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30 Memorable One-Hit Wonders of the 1980s

"Come on Eileen"--Dexy's Midnight Runners

Despite Dexy’s Midnight Runners earlier hit “Geno” in the UK, “Come On Eileen” was released in 1982 and was the band’s only song to make a hit in the US. Between its catchy beat and the curious phrase from the chorus (“Too ra loo ra too ra loo rye aye”), it just makes you want to dance. And, by the way, the too-ra-loo-ra-s don’t really mean anything, but they are part of an Irish folk song.  

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"Mickey"--Toni Basil

Toni Basil’s “Mickey” was released in 1981 and has been redone several times. Although the song “Mickey” was a smash hit, it was also a remake itself. The original version of the song was called “Kitty" and was recorded by the British group Racey in 1979. 

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"Relax"--Frankie Goes to Hollywood

“Relax” was released in 1983 by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. It took a year for the song to climb from number 67 on the charts to number 10 by early 1985. Despite the group's claims that the song referred to motivation, no one quite believed it, and it was largely considered wildly inappropriate for radio play. 

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"Whip It"--Devo

Devo’s 1980 hit “Whip It” hit number 14 on the Billboard Top 100—at a time when no one really thought anyone would like it. But Devo’s unusual beats and repetitive lyrics (the phrase “whip it” is in the song almost two dozen times) came together nicely and made an international sensation. Devo’s previous songs tended to be sexually oriented, and the song is largely considered one great big double entendre. It has also been suggested “Whip It” is a statement about civilization’s “de-evo”lution. 

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"99 Luftballons"--Nena

Released in 1983, “99 Luftballons” was the German band Nena’s foray into anti-war music before they faded back into relative obscurity. Kevin McAlea eventually wrote “99 Red Balloons”, an English version of the song that more or less maintained the original sentiment. 99 balloons are released, and when the government panics and sends a pilot to investigate, he shoots down all 99 of what turn out to be helium filled children’s songs. 

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"Video Killed the Radio Star"--The Buggles

Although the song was technically released in 1979, “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles was remembered for its impact in the 80s. It was, quite pertinently, the first music video released on MTV in 1981. The band members involved in writing the song say they felt an end of an era approaching, thus the homicidal technology and nostalgia that make up the song. 

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"867-5309/Jenny"--Tommy Tutone

Tommy Tutone (a band, not an individual) released “867-5309/Jenny” in 1981. Jenny, as it turns out, dated the lead guitarist—and did not appreciate the song very much. All the same, it took a long time for dialing up the number and asking for Jenny to get old. 

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"She Blinded Me With Science"--Thomas Dolby

Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science” was a huge hit in the United States. It took the number five spot on the Billboard Hot 100, although it tanked elsewhere. However, "She Blinded Me With Science” is, well, poetry in motion. 

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"Der Kommissar"--After the Fire

Between the sequins and the tarantulas, the music video for “Der Kommissar” by After the Fire definitely follows the sparkly, nonsensical feel of 80s videos. After the Fire’s version of the song hit number 5 on US music charts. Falco, who originally recorded it in 1981, also topped charts in Germanic countries. 

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"Black Velvet"--Alannah Myles

“Black Velvet” was released by Alannah Myles in 1989. This Canadian hit won the musician a Grammy and a Juno award and has been played on the radio over four million times. And that was over ten years ago. How many drunken karaoke sessions “Black Velvet” has fueled, no one can say. 

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"Tuff Enuff"--The Fabulous Thunderbirds

The Fabulous Thunderbirds released “Tuff Enuff” in 1986. The song has since been in half a dozen movies and has been covered by both Wynonna Judd and the Foo Fighters. Hitting number ten on the Billboard Hot 100, it was the Fabulous Thunderbirds first real claim to fame (and virtually their only). 

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"I Melt With You"--Modern English

The British band Modern English first released “I Melt With You” in 1982, but it has since been covered by several different groups. Although it is undoubtedly a love song, the band’s vocalist Robbie Grey wrote most of the song, and the group agreed they wanted to stay as far from a traditional love song as possible. Thus, the song depicts a couple making love while the world explodes around them. 

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"Puttin' On the Ritz"--Taco

“Puttin’ On the Ritz” was originally published in 1927 by Irving Berlin and eventually became part of the 1930 musical by the same name. In 1983, the Dutch musician Taco redid the song and released a synth-pop version. The new “Ritz” shot up to number 4 on U.S. charts and was in the top 40 on charts around the world (with the exception of France). 

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"It Takes Two"--Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock

“It Takes Two” by Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock hit platinum status, and Stephen Thomas Erlewine called it “the greatest hip-hop single ever cut.” Whether or not that’s true, it is most definitely a catchy 80s classic. 

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"Fantasy"--Aldo Nova

Canadian musician Aldo Nova released “Fantasy” in 1981. Helicopter sequence in the music video aside, the music has a similar appeal to “Eye of the Tiger”, inspiring a heroic take off. Both the original and covers of the song have been used in a few TV shows and video games. 

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"Tainted Love"--Soft Cell

“Tainted Love” was released in 1982 by Soft Cell. Woh-oh-oh. Gloria Jones actually recorded it first, in 1964, but she never made the charts. That 20 years must have really done something (part of which was a sort of underground following of the song), because Soft Cell made it into the top 10 in the US. 

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"Funkytown"--Lipps, Inc

Just on the verge of the death of disco, Lipps, Inc released “Funkytown” in 1980. Until Madonna came along, the song made it to number one on music charts in more countries than any other. It might be the only song Lipps, Inc ever got a hit with, but they really did it right that time. 

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"It's Raining Men"--The Weather Girls

“It’s Raining Men” by the Weather Girls is just completely its own kind of song. And the music video -- two big women with umbrellas floating around a cardboard cityscape. Why wouldn’t this song have been a hit? 

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"I Know What Boys Like"--The Waitresses

The Waitresses released “I Know What Boys Like” in 1982. Guitarist and songwriter Chris Butler had very little success with it until Patty Donahue turned her voice to it, and then it really took off. It is, admittedly, easy to see why you’d really have to have the right vocalist for the tune. 

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"Turning Japanese"--The Vapors

“Turning Japanese” was released by The Vapors in 1980. Wildly politically uncorrect now, the oriental guitar riff and teenage angst throughout made it a massive success. In fact, The Vapors waited to release it because of their fear of becoming one-hit wonders… so much for that plan, eh?

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"I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)"--The Proclaimers

The Proclaimers, a duo consisting of identical Scottish twin brothers, released “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” in 1988. Although The Proclaimers are relatively popular in Europe, “I’m Gonna Be” is the only song that’s made the charts in the US. Even then, it didn’t make the charts until 1993, when it leapt up to number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. 

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“The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades”--Timbuk3

Timbuk3 may have been around for almost a decade, but the post-punk band had a hard time getting anything on the charts other than “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.” It peaked at number 19 on Billboard Hot 100 and number 14 on Billboard Album Rock Tracks. Apparently, AT&T, Ford, the U.S. Army, and Bausch & Lomb all wanted to use the song for commercials, but Timbuk3 refused. Maybe they should have accepted it?

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“Nobody”--Sylvia

Sylvia may have had country hits, but “Nobody” was the only hit she had that was able to reach Billboard Hot 100, where it ranked number 15. It also sat at number one for a week on Billboard Country Singles chart. The song was so great it helped her take home the Academy of Country Music award for Top Female Vocalist of 1982.

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“Too Shy”--Kajagoogoo

Kajagoogoo was an English new wave band that’s best known for “Too Shy.” It reached number one in the U.K. Singles Chart, and number five on the Billboard Hot 100. While they had a few more hits in the UK, the band is considered a one-hit wonder due to only charting one song. “Too Shy” has been featured in a number of video games as well as Marvel’s Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.

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“Baby I Lied”--Deborah Allen

“Baby I Lied” was released in 1983 and reached number four on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks. Later, it hit Billboard Hot 100, where it went to number 36. After that, she wasn’t able to reach the Billboard Hot 100. In 2001, Shannon Brown later sang a cover of the song that made it to Billboard Hot Country Singles.

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

I know what you’re saying, “Twisted Sister isn’t a one-hit!” Well, “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” is the only hit they have. It peaked at number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100, while other songs didn’t even make top 50. The song has been used in several commercials and TV shows, as well as political campaigns.

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“Don’t Worry, Be Happy”--Bobby McFerrin

“Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” is probably one of the most recognizable songs of the century, but it was a one-hit wonder. Bobby McFerrin is a ten-time Grammy Award winner, but this song is the only one to reach Billboard Hot 100, where it was number one for two weeks.

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“(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life”--Bill Medley

“(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” was a duet between Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes. While Jennifer Warnes has graced the Billboard Hot 100 several times, Bill Medley has not. This remains his only hit. This song is best known for appearing in the movie Dirty Dancing.

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“All I Need”--Jack Wagner

If you were a fan of General Hospital, you may already know that Jack Wagner was also a music artist – and a good one at that. “All I Need” was his biggest hit and reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100. While he did have other singles, none other reached the same sort of success as this one.  

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“Maniac”--Michael Sembello

Love or hate Flashdance, it was impossible to say that “Maniac” wasn’t a great song. Naturally, it charted all over the world including Billboard Hot 100, where it peaked at number one for two weeks. Semebllo wouldn’t manage to reach the same success with any of his other songs, but thankfully he didn’t really need it. “Maniac” is one of the highest-grossing songs ever written for a film, so no doubt he raked in the dough on this one.  

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