The elegant one-hit Xeroxing of artists including Alien Ant Farm, the Baha Men, Sinead O’Connor… and Bruce Willis?
I love one-hit wonders. Almost disproportionately to the quality of the songs. Like, the fact that Dexys Midnight Runners never had another hit makes me enjoy Come On, Eileen more than I would if, say, A Flock of Seagulls had made it. So there’s no malice in this list, more admiration. Because this is all about artists who managed not just to have a single hit, but to do it by piggybacking off someone else’s song. That’s like everything right and wrong with the world simultaneously.
Here are 11 one-hit wonders whose only hit was a cover song…
1 | DHT – Listen to Your Heart
(#8 in August 2005; cover of Roxette)
DHT was a Belgian dance group. (DHT stands for Dance House Trance, not the iffy testosterone supplement Dihydrotesterone like a Google search of DHT indicates.) They turned Roxette’s Listen to Your Heart into a trance song — which, telling it like it is, I couldn’t differentiate from a techno, electronica, dance, house, dubtronica, IDM, Eurodance, pumpcore, shake pow, psycho grape masher, or hot hot Casio jam song — and managed to make a pretty strong one-hit run. As far as I could tell through, admittedly, cursory research, it’s the most successful single on the American charts ever by a Belgian artist.
2 | Will to Power – Baby, I Love Your Way/Freebird Medley
(#1 in December 1998; cover of Peter Frampton and Lynyrd Skynyrd)
Will to Power was an American dance-pop group. (Will to Power is not connected to Nietzsche’s work like a Google search of Will to Power indicates.) And in a fitting moment for this list, Frampton’s Baby, I Love Your Way peaked at #12 on the Billboard singles chart… Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Freebird peaked at #19… but Will to Power’s pastiche-ified mash-up hit number one.
3 | Lee DeWyze – Beautiful Day
(#24 in June 2010; cover of U2)
Lee DeWyze, the singer whose American Idol win is widely viewed as the moment when the show started plummeting toward inevitable cancelation, had his only top 40 hit with a U2 cover. Somewhere, Tamyra Gray weeps.
4 | Nicki French – Total Eclipse of the Heart
(#2 in June 1995; cover of Bonnie Tyler)
Bonnie Tyler’s version has this bombastic, overdramatic, life-or-death tone, as if the fate of the world will crumble if you and your damn bright eyes don’t turn around. Nicki French’s has more of a vibe of talking to someone in a fun suburban nightclub over neon-colored shots.
5 | Alien Ant Farm – Smooth Criminal
(#23 in November 2001; cover of Michael Jackson)
While compiling the above stats, I learned Alien Ant Farm is still touring. So I guess they’ve got that leg up on Michael Jackson. (Too soon?)
6 | Bruce Willis – Respect Yourself
(#5 in March 1987; cover of The Staple Singers)
The original version of the song was written as an empowerment anthem for black Americans in the post-Civil Rights era. I know Bruce Willis was really hot in 1987 thanks to Moonlighting, but I’m still not sure he brought the correct gravitas to the song.
7 | Sinead O’Connor – Nothing Compares 2 U
(#1 in April 1990; cover of The Family, written by Prince)
The fact that it’s “2 U” and not “To You” is a dead giveaway that Prince was involved. That guy was talking in text speak before any of us had ever dreamed of texting.
8 | Raybon Brothers – Butterfly Kisses
(#22 in June 1997; cover of Bob Carlisle)
In researching this list, I found a decent number of country singers whose one crossover hit was a cover. I picked this one because of just how quickly the Raybon Brothers jumped all over Butterfly Kisses. Literally one week after the original peaked at #10 on the charts, this cover was right on its heels. That’s an awful lot of maudlin, patriarchal sentimentality for one Billboard top 40 list.
9 | Baha Men – Who Let the Dogs Out?
(#40 in October 2001; cover of Anslem Douglas)
I’m not sure if finding out Who Let the Dogs Out? is a cover makes its canonical existence in music history better or worse.
10 | Hit Masters – All Summer Long and Rock Heroes – All Summer Long
(#19 in September 2008 and #29 in October 2008 respectively; covers of Kid Rock)
This might be the best entry on the list, since it’s truly a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox. Kid Rock released the song All Summer Long in 2008, which, shall we say, took liberties with Sweet Home Alabama. But Kid Rock didn’t want to release the song in the nascent iTunes store. So the only versions available for digital purchase were by Hit Masters and Rock Heroes; two companies that create and sell crappy karaoke ripoffs. But the clamoring for the song was surprisingly strong enough that both of those karaoke companies achieved top 40 hits via iTunes sales. God only knows who wound up getting paid from all their sales — that’s splitting 99 cents like 113 different ways.
11 | 4 P.M. – Sukiyaki
(#8 in 1995; cover of Kyu Sakamoto)
The weirdest part about English covers of this song is that they’re called “Sukiyaki,” which is a Japanese beef dish. It literally has nothing to do with the song. It’s like when you see pictures of Chinese bootleg t-shirts that have, like, a picture of Super Mario high-fiving one of the Hanson brothers and underneath it, in English, it says, “Pizza!”