'90s One-Hit Wonders: Right Time, Right Place

As in previous decades, the 1990s gave us a slew of one-hit wonders.

Dec. 13, 2007 — -- Every time the beat drops, the first few bars reverberate through the speakers and into your ears. Instantly recognizable — whether you love the music or hate it — everyone knows it -- the joy and the curse of the one-hit wonder.

Within a few months the song has fallen off the charts and a follow-up single doesn't evoke the same popularity as its predecessor.

Soon the artist's name may slip your mind, and even the tune's title. But that doesn't stop a bevy of songs from every genre competing every year for the one-hit wonder title.

Determining what makes a hit popular may be debatable, but join us for our look back at some of the most popular tunes of the 1990s.

"The '90s made the '80s look like the '60s," said Alex Blagg, Bestweekever.tv managing editor. "In the '80s, the fashion and the music was pretty absurd, but somehow today, looking back, the '90s are even harder to understand."

See if you don't find yourself reminiscing -- if only briefly -- about these singular hits.

Lou Bega, 'Mambo No. 5'

Amid Y2K scares, millennium countdowns and a Latin music invasion, Lou Bega skirted just under the year's end in 1999 to ensure his place in one-hit wonderdom.

"Mambo No. 5," which sampled a 1952 instrumental tune, counted down all his female exploits. The chorus lists all the women in his love life.

"It's actually a pretty raunchy song," said Billboard senior editor Chucky Eddy. "They actually changed the name when it became a radio Disney hit."

The song — which never did say whether Monica, Angela, Pamela, Rita, Tina, Mary, Sandra or Jessica ever met one another — was not of Latin origin, but benefited from the popularity of Hispanic artists at the time.

"There's been a tradition of the central European songs that incorporate a Latin rhythm," Eddy said. "I always thought it was pretty cool that a guy from Germany could pull that off."

Right Said Fred, 'I'm Too Sexy'

From muscle-bound gym rats to tiny tots, it seemed everyone proclaimed their sexiness following Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy." It mocked models, who dominated magazines and popular culture when the song was released in 1992.

And while the group had the sound of an industrial Eastern European band, it was actually British.

"They presented themselves as kind of sprockets," Eddy said.

He added that the duo recalls other couplings, like Wham and the Pet Shop Boys, in which listeners try to figure out just what exactly the second guy in the duo does.

Among the things the duo was too sexy for: their car, their cat and their shirts. By the tune's end, the singers were too sexy for the song. They also may have been too sexy for a follow-up hit.

Kris Kross, 'Jump'

If the word "tween" had been coined in 1992, the song "Jump" and its backward-pants-wearing mini-rappers Kriss Kross would have led the set.

"They were like the Jackson Five of their year," Eddy said.

But the 13-years-olds had more than age on their side. According to Eddy, it's difficult for a song about jumping not to be popular.

"There is a whole history of songs about jumping," he said. Destiny's Child, House of Pain and the Pointer Sisters are just a few of the acts who had musical success with jump-themed jingles.

"The music has to jump," Eddy said. "It's onomatopoeia."

Snow, 'Informer'

If you mesh a Canadian with a rapper and sprinkle it with reggae, the resulting sound probably would be eerily similar to Snow. His unintelligible hit "Informer" left fans struggling to decipher what he was saying.

'"The guy actually had a pretty cool reggae voice," Eddy said.

The song was the first single from his debut album "12 Inches of Snow," a not-so-veiled sexual reference. But sex can't sell everything, because after "Informer" dropped from the No. 1 spot, Snow was left out in the cold.

The shock came when people caught glimpse of the white hit maker.

"I was surprised the first time I saw him," Eddy said.

Some gave Snow flack about his northern roots, far away from reggae's birthplace.

"Some of the best reggae comes from places other than Jamaica anyway," Eddy said.

Chumbawamba, 'Tubthumping'

Despite forming in 1982, it wasn't until 1997 that Chumbawamba garnered its first bonafide hit. "Tubthumping" became an international anthem for intoxicated college students.

"It's a hoist your beer stein in the pub type song," Eddy said.

Lyrics about "pissing the night away" after a night of drinking whiskey, vodka, lager and cider helped propel the song beyond the band's cult status.

It was a departure for the group, which was known for more serious fare.

"They were anarchists," Eddy said. "They were a very didactic protest band, and they had been around for years."

But perhaps the song wasn't such a departure from the group's punk roots. Eddy said the theme still kept in line with group's desire to bring the plight of the working class to the masses.

"It did what they were trying to do for years and did it better," he said. "They are certainly one of the weirdest one-hit wonders ever."The group's downfall may have been in its name.

"I don't think you can get away with more than one song if you're name is Chumbawamba," Blagg said.

Aqua, 'Barbie Girl'

A skewering but catchy satire about one of the world's most popular fictional women catapulted Aqua to the top of the charts in 1997.

"I'm sure they were thinking about making a statement," Blagg said. "But then those are the girls who made it an anthem for themselves, never realizing it was meant to parody."

Being "a blond, single girl in a fantasy world" turned out to be more difficult than expected, as Mattel sued the band for copyright infringement. In the end, the band didn't have to shell out any money because the song was protected, since it was a parody.

But that didn't stop the sugary-sweet pop sound from becoming one of the most memorable -- some would say annoying -- songs of the decade.

The contrast between the saccharinelike nature of the lead female vocals and the grittiness of the male vocals gave the tune an interesting and likable contrast, according to Eddy.

"She sounded like a Barbie, and he sounded like the sleaziest Eurotrash guy you can find," Eddy said. '"That's what the Right Said Fred guy should have sounded like."'

Eddy added that previous to and post-Aqua, no band had done a Barbie song better.

"Also, maybe the best video I've seen in my life," he said.

Tag Team, 'Whoomp! (There It Is)'

Tag Team's "Whoomp! (There It Is)" was nearly identical to 95 South's "Whoot, There It Is" when it was released in 1993.

The Miami-based twosome was part of the entire Southern techno-rap genre, according to Eddy. The single went on to become a staple in sports arenas.

"Sometimes you burn bright and burn quickly. You burn out after that," Blagg said. "They had nothing else to say.

Vanilla Ice, 'Ice Ice Baby'

Two words: Vanilla Ice. Really, is there anything else that needs to be said? Go to any school dance in the last 15 years and "Ice Ice Baby" practically was guaranteed to be on the playlist.

With a very heavy sample from Queen's "Under Pressure," Ice became the first white hip-hop artist to burst to the mainstream and lead the way for future white rap artists like Eminem.

"I think that Vanilla Ice was the greatest thing that could have happened to Eminem," Blagg said. "'I think he got so much credit for not being as bad as Vanilla Ice."

But Eddy believes Ice actually did bolster hip-hop during his brief chart tenure.

"It took a great hook from "Under Pressure" and improved it," Eddy said. "I wish I heard songs on the radio now that had that much energy."

Ice's timing seemed impeccable, as it came on the heels of MC Hammer's massive success as the first hip-hop artist to go mainstream, though he was another artist who surprised listeners with his look.

Eddy, who first heard the song on an urban Detroit radio station, believed it was gangster rap group NWA at first.

Ice's image became his undoing.

"They are judging the music from the picture of the guy not what the music does," Eddy said.

Gerardo, 'Rico Suave'

Before the Latin invasion, before Ricky Martin shook his hips to super stardom on the Grammys and before Jennifer Lopez became a triple threat, there was Gerardo. "Who?" you ask. You probably remember him as "Rico (insert seductive horn blowing here) Suave."

The song ushered in the term Spanglish into the cultural lexicon.

"I never thought it was that catchy," Eddy said. "He was no Ricky Martin."

But Blagg said the singer got his point across.

"Rico Suave was all that he had to say. He was rich and smooth," Blagg said.

Los Del Rio 'Macarena'

With its catchy chorus and ready-made dance, the Macarena was geared to become a wedding and dance-hall staple.

Yet the idea of two middle-aged men singing about a promiscuous party girl probably doesn't sound like an instant hit. But the song easily topped the charts and spawned spinoffs such as a Christmas version of the song.

"Who could have thought two random old guys running around singing Spanish gibberish," could have been a hit, Blagg said. The country just said, "Let's just go with these two Latino guys and see where they take it."

Marcy Playground, 'Sex and Candy'

The dreary and trippy video for Marcy Playground's "Sex and Candy" helped popularize the song when it was released in the late 1990s. Lead singer John Wozniak's uber-mellow voice and the deep base plucking gave the tune a distinctive sound in a post-grunge era.

"I love the deadness in his voice. He's talking about two wonderful things, sex and candy," Blagg said. "I liked a lot of dumb things when I was 16."

Watching an almost-lifeless Wozniak spread across the floor with blue blood spilling beneath him added an extra eeriness to the song.

"It's sort of creepy," Eddy said. "There's something creepy about the words."

Perhaps that is what drove listeners to send the song to the No. 8 spot on the charts.

"I guess I can sort of understand how people got pulled in by it," he added.