Best One Hit Wonders Of The 80s

Big hair, bright makeup, and intense music mark the 1980s as a period of excess. While many artists scored multiple hits during this era of plenty, this list pays homage to the glorious one hit wonders of the 80s. From the Midnight Runners to the Bow Wow Wows, there’s plenty to see (and hear!) on this list.

Grab your crimping iron and leg warmers and settle in for this nostalgic walk through music history.

“C’mon Eileen“ by Dexy’s Midnight Runners

Song Year: 1982

Dexy’s Midnight Runner struck it big with this iconic hit about the singer’s attempts to seduce his romantic interest, Eileen. The up-tempo beat and catchy chorus made it one of the best songs of the 1980s, and it never lost its appeal. Decades later, you can find people of all ages hopping around belting out too-ra-loo-ras to this slightly naughty tune.

“Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles

Song Year: 1980

The Buggles found their fifteen minutes of fame with the first music video on MTV. There’s nothing mysterious about these lyrics that tell the story of how television destroyed the radio industry and changed music forever. 

Between the compelling beat and the on-the-nose title, this song remains immortalized in music history.

“Mickey” by Toni Basil

Song Year: 1981

It is not easy to discuss the 1980s without mentioning Toni Basil’s poppy hit about her crush. Paired with a fun cheerleader-centric music video, the iconic tune became a fast favorite among teenagers. While the song’s meaning isn’t a mystery, the identity of the artist’s inspiration remains a secret more than forty years later.

“Take On Me” by A-ha

Song Year: 1985

Though A-ha recently released a new album, the band remains one of the most famous one-hit wonders thanks to this sweet beat. The song’s synth-pop sound may have fared well enough on the airways by itself, but the cutting-edge music video helped cement its success.

Blending cartoons with live-action gave this music video a fantasy-action vibe that mirrored the lyrics. As the characters fight to get on the same page in the video, the singer tries to persuade his love interest to give him a chance and make the most of their time.

“The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats

Song Year: 1982

Who would have guessed that this song represents a protest? It’s actually an anti-authority anthem that encourages nonconformity. More specifically, the lyrics call out bouncers who tried to prevent dancers from performing certain moves in clubs as the new wave trend hit the scene.

“867-5309/Jenny” by Tommy Tutone

Song Year: 1981

867-5309 might be the most famous phone number in the world following this popular dance hit. Tommy Tutone sang about his fantasy girl based on a number he saw on the bathroom wall. Notably, the band insists that Jenny is a regular girl who dated the lead guitarist for a bit.

“Tainted Love” by Soft Cell

Song Year: 1981

This song is technically a remake of a 1965 release by Gloria Jones, but Soft Cell made it famous with a synth-pop update. Notably, Ms. Jones notes that Soft Cell’s version is the best rendition of the hit.

Recorded by a new wave duo, the song explores toxic relationships and the damage they inflict on both parties.

“I Ran (So Far Away)” by A Flock of Seagulls

Song Year: 1982

Long before Chandler rocked the Flock of Seagulls hairdo on Friends, the band found a blip of success with this hit. Interestingly, the song opens an album that centers on an alien invasion. There’s nothing alien about these lyrics though, they highlight the singer meeting an unbelievably beautiful woman who he’s too afraid to talk with.

“Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood

Song Year: 1983

Another Friends character idolized this band’s only hit. Ross famously donned a too-small shirt to spite Rachel that said “Frankie Say Relax,” a nod to this tune. It might be one of the most appropriate easter eggs on the show since the song is about not overthinking anything, especially sex.

“I Melt With You” by Modern English

Song Year: 1982

Written to reflect the times, this song details a couple choosing to embrace each other and ultimately melt together during a nuclear war. Given the near-constant threat of nuclear attacks during the Cold War, it’s not surprising to have art reflect that desperation. The sweet lyrics and upbeat vibes disguise the darker underlying message.

“Whip It” by Devo

Song Year: 1980

Wearing black unitards with belts and upside-down red flower pots for hats, Devo made a splash with this satirical new wave pop smash. Looking past the odd video, the song lyrics poke fun at America’s superficialness and proclivity for “you can do it” messaging.

“Take My Breath Away” by Berlin

Song Year: 1986

As one of the highlights of the Top Gun soundtrack, this tune is often considered one of the top rock ballads of all time. It’s not a coincidence that the lyrics match perfectly with the famous love scene because Tom Whitlock wrote them specifically for the movie. We can safely say that he captured the intense longing and desire reflected on the screen.

“Angel Eyes” by The Jeff Healy Band

Song Year: 1989

The Jeff Healy Band appeared in the 1989 hit Roadhouse with Patrick Swayze the same year they released their only major hit. This song didn’t appear in the film, but it did crack the Billboard charts. With some of the more romantic lyrics stemming from the era, this song relays the wonder the singer feels at having such a beautiful woman love him.

“St. Elmo’s Fire” by John Parr

Song Year: 1984

During the 1980s, you couldn’t go far with stumbling into a theater showing one of the Brat Pack films. This song bears the title of one such film chronicling the lives of twenty-somethings as they navigate life after college.

Surprisingly, the song lyrics refer to an athlete who became paralyzed in an accident and how you should never give up on your goals. The title, St. Elmo’s fire is a real phenomenon that occurs during storms where electrified masts on sailing vessels spark at the tips.

“99 Red Balloons” by Nena

Song Year: 1983

Originally released as “99 Luftballons” in Germany, Nena ultimately re-released the track in English to great fanfare. Despite the upbeat instrumentals and fun title, this song has some dark messages. The lyrics relay the deep division in Germany while the Berlin Wall still separated East from West. Consider it one of the many anti-war protests of the time.

“We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister

Song Year: 1984

Speaking of protests and lashing out, Twisted Sister punched back at authority figures with this metal anthem. Capped off with wild hair and makeup, the band released a timeless music video featuring tweens and teens battling back against overbearing parents as a metaphor for underprivileged people combatting their faceless oppressors.

“Don’t Worry Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin

Song Year: 1988

It’s nearly impossible to be sad when you listen to this song or watch the equally ridiculous video featuring the comedic brilliance of Robin Williams and Bill Irwin. McFerrin crafted a minimalistic tune that became a worldwide phenomenon that touted positivity and not sweating the small stuff.

“(I Just) Died in Your Arms” by Cutting Crew

Song Year: 1986

This song is loaded with sensual metaphors detailing a real-life romance. It’s not difficult to read between the lines of this pop rock ballad and ode to love. The lead singer, Nick Van Eede owns up to writing about the intimate relationship with his girlfriend.

“Two of Hearts” by Stacey Q

Song Year: 1986

Though it hit the airwaves in 1986, this song remains an iconic hit today with appearances in several television shows and movies through the 2000s. It’s not a mystery with deep lyrics, but this song has a notable hook and dance-heavy beat that gets your feet moving.

“Our House” by Madness

“Our House” by Madness

Song Year: 1983

This British ska-pop band found success by tapping into nostalgia. It’s easy to relate to childhood memories of life at home with an overtired mother, an equally overworked father, and kids playing on their own. Madness paid homage to the stereotypical working-class family and how it’s easy to remember those days with rose-colored glasses.

“It’s Raining Men” by The Weather Girls

Song Year: 1982

The Weather Girls released this single for women looking to meet large groups of eligible men. Today, it’s a powerful anthem for single people that explores a fantasy world where there are plenty of eligible partners available so there’s no need to be sad about being alone.

“Funkytown” by Lipps Inc.

Song Year: 1980

Disco might have been on the way out the door as the decade switched over, but that didn’t stop the world from loving this tune. It’s about being bored in the Midwest and moving to New York City for excitement and fun, if you can find a ride.

“Break My Stride” by Matthew Wilder

Song Year: 1983

Matthew Wilder explored the “never give up” mentality in this one-hit wonder that borders on inappropriate. The singer addresses a romantic interest and indicates he’s never going to give up on her.

Interestingly, this song almost never made it to air because Wilder’s original record label didn’t think it was a hit and released him from his contract. He had to shop it around to find a taker. The rest is history.

“Puttin’ on the Ritz” by Taco

Song Year: 1982

The illustrious Irving Berlin wrote this popular ballad in the 1920s but Taco released it with a modern twist and a fun music video. The jam refers to dressing up to go out for the night and pulling out all the stops. It makes reference to dressing well to boost your mood.

“Too Shy” by Kajagoogoo

Song Year: 1983

Kajagoogoo hopes to give people a confidence boost to speak with their love interest. This song’s catchy beat makes for a fun disco-type feel but the lyrics speak to stepping up and letting it all loose on the dance floor and beyond.

“I Want Candy” by Bow Wow Wow

Song Year: 1982

While it sounds like somebody craving all kinds of sugary sweets, this song is about a real person. Originally released in the 1960s by The Strangeloves, it speaks to the singer desiring a woman. Bow Wow Wow put a poppy beat in to give it an 80s update.

“In a Big Country” by Big Country

Song Year: 1983

This fresh, fun, new wave classic boasts a slight Celtic influence with more than a healthy dose of rock. It’s a song about life and how you choose to view events, a musical take on the glass-half-full or half-empty debate.

“Forget Me Nots” by Patrice Rushen

Song Year: 1982

Longing for an ex-lover is never easy to work through, but Patrice Rushen embraces the loss with this smooth R&B hit. The singer hopes her lover hasn’t forgotten her and wants to rekindle the romance. More than a decade later, Will Smith sampled some of the song’s finer melodies for his “Men in Black.”

“The Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades” by Timbuk 3

Song Year: 1986

At first glance, this song is an upbeat approach to life with the singer feeling overly optimistic about their future. However, like many songs of the times, this one has a darker double meaning. The bright future refers to nuclear destruction and the potential side effects.

“Rock Me Amadeus” by Falco

Song Year: 1985

Some might argue that Falco found more success than being a one hit wonder of the 80s, but outside of German-speaking countries, this is it. Thankfully, there are no secret meanings for this song that simply highlights the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, balancing his genius with a tendency to overindulge.

“Lady in Red” by Chris de Burgh

Song Year: 1986

Does it get more romantic than a singer writing about his real-life love? Chris de Burgh penned this ballad for his wife, Diane to commemorate his remembrance of their first meeting. This sentimental classic is a staple from the era that even appeared in some movies, including American Psycho.

“Somebody’s Watching Me” by Rockwell

Song Year: 1984

Rockwell probably owes a major thank you to Michael Jackson for collaborating on this massive hit. The lyrics detail a life without privacy and the feeling that somebody’s always watching him. That feeling makes it impossible to enjoy life in any capacity.

“We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off” by Jermaine Stewart

Song Year: 1986

Given all of the overly sexual songs of the era, Jermaine Stewart’s PG-rated hit asks lovers to take it slow. While it’s plenty sensual, this song focuses on the couple keeping their clothes on and having a good time dancing and drinking cherry wine.

“Your Love” by The Outfield

Song Year: 1985

Taking things in a completely different direction, The Outfield sings about a partner being away and having a one-night stand with somebody else. While it sounds romantic, the idea of using somebody else to make you feel less lonely isn’t exactly sweet.

“Toy Soldiers” by Martika

Song Year: 1988

It’s no surprise that people expected more of Martika than a solo hit about the dangers of drug use. The American singer starred on the popular teen show, Kids Incorporated, and showed promise with a soulful voice and classic beauty. Martika faded out and stepped away from the industry by the beginning of the 1990s.

“Black Velvet” by Alannah Myles

Song Year: 1989

This throaty ballad pays homage to Elvis Presley and the trend to paint his portrait on black velvet. The singer found inspiration from a busload of Elvis fans and the overwhelming number of women who fell in love with the King.

“The Promise” by When In Rome

Song Year: 1988

“The Promise” marks When In Rome’s debut and a true collaboration between bandmates. Inspired by a recent breakup and the desire to be there for somebody no matter what, the band completed the song in a tiny garden shed. Despite the sappy lyrics, most people regard this song as a dance hit.

“The Ballad of Jayne” by L.A. Guns

Song Year: 1989

Alannah Myles didn’t have the only one hit wonder of the 80s about a real-life celebrity. L.A. Guns released this ode to Jayne Mansfield who died in a car accident at the age of 34. While it’s about Mansfield, the song also pays tribute to the would-be actresses who never make it past waiting tables in Hollywood.

“Lean On Me” by Club Nouveau

Song Year: 1986

Who doesn’t need a sympathetic friend from time to time? Club Nouveau offers to be there when times are tough and provide the necessary support to a friend in need. Of course, it’s a remake of the 1972 version released by the legendary Bill Withers.

Top One Hit Wonders Of The 80s, Final Thoughts

We hope you enjoyed this journey through the biggest one hit wonders of the 1980s.

It wasn’t easy to narrow the list with so many catchy tunes from that era, but we thoroughly enjoyed the research.

What is your favorite 1980s one-hit wonder? Did it make our list?

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