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Singular Sensations

Actually, today we pause not to scorn these songs, but to toast them. Because, according to Billboard magazine, which is in the thick of a 50th-anniversary celebration of its Hot 100 chart, these songs are among only a dozen that claim a distinction unparalleled in the annals of musical achievement. They are, by Billboard's determination, the ultimate one-hit wonders. Or more accurately, those who performed them are the title-holders in a rarefied category: They hit No. 1 in their first chart appearance, enjoyed fame and fortune, then never cracked the Hot 100 again.

Some faded into obscurity and live modestly on their royalties. Some still enjoy renown and remain vital artists.

There are some sad stories. The Belgian nun? Alas, Jeanine Deckers, or Sister Smile, as she was sometimes known, forsook her vows, descended into penury and committed suicide in 1985 in a pact with her lesbian lover. And Soulja Slim, a rapper on the list, was killed in 2003 -- shot in front of his home near New Orleans even before his song peaked at No. 1.

But before we plumb other odd tales of One Hit Wonderdom, let's get the Billboard list out of the way, in chronological order, with dates the songs peaked:

The granddaddy is a doo-wop number by the Elegants, "Little Star," Aug. 25, 1958; then comes "Dominique," Dec. 7, 1963; Zager & Evans's weird sci-fi excursion, "In the Year 2525," July 12, 1969; M's electro-yet-retro "Pop Muzik," Nov. 3, 1979; USA for Africa, "We Are the World," April 13, 1985; Jan Hammer's synth-mad "Miami Vice Theme," Nov. 9, 1985; Bobby McFerrin's a cappella "Don't Worry, Be Happy," Sept. 24, 1988; Sheriff's love song "When I'm With You," Feb. 4, 1989; the Heights's love song, "How Do You Talk to an Angel," Nov. 14, 1992; Crazy Town, "Butterfly," March 24, 2001; Soulja Slim, "Slow Motion," Aug. 7, 2004; Daniel Powter, "Bad Day," April 8, 2006.

Admittedly, we've had little exposure to the last half-dozen except for "Bad Day," which grew massive as the drumming-off music on "American Idol" and is probably destined to be featured in dandruff shampoo and mouthwash commercials forever.

"Wooly bully, wooly bully, wooly bully."

"Does that make me crazy? Maybe I'm crazy."

"Hey, Macarena !"

We hear you asking: Where are the other hits that you, personally, remember -- the songs that still glow like embers on the banked fires of memory because they correlate with a) that night in the dorm when you made it with [what's her/his name]; b) your subsequent wedding to [another person entirely] c) Big Jim the Biker's funeral/kegger out at Big Piney, Wyo.

Like, what about Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky," with its Jesus freak ethos and honking fuzzy-reverb hook? How can that not be a one-hit wonder?

Or "Der Kommissar" from 1982, which made you think you were dancing in a very serious-cool way at a Berlin disco if you squeezed your eyes shut and ignored the prom-night streamers.


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