Do one-hit wonders hate being one-hit wonders? Imagine clawing your way up through the music industry, playing bars for years before finally topping the charts with your most pop-friendly hook, and then that’s it. It's over. The public likes your one song, and then tire of you. Does it sting? Probably not for these artists, because they wound up richer than than their more famous peers.
How did they do it? By giving up on being famous and finding out what they were really good at: getting filthy stinking rich.
1. Thomas Dolby, “She Blinded Me With Science.”
Thomas Dolby made synth pop about science, embodied by his only hit, 1982’s “She Blinded Me With Science.” But that geeky act wasn’t just Dolby's stage persona—dude totally loved science for real. In the early ‘90s, Dolby founded a company called Headspace to develop a downloadable music file format (RMF) for the then-burgeoning Internet.
A few years later, Dolby renamed the company Beatnik, and he and Beatnik were ahead of the curve on mobile phones. Beatnik made sound synthesizers for cell phones and developed hundreds of polyphonic ring tones. They licensed those tones to companies like Nokia. That omnipresent default Nokia tone? Dolby is responsible for that.
2. The Teddy Bears, “To Know Him is to Love Him.”
In 1958, a bunch of L.A. teenagers formed a vocal group called the Teddy Bears and released a ballad called “To Know Him is to Love Him.” The only hit for that group before they broke up not long after, it was written by member Phil Spector. Yes, convicted murderer and hair-volume record holder Phil Spector.
In between the Teddy Bears and his later murder career, he made a killing in royalties as a songwriter and producer for acts like the Beatles, the Righteous Brothers, the Ramones, and all sorts of 1960s “girl groups.” Spector’s signature “Wall of Sound” produced so many hits that his fortune is estimated to be about $100 million.
3. C.W. McCall, “Convoy”
The gas crisis of the 1970s gave way to one of the weirdest fads of all time: the CB radio craze. Previously the domain of long-haul truckers, regular old non-truckers installed citizens band radios in their cars, ostensibly to share with each other where gas was cheapest (and also to relay where speed traps and cops were set up down the road). It also gave users (much like the Internet) a chance to make up funny handles (usernames) like "Timberwolf" or First Lady Betty Ford's handle, "First Mama." (Although "First Lady Betty Ford" is a much funnier handle, frankly.)
Cashing in on the fad was the 1976 novelty hit “Convoy,” a story song about a convoy of trucks. It was performed by “C.W. McCall,” a fictional character portrayed by William Fries, a Midwestern advertising executive who created the persona for a bakery’s ad campaign. The lyrics to the song were written by Fries’ coworker Chip Davis, who around that time was experimenting with electronic music and recording under the name Mannheim Steamroller.
While Davis-as-Steamroller has released dozens of New Age albums, the act is best known for its futuristic Christmas music, particularly its cover of “Deck the Halls.” While he only had the one hit in the ‘70s with “Convoy,” Davis’ Mannheim Steamroller has sold 40 million albums (most of them to your mom).
4. Vanilla Ice, “Ice Ice Baby”
It’s one of the most ubiquitous songs of all time, so don’t even try to pretend that you hate it. "Ice Ice Baby" was everybody’s jam and it’s pretty damn good. It was the first rap song to hit #1. Nobody can take that away from Vanilla Ice, not even Suge Knight, who once dangled the man formerly known as Robert Van Winkle (and future That’s My Boy star) out of a window until he got a cut of the lucrative royalties.
Vanilla Ice had no choice but to supplement his income when it became clear that despite "Go Ninja Go Ninja," he would be a flash in the plan. Vanilla invested a lot of his ice-cold cash into the red-hot Miami real estate market, and began “flipping” houses before cable TV taught everybody else what that was. Property values in Miami did very well (until they fell off a cliff in the Great Recession). Today, he’s worth an estimated $20 million, and has found a new career in the limelight hosting house-flipping shows on cable TV.