22 Queer One-Hit Wonders From Yesteryear

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"One-hit wonder" is a term music snobs often use with disdain. It's the name they give musical acts that managed to score only one Billboard Top 40 pop hit during their entire recording careers. 


But LGBT entertainment lovers have our own tastes, a mixture of the discerning and the offbeat. We gravitate to megastars like Madonna, who has something like 11 million Top 40 hits, but we also love artists on the fringe such as drag icon RuPaul, whose modest 1992 Billboard chart success — he landed at #45 with "Supermodel (You Better Work)" — was a cause for celebration in our community. 


In fact, some of the most influential and enduring figures in LGBT musical culture are, in terms of the Billboard chart, technically one-hit wonders. For all her talent, would you believe the legendary k.d. lang has scored only one Top 40 song, with "Constant Craving" in 1992? Pioneer synth pop icon Jimmy Somerville has had just two songs in the Hot 100 and only one of those  weaseled its way into the Top 40, the Communards' 1986 dance tune "Don't Leave Me This Way," which squeaked in at number 40. 


A trip down musical memory lane reveals that the Top 40 archives are peppered with one-time-only hits by LGBT artists — some beloved and some relatively unknown. Let's turn the radio dial to yesteryear and remember a few such gems. 


Lou Reed, "Walk on the Wild Side" (1973)

If you're a fan of Lou Reed, who reportedly bedded both men and women, you know his tribute to transgender cult film stars Candy Darling and Holly Woodlawn, which made it to number 16 on the pop charts, was just the tip of iceberg. "Walk on the Wild Side" only hints at Reed's vast, decades-long musical catalog that explored life on a seedy Lower East Side. But of course, for many, this hit tune's catchy doo-doo-doos are all they'll ever hear of Reed, who died in 2013.



LaBelle, "Lady Marmalade" (1974)

Sure, R&B legend Patti LaBelle scored plenty of hits later as a solo artist, but before that she was in the funktacular 1970s all-girl trio LaBelle, featuring bisexual singer-songwriter Nona Hendryx. Together, LaBelle, Hendryx and their fellow singer Sarah Dash scored big time with exactly one song, "Lady Marmalade," an ode to a New Orleans prostitute. That's Hendryx wearing the bejeweled hood in the video above. She's been recording consistently interesting, sometimes truly avant-garde music, for decades, and yet "Lady Marmalade" remains her only foray into Billboard's Top 40. But wow, what a spectacular one. (UPDATE: "Lady Marmalade"'s songwriter, the late Bob Crewe, was gay.)



Janis Ian, "At Seventeen" (1975)

The best song about growing up female ever written, out folk singer Janis Ian's "At Seventeen" made it all the way to the number 3 spot on the pop singles chart (and hit the number 1 spot on the adult contemporary chart). This ballad of an "ugly duckling" was nominated for several Grammys, scoring a Best Female Pop Vocal Performance win. Though she continues to release excellent music, Ian never cracked the Top 40 again. But she's actually not a one-hit wonder: In 1967 she hit number 14 on the pop charts with "Society's Child," a timely take on interracial relationships.


Soft Cell, "Tainted Love" (1981)

Out singer Marc Almond's woeful vocals graced this smash hit, which landed at the number 8 spot on Billboard's pop singles charts. Thirty-plus years later, the pioneering electroclash tune is still popular. You know it, you've danced it. And it was the duo's only American hit.