Some mega chart hits live on forever… as one-hit wonders. And the 1970s produced more than its fair share of these. If you haven’t heard of them directly, you’ve probably heard them in movies or through cover versions. Though some of these artists certainly had other great songs over the years, none remotely matched the success of these huge hits.
Here are seven bonafide acts that set the world on fire, but only one time…
“Dancing in the Moonlight”
This upbeat number, performed by King Harvest, was released in 1972 and reached the US Billboard Hot 100’s Top 20.
As writer Sherman Kelly revealed, the inspiration for “Dancing In The Moonlight” came from a dark place. Kelly was working as a musician in the Caribbean in 1969 when he was attacked by a criminal gang.
“At that time, I suffered multiple facial fractures and wounds and was left for dead,” he wrote on his website. The idea of another, safer place and “the dream of a peaceful and joyful celebration of life” led to him composing the track.
Van McCoy penned this 1975 floor filler, which took the Hot 100 top spot. It also boogied its way into the Top 10 around the world and bagged a Grammy Award. “The Hustle” itself is a dance routine, which McCoy’s colleague Charles Kipps observed at a club. Do the Hustle!
Although some of McCoy’s other songs received decent airplay, none reached the level of success that “The Hustle” had.
To many listeners, “Black Betty” is a rock track by Ram Jam. Its true origins, however, are as a historic American work song. Popularized by Lead Belly Ledbetter (1888 – 1949), the actual writer is unknown.
Jaunty it may be, but the release has proved controversial. It was banned from University of New Hampshire hockey games in 2006 for seven years. The hit was viewed as possibly racist in content.
Ram Jam’s version reached the Top 10 in the UK and Australia in 1977. It also made the US Top 20.
“All Right Now”
Performed by Free and written by Andy Fraser and Paul Rodgers, “All Right Now” hit the Top 10 worldwide between the 1970s and ‘90s.
It reportedly took a matter of minutes to compose, and was fuelled by a gig gone wrong in Durham, England. Fraser rallied creatively against the negative experience and a rock classic was born.
“Spirit in the Sky”
Another track that took well under half an hour to write was Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit In The Sky” (1969). It flew into the Top 5 in many territories and was No.1 in the UK and Ireland. The song reached #3 in the US Billboard 100.
Talking to Rolling Stone in 2020, Greenbaum mentioned that a Native American-themed greeting card titled “Spirit In The Sky” triggered the idea, together with the religious singing of Porter Wagoner.
Greenbaum also used the black and white approach of cowboy movies as inspiration. “I said to myself, ‘Well, I’ve never written a religious song. I’ve written some oddball songs, but some serious song, I can do that.’”
The track was back in the public imagination care of Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014). Older readers may remember its inclusion in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992)! Guardians, directed by James Gunn, also featured another seventies “one-hit wonder” – “Hooked On A Feeling,” performed by Blue Swede.
British band Ace had a big hit with their 1975 single “How Long,” which reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 2020, however, the song went all the way to No. 1 when it began appearing in ads for Amazon Prime.
Though it might appear to be about a two-timing lover, “How Long” was actually inspired when lead singer Paul Carrack, who penned the hit, found out that Ace’s bass player was performing with other bands!
Although Carrack went on to find success with other groups, “How Long” was Ace’s only hit together.
The temperature is turned up now for what, at the time, was a controversial and racy song.
Written by Bill Danoff, “Afternoon Delight” was released by the Starland Vocal Band. It reached the top of the US Billboard 100, where its success climaxed in 1976.
Saucy and suggestive, it nevertheless has a more wholesome dimension. GQ writes that “Danoff’s song, then and even more so now, promises the fantasy of a simpler time, one that never existed, except in our wishes.”
Finding they were unable to match the success of “Afternoon Delight,” the band broke up in 1981 but remained on friendly terms.
The hit was famously featured in the 1997 drama Good Will Hunting, where Matt Damon made mischief with the lyrics.