The 1980s was a special time for music, as new wave and glam rock battled with mainstream pop for the public’s attention while rap has just started to make its presence felt. The musical landscape was also littered with the fizzled-out careers of the “one-hit wonders”, who became known for a single song and were never heard from again.
So here’s a personal take on the best 1980s hits from such one-hit wonders. There are many ways to define “best”, and with this list we only include the songs that we can listen to in public without being ridiculed!
Turning Japanese. The Vapors immediately realized that this particular song would be a massive hit, and they feared that they’d become a one-hit wonder because of it. They were right. There were also some rumors about the sexual connotation of “turning Japanese”, but the band members all denied it.
Whip It. The title alone, set into an infectious synth and beat, implied S&M. With the video showing a woman being forcibly undressed with each flick of a whip, controversy erupted. Yep, Devo really whipped it good. But most people just remember the turtlenecks and the weird headgear.
My Ever Changing Moods. This chill number from Style Council came with a laidback mood and some jazzy accessories despite the snazzy beat. The band was led by Paul Weller, who used to be the singer and guitarist for The Jam. They did come up with other great songs (especially You’re The Best Thing) but this was their only Top 40 hit in the US
Beds Are Burning. The three success chords in the intro led into one of the most iconic rock singles of the era, and it came from Down Under. It was a protest song from Midnight Oil about giving land back to the native Australians, but outside the continent no one really knew or cared. They just simply loved the hard-rock vocals and riffs.
Under the Milky Way. This song came from The Church, an Australian band whose music seemed eerily familiar to the alternative rock of the 1990s. The song is strangely catchy, despite its seemingly flat and lifeless delivery. Many Australians consider it the best Australian rock song of all time.
Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly). With the relentless beat, Icicle Works drubbed the catchy melody into the hearts and minds of countless club goers back then. You just had to surrender to its charm.
Tainted Love. This is actually a cover by Soft Cell, and the original came out in 1964. It featured synthpop at its catchiest, and the androgynous vocals was purely 80s. Marilyn Manson made a cover version of this song in 2001.
In a Big Country. The band Big Country showcased their bagpipe-like guitars on this anthemic single, and it would overshadow all their other songs despite the fact that it was the 3rd single off the album The Crossing.
Just Got Lucky. “Your technique it leaves me weak.” Another infectious dance number from the 1980s, this song from JoBoxers had everyone flocking to the clubs. Its upbeat optimism epitomized the early 1980s outlook.
Come On Eileen. You didn’t think we’d leave this song from Dexys Midnight Runner out, did you? For many, this was the ultimate one-hit wonder of the decade! It was the song that took out Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” from the top spot in the US charts, and would be replaced in turn by “Beat It”.
By the way, the legendary “My Sharona” isn’t part of the list since it was released in 1979. So which songs would you add to this list?