Big hair, bigger lapels and avocado-colored kitchen appliances are just some of the fun stuff from the 1970s – but the real fun comes from the music. It was all over the place: raucous rock, softer rock, smooth jazz and disco tunes. The decade’s music scene was also amazing for the crop of extraordinary one-hit wonders it sprouted. These top 10 one-hit wonders are particularly extraordinary because they had a huge hit and seemingly had the talent to make it big. But instead of becoming superstars, they instead are remembered for a single song.
10. Jay Ferguson
With its smooth groove and catchy “Sha, la, la, la, la, la my lady,” lyrics, Jay Ferguson’s song Thunder Island sashayed into the top 10 in 1977. His song Shakedown Cruise made a blip on the Top 40 chart two years later but quickly stalled. Just because Ferguson only had the one hit doesn’t mean he stopped producing music. He turned his tune-making toward composing movie and TV soundtracks, with credits that include The Terminator, Nightmare on Elm Street 5, and an award for best comedy TV show score for The Office.
Ace’s song How Long answered its own question by sticking around for years after making it to No. 3 on the U.S. charts in 1975. Its smooth groove blended soft rock, pop and a bit of funk and is credited with influencing the sound of Steely Dan. Ace broke up in 1977 but lead vocalist and guitarist Paul Carrack went on to play with Mike + The Mechanics, Squeeze, Roger Waters and Eric Clapton. His 1996 remake of How Long once again made the charts, placing in the top 40 in the UK.
8. Minnie Riperton
With high-pitched notes that make Prince’s screeching sound like a low moan, Minnie Riperton’s Lovin’ You was loved enough to make it all the way to No. 1 in 1975. Riperton’s vocal range, which spanned five and a half octaves, was what made her legendary, although Lovin’ You was her only top 20 hit. Her follow-up song, Inside My Love, received some play on jazz and soul stations, but not much further acclaim. She died at age 31 in 1979 of breast cancer, survived by her husband and two children, one of whom is Maya Rudolph, a longtime cast member on Saturday Night Live.
7. Nick Gilder
Nick Gilder’s Hot Child in the City was smoking in 1978, when it burned its way up to No. 1 in the U.S. While Gilder’s myriad other singles fizzled, he does have a lengthy list of credits. Several movies and TV shows have used his songs, including the films Youngblood and The Wraith, and the TV series That ’70s Show and Sex and the City. Gilder also found work as a songwriter, contributing to tunes recorded by Bette Midler, Joe Cocker, Patty Smyth and Pat Benatar.
6. Anita Ward
Anita Ward’s hit Ring My Bell is still ringing all over the place after making it to No. 1 in 1979. The disco tune has made its way into films including Dahmer, Playgirl and The Book of Eli; TV commercials for Heinz baked beans and Burger King; TV shows and video games. It has also served as the official scoring song, at-bat song and goal song for several professional athletes. Despite its continued notoriety, it remains Ward’s only hit — and only by a fluke. The song was originally meant for R&B artist Stacy Lattisaw but she switched record labels and the song went to Ward.
5. Rick Derringer
Although Rick Derringer first recorded Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo with Johnny Winter in 1970, Derringer’s solo version released in 1973 was the one that scored highest on the U.S. charts, making it all the way to No. 23. Derringer was no musical fluke, jamming on guitar with Alice Cooper, Edgar Winter, Steely Dan and even opening for Led Zeppelin on their last North American tour in 1977. But Hoochie Koo was his only solo hit, which is still heard on classic rock stations and has been featured in several films and remade by a handful of bands. Derringer deserves bonus points for another song from his past. As a 17-year-old in 1965, his group, The McCoys, had a No. 1 hit, Hang On Sloopy, which still receives airplay on oldies stations.
Like several other groups on this list, Argent released several albums (seven in the course of six years, from 1970-1975), but the group never came close to matching the success of its biggest hit, Hold Your Head Up, which reached No. 5 on the Billboard chart in 1972. Before forming Argent, keyboard player Rod Argent and his band The Zombies had a couple of top 10 hits in the 1960s with She’s Not There and Time of the Season.
3. Looking Glass
Cheers to Brandy. Not only is she a fine girl, but Looking Glass’ song about her made it all the way to No. 1 in 1972. The band’s smooth pop tune remained a best-seller for a total of 16 weeks, which is longer than some relationships last, proving Brandy was a true love for many. The song became Looking Glass’ only million-seller, although their song Jimmy Loves Mary-Ann was a minor hit the following year. Brandy is a staple on oldies stations, and was remade by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Rough, raucous and the epitome of rock and roll, Mountain’s song Mississippi Queen blasted its way to No. 21 in 1970. Considered one of the top guitarists of all time, band frontman Leslie West gave rise to the band’s name, which was based on his former largesse. Mountain gets credit for being a major influence on the era’s heavy metal, but none of their other songs earned much recognition. Ozzy Osbourne remade Mississippi Queen, taking it to No. 10 in 2005. Mountain’s version of the tune has popped up in numerous movies, video games and TV shows, including an episode of The Simpsons.
1. Vicki Sue Robinson
Vicki Sue Robinson turned the beat up, down, sideways and all around with a string of hopping dance tunes, but she’s best remembered for her 1976 hit Turn the Beat Around. A multi-talented performer, Robinson spent time on Broadway, with the hits Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar, and also appeared in several films. She hit the big time with Turn the Beat Around, which reached No. 1 on the disco charts and No. 10 on the Billboard pop charts in the U.S., and earned Robinson a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. The catchy tune has been covered by several artists, most notably by Gloria Estefan in 1994. Despite the song’s success, Robinson’s solo career later fizzled. By the 1980s, she was primarily a backup singer for Irene Cara, Michael Bolton and Cher, and she also sang jingles for products such as Wrigley’s chewing gum. Robinson died of cancer in April 2000 at the age of 45.