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One-Hit Wonders of the 1960S That Defined an Era

While there have been one hit wonders in every era of popular music, the 1960’s stand out as a time when perhaps the idea of a one hit wonder first was solidified. The Billboard charts, while technically starting in 1940, didn’t have the famous “Hot 100” until 1958. The Hot 100 was a consolidation of several different types of charts that sought to list the actual most popular songs of the time, through a variety of metrics. And so, when the 1960’s around, there was a more accurate method in place of calculating which songs were actual hits.

This meant that for the first time, listeners could not only be aware of the most popular hits of the day, as well as the artists performing them, but also which of those artists were mere blips in the annals of radio history. Aka… One Hit Wonders. In this video, we’re taking a look at some of those one hit wonders from the 1960’s, and reflecting back on perhaps a simpler time in popular music. So stick around, as Facts Verse Presents: One-Hit Wonders of the 1960s that Defined an Era

‘They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa’ by Napoleon XIV

Jerry Samuels must have been quite an interesting guy to talk to at a party. At least, if his hit song, ‘They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-haaa!’ is any indication of his personality. Because this song is among the more bizarre releases of the 1960’s, and was a top 5 hit. Samuels performed the song under his stage name, Napoleon XIV, and it tells the tale of a man who is going insane. He’s awaiting the men in ‘little white coats’ to come grab him and place him in an asylum. And he seems pretty chill with the whole affair. The song was actually part of an LP that was devoted to the topic of being insane. That gimmick certainly worked for ‘They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-haa!” and it became an oddball hit that intrigued listeners all over. The song’s primary instruments are a tambourine and snare drum, and there’s a pretty jarring siren that wails as Samuels sings the chorus. Check out this song, but probably don’t play it too many times in a row, for sanity.

‘Wipe Out’ by The Surfaris

“Wipeout” is another novelty song that has somehow stood the test of time as a pop song, despite only having one discernable word of lyric. First there’s a long laugh, then the word “wipeout.” And that’s it as far as vocals. The rest of the song is the iconic surf-rock instrumental that we’ve all come to know and love. The song is by a band called the Surfaris, who began their journey together in 1962. And the next year, their latest release, “Wipeout” became a giant hi. It sat on the charts for 6 weeks that year, reaching a peak of number two. But its lasting legacy has been through its uses in TV and films. It’s been in movies like Dirty Dancing, Meet the Parents, and many others. And its bouncy surf-guitar and bongo sound has always evoked a certain carefree attitude and fun times. The band Sha Na Na even performed it at Woodstock!

‘Sugar, Sugar’ by The Archies

There’s a certain type of 1960’s influenced sound that’s referred to as ‘saccharine’ – in other words – it’s like sugar. And perhaps no song epitomizes this label more than a song called, literally, “Sugar Sugar.” And it’s not just the title that gives this all timer its sweetness. It’s a happy, lively, and lyrically light song that evokes sunbeams and smiles. And it wasn’t even from a real life band! It was performed by The Archies, who were from the comic book series Archie. And so the artists credited with this classic song are actually cartoon characters. Of course, someone had to do the actual recording, and that job fell to some of the top studio musicians of the time. It was released in 1969, during a time of incredible social and political upheaval. So perhaps its popularity was also due to the fat that it made everyone forget about all the craziness in the world for a few minutes at a time. The song stayed on the Billboard charts for 22 weeks, and still has staying power today. You can hear it in movies and TV shows, and it still evokes the same happy-go-lucky and carefree vibe that it did in the 1960’s.

‘Spirit in the Sky’ by Norman Greenbaum

In some ways, the fact that Christian folk hit “Spirit in the Sky” was written by an Orthodox Jew is odd. And in other ways, it’s as American a story as can be. Singer/songwriter Norman Greenbaum found himself channel surfing one day and arrived on a channel where he saw country legend Porter Wagoner performing a gospel tune. Greenbaum figured that, despite knowing nothing about gospel music, he could probably come up with a good gospel tune. And so he quickly penned “Spirit In the Sky”, which took all of about 15 minutes. He recorded an acoustic version of the song to Reprise Records, who then sent him to work with Erik Jacobsen, a producer who worked with Reprise. Together they completely changed the vibe of the song to a fully fleshed out gospel/rock tune, and the rest is history. The song hit #1 on the charts in 1969. And not just in the U.S., but in almost every market in the world. It went gold, selling two million copies. It’s since been used countless times in the past few decades. In addition to Porter Wagoner’s gospel influence, Greenbaum also said the song was inspired by his love of Western movies.

“The Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett

You undoubtedly hear this song at least once a year, as the Halloween season approaches. Or perhaps you hear it 50 times every year. But either way, it’s probably only in October. Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s smash hit from 1962 has had a remarkable amount of staying power over the years. But perhaps becoming the anthem of a particular holiday is the best part to ensure a song lasts for a long time. Just ask Mariah Carey about ‘All I Want For Christmas.” Pickett wrote the song with a financial gain in mind. He had marveled at the dual popularity of horror movies as well as dance crazes. So he figured he’d try to make some money for a bit by creating a song that mixed the two. And thus, “Monster Mash” was born. But this formula only worked for Pickett one time, despite his best efforts. He subsequently released other ‘monster’ songs including “The Monster Rap” and “The Monster Swim”, hoping to latch on to the popularity of his first hit. But none of his releases ever had the kind of popularity that Monster Mash enjoyed. After all, it was a graveyard smash.

“96 Tears” by ? and the Mysteries

Rudy Martinez, aka “Question Mark” recorded this quirky and catchy song in the living room of his manager in Bay City, Michigan. It was a small local hit for a while, before it eventually made it to the hands of Bob Dell, who ran a Flint, Michigan radio station. When he began to play the song, it absolutely took off. He got requests for it around the clock. Soon, stations in Canada started spinning, and the song was soon distributed nationally in the US through Cameo Records. And the rest is history. It hit number one of the US Billboard charts, and charted in other countries around the world too. The song itself is a quirky banger, with only a few lyrics, and some killer organ playing. Its bare bones sound is actually credited as being one of the first hits in the genre of garage band rock. And there are some who even give it credit for being the beginning of the punk rock era, Question Mark said he chose the number 96 because it had spiritual meaning for him. The band nearly escaped the ‘one-hit wonder’ moniker when their next songs charted briefly. It was called “I Need Somebody” and went as high as number 22. But if didn’t end up lasting long, and as such, ? and the Mysteries remain in the one-hit wonder category. 

“For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield

This one makes the list on a bit of a technicality. That’s because Buffalo Springfield was a band that had, among others, both Neil Young and Steven Stills in it. And both of those musicians have many, many hits to their name. But before the both left Buffalo Springfield, the band had one big hit. And it has perhaps had longer staying power than any song from the 1960’s. You’d be hard pressed to find a documentary or period piece about the era that doesn’t have “For What It’s Worth” in it. Especially if it’s at all about the Vietnam War. The song is a super catchy, politically relevant, and fun to sing along to.

Now it’s time to hear from you. Which one of these songs is your favorite? Are there any one-hit wonders from the 1960’s that should have been included on this list? Let us know in the comments section below. And before you go, be sure to give this video a like, and subscribe to Facts Verse if you haven’t already. Click the bell icon to stay updated on all our latest content. 

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