Only a handful of pop-chart-related phrases have entered the universal lexicon. “Number one with a bullet” has infiltrated the brains of people who don’t even know who Casey Kasem is, or what “bullets” in Billboard are (briefly: little circles around numbers on the chart that show a record is gaining points). And of course, “Top 40” is universally understood, not just as a list of hit songs, but also a radio format and an entire strain of hegemonic pop.
But no chart-related phrase seems to have struck the general public’s fancy like “one-hit wonder.” It’s catchy—not unlike the songs it denotes—and it’s adaptable. We’ve seen it applied to politics and business.