Scene Spotlight: ’90s One Hit Wonders

Sometimes a band comes along at just the right moment. Sometimes it’s a great band with a deep catalog. Sometimes it’s a not-as-great band cashing in on – or even creating – a fad. Sometimes a band briefly punches way above its creative and commercial weight class. This is a survey of some of my favorite of these bands throughout the 90s.

“Right Here, Right Now” (1990)
Jesus Jones

I’m fudging a bit here on the term “One Hit Wonder.” Jesus Jones actually scored two top 10 U.S. hits off their sophomore album, Doubt. I think it’s fair to say they’ll always be associated with the second of those hits, though.

“Right Here, Right Now” became a sort of unofficial anthem for the end of the cold war. This song perfectly captured the short-lived mood of optimism and relief in the West after decades of nuclear anxiety. It’s also a pretty great song with irresistible guitar and bass hooks.

FWIW, I think Doubt is an underrated album that goes in some tonally different directions from their most famous hit. Maybe check out “Welcome Back Victoria” for a different take on the band.

“I Touch Myself” (1991)

As far as euphemisms go, this one’s pretty blunt, and this song is all the better for it. Rock has a long history of coding sexuality – and female sexuality, in particular – between the lines. Divinyls deserve some credit for taking something taboo and making a sultry, sweet love song about it. Also, it’s just a well-crafted song from a veteran rock band.

“Baby Got Back” (1992)
Sir Mix-a-Lot

I think this one speaks for itself:

Oh, my, god. Becky, look at her butt.
It is so big.

She looks like, one of those rap guys’ girlfriends.
But, you know, who understands those rap guys?
They only talk to her, because,
she looks like a total pr(hopefully avoiding disqus filter)stitute, ‘kay?

There is a surprising amount of political subtext to this song that went largely ignored in its time.

“What’s Up?” (1993)
4 Non Blondes

I don’t think there’s any hope of rehabilitating “What’s Up” – that He-Man video put the last nail in that coffin – but I did enjoy this song a lot when it came out. This came out just as popular music was really starting to steer into the cynicism that would characterize the mid-90s, and it comes off as a bit saccharine by comparison to its more-enduring contemporaries. But, yeah, I really like this song and I’ll just leave it at that.

4 Non Blondes frontwoman Linda Perry has enjoyed an accomplished career writing songs for vastly more famous artists. I’m just sayin’.

“Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” (1994)
Crash Test Dummies

Brad Roberts voice is polarizing. To some it’s idiosyncratic to the point of gimmickry. To me, there’s a playful soulfulness to it. God Shuffled His Feetremains one of my favorite albums of the 90’s; a folk rock compendium of whimsy, irony and pathos that I don’t think works without Brad Roberts’ winking croak holding it all together. Putting aside their unpronounceable hit and their honestly kinda terrible name, I think these guys deserve a second look if you’re not already a fan.

“Possum Kingdom” (1995)

It’s a little unsettling how much fun it is to sing along with this one. I got nothing for this one, guys. If anyone wants to go to bat for them in the comments, I’d love to hear more, because based on their one hit, I suspect Toadies (really wish it was “the Toadies”) have made some other great music.

“Mother Mother” (1996)
Tracy Bonham

I Owned This Album In The 90s And Loved It Part III. I don’t think “Mother Mother” stuck in the public consciousness as much as some the rest of the songs on this list, but it technically qualifies as a hit, so I’m including it. Bonham has a ragged energy that I find irresistible. The rebellious theme of the song is lost past a certain age, but it’s still something I can put on from time to time and enjoy.

“Lovefool” (1997)
The Cardigans

A fizzy nothing of a song, genetically engineered in a Swedish lab, but it’s fun. Also there’s no way I was going to pick “Tubthumping” for ’97, no matter how much people try to convince me that Chumbawamba is actually a great band.

“Sex and Candy” (1998)
Marcy Playground

Part IV in the continuing series of albums I owned in the 90s that are faintly embarrassing now. I still like Marcy Playground, but it’s hard not to see their music as a compromise between the fading alt-rock boom and the indie rock scene of the late 90’s. This is a nice song with an understated charm, but not much more to me.

“You Get What You Give” (1999)
New Radicals

It seems appropriate to bookend this list with another dose of optimism. Is it a stretch to a imagine a generational shift away from the jaded disinterest of the mid 90’s happening here? Probably.

On a final note, I’d like to once again encourage bands to include “the” in their names where appropriate.