The 1970s were huge for one-hit wonders. But like all decades, only a tiny percentage of songs released during the 10 years between 1970 and 1980 reached #1 on the Billboard Top 40. It’s these elite few that became the top songs of the 70s.
Eight of the ten years in the 1970s saw one-hit wonders hit #1 on the Billboard Top 40. There were two songs in 1970, two in 1973, five in 1974, two in 1975, four each in 1976 and 1977, one in 1978 and three pop hits in 1979. That makes a grand total of 24 one-hit wonders that reached #1 in the 1970s.
Though the 1970s takes heat for disco one-hit wonders, remarkably, only 6 of these 24 songs can rightfully be considered disco music. On this list you’ll find everything from soft-rock to love songs to funky music with a little rock ‘n’ roll and even a little country in the mix. Radio was a wide open place in the ’70s and it seems nearly every song had a chance at reaching the charts.
Here, in chronological order, are the 24 #1 one-hit wonders of the 1970s. Click any of the albums or the links to learn more about each song and hear these 70s classics in all their bell-bottom, groovy glory.
1. Venus by Shocking Blue (1970)
The one and only hit by Dutch band Shocking Blue hit number one in 1970. It’s one of only three songs to reach #1 by a European one-hit wonder band in the 1970s (the others are “Brother Louie” by Stories and “The Night Chicago Died” by Paper Lace). Remade and made even more famous by British band Bananarama in the 1980s.
2. Me and Bobby McGee by Janis Joplin (1970)
The legendary Janis Joplin only scored a single Billboard Top 40 hit with “Me and Bobby McGee” that was released AFTER her overdose death at the age of 27. Not sure how having a number one hit after you’re dead feels. Something tells me it’s bittersweet. Regardless, it’s a lasting hit song that still gets radio play today.
3. Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia by Vicki Lawrence (1973)
Vicki Lawrence is Mama from The Carol Burnett Show, right? True. But she’s also a singer who landed her single chart hit in the Billboard Top 40 in 1973 when “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” reached number one. Something tells me achieving a #1 Billboard hit was more fulfilling than dressing up in old-women’s clothing while still in her twenties.
4. Brother Louie by Stories (1973)
Stories is a forgotten one-hit wonder band. They had one hit and no other real impact besides this song about race relations that pre-dated “Ebony and Ivory” by nine years. Play it once and I guarantee you’ll have the chorus stuck in your head for at least a week. “Louie, Louie, Lou-ay/Louie, Louie, Lou-eye.” Catchy, simple stuff.
5. Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks (1974)
You know the story of this one: a guy is dying and turns his wistful remembrances into a number one song that tugs at your heartstrings and is surpassed on the 1970s sappy scale only by Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life.” But it’s not quite that simple. Read the details and discover the meaning of “Seasons in the Sun.”
6. TSOP by MFSB (1974)
The fact that you can name your band an acronym and then have your biggest hit be an acronym as well has to qualify MFSB for some kind of honor. I’m thinking a #1 one-hit wonder should be enough. Then again, having your music serve as the theme song for Soul Train is its own reward.
7. The Night Chicago Died by Paper Lace (1974)
This song features mangled geography (there is no East side of Chicago besides Lake Michigan) and an anachronistic 1920s prohibition Al Capone story line. But it still reached #1 in 1974 on the strength of its sing-along chorus and marching band drums. It was the only Top 40 hit by British band, Paper Lace.
8. I Can Help by Billy Swan (1974)
I’ve never liked this song. In fact, the more I hear it the less I can stand it. But I’m obviously alone because it took Billy Swan all the way to the top of the Billboard chart in 1974. It’s a country crossover hit that features an organ given to Billy Swan by Kris Kristoferson who coincidentally penned “Me and Bobby McGee” that Janis Joplin took to number one in 1970.
9. Kung Fu Fighting by Carl Douglas (1974)
This novelty song is awesome in so many ways. It’s a disco song about Kung Fu fighting. It piggybacks on Bruce Lee’s early 1970s popularity. And it still makes young kids and grown adults alike kick their feet in the air when the song is played at your local wedding reception. Grand silliness never sounded sweeter.
10. Lovin’ You by Minnie Ripperton (1975)
A sensitive love song released just as disco was starting to rear its glitter ball glory. It’s one of only 3 one-hit wonder love songs to reach #1 in the 1970s and probably the best of the bunch. Then again, its competition is “You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone and “Don’t Give Up on Us” by David Soul so it’s not really a fair kung fu fight.
11. The Hustle by Van McCoy (1975)
A disco anthem, “The Hustle” may be the unintentional father of country line dancing. An easy enough dance everyone can master it’s also a catchy enough song you never forget it. “The Hustle” remains one of the greatest disco songs of all time. Drop it on your playlist at your next party our BBQ and watch the kids dance.
12. Welcome Back by John Sebastian (1976)
The second of three 1970s one-hit wonders directly connected to TV shows, “Welcome Back” was the theme song to the beloved sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter that premiered in 1976 and made John Travolta a household name BEFORE Saturday Night Fever made him a disco icon. Sebastian was the original lead singer of 1960’s good-time band, The Lovin’ Spoonful.
13. Afternoon Delight by Starland Vocal Band (1976)
A Grammy-winning song about an afternoon quickie, “Afternoon Delight” put Starland Vocal Band on the charts for a short time. Cheesy? Yes. Charming? For sure. Today “Afternoon Delight” remains a singular 1970s classic with its soaring harmonies and innocent sound that conceals its erotic underbelly.
14. Play That Funky Music by Wild Cherry (1976)
You could argue that of the 24 one-hit wonders on this list, “Play That Funky Music” is the most well-known and beloved. It has appeared on countless 1970s compilations and iTunes playlists. You probably have it somewhere in your CD, MP3 or vinyl collection and dig it out for special occasions. Four white guys from Ohio have never sounded so funky.
15. A Fifth of Beethoven by Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band (1976)
Of all the classical songs that have become one-hit wonders (“Joy” by Apollo 1, “Hooked on Classics” by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and “Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Deodato to name just a few), “A Fifth of Beethoven” is the best. Composer Walter Murphy left disco behind and now works as the composer for The Family Guy cartoons.
16. Disco Duck by Rick Dees (1976)
Another novelty song that is a pure product of its times. “Disco Duck” started as a radio gag and translated into successful radio DJ Rick Dees’ only Billboard Top 40 hit. His only mistake? Choosing to not have “Disco Duck” included on the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever. It’s silly, annoying and charming at the same time. Kind of like a bunch of disco songs.
17. Don’t Give Up on Us by David Soul (1977)
Another example of a TV show launching a successful pop music career, “Don’t Give Up On Us” by David Soul put Hutch from TV’s Starsky and Hutch TV series on the radio and at #1 for multiple weeks back in 1977. It’s a sensitive love song, but not quite as sensitive as “You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone that topped the Billboard charts just a few months later.
18. Gonna Fly Now (Theme from Rocky) by Bill Conti
Few songs have inspired as many people to swallow raw eggs, run thankless miles in solitude, punch defenseless cow carcasses in a freezer or sprint up the city hall steps in Philadelphia as “Gonna Fly Now” by Bill Conti. The theme from the Academy Award-winning movie, Rocky, “Gonna Fly Now” continues to inspire today.
19. Undercover Angel by Alan O’Day (1977)
“Undercover Angel” has a sly charm to it. Simple. Seemingly innocent but actually one man’s fantasy about making love to an angel that proved to be an answer to his prayers. Probably wouldn’t become a hit today but a great period piece from 1977 when no-consequence love was common. Especially on the airwaves.
20. You Light Up My Life by Debby Boone (1977)
The biggest-selling song of 1977 was also its most hated. The song perched at #1 on the Billboard Top 40 for 10 weeks or two-and-a-half months. No wonder people grew tired of it and Debby Boone’s sugary-sweet goodness. But she still managed to win an Academy Award for Best Original Song in the process.
21. Hot Child in the City by Nick Gilder (1978)
The only one-hit wonder to hit #1 in 1978, “Hot Child in the City” is largely forgotten partly because a song about an underage prostitute doesn’t really translate on the radio today. Gilder the artist soon disappeared, but Gilder the songwriter remains at work with a number of successful hits including “The Warrior” by Patty Smyth and Scandal.
22. Knock on Wood by Amii Stewart (1979)
Amii Stewart owns the distinction of landing one of the last two pure disco one-hit wonders at #1 on the Billboard Top 40 as disco gasped for its last breaths of commercial viability. A cover of the 1966 Eddie Floyd hit, Stewart never again graced the Billboard Top 40, but she had a good run for a few years.
23. Ring My Bell by Anita Ward (1979)
The last 1970s disco one-hit wonders to reach #1, “Ring My Bell” by Anita Ward may be one of the best of the era. Lyrically it’s a throwaway song. Musically it’s awfully slight as well. But the hook works its way into your head and stays there for days. Ward kept producing and recording but record buyers never again chose to ring her bell.
24. Pop Muzik by M (1979)
One of my favorite songs from the 1970s for all it represented: a break with disco, the emergence of quirky synthpop songs of the early 1980s, the silliness and exuberance of its visual style, and the way it embraces its knowledge that everybody was talking about pop music — whether that was disco, pop or new wave. It’s a great song to close out a decade full of silly, inspiration, goofy and substantial one-hit wonders.
Filed under: 1970s, Featured, Lists · Tags: #1 hit, #1 song, 1970s one hit wonder, A Fifth of Beethoven, Alan O'Day, Amii Stewart, Anita Ward, Billboard number one hit, Carl Douglas, David Soul, Debby Boone, Disco Duck, disco one hit wonder, Don't Give Up On Us, Hot Child in the City, Janis Joplin, Knock on Wood, Kung fu fighting, Lovin' You, M, Me and Bobby McGee, MFSB, Minnie Ripperton, New Wave, Nick Gilder, one hit wonder love song, Paper Lace, Play That Funky Music, Pop Muzik, Rick Dees, Ring My Bell, Seasons in the Sun, Shocking Blue, Synthpop, Terry Jacks, The Hustle, The Night Chicago Died, The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia, TSOP, Undercover Angel, Van McCoy, Venus, Vicki Lawrence, Walter Murphy, Wild Cherry, You Light Up My Life