A time of great social and political change, 1991 saw the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the repeal of South African Apartheid legislation, Operation Desert Storm of the Gulf War. In pop culture, Terminator 2: Judgement Day was the highest-grossing flick, Dances with Wolves won Best Picture at the Oscars, and Roseanne was the most-watched sitcom.
Grunge music, a heavy-rock style that originated in Seattle, hit the mainstream in 1991. Multi-platinum classics were released with Pearl Jam’s Ten in August and Nirvana’s Nevermind and Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger the following two months.
Although grunge and alternative rock were growing in popularity, the top songs on the pop charts largely consisted of adult contemporary, dance-pop, and R&B. The top three Year-End Hot 100 singles were “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” by Bryan Adams, “I Wanna Sex You Up” by Color Me Badd, and “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” by C+C Music Factory.
Over 30 artists notched their one and only hit in 1991. To qualify as a 360°Sound one-hitter, an artist must have just one career entry in the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100. The following seven 1991 one-hit wonders we’ve curated are a diverse bunch, everything from soft rock and prog to smooth jazz and hip-hop. Enjoy!
Chris Isaak – “Wicked Game”
Songwriter: Chris Isaak
Genre: Soft rock
Billboard Hot 100: #6 on March 2
Neo-rockabilly crooner Chris Isaak penned the sexy ballad “Wicked Game” for his third LP, 1989’s Heart Shaped World. But it wasn’t until the song was included in the David Lynch film Wild at Heart that an Atlanta DJ took notice and began playing the track. The song’s black & white music video, which had Isaac and supermodel Helena Christensen embracing on the beach, topped Rolling Stone’s 30 Sexiest Music Videos of All Time list.
Queensrÿche – “Silent Lucidity”
Songwriter: Chris DeGarmo
Genre: Progressive metal
Hot 100: #9 on June 1
This epic orchestral power ballad from the progressive metal band Queensrÿche centers on the singer’s very clear and vivid dream. “Silent Lucidity” topped the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart and was nominated for “Best Rock Song” at the 1992 Grammys.
Yo-Yo – “You Can’t Play With My Yo-Yo” (featuring Ice Cube)
Songwriters: Yo-Yo, Ice Cube, James Brown, and Charles Sherrell
Hot 100: #36 on July 6
Female rapper Yo-Yo (Yolanda Whitaker) got her big break when, at age 19, she collaborated with Ice Cube on the single “It’s a Man’s World.” Her sole Top 40 hit, “You Can’t Play With My Yo-Yo,” came from her debut album Make Way for the Motherlode, which inspired the title of Clover Hope’s fascinating book on women rappers.
Hope wrote in her book that Yo-Yo was a “role model with a pro-woman, pro-Black stance that appealed to other young women who were desperately in love with hip-hop. It was complicated for women like Yo-Yo to indulge in a sport like rap that sponsored an environment of hatred and violence against women and sold it as entertainment while also providing a means of money and escape for young black women, too.”
David A. Stewart – “Lily Was Here” (featuring Candy Dulfer)
Songwriter: David A. Stewart
Genre: Smooth jazz
Hot 100: #11 on July 13
Best known as the producer in the massively successfully ‘80s synth-pop duo Eurythmics, David A. Stewart joined forces with Dutch saxophonist Candy Dulfer for this instrumental theme to the little-known film Lily Was Here. The highlight of this smooth, moody number is the interplay between Dulfer’s horn and Stewart on guitar.
3rd Bass – “Pop Goes the Weasel”
Songwriters: Michael Berrin, John Dajani, Peter Gabriel, John Gamble, Peter Nash, Dante Ross, and Stevie Wonder
Hot 100: #29 on August 31
“Pop Goes the Weasel” was a single from 3rd Bass’s final album, the epic 23-track Derelicts of Dialect. The funky beat is built on samples of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer,” Stevie Wonder’s “You Haven’t Done Nothin,” and The Who’s “Eminence Front,” among others.
Siouxsie and the Banshees – “Kiss Them For Me”
Songwriters: Susan Ballion, Peter Edward Clarke, Martin McCarrick, and Steven Severin
Genre: Alternative dance
Hot 100: #23 on October 19
Siouxsie and the Banshees had long been goth-rock and post-punk icons by the time they finally notched their first Top 40 hit in the fall of 1991. “Kiss Them For Me,” which blends psychedelic and trance music, pays homage to actress and sex symbol Jayne Mansfield, who starred in the 1957 film of the same name with Cary Grant.
Big Audio Dynamite II – “Rush”
Songwriter: Mick Jones
Genre: Alternative rock
Hot 100: #32 on November 23
Big Audio Dynamite, who were later known as Big Audio Dynamite II and Big Audio, were formed by The Clash guitarist Mick Jones in 1984. The group fused a variety of styles, including punk, dance, reggae, funk, and hip-hop.
“Rush,” the first single from their fifth album The Globe, features several samples, including the keyboards from The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” (Editors Note: Wow, The Who samples were big that year!) and the organ intro from Deep Purple’s “Child in Time.” While the catchy single peaked at #32 on the Hot 100, it topped the Modern Rock Tracks chart for four weeks, later becoming that chart’s biggest hit of 1991.
Don’t stop now! Tune in to more great one-hitters