The Top One-Hit Wonders Of The ’80s Will Take You Back
While the 1970s was filled with disco and glam rock, the ’80s ushered in an era of catchy pop tunes, synthesizer beats, and new wave songs. With so many new sounds to play around with there were a ton of bands who made it big with one song only to never be heard from again on top 10 radio.
These ’80s one-hit wonders may have been the soundtrack to your life. They were the songs that played non-stop in the car on your way to school or the music in the background of your favorite John Hughes movie. See if you remember these totally awesome ’80s one-hit wonders.
“Come On Eileen” By Dexy’s Midnight Runners
The English new wave band Dexy’s Midnight Runners released their song “Come On Eileen” in June 1982. Within a few weeks, it reached number one in the United States and won Best British Single at the 1983 Brit Awards. It was revolutionary for merging new wave music with traditional Celtic folk.
When asked if the song was written about an actual woman named Eileen, the lead singer Kevin Rowland insisted the song was just to “make a point about Catholic [sexual] repression.”
“I Ran (So Far Away)” By A Flock Of Seagulls
Released as their third single off their self-titled debut album, A Flock Of Seagulls saw worldwide success with “I Ran.” The new wave tune topped the charts in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States but surprisingly failed in the band’s native country of England.
The song is about a man who falls for an attractive woman but tries to run away from his feelings, then gets abducted by aliens. If that doesn’t describe the 1980s new wave then I don’t know what does.
“Take On Me” By A-Ha
“Take On Me” was released by the Norwegian synth-pop band A-ha in 1984. The song quickly climbed the charts and in 1985, it shot to popularity thanks to its innovative and memorable music video.
The famous music video was innovative for combining pencil-sketch animation with live-action clips of A-ha’s lead singer. The video took how six awards at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards and has gone down in history. A-ha was never able to repeat their first success but the band is still making music today.
“Video Killed The Radio Star” By The Buggles
“Video Killed The Radio Star” was technically written in 1979 and released as The Buggles’ debut single that same year but it wasn’t until 1981 that it made a real splash on the U.S. charts. That’s all thanks to the fact that the music video for the song was the first music video ever shown on MTV.
The new wave song perfectly encapsulates the transition i music from the ’70s to the ’80s. It has everything from disco and orchestra vibes to synth and “futuristic sounds.”
“Mickey” By Toni Basil
Toni Basil had a successful career as a dancer and choreographer long before she ever ventured into music. Basil did some recording in the ’60s and ’70s but didn’t make it big until the 1982 release of “Mickey.” The pop song became famous for the cheerleading-inspired music video that came with it.
While Basil never achieved music fame again, she still works as a film choreographer. You might recognize her work in Legally Blonde, My Best Friend’s Wedding, and The House Bunny.
“867-5309/Jenny” By Tommy Tutone
The most famous phone number in the world is all thanks to a short-lived power pop band named Tommy Tutone. The song was released in 1981 and peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. More important, the song kicked off the fad of people calling the number 870-5309 from all over the world.
In many cases, businesses such as radio stations and pizza parlors would buy the number in order to run a promotional stunt. Admit it. You tried dialing the number at least once.
“Respect Yourself” By Bruce Willis
Yep, you read that right. Never forget the fact that Bruce Willis of Die Hard and The Sixth Sense fame released a pop-blues album. The top single from the album, “Respect Yourself,” was a cover of The Staple Sisters 1971 song.
Willis’ cover version reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 largely thanks to Willis’ Die Hard success. Unsurprisingly, Willis didn’t land another hit. It seems like everyone agreed that he should stick to acting.
“Relax” By Frankie Goes To Hollywood
The single “Relax” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood was a major hit in both the U.K. and America thanks in large part to the controversy surrounding it. The band intentionally sexualized the album cover art and took out controversial ads in newspapers.
While the band members claimed the lyrics like “Relax, don’t do it/When you want to suck to it” weren’t sexual in nature, it didn’t stop the BBC from banning the song. The ban ended up making the single even more popular until it eventually climbed to No. 2 on the charts.
“She Blinded Me With Science” By Thomas Dolby
There’s no better example of nerd rock than the one-hit wonder “She Blinded Me With Science” released by British musician Thomas Dolby. The track features a heavy synth beat and even has the real-life British scientist Magnus Pyke yelling “Science!” throughout the song.
Even the music video is the ultimate nerd rock fantasy. Dolby is stuck in a “Home for Deranged Scientists” but is being seduced by a beautiful secretary from the institution. This one-hit wonder was played on repeat by every nerdy high-school kid in the ’80s.
“In A Big Country” By Big Country
The third single from Scottish rock band Big Country was the only one to ever make it big. The music video helped “In A Big Country” reach No. 3 on the US Billboard Rock charts. The music video follows the four-man band trying to find a hidden treasure while being pursued by a beautiful woman.
The Scottish band was another ’80s band who combined mainstream sounds with traditional instruments including bagpipes, fiddles, and other Scottish sounds.
“Whip It” By Devo
Devo was the original new wave synth-pop band of the 1980s. They formed in 1973 and were experimenting with strange tempos and electric sounds before most bands. When they released the single “Whip It” their label expected it to be a flop because of the strange lyrics and “nonstandard tempo.”
Thanks to disc jockeys across the Southeastern U.S., the single became increasingly popular and ended up peaking at No. 14 of the Billboard Hot 100. And of course, who could forget those strange red flower pot hats Devo wears in the music video.
“Tainted Love” By Soft Cell
Soft Cell formed in England in 1977 and released their debut album in 1980. Their first single off the debut album flopped so the synth-pop duo decided to record a cover version of the 1965 Gloria Jones song “Tainted Love.” The cover was released in 1981 and became a No. 1 hit in 17 countries.
Soft Cell maintained a following in the United Kingdom but was relegated to being a one-hit wonder in the United States.
“Don’t Worry, Be Happy” By Bobby McFerrin
Not only was “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” a top ’80s one-hit wonder, but it became the first a cappella song to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was written by Bobby McFerrin and was a cheeky, upbeat tune.
Unfortunately for McFerrin, the success was known to have ended his “musical life as he had known it.” He never found mainstream success again but is still a ten-time Grammy Award winner for his later work as a producer.
“The Safety Dance” By Men Without Hats
Speaking of hats, this band has none. Men Without Hats is a Canadian new wave band that released their one-hit wonder in 1982. The band wrote the song after getting kicked out of a club for pogo dancing (which was an ’80s dance trend of jumping straight up and down).
While the song was about the freedom to pogo dance, the music video featured a different type of dance where the band members jerk their arms back and forth to make the shape of an S.
“99 Luftballons” By Nena
The West German band Nena released their single “99 Luftballons” in 1983. It tells a story of innocent balloons being released but after floating over the Berlin Wall and being mistaken for UFOs, the balloons are shot down by Soviet airmen and violence breaks out.
The single became extremely popular in Germany and Japan. One year later, Nena released an English-language version of the song titled “99 Red Balloons.” The song peaked at No. 27 on the Billboard charts.
“You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)” By Dead Or Alive
Released as a single in 1984 by the British band Dead or Alive, “You Spin Me Round” has widely been recognized as on of the best “dance records of all time.” The song featured a heavy synth beat and was a favorite in dance clubs in both the U.K. and the U.S.
Even the music video for the song embodied the dance craze of the ’80s. It features a disco ball and the lead singer who appears as a six-armed Vishnu god.
“Somebody’s Watching Me” By Rockwell
Rockwell’s debut song made a huge splash thanks to the guest vocals by none other than Michael Jackson. The single was released by the Motown label which released Jackson’s music as well.
The single featured a similar ghostly synth tone as Jackson’s “Thriller.” Even the music video was a haunted house theme that had everything from floating heads to graveyard. It even had a shower scene reference to the iconic psychological thriller film, Psycho.
“Electric Avenue” By Eddy Grant
One of 1983’s biggest hits came from songwriter and singer Eddy Wright. The song is a reference to the actual Electric Avenue in London, England which was one of the first streets to be lit by electricity. The area now has a high population of Caribbean immigrants which is why the song features a reggae-synth vibe.
The song was so popular that it was nominated for a Grammy Award as the Best R&B song of the year. It narrowly lost of to Micheal Jackson’s “Billie Jean.”
“Our House” By Madness
The British ska band Madness didn’t land their first big hit until their fourth studio album in 1982. The song was one of the first ska hits to top the charts and prove the genre to work in popular music.
Madness never achieved the same fame as they did with “My House” but the song has remained a huge part of popular culture. Most famously, it was featured in the commercial for Maxwell House Coffee.
“I Want Candy” By Bow Wow Wow
Bow Wow Wow are an English band that released their first EP in 1980. Like many bands of the 1980s they rose to fame thanks to an engaging music video. The band released their first EP 1982 featuring the single “I Want Candy.” The album peaked at No. 123 on the Billboard charts until the music video for the song made it extremely popular in America.
The song was notable for having a bubblegum pop sound to it but with “danceable” new wave sounds thanks to the traditional Burundi drum beat in the background.