the full list of considered songs (spotify playlist HERE):

My goal is to make a championship tournament bracket consisting of 64 one-hit wonders. Why 64? Because that’s the way that big sports tournaments are constructed — like college basketball’s March Madness.

Making a proper bracket requires getting choosing only 64 one-hit wonders from the full pantheon. How do I plan to do this? I had to rank all songs, and then set up a qualifying Round of 128 songs.

To start, I collected a comprehensive list of 199 one-hit wonders from 1960-2000. I then assembled a team of 17 rankers, ages ranging from 30 to 70. With their help, I whittled the full list down to 128. I describe that process here.

Trust me, there are many lessons learned. Among other things: (1) a song had to be eliminated because the artist is a convicted pedophile (not on my list). (2) The most polarizing song on the whole list is 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love” and (3) My mom loves EMF.

That and more after the presentation of data.

how did we do the rankings?

I separated the songs in two groups. Group A is all songs between 1960 and 1985. Group B is all songs between 1986-2000. Each team member ranked the one-hit wonders in each group from 1st to last.

I then averaged the all 17 team members’ rankings. If the song ended up in the top 64 in each group, it made the Round of 128. If not, it was cut.

I followed an adversarial process, disqualifying from the tournament songs that team members legitimately disputed. To adjudicate disputes, I followed the official one-hit wonder rules, OUTLINED HERE.

Some songs were eliminated before the rankings, and some after the rankings were completed. That’s why a few of the DQs have Averages Ranks. For example, it was tough, but I had to DQ Simple Minds “Don’t You Forget About Me,” even though its average rank would have made it the 5-seed in Group A. The reason? Simple Minds had too many other popular songs. In the case where I had to drop a ranked song, I would move all the remaining songs up one seed.

If you have questions, email me.

okay, show me the data

Group = Group A or Group B
Seed = tournament seed based on average rankings
Artist = performer
Song = song title
Year = year of song release
Tournament Status =
1. R128 means in the Round of 128. R128(upheld) means it was disputed but ultimately allowed to stay in the tournament. R128(write in) only happens once, and it’s because I had to DQ Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science.” I replaced it with Rupert Holmes “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” because I forgot to include that on the original list for the rankers, and leaving out that song would be devastating to the tournament.
2. Cut means it did not make it in the top 64 of each group based on average rankings
3. Pre-rank DQ means that the song was eliminated before the rankings, because it is not a one-hit wonder
4. Post-rank DQ means that the song was eliminated after the rankings, based on legitimate disputes from team members.
Avg Rank = the average of 17 different individual rankings
Top 5 = how many people put this song in their top 5
#1 = how many people gave this song a #1 ranking

GroupSeedArtistSongYearTournament StatusAvgRankTop5#1
A1Stealers WheelStuck in the Middle with You1972R12820.12551
A2The KingsmenLouie Louie1963R12821.2521
A3A-haTake on Me1985R12822.562542
A4Procol HarumWhiter Shade of Pale1967R12822.62541
A5Booker T and the MGsGreen Onions1962R12825.62510
A6Norman GreenbaumSpirit in the Sky1969R12826.37530
A7Sugarhill GangRapper’s Delight1979R12827.312541
A8Soft CellTainted Love1981R12827.562500
A9Dexys Midnight RunnersCome on Eileen1982R12828.312540
A10SurfarisWipe Out1963R12828.937500
A11The TroggsWild Thing1966R12830.62510
A12Vanilla FudgeYou Keep Me Hangin On1967R128 (upheld)30.812521
A13The KnackMy Sharona1979R12831.312520
A14Ram JamBlack Betty1977R12831.62510
A15The Box TopsThe Letter1967R12831.937511
A16King HarvestDancin in the Moonlight1973R12833.12510
A17Dobie GrayDrift Away1973R12833.187500
A18? and the Mysterians96 Tears1966R12833.511
A19Fontella BassRescue Me1966R12833.687500
A20Looking GlassBrandy1972R12833.937510
A21FreeAll Right Now1970R12834.187510
A22MountainMississippi Queen1970R12834.937510
A23Flock of SeagullsI Ran1982R12835.2500
A24Blue SwedeHooked on a Feeling1973R12836.187510
A25Iron ButterflyIn-a-Godda-da-Vida1968R12836.437521
A26Eddy GrantElectric Avenue1983R12836.562510
A27SurvivorEye of the Tiger1982R128 (upheld)37.312500
A28SteamNa Na Na Na Hey Kiss Him Goodbye1969R12838.12500
A29Bruce ChannelHey Baby1961R12838.7510
A30Modern EnglishI Melt With You1982R12839.937500
A31Til TuesdayVoices Carry1984R12840.187510
A32RedboneCome and Get Your Love1973R12840.437500
A33Lipps IncFunky Town1979R12840.437501
A34The TokensThe Lion Sleeps Tonight1961R12841.2520
A35Chubby CheckerThe Twist1960R12841.7530
A36Tommy Tutone867-53091981R12843.062510
A37The BugglesVideo Killed the Radio Star1979R12843.12510
A38Men Without HatsSafety Dance1982R12843.187510
A39Nena99 Luftballoons1983R12843.437500
A40Tom Tom ClubGenius of Love1981R12843.510
A41The MarvelettesPlease Mr. Postman1961R12843.687500
A42AceHow Long1974R12844.562511
A43Toni BasilHey Mickey1981R12845.062500
A44Carl DouglasKung Fu Fighting1974R12845.937500
A45Anita WardRing My Bell1979R12846.500
A46Jean KnightMr. Big Stuff1971R12846.687500
A47Cheryl LynnGot To Be Real1978R12846.687500
A48PlayerBaby Come Back1977R12846.937500
A49Naked EyesAlways Something There to Remind Me1983R12847.37500
A50The ArchiesSugar Sugar1969R12847.87500
A51Katrina and the WavesWalking on Sunshine1985R1284810
A52After the FireDer Kommisar1982R12848.500
A53The Five StairstepsO-o-h Child1970R12848.666721
A54Wild CherryPlay that Funky Music1976R1284900
A55Van McCoyThe Hustle1975R12849.437510
A56Ray Parker Jr.Ghostbusters1984R12849.437500
A57Spandau Ballet“True”1983R12850.7500
A58Rupert HolmesEscape (Pina Colada Song)1979R128 (write in)
A59The Weather GirlsIt’s Raining Men1983R12852.062500
A60ExileKiss You All Over1978R12852.62510
A61Bow Wow WowI Want Candy1982R12853.12500
A62TacoPuttin on the Ritz1982R12853.562510
A63John Fred and His Playboy BandJudy in Disguise1967R12853.87500
A64LimahlThe Neverending Story1984R12853.87521
A65FocusHocus Pocus1970Cut54.312510
A66George Baker SelectionLittle Green Bag1970Cut55.062510
A67Brownsville StationSmoking in the Boys Room1973Cut56.062500
A68Mister MisterBroken Wings1985Cut57.312500
A69Starland Vocal BandAfternoon Delight1976Cut57.37500
A70Bobby PicketMonster Mash1962Cut58.12510
A71Don HoTiny Bubbles1967Cut58.87500
A72Vicki Lawrence…the Lights Went Out in Georgia1972Cut58.87500
A73Jonny LeeLooking for Love1980Cut61.37500
A75John WaiteMissing You1984Cut62.062500
A76Minnie RippertonLovin You1974Cut63.187500
A77DaBargeRhythm of the Night1985Cut63.500
A78The VaporsTurning Japanese1980Cut63.62510
A79Terry JacksSeasons in the Sun1973Cut67.812500
A80The UndertonesTeenage Kicks1978Cut70.12500
A81Patrick HernandezBorn to Be Alive1978Cut71.437500
A82TrioDa Da Da1981Cut71.7500
A83Dan FogelbergLonger1979Cut74.500
GroupSeedArtistSongYearTournament StatusAvgRankTop5#1
B1Blind MelonNo Rain1992R12821.37530
B2House of PainJump Around1992R12822.562530
B3Dee-LiteGroove is in the Heart1990R12825.812520
B4Sir MixalotBaby Got Back1992R12826.562521
B5The ProclaimersI’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)1987R12826.687541
B6Vanilla IceIce Ice Baby1989R12828.531
B8Bel Biv DevoePoison1990R12830.062510
B94 Non BlondesWhat’s Up?1992R12830.062510
B10Butthole SurfersPepper1996R12830.312521
B11Mazzy StarFade Into You1994R12830.562530
B12Biz MarkieJust a Friend1989R128 (upheld)30.687530
B13Young MCBust a Move1992R1283210
B14Bobby McFerrinDon’t Worry, Be Happy1988R12832.062520
B15Cutting CrewI Just Died in Your Arms1986R12832.562500
B16SpacehogIn the Meantime1995R12832.937522
B17New RadicalsYou Get What You Give1998R12832.937510
B18Suzanne VegaTom’s Diner1987R1283310
B20EuropeFinal Countdown1986R12833.687500
B21BlackstreetNo Diggity1996R1283420
B22Alannah MylesBlack Velvet1989R12834.37510
B23Wilson PhilipsHold On1990R12834.7500
B24Jesus JonesRight Here Right Now1991R1283511
B25DivinylsTouch Myself1990R12835.437530
B26When In RomeThe Promise1988R12835.687520
B27MontellThis is How We Do It1995R12835.687520
B28Timbuk 3Future So Bright1986R12836.312510
B29The La’sThere She Goes1988R12836.687520
B30Edwyn CollinsA Girl Like You1994R12837.62510
B31Sneaker Pimps6 Underground1996R12837.87540
B32Midnight OilBeds are Burning1987R12838.37500
B33Right Said FredI’m Too Sexy1991R12839.87520
B34Tom CochraneLife is a Highway1991R12840.2520
B35SemisonicClosing Time1998R12840.500
B36The CardigansLovefool1996R12840.87521
B37Mr BigTo Be With You1991R12840.937500
B38HaddawayWhat is Love1993R12841.2500
B39Harvey DangerFlagpole Sitta1997R12841.2510
B40DishwallaCounting Blue Cars1995R12841.437500
B41Marcy PlaygroundSex and Candy1997R12841.62500
B42Primitive Radio GodsStanding Outside a Phonebooth…1996R12841.812520
B43DJ KoolLet Me Clear My Throat1996R12842.312500
B44TechnotronicPump Up the Jam1989R12842.37500
B45Deep Blue SomethingBreakfast at Tiffany’s1993R12842.87511
B46Tag TeamWhoomp There It Is1993R12843.37500
B47Lisa LoebStay1994R12844.062500
B49LENSteal My Sunshine1999R12845.187530
B50Georgia SatellitesKeep Your Hands to Yourself1986R12845.62510
B52M/A/R/R/SPump Up The Volume1987R12846.437500
B53Macy GrayI Try1999R12846.500
B54J.J. FadSupersonic1988R12846.562500
B55Mark MorrisonReturn of the Mack1996R12846.812521
B56Real LifeSend Me an Angel1989R12847.562500
B57White TownYour Woman1997R12847.87500
B59Wreck-X-N-EffectRump Shaker1992R12848.500
B60Skee-LoI Wish1995R12848.62500
B61Los del RioMacarena1993R12848.7521
B62Crash Test DummiesMmm Mmm Mmm Mmm1993R12849.187500
B63OMCHow Bizarre1996R12850.187500
B64Concrete BlondeJoey1990R12850.437500
B65Color Me BaddI Wanna Sex You Up1991Cut51.187500
B66Go WestKing of Wishful Thinking1990Cut51.2500
B67Was (Not Was)Walk the Dinosaur1988Cut51.437500
B68Escape ClubWild Wild West1988Cut51.62500
B6969 BoyzTootsee Roll1994Cut52.562500
B70Billy Ray CyrusAchy Breaky Heart1992Cut52.812510
B71Cherry Popping DaddiesZoot Suit Riot1997Cut53.687500
B73The FlysGot You Where I Want You1998Cut56.2510
B74GerardoRico Suave1991Cut58.812500
B75WheatusTeenage Dirtbag2000Cut59.312510
B76The Verve PipeThe Freshmen1996Cut59.687500
B77Meredith BrooksBitch1997Cut60.437500
B78NextToo Close1997Cut61.687500
B80Musical YouthPass the Dutchie1982Cut62.7500
B81Tal BachmannShe’s So High1999Cut63.187500
B82RednexCotton Eye Joe1994Cut66.87511
B83Dan BairdI Love You Period1992Cut68.2500
B84SisqoThong Song1999Cut74.87500
B85Papa RoachLast Resort2000Cut77.312500
B86Vitamin-CGraduation Song1999Cut81.562500
A5Simple MindsDon’t You (Forget About Me)1985Post-Rank DQ23.812540
A46Cory HartSunglasses at Night1983Post-Rank DQ4600
A47The Human LeagueDon’t You Want Me1981Post-Rank DQ46.312500
A58Thomas DolbyBlinded Me With Science1982Post-Rank DQ51.312500
A60Gary Glitter (pedo)Rock n Roll Part II1974Post-Rank DQ50.62510
A61LoverboyWorking for the Weekend1981Post-Rank DQ52.687500
A6210ccI’m not in Love1975Post-Rank DQ5341
B30JamiroquaiVirtual Insanity1996Post-Rank DQ36.937531
N/aErnie K-DoeMother in Law1961Pre-Rank DQ
N/aStan GetzGirl from Ipanema1964Pre-Rank DQ
N/aSam the Sham & The PharaohsWooly Bully1965Pre-Rank DQ
N/aDr. HookThe Cover of the Rolling Stone1972Pre-Rank DQ
N/aGolden EarringRadar Love1973Pre-Rank DQ
N/aRick DerringerRock and Roll Hoochie Coo1973Pre-Rank DQ
N/aNazarethLove Hurts1974Pre-Rank DQ
N/aGary WrightDream Weaver1975Pre-Rank DQ
N/aBellamy BrosLet the Love Flow1976Pre-Rank DQ
N/aEngland Dan and John Ford ColeyI’d Really Love to See You Tonight1976Pre-Rank DQ
N/aGary NumanCars1979Pre-Rank DQ
N/aDevoWhip It1980Pre-Rank DQ
N/aMen At WorkLand Down Under1981Pre-Rank DQ
N/aMadnessOur House1982Pre-Rank DQ
N/aTotoAfrica1982Pre-Rank DQ
N/aFrankie Goes to HollywoodRelax1983Pre-Rank DQ
N/aAxel FHarold Faltemeyer1984Pre-Rank DQ
N/aFalcoRock Me Amadeus1985Pre-Rank DQ
N/aBelinda CarlisleHeaven is a Place on Earth1987Pre-Rank DQ
N/aEdie Brickel & The New BohemiansWhat I am1988Pre-Rank DQ
N/aSixpence None the RicherKiss Me1997Pre-Rank DQ
N/aThe VerveBittersweet Symphony1997Pre-Rank DQ

crunching the numbers

What kind of social scientist would I be if I didn’t do some analysis of the data? Probably a more likable one. But c’mon, this is fun stuff.

This is STATA. The choice for all data scientists over 35 years of age.

the rankings

First off, I should say that the rankings went better than you could possibly have imagined. Basically, I asked my music-loving friends, work colleagues, and family (Mom, Dad, and Uncle Roxy) to go through this list of 198 songs and rank them. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to rank that much material, but it’s hard as shit.

I sent a Google spreadsheet to my team on April 3, and all of them were finished ranking by April 12. Outside of some fully-expected cut and paste fails, everything went pretty swell.

A snapshot of the Google sheet. Riveting content here.

some facts

The results are very interesting, as you might imagine. Let’s start with some fun facts.

First, my Dad loves Davinyl’s “I Touch Myself.” Rated it #2 in Group B. And I’m sure it’s totally because he just really likes the song. It has nothing to do with anything else at all.

Second, my mom has Primitive Radio Gods, EMF, and Mazzy Star in her Group B Top 5. Why then, I ask, did we waste all that time in 1990s listening to country music in the brick-red Chevy Cavalier station wagon? If you were ready to party to EMF, why was I forced to memorize Garth Brooks songs? Unbelievable.

Third, the only two actual musicians on the ranking team (Ginny and Paul) placed Spacehog in the #1 spot. I just want all of you to know that. Spacehog is good. This is a reference to my write-up on The Rules page. If you had read the rules, you would know what I’m talking about.

Fourth, the oldest ranker put Los del Rio’s “Macarena” in the one spot, and the youngest gave The Cardigans “Lovefool” the top notch. Age is weird.

Fifth, no one understands Wheatus except for me and one other person. What the hell’s wrong with you? Look, at first, she doesn’t know who he is, and then she invites him to an Iron Maiden show. And he’s JUST A TEEEEN-AGE DIIIIRT–BAG BABY!

Finally, the most reviled tune on the list is Vitamin-C’s “Graduation Song.” It had an average of #80. I’ll just leave that there.


There’s a second issue. All the members of my team share me in common, which could mean selection bias. What if we all have similar taste in music, and thus produce a weird-ass set of rankings?

That may be, but is a group of only 17 enough to come up with good rankings? No. But it’s a big enough group to trim a sample of 175 songs down to 128. The purpose of the initial rankings was simply to separate the Wheatus from the chaff–or for our purposes, to establish the extreme unpopularity of Starland Vocal Band and Papa Roach.

That’s certainly possible, but I don’t think it happened. First off, there is a great deal of variation in the rankings, even among tight-knit pairs of people. My mom and dad’s rankings were only medium correlated, statistically speaking. They disagreed on a lot. To cherry pick an example, my dad ranked The Archies’ “Louie Louie” #9, and my mom ranked it #45. Not even close. Incidentally, I noticed another married couple, Dave and Rachel M., did something very similar with the same song. Dave ranked it #1; Rachel ranked it #49. Is there something about the Archies that breaks up marriages? More research is needed.

Second, there is a good spread of songs in people’s #1s and top 5s. Only three wonders received more than one #1 ranking: A-ha’s “Take on Me,” Spacehog’s “In the Meantime,” and US3’s “Cantaloop.”

Only nine bands received four or more top-5 rankings: 10cc, A-ha, Dexys Midnight Runners, Procol Harum, Proclaimers, Simple Minds, Sneaker Pimps, Stealers Wheel, and Sugarhill Gang. Apparently, bands that start with “P” and “S” dominate people’s ears.

the top dogs

I can say, honestly, that I had no idea which songs would end up with in the top spot of each bracket. What tunes are the consensus choices for all ages and genders?

It turns out that Group A’s top seed is Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle With You,” and Group B’s top seed is Blind Melon’s “No Rain.” Both are great tunes, both with lead singers who had promising careers. Gerry Rafferty would go onto solo work, and Shannon Hoon would tragically pass away of a drug overdose.

Stealers Wheel were in five top 5s, and they received one #1 ranking. Blind Melon were in only 3 top 5s, and received no #1 rankings. But they were in six top 10s.

“Stuck” is a catchy stoner number about a cocktail party, intentionally sung in the vocal stylings of Bob Dylan. The band apparently were stunned that it became a massive hit, just as I’m stunned its Group A’s #1.

“No Rain” is a song written for creative loners, and it’s a celebration of self with a tinge of melancholy. The singer watches puddles gather rain, and we all call him insane. I’m not surprised this is Group B’s #1. This song was intensely popular.

On their surface, outside of great melodies, these songs have almost nothing in common. So why are they the top dogs? Check out a couple of facts. “No Rain” came out in 1992, and it was a hit on MTV. It is one of the most popular videos of all time, and inspired a whole Halloween costume. You’ve seen it: daydreaming girl with glasses in bee outfit. Something else happened in 1992. The breakout Tarantino film Reservoir Dogs was released, and its soundtrack featured none other than Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck In the Middle With you.” At the same time people were going to the movies and hearing this song anew, they were watching MTV and hearing “No Rain.”

Yes, that means both of our top dogs were getting action in 1992. Why does that matter? I have a theory that’s about generations. In 1992, our youngest rankers were alive and watching MTV, and our oldest rankers were still young enough to listen to new things. The early 1990s was a sweet spot. Further support for this theory: 8 of the top 10 songs in Group B were from the years 1989-1992.

We’ll see how this holds up when the number of rankers increases markedly.

the most polarizing songs, aka love ’em or hate ’em

Which songs are the most polarizing? Some songs everyone agrees are good, like House of Pain’s “Jump Around.” And other songs are universally reviled, like Dan Fogelberg’s “Longer.” But here I am more interested in those songs that some people love, and others hate.

One way of studying this is to analyze the standard deviation of the rankings. Basically, we can see which songs’ rankings are the farthest away from the average–this means some people ranked the song very high, and others very low. Here are the top five winners of the Love ‘Em or Hate ‘Em Award:

1. 10cc “I’m Not in Love”— I’m not sure why this is the most divisive song. On the one hand, people LOVE this song (confession: I’m one of them). It got as many top-five votes as A-ha’s “Take on Me,” and it even got a #1 ranking. But on the other hand, an equal number of people LOATHE this song. It made six bottom-ten lists. That means six rankers said it was one of their least favorite songs. This is amazing spread, making 10cc more polarizing than the Trump Administration. My guess is that it’s the vocal aesthetic. This is an airy, ethereal vocal track set to an ambient and slow-pulsing groove. You either listen and enjoy the Zen vibe, or you shit on the song for being saccharine and lame. Perhaps unluckily for the tournament, someone pointed out post-rankings that 10cc had another hit called “Dreadlock Holiday.” And apparently a lot of non-me people still listen to it. Begrudingly, I had to DQ.

2. The Five Stairsteps “O-o-h Child” — The song was in five top 20s, and five bottom 10s. It also got one #1. I suspect that what drives its divisiveness is its unabashed positivity. Coffee-drinking critical types don’t really like things that are happy, while the bubble-gum-chewing hopeful types do. Except this is what’s weird: the old rankers, who are most of the latter type of person, ranked this song very low. And the critical types (Ginny and Jeremy) ranked it very high. So what just happened here is that I stated a theoretical expectation and then immediately disconfirmed it with evidence. So who the hell knows?

3. Los del Rio “Macarena” — This smash dance hit got four top 10s, and four bottom 10s. It might be one of the most well-known songs of all time. But I can speak from personal experience on this one: some people find this song revolting, morally reprehensible even. If you’ve never been a 40-something wine-drunk on a cruise, odds are you haven’t enjoyed doing the macarena.

4. Chubby Checker “The Twist” — The twist, a song permanently etched into our cultural subconscious, got three rankings of #2, and then three bottom 5s. Outside of that, everything I said about the Macarena cross-applies. Except you can modify it to “40-something whiskey-drunk at a tiki bar.”

5. Jamiroquai “Virtual Insanity” — No idea. Maybe people find the hat unacceptable. But it also doesn’t matter because I had to DQ ole Jamiroquai because of a song called “Cosmic Girl.”

the disqualified

How did I determine which contenders would be disqualified?

First, I should say that there is no clear timeline for DQs. Some happened before the initial rankings based on my general music knowledge, and tips from early collaborators. Other DQs have happened after the rankings, as more information comes to light. And I will probably DQ even more after the Round of 128. The rules are the rules. They know no bounds.

Second, outside of Belinda Carlisle, every performer was DQed because they had another song that was good enough for people to listen to at a high rate. If you have any questions, just check Spotify. For example, you might think that Harold Faltemeyer’s “Axel F” (Beverly Hills Cop Soundtrack) is a slam dunk, but that dude also wrote the Top Gun Soundtrack. So nah.

Third and finally, Gary Glitter. This guy wrote a jock jam that you’ve heard in every stadium during every professional sporting event. Duh-nuh nuh-nuh nuh-nuh nuh-NUUUH NUH, HEY! Duh-nuh nuh-nuh. Well, that guy is a full-blown child pornographer and sex abuser. He was famous in Britain, and now he’s in prison. So I decided he doesn’t get to be in our competition. Not sorry.

Close Menu