The music industry may seem like a hellscape of manufactured tween garbage right now, but guess what? It’s always been that way. It’s just that the legends survive through the ages and the one-hit wonders… don’t. So what happens to you after you’re off the charts and back to obscurity? Many musicians just soldier on, but some turn to very different occupations. Here are ten one-hit wonders who went on to very strange fates.
Pete Burns of Dead Or Alive – “ You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)” – Insane Plastic Surgery
Dead Or Alive’s 1985 single “You Spin Me Round” never hit #1 in the United States, peaking at #11, but it was huge all over the world and now stands as one of the most recognizable songs of the 80s. Singer Pete Burns was always famous for his outrageous physical appearance – he claimed Boy George ripped off his style – but after the band left the spotlight he went totally nuts.
Burns wanted to make permanent changes to his appearance, getting first a nose job and then lip implants that went awry, giving him a bizarre, gigantic pucker. He sued the surgeon and won and later hosted a reality show called “Pete Burns’ Plastic Surgery Nightmares.”
Mike Edwards of Jesus Jones, “Right Here, Right Now” – Personal Trainer
The early 90s were a great time for British indie dance bands. It seemed like any yob with a synthesizer could get a hit single. Case in point, Wiltshire-based Jesus Jones. Their 1991 hit “Right Here, Right Now” addressed trendy political issues of the day and went to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The band soldiered on as grunge made them basically obsolete in the next few years, occasionally reuniting for albums or tours. Lead singer Mike Edwards, however, happily found a second career – as a personal trainer. Cycling was always a hobby for Edwards, and he briefly competed in races before starting his own exercise business.
Prince Be of P.M. Dawn, “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss” – Leg Amputated
Gangsta rap was just about to completely reshape the hip-hop universe in 1991, but New Jersey-based hip-hop duo P.M. Dawn snuck in under the wire with “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss,” their #1 Billboard hit that brought a smooth New Age vibe to rap music.
The song was a huge crossover success and they released a few follow-ups but never rose to #1 on the Billboard charts again. Unfortunately, rapper Prince Be suffered a stroke in 2005 that paralyzed half his body, and another stroke in 2009 led to an infection that cost him his right leg.
James Atkin of EMF, “Unbelievable” – Elementary School Teacher
Another late 80s / early 90s British band that had one smash hit and faded into obscurity, EMF, along with Jesus Jones, brought a fusion of light techno and rock & roll with their hit “Unbelievable.” The song hit #1 on the United States Billboard chart and made them overnight stars.
They then dropped out of the spotlight until 1995 for their second album, only to find that their style of music was already obsolete. The band dissolved, and lead singer James Atkin decided to pursue a career as an elementary school music teacher. No word on whether he plays his band’s one huge hit for his class, who probably are into One Direction anyways.
Stuart Adamson of Big Country, “In A Big Country” – Suicide
The 80s were a time when rock truly went international, with interesting voices cropping up from all over the world. Scottish alternative band Big Country scored a Billboard hit with 1983’s “In A Big Country,” an anthemic rock number with electric guitars heavily processed to resemble bagpipes.
They were dropped by their label in 1991 and eventually turned into a touring support act, cashing in on the last of their fame to grab gigs warming audiences up for bands like the Rolling Stones. Their attempt at a comeback was scuppered by the mysterious disappearance of singer Stuart Adamson, who vanished without a trace in 2001. A month later, Adamson was found dead in the closet of a hotel room in Honolulu, having drunkenly hung himself.
Pete Nice of 3rd Bass, “Pop Goes The Weasel” – Baseball Memorabilia Collector
3rd Bass was one of the first truly interracial hip-hop groups, featuring a black DJ fronted by two white rappers, MC Serch and Pete Nice. They didn’t shy from controversy, delivering brutal barbs against the rap game’s most commercially successful figures.
Their 1991 hit “Pop Goes The Weasel” was a diss track pointed at Vanilla Ice that went gold, but the group couldn’t ever recapture its success. While Serch still makes music, Pete Nice (under his real name, Pete Nash) has become one of the most respected names in baseball memorabilia collecting. He moved to Cooperstown and opened a baseball-themed wax museum and other business ventures, and now owns McGreevy’s Sports Bar in Boston.
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, “No Rain” – Cocaine Overdose
The early 90s were a fine time for guitar-driven bands that took influence from 70s hard rock and psychedelia. One of the most memorable one-hit wonders of 1993 was “No Rain” by Los Angeles-based group Blind Melon. The song, which spawned a video with a little girl in a bee costume that became a pop culture touchstone, lifted Blind Melon to multi-platinum seller status.
Subsequent efforts didn’t do nearly as well, and lead singer Shannon Hoon struggled with addiction and was checked in and out of rehab multiple times before dying of a cocaine overdose in his tour bus in 1995.
Peter Garrett of Midnight Oil, “Beds Are Burning” – Politician
Australian alternative band Midnight Oil always brought a political tone to their lyrics – their biggest hit, “Beds Are Burning,” is a demand for the Australian government to cede tribal lands back to the indigenous Pintupi people. So when the group eventually split up in 2002, lead singer Peter Garrett decided to focus on politics full-time.
In 2004, he was nominated for a spot in Australia’s House of Representatives with the Labour Party and won in a landslide. He’s held office ever since, with his responsibilities including the environment and education.
John Whitehead of McFadden & Whitehead, “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” – Murdered
Philadelphia-based songwriting and production duo John Whitehead and Gene McFadden were some of the most dependable hitmakers of the disco area, writing smash tracks for The O’Jays, Teddy Pendergrass and dozens more.
They also occasionally ventured into making their own records, and their 1979 single “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” has become a go-to motivational track for all kinds of events, including being played at the 2008 Democratic Convention when Barack Obama accepted the nomination. Whitehead converted to Islam in 1996 and left the music business, and in 2004 he was shot dead outside his house by two gunmen, presumably a case of mistaken identity.
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Gary Glitter, “Rock & Roll Part 2” – Underage Sex Scandals
Although glam rocker Gary Glitter had a handful of hits in his native England, in the States he’s known for just one song – “Rock & Roll Part 2,” a bombastic anthem that just about every sports team has on its jukebox. That is, until Glitter was arrested in 1997 for having child pornography on his computer.
He fled the country on his yacht, eventually settling in Cambodia. In 2002 that country deported him to Vietnam, where he was arrested and jailed for child sexual abuse. He steadfastly denies any wrongdoing, but the evidence is pretty damning.