When you think about 80s music, what comes to mind is early electronic dance, men in colorful make-up, frizzy hair and skillful guitar work (amongst other descriptors). Unfortunately, some bands/groups made single hits and were never heard from again in popular music. Here’s a list of the 21 best 80s one hit wonders:
1. “The First Picture Of You” by The Lotus Eaters
This song by the talented English band is cited as being an all-time favorite for many. It was just the tune needed to enjoy a fun-filled, 1983 summer. The happy, pop melody and skillful drums were a big hit. The song also graced the radio quite frequently and went on to peak at number 15 in the UK Official Charts and number 62 in Australia’s Kent Music Report. Catchy, poetic lyrics combined with an eccentric, artsy music video made this song stick on our list of 80s one hit wonders.
2. “Big In Japan” by Alphaville
For some reason, this single by a German band called Alphaville shook the European music charts back in 1984. It had dark, raw lyrics narrating the experience of a pair of heroin addicted friends. The refrain “big in Japan” encouraged those who felt like failures to believe that they could be successful in another place and time. The song reached number one in charts in Sweden, Switzerland, West Germany and the US Billboard Hot Dance Party Charts.
3. “Waiting For A Train” by Flash and The Pan
This ninth single by the Australian band was all the rage back in 1983. It was a tune you would find yourself humming to when you were, well…waiting for a train. The song had some interesting background noises that went well with the theme – steam-engine beat, old clicking shoes and the buzz of a busy train station. The tune peaked at number 7 in the UK Singles chart and number 11 in Ireland.
4. “99 Red Balloons” by Nena
The translated version of this catchy tune was accepted by many in the US and Europe as one of the biggest hits of the time. The lyrics are an anthem for anti-war groups and peace-loving folk. The song employed an alien, scary vibe, phenomenal vocals and a strong message that related with many people. For these reasons the song managed to reach number 1 in many countries like Australia, Belgium, US and Sweden.
5. “The Captain Of Her Heart” by Double
Losing someone you love is hard. This heartbreaking love song was a phenomenal piece about a woman who laments over the idea of never seeing her long-lost lover. The beautiful lyrics paired with a classic piano and sophisticated saxophone was such a huge hit that it rose to number 8 in the European charts. The group eventually went on to split up but we’re glad they had a chance to come up with this masterpiece.
6. “This House (Is Where Your Love Stands)” by Big Sound Authority
Yet another heartbreaking love song, but this one is about a cheating girlfriend and has a dance pop melody to it. This single by Tony Burke and Julie Hadwen was received well by the public and went on to reach number 21 in the UK Singles chart. However, the group had to split later on in 1986.
7. “The Belle Of St. Mark” by Sheila E
Prince was Sheila’s mentor and played a significant role in the writing and production of this song. Also, the bells featured at the beginning of the song could be inspired by the church bells which neighbored Prince’s childhood home. However, Sheila’s vocals steal the show as she narrates about the mysterious, androgynous “he” who hails from Paris. The song rose to number 34 in the US Billboard Hot 100 and number 5 in the Netherlands.
8. “Magic Smile” by Rosie Vela
This cool pop track by the model, art graduate and multi-faceted Rosie Vela was a song from her only album, “Zazu.” The song features Vela’s unique voice, a string of catchy beats and some seductive, rather erotic lyrics. The track was received well by the public and managed a spot in the Top 30 UK Singles chart. Vela put her singing pursuits in the back burner and got involved in her other passion, acting.
9. “Is It A Dream” by Classix Nouveaux
Classix Nouveaux was a punk, pop band that managed to stick together for around 4 years. They were based in the UK but their music was better received in other European countries like Ireland and Belgium. Their single called “Is It A Dream” was the only one to reach number 11 in the UK Singles chart. Their lead singer Sal Solo went on to have his own one hit wonder called “San Damiano.”
10. “Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes
The song was originally done by Jackie DeShannon but was not as appealing as the remake done by Carnes. The newer version features a relaxed, jazzy vibe that went well with Carne’s deep, raspy voice. The song was such a big hit that Carnes won a Grammy award for it and received many thanks from the legendary actress Bette Davis who was then 73 years old. She said that the song made her relevant again. The song also peaked at number 12 in the Billboard Top 100 and was a number 1 hit in 21 other countries.
11. “Brilliant Mind” by Furniture
This song featured a unique, eerie dance tune coupled with Jim Irvin’s husky voice. The chorus was catchy and the intro had a great mix of whistles and bells. The song was a huge hit and received many positive critiques from all over the world. Somehow, it didn’t manage to reach the popular charts but it still makes it to our list of 80s one hit wonders.
12. “Solid” by Ashford & Simpson
Nothing can make a relationship grow stronger than times of hardship. This beautiful song written by the husband-and-wife duo expresses the fact that their love has been solidified by the ups and downs of life. The sweet tune resonated with many and became a major hit, topping the US Hot Black Singles at the time. It was also featured in several sitcoms and the duo remade it in 2009 to honor the then US president, Barack Obama.
13. “The Promise You Made” by Cock Robin
The American band released this wonderful hit in 1985 and by the next year, it had topped many European charts. It features an eccentric, indie vibe, barely incorporating vocals from two of the band members. The ending was memorable to many people, with Kingsbery echoing the title in a heartfelt, solemn tone.
14. “Come on Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners
This song was different from other hits of its day in that they didn’t use any synthesizers. The band decided to use organic sounds including the saxophone, banjo, fiddle and accordion. The lyrics depict an unusual lust relationship between two teenagers who are just discovering their sexuality. The song was a major hit throughout many European countries and topped several charts including the UK Singles chart and the US Cash Box.
15. “Don’t Stop The Music” by Yarbrough & Peoples
These two artists had a long history together, having attended music lessons and releasing an album together. This song became so popular that it reached number 1 in the US R&B Singles, number 2 in Belgium and number 7 in the UK Singles chart. It was sampled by many other artists, especially in the hip-hop genre.
Next: Top 80s dance songs list
16. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin
This a cappella song has lived on to be a favourite for many people to this day. The catchy tune and joyful, positive vibe it gives is sure to put a smile on anyone’s face. The refrain was inspired by a popular phrase by an Indian mystic called Meher Baba. The song was number 1 in many charts in US and all over Europe. It won a Grammy award and has been used in many pop culture references to date. It’s by far the most popular song among one hit wonders of the 80s.
17. “The Politics of Dancing” by Re-Flex
This hit song by the English new wave band was trying to express the idea that if people come together to dance and celebrate, great things happen. The late 80s were known for their fun raves and this song was received well by many people. It managed to reach number 9 in the US Hot Dance Music Play.
18. “The Saftey Dance” by Men Without Hats
This song was a protest against club owners and bouncers who forbade pogoing on dance floors, claiming it was hazardous to other dancers. The band wanted to speak out about freedom of expression on the dance floor. The song was misinterpreted several times by people who thought it was about safe sex. However, this didn’t stop it from peaking at number 6 in the UK Singles chart.
19. “I’m In Love With A German Film Star” by The Passions
The song is a catchy ballad about a drummer who acted in German films as a side hustle. The singer expresses her lustful admiration for the roadie. The guitar work in this song is insane. This earned the song many positive acclamations and a spot at the UK Top 30 Singles chart.
20. “Wishing On A Star” by Fresh 4 (Children Of The Ghetto) featuring Lizz. E
Sometimes we can’t help but think about the one that got away. This song was a fun, sing-along by the talented production group Fresh 4. The lyrics are rather sad, expressing the longing of a woman for her ex. The song peaked at number 10 in the UK Singles chart.
21. “Too Shy” by Kajagoogoo
It’s hard to tell what the lyrics were talking about, but we guess it had something to do with a shy lover. However, it still reached number one in Japan, UK and Belgium, and makes the final cut on our list of one hit wonders of the 80s.
As the Head Editor at Music Grotto, Liam edits content produced from over 30 professional music/media journalists and contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.