80s Songs One Hit Wonders – It seems that the 1980s were made for a success. With MTV dominating the music landscape, hit groups and singles came and went in an instant. Hot one day, forgotten the next. Many memorable bands and artists are worth celebrating for their only true successes. Here are 20 of the best.
Disco was close to its main death, and the moment of the new wave was here. However, this disco/funk connection from the Twin Cities scored a No. 1 hit—his only solo hit, to be honest—with “Funkytown.” Pop/rock group Pseudo Echo had a hit of their own with a 1986 cover, and Lipps’ version appeared on
80s Songs One Hit Wonders
Hot 100 (peaking at No. 36), but “Turning Japanese” is still a memorable pop tune. For years, the song’s lyrics and title were thought to be some kind of insinuation about self-pity, although the band claimed it was about simple teenage angst while I was waiting for a girl.
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Pop/rock fans of the early 1980s may not remember that Tommy Tutone had another single in the top 40 of the Hot 100. Jenny and her famous phone number reached No. 4 in the chart and was a hit in the early days of MTV. However, those people in real life who had that phone number, regardless of the area code, probably weren’t big fans.
This outfit of the English new wave was much more popular at home in the United Kingdom than in the United States, and while “I Melt with You” climbed to 78 in 2019.
Hot 100, remains a memorable track for those of a certain age who are fans of its inclusion in the Nicholas Cage-cult classic vehicle Valley Girl. Although Modern English never had sustained success in the US, the song is still a Spotify favorite for Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers.
If this list ranked the greatest one-hit wonders of the 1980s, then “Come on Eileen” would be the hands-down winner. The Celtic pop-rockers had been around since the late 1970s and had modest success before breaking out with this massive hit that really took off when MTV started popping up on living room televisions in America. Dexy never had the same kind of international success with any other song before or since, but his a great success will never be forgotten.
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Guitarist Chris Butler was actually in another new wave band (Tin Huey) when he wrote this song. When it was reintroduced to the public as part of The Waitresses catalog with Patty Donahue on lead vocals, it took off. The tune was the band’s only one to make it into Billboard’s Hot 100 (No. 62), although we like its theme to the popular 80’s sitcom.
. The video was one of the first favorites on MTV and one of the most notable songs that pushed the new wave into the mainstream.
As we have seen and will continue to see on this list, 1982 was the good year for the wonders of a success to strut their stuff. As a bunch of one-hit wonders in the 80s, Bow Bow Bow had more sustained success in Europe than in the United States. The band’s version of this song, originally released in 1965 by the Strangeloves, was a Hot 100 hit for these new British charts, but it might have been more popular with MTV viewers. Over the years, Bow Bow Bow has managed to live off the song and continues as a nostalgia act.
When we talk about one-hit wonders, it is focused only on musical artists. Basil was still a prominent dancer and choreographer and went on to gain success directing music and art videos and short films. When it came to his singing career, he only had two studio albums. Still, he had one of the most popular songs and videos of the early MTV era in “Mickey.” The cheerleader-themed video was simple but perfectly in the rah-rah spirit of the song that went to No. 1 in three countries.
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Musical Youth was quite innovative for its time. A group of young people from England made a pop-reggae sound that was a breath of fresh air amidst the new wave and pure pop offerings of the day. “Pass the Dutchie”, a mash-up of U Brown’s “Gimme the Music” and Mighty Diamonds’ “Pass the Kouchie”, removed the drug references from the latter and replaced Kouchie with Dutchie, a form of cooking pot. The hit tune No. 1 in 11 countries and peaked at No. 10 on the Hot 100.
Indonesian-born Dutch entertainer Taco had one of the biggest hits of the 1980s with this made-for-MTV synth-pop take on the Irving Berlinclassic. It reached No. 4 in the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States and was the only hit single Taco had worldwide.
Another song that was helped because of the popularity of its video on MTV. “She Blinded Me with Science” is Dolby’s claim to fame as a recording artist, reaching No. 5 on the Hot 100 chart. While that part of his musical career didn’t pan out, Dolby enjoyed immense success as a session musician, founded his own software company, and was a longtime faculty member at the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University.
In 1983, German-based Nena released “99 Luftballons”, a somewhat politically influenced track, on their West German self-titled debut album. In 1984, an English version of the same song, “99 Red Balloons” was released in the United States. The former peaked at number 2 in the US, but the English version was also popular in America. Regardless of the version, it remains one of the most recognizable songs of the 1980s.
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Matthew Wilder will forever be associated with a song that made it all the way to No. 5 in the
Hot 100. It still has a place in the realm of pop culture through movies and various covers over the years. Wilder was unable to sustain his success as a solo artist, but he made a living as a well-respected producer, working with artists from No Doubt and Miley Cyrus.
The 1980s was the decade that arguably started the consistent run of hit singles off movie soundtracks. One of the biggest came from the versatile musician, songwriter, composer and producer Michael Sembello in the
Soundtrack. “Maniac” is a high-energy track from the 80s that was a No. 1 hit, hugely popular on MTV, and nominated for an Academy Award. The song was presented by Sembello himself
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Nothing like hitting it big right off the bat. That was the case for this British new wave/pop group who scored a top-fifty Hot 100 hit with the first single off their debut album.
The song is like most of the synch-pop music scene of the 80s. The band released two more albums in the 80s, but never had the same success with any other song. It remains a bit of a nostalgia act over the years.
Thanks to MTV and finding himself in the right place at the right time in the middle of the hair flower / glam metal seen of the 1980s, Autograph had his only success with this poor man’s pop-rock anthem. The song reached as high as 29th on the Hot 100 and managed to stand out for a bit in a genre that would quickly become saturated with cookie-cutter bands and songs.
Boys Don’t Cry came from England, but the pop band’s biggest international hit – and only one, at that – actually didn’t play well in its home country (peaking at 77) . However, in the United States, the tune reached No. 12 on the
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Fans of 1980s pop may not realize that Wisconsin-based Timbuk 3 released six studio albums from 1986-95. Of course, this was the group’s only single to chart – reaching number 19 on the US Hot 100. It seemed like a novelty song, perfect homemade videos, and popular with those who graduated from high school and college. He was featured prominently in an episode of the 80s/90s sitcom Head of the Class.
Fans of 1980s pop and R&B probably remember “The Rain,” but don’t know who sang it. That would be one Oren “Juice” Jones. It’s understandable to forget, considering Jones never had a real mainstream hit after making this hit that reached No. 9 on the Hot 100. We’re still big fans of the spoken-word, pseudo-rap entertainment that was really the highlight of the song. I wonder if he still has that $3,700 lynx coat?
It can be argued that “The Promise” could have been as or more popular during its resurgence in the early 2000s, when it was presented as the closing song to the popular movie Napoleon Dynamite. Originally released in 1987 in the UK, this pop-synch favorite in the mold of the New Order classic arrived in the US a year later and reached No. 11 on the Hot 100.
A native of Chicago, Jeff Mezydlo has written professionally about sports, entertainment and pop culture for nearly 30 years. If I could do it over again, I would attend Degrassi Junior High, Ampipe High and Grand
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