 1960s, the American public was becoming far more aware of the dangers and horrors of war. Bright new television sets weren't only showing advertisements for dish soap and TV dinners — they were broadcasting footage from Vietnam. The public had never been more connected with the pain and suffering of their fighting men.
"Teen Angel" - Mark Dinning (1960)
After the success of The Penguins' "Earth Angel" in the late 1950s, it didn't seem like there could be a better, more romantic song about teenage sweethearts. But then Mark Dinning arrived on the scene, and his 1960 hit "Teen Angel" pulled at the heartstrings of every listener.
"Stay" - Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs (1960)
The dulcet, falsetto tones of Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs were like a fresh glass of iced lemonade on a hot, sweaty summer day — perfectly refreshing. The group’s one hit wonder, "Stay," remains the shortest song to ever make it to the top of the Billboard charts.
"They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" - Napoleon XIV (1966)
It can be difficult to understand how Napoleon XIV's 1966 song "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" ever got to be so popular. Based on today's standards, it's more than a little creepy. The narrator/lead vocalist explains how he is heartbroken and driven mad by loneliness.
"Alley-Oop" - The Hollywood Argyles (1960)
The Hollywood Argyles released "Alley-Oop" in 1960. It became their greatest hit, propelling the band into the national spotlight. Based on a comic strip of the same name, the song detailed the life, personality and deeds of a caveman aptly named Alley-Oop.
"Dominique" - The Singing Nun (1963)
Modern audiences know this tune, thanks to American Horror Story: Asylum, but some may not understand how massively popular this religious tune became in 1963. Rock songs, pop songs and even love ballads struggled to top "Dominique" by The Singing Nun for dominance of the charts.
"Barefootin'" - Robert Parker (1966)
The idea of dancing in a club in your bare feet is worrisome today, thanks to everything we now know about foot fungus, parasites and the dangers of a dropped bar glass. However, Robert Parker made it sound like an absolute blast in his 1966 hit "Barefootin'."
"Hey! Baby" - Bruce Channel (1961)
Produced and released at the beginning of the 1960s, "Hey! Baby" by Bruce Channel has a 1950's feel but with the first flickerings of a 1960’s attitude. Although the lyrics are repetitive, the music is comforting and slightly uplifting. Also, who can't relate to trying to ask out someone you like? (These days, you should skip calling her "baby.")
"Mother-in-Law" - Ernie K-Doe (1961)
It’s not a secret that many people find it difficult to get along with their mother-in-law, and you can add Ernie K-Doe to that list. In his 1961 hit "Mother-in-Law," he pretty explicitly reveals his feelings about his wife's mother, noting that if she would just leave them alone, things would be great.
"Mr. Custer" - Larry Verne (1960)
Songs about history seem pretty nerdy these days, but back in the 1960s, music included a lot more storytelling than it does today. Remember, they didn't have podcasts, so artists and creative thinkers recorded songs to share their thoughts, feelings and talents with the world.
"The Stripper" - David Rose (1962)
Ah, instrumentals. While it's rare to find an instrumental piece on the Billboard charts today, it wasn't as rare of an occurrence back in the 1960s. Many songs composed for films and television became popular hits, but none had as much impact as David Rose's "The Stripper."
"Telstar" - The Tornados (1962)
Synth-pop was still ages away in the 1960s — or was it? The Tornadoes, an English instrumental band, released a sci-fi themed song in 1962 that inspired the world to look toward the future. The group released a version with lyrics — renamed "Magic Star" — soon after the release of "Telstar," but it was never as popular as the instrumental.
“Judy in Disguise (with Glasses)” - John Fred and His Playboy Band (1968)
While The Beatles were away in India — breaking apart in slow, sad chunks — John Fred and His Playboy Band capitalized on the absence by releasing a song that reminded fans of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." The 1968 hit, called "Judy in Disguise (with Glasses)," is actually very different musically from The Beatles song.
"Winchester Cathedral" - The New Vaudeville Band (1966)
Although the title of this 1966 song by The New Vaudeville Band is quite austere — "Winchester Cathedral" — the actual tune is rather relaxed and pleasant. The orchestral instrumentation is beautiful and strangely punctuated by a chorus of whistling. As everyone knows, a song with whistling is usually a catchy song indeed.
"Love Is Blue" - Paul Mauriat (1968)
Yet another instrumental that rocked the charts during the late 1960s, "Love Is Blue" was originally a French song with lyrics. In Paul Mauriat's wise hands, the unintelligible — to English audiences, that is — tune became a one hit instrumental wonder. It doesn't retain as much somberness as the original, but that might be why it became a big hit.
"Harper Valley P.T.A." - Jeannie C. Riley (1968)
There weren't very many country or folk songs that made it onto the Billboard Top 100 charts in the 1960s, but Jeannie C. Riley's song "Harper Valley P.T.A." hit all the right notes with all the right people in 1968. Society was changing fast in the late '60s, and fashion was changing with it.
“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” - Steam (1969)
If you've ever been to a sporting event, you've probably heard Steam's 1969 hit "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye." The White Sox started the tradition of playing the song before and during games, and it caught on very quickly. If you've never heard of a band called Steam, don't worry. They technically didn't exist in 1969 — even after their hit was released.
"Stranger on the Shore" - Acker Bilk (1962)
"Stranger on the Shore" by Acker Bilk was incredibly popular in the U.S., despite its lack of lyrics, but it's success in the States was nothing compared to its legacy in the United Kingdom. Used as the opening tune for a show — you guessed it, called Stranger on the Shore — the song spread like audio wildfire.
"Ringo" - Lorne Greene (1964)
At first glance, you might think this Lorne Green song would be about a certain drummer from merry Liverpool, England, but you would be wrong. This 1964 one-hit-wonder is the audio equivalent of a western short story set to music. Greene, with his gruff and serious voice, tells the story of a law man's struggle with a no-good outlaw — a guy named Ringo.
“Sukiyaki” - Kyu Sakamoto (1963)
If you're unfamiliar with Kyu Sakamoto's one hit wonder, you aren’t alone — in the U.S., at least. Feel free to check out "Sukiyaki" for yourself, but be warned! You may never get the song out of your head afterward, and it's in Japanese.
"Denise" - Randy & The Rainbows (1963)
A lot of girls were named Denise in the mid-50s and early ‘60s. When Randy & The Rainbows released a song titled "Denise," you can only imagine how many girls, young women and even mothers lost their minds with joy.