Using one-hit wonders for playlists in an indoor cycling class can create an exciting and nostalgic experience for your riders. One-hit wonders are songs that became immensely popular but were never followed up by another successful track from the same artist.
The nature of one-hit wonders can indeed be subjective, as people’s familiarity with the artist and their songs can vary greatly, especially from one country to another. While some individuals may have been devoted fans who knew many of their songs by heart (even the B-sides), others may have only heard the one famous chart-topping song. This diversity of experiences adds an interesting dynamic to the use of one-hit wonders in playlists—it may even lead to some spirited discussions.
There is, however, a technical classification for one-hit wonders.
In The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders, music journalist Wayne Jancik defines a one-hit wonder as “an act that has won a position on [the] national, pop, Top 20 record chart just once.” The term is commonly used to refer to an artist that only hits the charts with one song and they can’t replicate that success with subsequent releases. Thus, the artist’s fame is (usually) short-lived. Interestingly, different countries may view one-hit wonders differently. What hits the charts in North America is not the same as the charts in other countries. Therefore, there is not always a consensus about one-hit wonder songs (you should see the discussions about what constitutes a one-hit wonder in the indoor cycling Facebook groups when this subject comes up!). Nevertheless, there are so many one-hit wonders from every decade, that I’m sure you and your riders can name at least three. Or four. Or ten.
As much as I love exploring new music, there is something so fun about riding to tunes you know. One-hit wonders often evoke a sense of familiarity and nostalgia, as riders instantly recognize the song. But because that artist’s other songs rarely made the airwaves, your riders may struggle to recall the artist’s name. This is when it can be fun to play a little trivia during your class by asking participants to name the artist.
Below, ICA members can download my latest Express Profile with four climbs, Lost in Time: Grooving to One-Hit Wonders. We also have a Spotify bucket playlist you can follow that has over 175 songs that meet the criteria of being a one-hit wonder. With this curated collection, you can switch out a few of your favorites in my profile if desired, or use these tracks to create your own profile.
Don’t be surprised if you see a song or two in this bucket playlist that you don’t believe belongs there. You may be like the ardent fan we described above who knew that group’s entire discography. For example, Jennifer saw that I added the song “Tenderness” by General Public to the bucket playlist and she mourned, “That breaks my young new wave heart—I knew every song they sang!” She even did a tribute on ICA when lead singer Rankin Roger passed away. Alas, also as described above—it truly was their only hit song! (And no, it doesn’t count that Rankin Roger was also in The English Beat, who had five top-ten hits.)
It’s important to note that being a one-hit wonder doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality or talent of the artist. Factors such as timing, luck, changing music trends, or lack of follow-up hits can contribute to an artist’s status as a one-hit wonder. Also, different sources will rate one-hit wonders differently. Rolling Stone’s Readers List of Top 10 One-Hit Wonders of All Time lists “Take on Me” by A-ha as number one and “Come on Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners as number two. In 2002, there was a show hosted by William Shatner called VH1’s 100 Greatest One-Hit Wonders. The show ranked “The Macarena” by Los Del Rio as number one and “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell as number two.
And then there is the question of groups that have had one hit but are currently still performing and putting out records. Sure, it’s possible that they can break the one-hit wonder curse with another chart-topper. This is why you’ll find a preponderance of groups from pre-2010 in our bucket playlist…because with some artists, you just never know! (See the track “Watch Me (Whip Nae Nae)” by Silentó highlighted below and see why he probably won’t be putting out any new hits in his lifetime. Not something I recommend!)
Let’s take a look at a few of these solo hits and see how they can best be used in the cycling studio.
Take On Me, A-ha, 84 bpm, 3:43
This is one of those songs that is a one-hit wonder in North America but not in their native Norway, where A-ha is revered and has had many chart-topping hits. It is believed that the cool animated video helped to propel this song to the top of the charts.
This song has three distinct choruses that are fun to play with by either changing positions on the bike (seated or standing), adding resistance, or adding cadence. Its tempo also makes it good for a warm-up track or for a flat road with building intensity. If you want to use the chorus to make a change in position, resistance, and/or cadence, they are at 0:50–1:13 (23s), 1:30–1:52 (22s), and 2:40–3:29 (49s).
Come on Eileen, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, 107 bpm, 4:47
This track is great for a flat road with leg surges on the chorus. The tempo of the song makes it a bit tricky (107 rpm can be extremely challenging for many riders to maintain for very long with good form), but if you start below the beat, say in the low to mid 90s rpm, you can “chase the beat” on the chorus. There are three distinct choruses to increase cadence at 1:24–1:41 (17s), 2:24–2:48 (24s), and 3:30–4:00 (30s). This song is also especially fun if you have someone named Eileen in your class. See the post from ICA on names.
Macarena, Los Del Río (Bayside Boys Remix), 103 bpm, 4:10
Los Del Rio’s original version of the song didn’t make any waves, but once the Bayside Boys remix was released, the world was never the same. But who is Los Del Río? Many would be hard-pressed to remember the duo behind this iconic song. Do you remember the Macarena dance? I’m pretty certain that everyone who hears this song has an immediate (and possibly embarrassing) flashback to doing this at parties—and you still come across it at some throwback events!
With the fast bpm and high energy, this song is great for a flat road with intervals. Alternatively, you could add this song in as a recovery, dissociate from the beat, and just have fun with it. (Apologies for the earworm…and you’re welcome!)
Tainted Love, Soft Cell, 144 bpm, 2:34
Soft Cell is another band where opinions would differ in different countries about the classification of a one-hit wonder. In the US, Soft Cell is a one-hit wonder, but in the UK, they had many hits.
Add this track to your playlist as a fast climb in and out of the saddle, or, if you need a break, use it as a recovery song and sing along.
Video Killed the Radio Star, The Buggles, 131 bpm, 4:14
“Video Killed the Radio Star” is remembered for being the first music video ever played on MTV, which launched on August 1, 1981 (we highlighted this track on our MTV Launch Party post). The music video featured futuristic and technologically advanced visuals, reflecting the song’s lyrics that highlighted the impact of new media technologies on traditional forms of entertainment. Alas, it was The Buggles’ only big hit.
It’s an upbeat and catchy synth-pop track with memorable hooks and melodies that works great as a climb in your cycling classes.
Watch Me (Whip Nae Nae), Silentó, 3:05, 140 bpm
This track peaked at #3 in the Billboard Hot 100 where it spent six weeks. The video has amassed close to 2 billion views, making it one of the top 80 most-viewed videos on YouTube. It received a nomination for Top Song of the Summer at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards, but Complex Media added it to their list of “songs we hated in 2015.” It could be interesting to see how your riders react to this song—are they lovers or haters? The energy of the song makes it only good for a cool-down.
Now, to address the question of whether this artist could escape from the curse of being a one-hit wonder by releasing a new hit…probably not gonna happen with Silentó—he’d have to first escape from jail. He was convicted of murder in 2021.
Not all one-hit wonders are great for indoor cycling and that is why ICA is here to help you sort through the hundreds of options.
Below, you can find our new profile and our Spotify bucket list with over 175 songs great for cycling. If we have missed any of your favorites, let us know and we will add them in.