It seemed the 1980s were made for one-hit wonders. With MTV dominating the music landscape, bands and hit singles came and went quite at a moment's notice. What was hot one day, was forgotten the next.
Still, there are plenty of memorable bands and musical artists worth celebrating for their one and only true hit. Here's our look at 20 of the best (in chronological order).
Disco was near its mainstream death and new wave's moment was here. However, this disco/funk connection from the Twin Cities managed to score a No. 1 hit -- its lone successful single, to be honest -- with "Funkytown." The song, though, has enjoyed a rather long shelf life. Pop/rock band Pseudo Echo had a hit of its own with a 1986 cover of the song and the Lipps' version appeared in Shrek 2.
Speaking of new wave. The Vapors had only this one song chart on the United States' Billboard Hot 100 (peaking at No. 36), but "Turning Japanese" is still a quite memorable pop tune. For years, the song's lyrics and title were thought to be some sort of innuendo regarding male self-pleasuring, though the band has claimed its about simple teen angst while pining for a girl.
Pop/rock fans of the early 1980s probably don't remember that Tommy Tutone actually had another single make it into the top 40 of the Hot 100. Quick, name it? Jenny and her famous phone number reached as high as No. 4 on the chart and was a hit in the early days of MTV. However, those folks in real life who actually had that phone numbers, regardless of area code, probably weren't too big of fans.
This English new wave outfit was far more popular at home in the United Kingdom than it was in the U.S. And, while "I Melt with You" peaked at No. 78 on the Billboard Hot 100, it remains a memorable track to those of a certain age who are a fan of its inclusion in the Nicholas Cage-cult classic vehicle Valley Girl. Though Modern English never enjoyed sustained success in the U.S., the song is still a Spotify favorite to Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers, alike.
If this list was ranking 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 enjoyed some modest success before breaking out with this massive hit, that truly took off when MTV starting popping up on living-room television sets in America. Dexy's never enjoyed the same kind of international success with any other song -- before or after, but its one big hit will never be forgotten.
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), though we did like its theme to the popular '80s sitcom Square Pegs. The video was an early favorite on MTV and one of the most notable songs that pushed new wave into the mainstream.
As we've seen, and will continue to see on this list, 1982 was quite the year for one-hit wonders to strut their stuff. Like a lot of one-hit wonders in the '80s, Bow Bow Bow enjoyed 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 English new wavers, but it might have been more popular with MTV viewers. Over the years, Bow Bow Bow has managed to make a living off the song and keep going as nostalgia act.
When talking one-hit wonders, it's obviously focused solely on musical performing artists. For Basil, she was always a prominent dancer and choreographer, and would go on to earn success directing music video and art and short films. When it came to her singing career, she had just two studio albums, but clearly one of the most popular tunes and videos of the early MTV era in "Mickey." The cheerleader-themed video was simple, yet perfect in the rah-rah spirit of the song went to No. 1 in three countries.
Musical Youth was rather innovative for its time. A group of youngsters, from England, delivering a pop-reggae sound that was a breath of fresh air amid the new wave and pure pop offerings of the day. "Pass the Dutchie," a combination of U Brown's "Gimme the Music" and "Pass the Kouchie" by Mighty Diamonds, did away with the drug references from the latter, and replaced Kouchie with Dutchie, a form of cooking pot. The tune hit 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 synthed-up, pop version, made-for-MTV take on the Irving Berlin classic. It made it all the way to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S., and was the only hit single Taco had worldwide. One version of the video also sparked some controversy with characters shown in blackface.
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 portion of his musical career didn't pan out, Dolby has enjoyed immense success as session musician, founded his own software company and been 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 its self-titled debut album in West Germany. In '84, an English version of the same song, "99 Red Balloons" was released in the U.S. The former peaked at No. 2 in the States, but the English version was also popular in America. Regardless of the version, it remains one of the most recognizable songs of the 1980s.
Matthew Wilder will forever be associated with a song that made it all the way to No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Maybe because it still has a place in the realm of pop culture, and through movies and various covers over the years. Wilder wasn't able to sustain his success as a solo artist, but made a living as a well-respected producer, working with the likes of No Doubt and Miley Cyrus.
The 1980s were the decade that arguably kickstarted the consistent run of hit singles off movie soundtracks. One of the biggest came via versatile musician, songwriter, composer, producer Michael Sembello, from the Flashdance soundtrack. "Maniac" is a high-energy '80s track that was a No. 1 hit, widely popular on MTV and nominated for an Academy Award. The song was featured on Sembello's own Bossa Nova Hotel album, which also included another top-40 single, "Automatic Man," that many probably don't remember.
Nothing like striking it big right off the bat. That was the case for this British new wave/pop group that scored a top-five Hot 100 hit with the first single off its debut album -- White Feathers. The song is totally what much of the '80s synch-pop music scene was like. Catchy songs, in some cases of little lyrical substance, and a video that enjoyed heavy rotation on MTV. The band put out two more records in the '80s, but it never enjoyed the same type of success with any other song. Though it remained somewhat of a nostalgia act over the years.
Thanks to MTV, and finding itself in the right place at the right time amid the burgeoning hair/glam metal seen of the 1980s, Autograph had its only hit 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 within a genre that would quickly become over-saturated with bands and songs of a cookie-cutter mold.
Boys Don't Cry hailed from England, but the pop band's biggest international hit -- and only one, for that matter -- actually did not play well in its home country (peaked at No. 77). However, in the U.S., the tune got up to No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. The popular music video was also notable for featuring Motorhead legend Lemmy Kilmister.
Pop fans of the 1980s probably don't realize that Wisconsin-based Timbuk 3 put out six studio albums from 1986-'95. Of course, this proved to be the group's only single to chart -- reaching as high as No. 19 on the U.S. Hot 100. It seemed almost like a novelty song, perfect home made videos and popular with those graduating high school and college. It was prominently featured in an episode of '80s-'90s' sitcom Head of the Class.
Fans of 1980s' pop and R&B probably remember "The Rain," but may not know who sang it. That would be one "Oren "Juice" Jones." It's understandable to forget, considering Jones never had any real mainstream success after putting out this hit that reached No. 9 on Hot 100. We're still big fans of the entertaining spoken-word, pseudo rap that was truly the highlight of the song. Wonder if he still has that $3,700 lynx coat?
It can be argued that "The Promise" might have been just as popular, or more, during its resurgence in the early 2000s, when featured as the closing song to the wildly popular film Napoleon Dynamite. Originally released in 1987 in the United Kingdom, this pop-synch favorite in the mold of classic New Order, came out in the U.S. one year later and reached No. 11 on the Hot 100. It also topped the Billboard Dance/Club Play Songs Chart in America.
Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.