I am amazed by the popularity of one hit wonders, and how the topic brings back nostalgic memories for many folks.
Over the past 3 years, I have published one hit wonders blogs from years 1969 through 1972. These articles are among my most viewed messages of all-time.
With this edition of my musical musings, I am concentrating on the best “one hit wonders” from 1968. I will be counting down the top songs in this category from 55 years ago.
Audio aircheck above: Fred King WROV Roanoke June 1968. WROV Top 40 survey below from June 10, 1968. Courtesy of the WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.
I have fond memories listening to top 40 radio from my home in Roanoke, Virginia during 1968. My go to station was legendary WROV 1240 AM, which was the top-rated radio outlet in my city.
The WROV DJs that I remember back in 1968 were Jack Fisher, Fred Frelantz, Bart Prater, Fred King, Ron Phelps and Phil Beckman. During daylight hours, I exclusively listened to WROV.
When WROV reduced power at sundown, I would listen to top 40 AM radio stations located hundreds of miles away from my Virginia home. 50,000-watt WLS 890 AM Chicago and WABC 770 AM New York were my top two choices for nighttime listening.
What exactly is a “One Hit Wonder?” The basic definition: An artist has only one hit song on the national Billboard Hot 100 pop chart during their career. This music blog message pertains solely to hit songs within the United States.
To avoid any confusion, here are the criteria that I am using to define a one hit wonder:
- No other songs from an artist ever peaking at number 40 or higher on the Billboard National Pop Chart. (Chart positions from number 40 to number 1).
- One hit wonders vary from country to country. An artist may have just one hit in the United States but may have multiple hits in another country.
- Regional hits are not taken into account: A second song must be a national hit and chart within the Billboard Top 40 pop survey.
- Singles that peak from numbers 41 through 100 on the national Billboard Hot 100 pop chart are generally not considered as a second hit. Example: a 2nd song peaking at number 87 does not constitute an artist as a two-hit-wonder.
All documentation of chart positions I share below in this article comes from The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits by Joel Whitburn. I proudly own a hard copy of this excellent reference manual, which I consider to be the ‘bible” handbook for music history with Top 40 radio.
As a point of reference, below are the top 10 biggest records of 1968. Only two of the songs listed are one hit wonders: “Love is Blue” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
1 “Hey Jude” The Beatles
2 “Love is Blue” Paul Mauriat
3 “Honey” Bobby Goldsboro
4 “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” Otis Redding
5 “People Got to Be Free” The Rascals
6 “Sunshine of Your Love” Cream
7 “This Guy’s in Love with You” Herb Alpert
8 “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” Hugo Montenegro
9 “Mrs. Robinson” Simon & Garfunkel
10 “Tighten Up” Archie Bell & the Drells
Before starting my countdown with the best 1968 one hit wonders, I must clear up some Internet erroneous information that some proclaim on this topic.
There are two outstanding singles from 1968 by artists who have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Some may disagree with me but I don’t consider either of these individuals as “one hit wonders.”
- Jimi Hendrix: “All Along the Watchtower” Peaked at #20 on Billboard Hot 100
A song written by the legendary Bob Dylan, “All Along the Watchtower” was the only Jimi Hendrix song to chart #40 or higher on the Billboard Hot 100. However, the superb guitarist did have three other songs peaking between numbers 52 and 67: “Crosstown Traffic”, “Purple Haze” and “Foxy Lady.” Here in 2023, all 3 of these singles continue to receive heavy airplay on US classic rock radio stations.
2. Janis Joplin: “Piece of My Heart” Big Brother & the Holding Company: Peaked at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The San Francisco psychedelic rock band Big Brother & the Holding Company had Janis Joplin as lead singer. While “Piece of My Heart” was the only song to chart #40 or higher on the Billboard Hot 100, the group’s follow up single, “Down on Me” peaked at #43 during the fall of 1968. Joplin also had a posthumous #1 hit “Me and Bobby McGee” in 1971.
Noteworthy 1968 one hit wonders outside of my top 20 countdown:
- Fire—The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
- Skip a Rope—Henson Cargill
- Shame Shame—Magic Lanterns
- In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida—Iron Butterfly
- Playboy—Gene and Debbie
- Love Makes a Woman—Barbara Acklin
Novelty 1968 One Hit Wonders:
Tip Toe Thru’ the Tulips with Me—Tiny Tim
Here Comes the Judge—Shorty Long
Quick Joey Small (Run Joey Run)—Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orchestral Circus
Here Comes the Judge—Pigmeat Markham
As Casey Kasem used to say on his American Top 40 show: “It’s now on with the countdown.”
20. Sweet Inspiration—The Sweet Inspirations
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #18 Hot 100, 84th Biggest Song of 1968
R&B girl group. Worked as backup singers for soul, pop and rock artists. Cissy Houston, mother of Whitney Houston, a member of this ensemble.
19. Green Tambourine—The Lemon Pipers
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100, 47th Biggest Song of 1968
Psychedelic rock band from Oxford, Ohio. Lyrics depict a street musician busking for money. It was first #1 hit for Buddah Records.
18. Nobody But Me—The Human Beinz
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #8 Hot 100, 67th Biggest Song of 1968.
Song written by siblings O’Kelly, Rudolph, and Ronald Isley. Youngstown, Ohio band names a variety of popular 60s dances in song.
17. Girl Watcher—The O’Kaysions
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #5 Hot 100, 45th Biggest Song of 1968
Beach pop group from Wilson, North Carolina. In 2003, group received a Hall of Fame award from the Carolina Beach Music Association for “Girl Watcher.”
16. Master Jack—Four Jacks and a Jill
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #3 Adult Contemporary, #18 Hot 100
South African folk rock combo. “Master Jack” went to #1 in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Zimbabwe and in the group’s home country.
15. Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)—John Fred & His Playboy Band
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100, 25th Biggest Song of 1968
Louisiana based rock band. Novelty hit. Song title is parody on John Lennon’s psychedelic classic, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by the Beatles.
14. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly—Hugo Montenegro
Peaks positions on Billboard Charts: #2 Hot 100, 8th Biggest Song of 1968
American orchestra leader and composer of film soundtracks. His best-known work is interpretations of the music from Western movies. An unexpected hit.
13. Grazing in the Grass—Hugh Masekela
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100, 18th Biggest Hit of 1968.
Hugh Masekela was a jazz trumpet player from South Africa. Music was composed by Philemon Hou and features a cowbell. Tune inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2018.
12. The Horse—Cliff Nobles & Co.
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #2 Hot 100, 21st Biggest Hit of 1968
Interesting that Cliff Nobles didn’t perform on the tune credited to him. A group of session musicians jammed in the studio to create the instrumental track. “The Horse” was released as the B-Side of the 45-rpm single “Love is All Right” and is the instrumental version of that tune.
11. Summertime Blues—Blue Cheer
Peak Position on Billboard Charts: #14 Hot 100, 56th Biggest Song of 1968
“Summertime Blues” originally was a hit by Eddie Cochran in 1958. Cover by San Francisco, California psychedelic hard rock band. Blue Cheer is considered pioneers for the “heavy metal” genre of music.
10. Angel of the Morning—Merrilee Rush & the Turnabouts
Peak Position on Billboard Charts: #7 Hot 100: 28th Biggest Song of 1968.
The song earned a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary-Pop Vocal Performance, Female. Rush and her band opened up for Paul Revere & the Raiders in 1967.
9. Shape of Things to Come—Max Frost & the Troopers
Peak Position on Billboard chart: #22 Hot 100
Max Frost & the Troopers is actually a fictional band that was featured in a 1968 movie “Wild in the Streets.” Harley Hatcher has lead vocals on song. Produced by Mike Curb.
8. Love is Blue—Paul Mauriet
Peak positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100, 2nd Biggest Hit of 1968
With “Love is Blue” reaching number 1 for five weeks during February and March in 1968, Paul Mauriat became the first French artist to top the Billboard Hot 100. The tune also spent 11 weeks at number 1 on the “Easy Listening” chart and became the second-best-selling record in 1969 according to Billboard.
7. Harper Valley PTA—Jeannie C Riley
Peak Position on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100, 17th biggest Song of 1968
Country singer-songwriter Tom T Hall created a most unusual story for this crossover Top 40 hit. The Harper Valley PTA meeting was a wild and wacky affair as an “unfit mother” addresses her concerns about the hypocrisy of multiple other members with the school organization.
6. MacArthur Park—Richard Harris
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #2 Hot 100, 51st Biggest Song of 1968
First 45-rpm single over 7 minutes long to reach top 10 on Billboard Hot 100. Irish actor Richard Harris interpreted Jimmy Webb’s epic story song. Songwriter won a Grammy Award in 1969.
5. I Love You—People
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #14 Hot 100: 53rd Biggest Song of 1968
California Rock Band. Written by the Zombies bassist Chris White. Larry Norman was lead singer. He went on to become a pioneer in Christian rock music: starting in 1969 and continuing into the 70s.
4. Reach Out of the Darkness—Friend and Lover
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #10 Hot 100: 49th Biggest Song of 1968.
Folk-singing duo composed of husband/wife team Jim and Cathy Post. Song became a protest anthem against American politics during the late 60s.
3. Classical Gas—Mason Williams
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #2 Hot 100, 43rd Biggest Hit of 1968
“Classical Gas” was composed by Mason Williams and features instrumental backup by the professional session musicians known as the “Wrecking Crew.” During 1969, the tune won three Grammy Awards for categories all associated with instrumental music.
2. Journey to the Center of the Mind—The Amboy Dukes
Peak Position on the Billboard Chart: #16 Hot 100
Chicago, Illinois based group founded in 1964 by Ted Nugent. The Amboy Dukes were known primarily as a psychedelic/hard rock band. Musically and lyrically, this masterpiece helped to define the 60s psychedelic era of songs on top 40 radio. Nugent started a solo career in 1975.
1. Pictures of Matchstick Men—Status Quo
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #12 Hot 100, 55th Biggest Song of 1968
British rock band Status Quo has my number 1 song with “Pictures of Matchstick Men.” Formed in 1962, the band is still active in 2023. Interestingly, while Status Quo has charted fifty-seven top 40 hits in the UK, they have just one hit song in the US.
Status Quo co-founder, guitarist and lead singer Francis Rossi wrote the song for band’s only American hit. The songwriter’s lyrics use the term “matchstick men” which came from a reference to the paintings and drawings of English artist L. S. Lowry.
“Pictures of Matchstick Men” is musically rich, with the tune featuring a phasing audio effect and wah-wah guitars. The record is said to be one of the first to use this technique. The distinctive four-note guitar riff throughout the song makes this a memorable song from the summer of 1968.
Without a doubt, I consider “Pictures of Matchstick Men” by Status Quo as one of the best singles from 55 years ago and the greatest one hit wonder of 1968.
Now that I have humbly submitted my countdown of 1968 one hit wonders, I am curious to find out your opinion on this topic. Obviously, I do not want to come across as authoritative with my critique. The songs that you feel are the best may be completely different from my selections.
What do you consider to be the best one hit wonders from 1968? There are no right or wrong answers. I welcome your thoughts.
Listening to music from the golden age of Top 40 radio will always have a special place in my heart. I cherish and fondly remember my favorite “one hit wonders” of 1968. Rock on!
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