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The Real One Hit Wonders of the ’80s

Just finished watching all five hours of VH1’s 100 Greatest One Hit Wonders Of The ’80s. Brainless fun, but they sure are running these things into the ground.

You might remember that VH1 already did a One Hit Wonder countdown a few years back, hosted by No Hit Wonder William Shatner. As with that show, I have issues with the network’s definition of “One Hit Wonder.” Apparently they’ve decided that, coming up on twenty years hindsight, only having one memorable hit in the ’80s is enough for an artist to qualify for the privilege of having d-list celebrities snarking on them. Therefore you have a-ha’s era defining “Take On Me” comfortably perched at #3, forgetting that the synthy Norwegians also had a decent sized follow-up hit (“The Sun Always Shines On TV”) and a pretty good Bond theme (“The Living Daylights”) to their credit. This is both revisionist and sloppy.

It all begs the question — what is a true One Hit Wonder? I use the Billboard Hot 100 pop charts as my yardstick. If a song peaks in the top 40 (or, better yet, the top 10), it’s a hit. If a particular artist has only one single that peaked in the Pop top 40 — one song and nothing else in the Hot 100 — that singer or group can claim the title of One Hit Wonder proudly. You might want to know how well VH1 did in this regard. Combing through Joel Whitburn’s book Top Pop Singles 1955-1999, I’ve logged below every single artist who had only one single peaking in the top 40 from 1980-1989 (the list also includes a few stragglers who entered the charts in late ’79, like the Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star”). Songs that are bolded are also on VH1’s list. As you can see, there aren’t too many bolded tunes here. It doesn’t take a mediocre comedian to notice that reality and VH1 don’t quite jibe.

Artists United Against Apartheid – Sun City (#38, 1985)
Autograph – Turn Up The Radio (#29, 1985)
Boys Club – I Remember Holding You (#8, 1988)
Boys Don’t Cry – I Wanna Be A Cowboy (#12, 1986)
Martin Briley – The Salt In My Tears (#36, 1983)
The Buggles – Video Killed the Radio Star (#40, 1980)
Rocky Burnette – Tired Of Toein’ The Line (#8, 1980)
Roseanne Cash – Seven Year Ache (#22, 1981)
Felix Cavaliere – Only A Lonely Heart Sees (#36, 1980)
Gavin Christopher – One Step Closer To You (#22, 1986)
Stanley Clarke – Sweet Baby (#19, 1981)
Clarence Clemons – You’re A Friend Of Mine (#18, 1985)
Climie Fisher – Love Changes (Everything) (#23, 1988)
Cock Robin – When Your Heart Is Weak (#35, 1985)
Company B – Fascinated (#21, 1987)
Marshall Crenshaw – Someday, Someway (#36, 1982)
Rodney Crowell – Ashes By Now (#37, 1980)
Danny Wilson – Mary’s Prayer (#23, 1987)
Diesel – Saulsalito Summernight (#25, 1981)
Charlie Dore – Pilot Of The Airwaves (#13, 1980)
Double – The Captain Of Her Heart (#16, 1986)
Larry Elgart & His Manhattan Swing Orchestra – Hooked On Swing (#31, 1982)
E.U. – Da’Butt (#35, 1988)
Face To Face – 10-9-8 (#38, 1984)
Harold Faltermeyer – Axel F (#3, 1985)
Frida – I Know There’s Something Going On (#13, 1982)
Get Wet – Just So Lonely (#39, 1981)
Godley & Creme – Cry (#16, 1985)
Haircut One Hundred – Love Plus One (#37, 1982)
Jan Hammer – Miami Vice Theme (#1, 1985)
Hipsway – The Honeytheif (#19, 1987)
John Hunter – Tragedy (#39, 1985)
Rebbie Jackson – Centipede (#24, 1984)
JoBoxers – Just Got Lucky (#38, 1983)
Oran “Juice” Jones – The Rain (#9, 1986)
Jump In The Saddle – The Curly Shuffle (#15, 1984)
Junior – Mama Used To Say (#30, 1982)
Kix – Don’t Close Your Eyes (#11, 1989)
The Korgis – Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime (#18, 1980)
Laid Back – White Horse (#26, 1984)
Larson-Feiten Band – Who’ll Be The Fool Tonight (#29, 1980)
David Lasley – If I Had My Wish Tonight (#36, 1982)
Jeff Lorber – Facts Of Love (#27, 1987)
Gloria Loring – Friends And Lovers (#2, 1986)
M/A/R/R/S – Pump Up The Volume (#13, 1988)
Nancy Martinez – For Tonight (#32, 1986)
Bobby McFerrin – Don’t Worry Be Happy (#1, 1988)
Bob & Doug McKenzie – Take Off (#16, 1982)
Models – Out Of Mind, Out Of Sight (#37, 1986)
Shirley Murdock – As We Lay (#23, 1987)
Nena – 99 Luftballons (#2, 1984)
Gary Numan – Cars (#9, 1980)
John O’Banion – Love You Like I Never Loved Before (#24, 1981)
Ollie & Jerry – Breakin’… There’s No Stoppin’ Us (#9, 1984)
Opus – Live Is Life (#32, 1986)
Benjamin Orr – Stay The Night (#24, 1987)
Oxo – Whirly Girl (#28, 1983)
Partland Brothers – Soul City (#27, 1987)
Leslie Pearl – If The Love Fits Wear It (#28, 1982)
Point Blank – Nicole (#39, 1981)
Dan Reed Network – Ritual (#38, 1988)
Cheryl Pepsii Riley – Thanks For My Child (#32, 1988)
Roachford – Cuddly Toy (Feel For Me) (#25, 1989)
Romeo Void – A Girl In Trouble (Is A Temporary Thing) (#35, 1984)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – Hooked On Classics (#10, 1981)
Scarlett & Black – You Don’t Know (#20, 1988)
Charlie Sexton – Beat’s So Lonely (#17, 1986)
Phil Seymour – Precious To Me (#22, 1981)
Silver Condor – You Could Take My Heart Away (#32, 1981)
Frankie Smith – Double Dutch Bus (#30, 1981)
Soft Cell – Tainted Love (#8, 1982)
Judson Spence – Yeah, Yeah, Yeah (#32, 1988)
Jim Steinman – Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through (#32, 1981)
Suave’ – My Girl (#20, 1988)
Patrick Swayze – She’s Like The Wind (#3, 1988)
Sylvia – Nobody (#15, 1982)
Taco – Puttin’ On The Ritz (#4, 1983)
Ta Mara & The Seen – Everybody Dance (#24, 1985)
John Taylor – I Do What I Do… (#23, 1986)
Timbuk 3 – The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades (#19, 1986)
Timex Social Club – Rumors (#8, 1986)
Tom Tom Club – Genius Of Love (#31, 1982)
T’Pau – Heart And Soul (#4, 1987)
USA For Africa – We Are The World (#1, 1985)
Vandenberg – Burning Heart (#39, 1983)
Vangelis – Chariots Of Fire (#1, 1982)
The Vapors – Turning Japanese (#36, 1980)
Don Williams – I Believe In You (#24, 1980)
World Party – Ship Of Fools (#27, 1987)

9 Thoughts on “The Real One Hit Wonders of the ’80s

  1. Wow, this list brings back a ton of memories. Now i’m off to YouTube…

  2. This is a nice piece of research. I have been critical of the rigor of VH1’s research myself. My suspicion is that none of the producers and writers who develop these shows are over the age of 25, so instead of giving an accurate picture of the 70s and 80s (and, increasingly, the 90s), we get a picture of what somebody who wasn’t there thinks the period was like, based on what they’ve already seen on TV. It isn’t like Whitburn’s research is buried in an academic library or something–you can buy his Top 40 book at the mall, fercryinoutloud.

    There are some great songs on this list, too: Marshall Crenshaw, Diesel, Charlie Dore, John Hunter, Leslie Pearl.

    Good work . . . thanks.

  3. What do you expect from the channel that gave us Rock Of Love and Flava of Love?! Yes, the writers’ criteria for what makes a one-hit-wonder is a little vague, but I did find the series pretty entertaining. I assume they’re using artists that most people are pretty familiar with, even if they only had one big hit. I’m guessing that’s why Hipsway, Phil Seymour, Point Black and Opus didn’t make the cut. But no Vangelis?! What were they thinking.

  4. Pingback: Seeds and Stems . . . « The Hits Just Keep On Comin’

  5. As JB noted, I had the same burr in my saddle while watching that countdown. I considered researching a bit more, but lacked the ambition or fortitude to do so.

    Interesting to see the results.

  6. if you look internationally, it becomes a bit more troublesome as to what is really a one hit wonder. some artists will have a single hit in the states but several in canada or the uk, etc.

  7. Beaver K. on April 17, 2009 at 9:37 am said:

    Before I comment let me tell you how much my friends and I enjoy your pages. Intelligent, articulate and witty make for excellent reading. A one hit wonder should be a song generally recognized by an artist or group formed primarily for recording- no solos from established acts (Ben Orr, Felix Cavaliere); no one-off acts (Artists United Against Apartheid, USA for Africa); no established actors or writers (who cares?); and definitely no artists that have had hits on other charts (Don Williams) or charts on other hits (Jim Steinman). One hits wonders should leave no grey area- “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” comes to mind quickly, as well as “Vehicle” and “My Guy.” A top 20 Top 20 would be awesome.

  8. I’d have to agree with you on a lot of those points, Beaver K.

    BTW, Mary Wells had a handful of other hits besides “My Guy.” “You Beat Me To The Punch” and “Two Lovers” come to mind.

  9. Just a quick comment… if the implication is that a top 40 song is a hit, then an artist with just one top 40 song is a one-hit wonder. Just my opinion.

    Of course, there doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut definiton of one-hit wonders. I agree that VH1’s definition is flimsy.

    Then again, people can make good arguments that an artist is no one-hit wonder if said artist has multiple albums that sell well, despite having just one top 40 single.

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