15 Most Unusual Pop Hit Songs Of All Time

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The Buoys - "Timothy" (1971)

The Buoys - Timothy
The Buoys - "Timothy". Courtesy EMI

Written by Rupert Holmes of "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" fame, the song "Timothy" is seemingly the only top 40 pop hit about cannibalism. The song details coal miners trapped, and only two of the three escape. There is not a direct statement that Timothy's fate was sealed by cannibalism, but the lyrics strongly hint at that outcome. 

As the song began to take off as a hit, radio programmers became aware of the disturbing lyrical content and began to ban the song. However, some stations decided to try and pick up the slack by playing the song. Scepter Records argued that Timothy was intended to be a mule, not a person, but songwriter Rupert Holmes didn't go along with that assertion. "Timothy" peaked at #17.

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Captain & Tennille - "Muskrat Love" (1976)

Captain & Tennille - Muskrat Love
Captain & Tennille - "Muskrat Love". Courtesy A&M

As the title suggests, "Muskrat Love" is a song about a romantic relationship between muskrats named Susie and Sam. It was first recorded by the songwriter Willis Alan Ramsey and titled "Muskrat Candlelight." However, when pop-rock band America decided to cover it, they changed the title to "Muskrat Love." However, it failed to take off for the group as a hit.

In 1976, Captain & Tennille recorded "Muskrat Love" after including it in their live act. They thought the song was a very amusing one. The recording includes synthesizer sound effects meant to be the sound of muskrats in love. The duo performed the song at a White House dinner honoring Queen Elizabeth II in the summer of 1976, and they were criticized by the press for their poor taste in song choice. "Muskrat Love" was a major pop hit peaking at #4.

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Cheech and Chong - "Basketball Jones" (1973)

Cheech & Chong - Baskeball Jones
Cheech & Chong - "Baskeball Jones". Courtesy Ode

"Basketball Jones" details the story of the character Tyrone Shoelaces and his all consuming love of basketball. It became the first top 40 pop hit by celebrated comedy duo Cheech & Chong peaking at #15. Cheech Marin sings the lead in falsetto.

The recording session was an all-star affair. George Harrison, Carole King, Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, and Billy Preston are among the musicians who appear on "Basketball Jones." An animated short film was created to promote the song and was frequently shown in movie theaters.

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Crash Test Dummies - "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" (1994)

Crash Test Dummies - God Shuffled His Feet
Crash Test Dummies - God Shuffled His Feet. Courtesy Arista

According to Brad Roberts, songwriter and leader of Canadian band Crash Test Dummies, he wrote "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" intending to add a funny angle to serious content while remaining powerful and poignant. For many listeners, the final product was very unusual featuring Roberts' very deep vocals. The lyrics detail the suffering of children who are isolated and different from others. 

"Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" climbed all the way to #4 on the pop singles chart and earned a Grammy Award nomination. However, the opinion of many has shifted through the years such that the song is often listed as one of the worst pop hits ever.

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Fleetwood Mac - "Tusk" (1979)

Fleetwood Mac - Tusk
Fleetwood Mac - Tusk. Courtesy Warner Bros.

In early 1977 Fleetwood Mac released Rumours, one of the biggest hit albums of all time. It spent a phenomenal 31 weeks at #1 on the US album chart and launched four top 10 pop hit singles. To say the anticipation for the next album was high is a serious understatement. Finally, two and a half years later the group's single "Tusk" was released. 

Recorded with the USC Marching Band, "Tusk" is built around a rehearsal riff the band used for sound-checks. It includes oddly hushed vocals, a background that sounds like thousands of barking dogs, and shouts of "Tusk!" Anticipation was so high that the song quickly landed in the top 10 where it peaked at #8. However, it remains one of the group's most unusual recordings.

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Focus - "Hocus Pocus" (1973)

Focus - Hocus Pocus
Focus - "Hocus Pocus". Courtesy Imperial

Focus were a Dutch progressive rock band. Their most well-known track is the instrumental "Hocus Pocus." It unusually features yodeling, scat singing, flute trilling, and whistling. It became a top 10 hit in the US peaking at #9 on the pop chart. The song took on new life when TNT used it as theme music in the 1997 NBA playoffs. Nike also used the song for World Cup commercials in 2010. Focus included Dutch guitar legend Jan Akkerman.

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Lorne Greene - "Ringo" (1964)

Lorne Greene - Welcome to the Ponderosa
Lorne Greene - Welcome to the Ponderosa. Courtesy RCA

Although the story of western outlaw Johnny Ringo in this performance by Lorne Greene of Bonanza fame doesn't match historical facts, that didn't stop it from becoming a #1 pop hit. It also benefited from the fact that the Beatles were at an early peak of their fame, and they happened to have a drummer named Ringo. Some effort was made to make sure fans knew the song "Ringo" was not about Ringo Starr, but likely a number of Beatles fans helped make this mostly spoken word effort a hit.


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Paul Hardcastle - "19" (1985)

Paul Hardcastle - 19
Paul Hardcastle - "19". Courtesy Chrysalis

This compelling hit critique of the Vietnam War was recorded by British composer and synthesizer player Paul Hardcastle. He was inspired to create the record after seeing a documentary titled Vietnam Requiem. The song samples narration from the film and segments of interviews with soldiers. Musically, the sound has its roots in electro. 

"19" topped pop charts in the UK and many countries around the world. In the US it reached #15 on the pop chart and hit #1 on the dance chart. Paul Hardcastle's manager Simon Fuller used funds from the song's success to help start 19 Management that would eventually be involved in creating American Idol

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Gordon Lightfoot - "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" (1976)

Gordon Lightfoot - The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Gordon Lightfoot - "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald". Courtesy Reprise

In November 1975 the freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior and took a crew of 29 with it. Upon the ship's launch in 1958, it was the largest ship on the great lakes, and it remains the largest ship ever to have sunk in Lake Superior. 

Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot was inspired by a Newsweek magazine article on the sinking to write the song "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." It was a major pop hit peaking at #2. It is rare for a specific news event to inspire a major pop hit and even more rare for it to be sung in classic story ballad fashion.

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C.W. McCall - "Convoy" (1976)

C.W. McCall
C.W. McCall. Photo by GAB Archive / Redferns

C.W. McCall is the performing pseudonym used by William Dale Fries, Jr. He co-wrote "Convoy" with Chip Davis, later of Mannheim Steamroller fame. The song is about a fictional uprising of truckers against labor complaints. Much of the song consists of CB radio conversations between the characters Rubber Duck, Pig Pen, and Sodbuster. The lyrics reference many different locations across the US. The song captured imagination at the peak of public fascination with CB radios hitting #1 on US pop charts. The song inspired the 1978 movie Convoy.

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Napoleon XIV - "They're Coming To Take Me Away Ha-Haa" (1966)

Napoleon XIV - They're Coming To Take Me Away Ha-Haa
Napoleon XIV - "They're Coming To Take Me Away Ha-Haa". Courtesy Warner Bros.

Napoleon XIV is the stage name of Jerry Samuels. He was a recording engineer at Associated Recording Studios in New York. He used a variable-frequency oscillator to alter the pitch of his voice indicating rising insanity. The song became an instant smash hit rising to #3 in its third week on the chart. However, radio programmers soon removed the song from playlists out of concern for those who may think the song ridiculed the mentally ill. After 5 weeks the song was gone from the chart.

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Nervous Norvus - "Transfusion" (1956)

Nervous Norvus - Transfusion
Nervous Norvus - "Transfusion". Courtesy Dot

Jimmy Drake recorded as Nervous Norvus. His breakthrough pop hit "Transfusion" details the dangers of speeding. The song's title comes from the transfusions the singer says he receives after each automobile accident caused by speeding. "Transfusion" was a #8 pop hit, and some credit it with inspiring the later hybrid musical genre called Psychobilly.


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Psy - "Gangnam Style" (2012)

Psy - Gangnam Style
Psy - "Gangnam Style". Courtesy Universal Republic

While many expected a major K-Pop hit in the US was on its way, few thought it would come in a song like "Gangnam Style." The song's accompanying music video and the dance by Korean rapper-singer Psy became a worldwide viral sensation. With over two billion views, "Gangnam Style" reportedly broke YouTube's view counter. The song became a #2 pop hit in the US and a #1 smash in most other countries around the world. Lyrically, the song is a satire poking fun at the lifestyles of the rich who live in the Gangnam district of Seoul, South Korea.

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The Singing Nun - "Dominique" (1963)

The Singing Nun - The Singing Nun
The Singing Nun - The Singing Nun. Courtesy Philips

Jeanne Deckers, aka Soeur Sourire or The Singing Nun, was a Belgian singer-songwriter. She was originally a member of the Dominican Order as Sister Luc-Gabrielle. Her fellow nuns encouraged her to record an album. It was completed in 1961, and the song "Dominique" became an international success hitting #1 in the US. 

Soeur Sourire left the convent in 1966. She reported that she did not leave of her own free will but had disagreements with her superiors. She later recorded more music but failed to gain widespread recognition. Tragically, the Singing Nun died of suicide in 1985. The song generated renewed interest through its use in the TV series American Horror Story.

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Ylvis - "The Fox (What Does the Fox Say)" (2013)

Ylvis - The Fox (What Does the Fox Say)
Ylvis - "The Fox (What Does the Fox Say)". Courtesy Parlophone

The Norwegian comedy duo Ylvis recorded "The Fox (What Does the Fox Say)" as a parody of electronic dance pop. It was recorded with famed Norwegian production duo StarGate. The accompanying deadpan music video became a massive viral success. It took the song's lyrical absurdities to the top 10 on the US pop chart.

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