Top 10 Best 80s One-Hit Wonder Songs: Unforgettable Tracks

Bright neon lights illuminate a crowded 80s-themed dance floor. A DJ spins vinyl records while people dance to iconic one-hit wonder songs

The 1980s was a vibrant decade known for its diverse range of music and the emergence of many iconic artists. Among these are the unforgettable one-hit wonders that managed to capture the hearts of listeners with just a single song. These tracks have stood the test of time, continuing to evoke nostalgia and excitement whenever they are played.

But why do some songs from the 80s still resonate so strongly today? One-hit wonders from this era often embodied the essence of the decade, blending catchy melodies with unique styles that made them unforgettable. This article will dive into the top 10 best one-hit wonder songs from the 1980s, celebrating their enduring legacy and the impact they’ve had on music lovers across generations.

1. “Take On Me” – A-ha

Song: “Take On Me”
Album: Hunting High and Low
Release Date: October 19, 1984

Why we included this song on the list:
“Take On Me” by A-ha stands out due to its catchy synth-pop sound and memorable music video, which used a mix of live-action and pencil-sketch animation. The song quickly became iconic in the 1980s, making it a staple of the era’s music scene.

Interesting or fun facts about the song:

  • The song topped the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States.
  • The music video won six awards and was nominated for two others at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards.
  • A-ha members Magne Furuholmen, Morten Harket, and Pål Waaktaar composed the song. It was initially part of their earlier band, Bridges.

For more information, check out the song on YouTube.

2. “Tainted Love” – Soft Cell

“Tainted Love” became a hit for Soft Cell in 1981. Originally, the song was composed by Ed Cobb and first recorded by Gloria Jones in 1964.

Soft Cell’s version became widely known and reached high positions on various music charts.

  • Song Name: “Tainted Love”
  • Album: “Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret”
  • Release Date: January 1981

Why we included this song on the list

Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” is a staple of the 80s music scene. The song’s unique blend of synth-pop and new wave elements made it stand out. Its success in both the UK and the US exemplifies the global reach of 80s one-hit wonders.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

Soft Cell’s version of “Tainted Love” charted at number 8 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number five on a Rolling Stone poll of top one-hit wonders. The song also appeared on VH1’s list of the 100 Greatest One-Hit Wonders of the 80s. “Tainted Love” has been covered by many artists, showcasing its lasting popularity.

3. “Come on Eileen” – Dexys Midnight Runners

“Come on Eileen” is an iconic song from the English band Dexys Midnight Runners. It was released in June 1982 as a single from their album Too-Rye-Ay.

  • Song Name: “Come on Eileen”
  • Album: Too-Rye-Ay
  • Release Date: June 1982

Why we included this song on the list
“Come on Eileen” stands out as one of the most memorable one-hit wonders of the 1980s. The song topped charts in both the UK and the US, showcasing its broad appeal. Its catchy melody and unique blend of instruments make it a classic representation of 1980s pop music.

Interesting or fun facts about the song
The song reached number one on the Billboard charts in the US in 1983, making Dexys Midnight Runners a notable one-hit wonder in the American music scene.

The lively rendition featuring a fiddle, banjo, and engaging bass line contributed to its widespread success. The music video, which featured the band in old-fashioned clothing, became iconic during the MTV era, helping to cement the song’s legacy.

4. “I Ran (So Far Away)” – A Flock of Seagulls

  • Song Name: I Ran (So Far Away)
  • Name of the Album: A Flock of Seagulls
  • Release Date: 1982

Why we included this song on the list

“I Ran (So Far Away)” is a quintessential 80s new wave track that epitomizes the era. The song’s catchy guitar riff and iconic synthesizer sounds made it a hit in the early MTV days. Its distinct style and connection with the burgeoning music video culture contributed to its timeless status as a one-hit wonder.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

The song is about a person who can’t escape his feelings after seeing an attractive woman. The imaginative video was instrumental in propelling the band to fame in the U.S. during MTV’s inception. The video features futuristic and abstract visuals, which were unique and striking for the time.

5. “99 Luftballons” – Nena

  • Song name: “99 Luftballons”
  • Album: Nena
  • Release date: 1983

Nena’s “99 Luftballons” is a famous one-hit wonder from the 1980s. This German song with an anti-war message tells the story of 99 balloons released into the sky, sparking fears of a war and eventual destruction.

Why we included this song on the list:

This song is notable for being one of the few non-English songs to achieve major success in the U.S. It reached the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100, which is rare for non-English tracks. Its catchy melody and strong anti-war theme make it memorable.

Interesting or fun facts about the song:

The German version “99 Luftballons” was later translated into English as “99 Red Balloons.” The band Nena continued to find success in Europe but remained a one-hit wonder in the English-speaking world. The catchy hook and relatable message helped it become an iconic song of the 1980s.

6. “Video Killed the Radio Star” – The Buggles

  • Song name: “Video Killed the Radio Star”
  • Album: The Age of Plastic
  • Release date: 1979

Why we included this song on the list

“Video Killed the Radio Star” marks a significant moment in music history. It symbolizes the transition from radio to video with the rise of MTV. The song’s futuristic sound and innovative production by Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes made it stand out instantly.

Its catchy tune and memorable lyrics capture the essence of the 80s. Despite being considered a one-hit wonder, the song’s lasting impact on pop culture and music makes it an undeniable classic.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

The song was the very first music video to be played on MTV when the network launched on August 1, 1981. This momentous event marked the beginning of the music video era.

“Video Killed the Radio Star” was originally written by Trevor Horn, Geoff Downes, and Bruce Woolley. It was recorded both by Bruce Woolley and the Camera Club and by The Buggles.

Despite its popularity, the song spent only one week in the Top 40, peaking at No. 40 in December 1979.

7. “Mickey” – Toni Basil

“Mickey” by Toni Basil is one of the most iconic one-hit wonders of the 80s. Released in 1982, this catchy song quickly climbed the charts and left a lasting impression. Its upbeat tempo and memorable cheerleader chant made it a favorite among fans.

  • Song Name: “Mickey”
  • Album: Word of Mouth
  • Release Date: 1982

Why we included this song on the list
“Mickey” deserves its place on the list because of its significant impact on pop culture. The song topped the US Billboard Hot 100 for one week and also reached number two on the UK Singles Chart. Its infectious energy and unique style helped it stand out in the 80s music scene.

Interesting or fun facts about the song
The song was written by the successful songwriting team Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn. These two have penned several other pop hits. Additionally, “Mickey” was ranked Number 6 on VH1’s 100 Greatest One Hit Wonders of the 80s.

The music video for “Mickey” featured Toni Basil in a cheerleader outfit, adding a visual element that made the song even more memorable. The song remains a fun and nostalgic piece of 80s music history.

8. “Too Shy” – Kajagoogoo

  • Song name: “Too Shy”
  • Album: White Feathers
  • Release date: January 10, 1983

“Too Shy” by Kajagoogoo is a classic example of 80s New Wave music. It features a catchy synth melody and smooth vocals. The song quickly climbed the charts and found success in various countries.

Why we included this song on the list

“Too Shy” is included on the list because it captures the sound and style of the early 80s. Despite Kajagoogoo’s attempts to release other tracks, this song remains their most memorable hit. It perfectly showcases the band’s unique approach to pop music of that era.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

  • “Too Shy” was produced by Nick Rhodes, the keyboardist of the band Duran Duran, and Colin Thurston.
  • The music video for “Too Shy” was directed by Simon Milne and features a mix of live-action and stylized performance shots.
  • In 2006, “Too Shy” was ranked number 27 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs of the 80’s and number 9 on their 100 Greatest One Hit Wonders of the 80s list.
  • The song topped charts in the UK, Germany, Belgium, and Ireland and became a significant hit worldwide.

9. “Relax” – Frankie Goes to Hollywood

  • Song Name: Relax
  • Album: Welcome to the Pleasuredome
  • Release Date: October 24, 1983

Why we included this song on the list

“Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood was a huge hit in the 1980s. It stood out due to its bold lyrics and energetic beat. The song quickly became popular, dominating charts around the world. Its infectious rhythm and catchy chorus helped it remain a cultural touchstone for years. Many fans and critics still regard it as one of the best one-hit wonders of the decade.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

The song sparked controversy due to its sexually suggestive lyrics. As a result, it was banned by the BBC. Despite the ban, or perhaps because of it, “Relax” gained even more attention and popularity.

Another interesting fact is that the line “relax, don’t do it” came to lead singer Holly Johnson when he was running late for a rehearsal in winter 1982.

The song has been digitally remastered and remains popular, often heard in various media and events, showing its lasting appeal.

10. “Turning Japanese” – The Vapors

“Turning Japanese” was released by The Vapors in 1980. It quickly climbed the charts and became a defining track of the 80s. With its catchy tune and unique lyrics, it remains a memorable hit.

  • Song: “Turning Japanese”
  • Album: New Clear Days
  • Release Date: January 25, 1980

Why we included this song on the list

This song captures the quirky and eclectic spirit of 80s music. The Vapors managed to create a track that is both infectious and enduring. Its place in 80s pop culture is undeniable, and it continues to be celebrated in various media.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

David Fenton, the frontman of The Vapors, wrote and sung “Turning Japanese.” The song reached the third spot on the UK charts and has been widely discussed for its unique premise. There’s a common myth about the song relating to self-gratification, but David Fenton has dispelled that.

“Turning Japanese” has also been featured frequently in films and television, ensuring its lasting presence in pop culture.

Defining One-Hit Wonders

One-hit wonders are songs whose artists achieved significant success with a single hit, but who later failed to replicate that success with subsequent releases. The 1980s produced many memorable one-hit wonders that left a lasting impact on music culture.

Characteristics of One-Hit Wonders

One-hit wonders are often defined by their short-lived success. These songs usually dominate the charts for a brief period and gain widespread recognition. A key trait is that the artists involved rarely replicate their initial success with other songs.

Many one-hit wonders are catchy and gain a loyal fan base quickly. Their popularity sometimes stems from being featured in movies, commercials, or television shows, which can boost their appeal. An example from the 80s is “Come On Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners.

Cultural Impact of 80s One-Hit Wonders

The 1980s was a decade rich with unique musical styles, and one-hit wonders from this era often embodied the spirit of the times. These songs reflected the decade’s fashion, social attitudes, and emerging technologies. Songs like “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell are classic representations of 80s new wave and synthpop.

Such songs often evoke nostalgia among listeners who associate them with specific memories. They also influenced other artists and genres, leaving a footprint on the industry. Some one-hit wonders from the 80s remain popular on retro playlists and are celebrated at 80s-themed events.

One-hit wonders from the 80s continue to be important cultural markers, representing the diverse and experimental nature of the decade’s music scene.

The Music Industry in the 1980s

The 1980s music scene was marked by diverse genres and the rise of music videos, which transformed how artists promoted their work and connected with fans.

Popular Music Genres

The 1980s saw the ascent of various music styles that defined the decade. Pop music reached new heights with artists like Michael Jackson and Madonna leading the charts. Rock music also thrived, with bands like U2, Bon Jovi, and Guns N’ Roses delivering hits.

New Wave music blended punk, rock, and pop elements, with acts like The Eurythmics and Duran Duran gaining popularity. Hip hop began to emerge as a significant force, with pioneers like Run-D.M.C. and LL Cool J starting to receive mainstream attention.

Heavy metal gained a massive following, especially bands like Metallica and Iron Maiden. Synth-pop was another significant genre powered by advancements in electronic instruments, with bands like Depeche Mode and The Human League making waves.

Roles of Music Videos and MTV

MTV, launched in 1981, revolutionized the music industry by broadcasting music videos 24/7. For the first time, visual presentation became as crucial as the music itself. Artists like Michael Jackson used vivid storytelling and elaborate choreography to create iconic videos such as “Thriller.”

Madonna also leveraged the platform to establish her evolving image through videos like “Material Girl.” Bands like A-ha gained fame with innovative videos like “Take On Me.” MTV provided a global stage for artists, enabling them to reach a wider audience quickly and effectively.

The music video became a powerful marketing tool. Innovative visuals and compelling narratives could catapult a song to higher levels of success, making MTV an essential part of the 1980s music industry.

Legacy of 80s One-Hit Wonders

The legacy of 80s one-hit wonders can be seen in how they have shaped modern music and remain a cherished part of pop culture. These songs often evoke a sense of nostalgia and continue to influence contemporary artists.

Impact on Modern Music

One-hit wonders from the 80s have had a long-lasting impact on modern music. Many modern artists cite these tracks as inspirations for their own work.

The unique sounds and innovative production techniques of 80s hits have been recreated or sampled in new songs. For example, Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eileen” features a distinctive melody that’s been referenced in various tracks over the years.

These one-hit wonders also paved the way for new genres and trends in music. For instance, the synth-pop and new wave styles popular in the 80s can still be heard in today’s electronic and indie pop scenes.

Additionally, modern playlists and radio stations often include 80s one-hit wonders, keeping their influence alive.

Recognition and Nostalgia in Pop Culture

80s one-hit wonders hold a special place in pop culture, largely due to the nostalgia they evoke. Movies, TV shows, and commercials frequently use these songs to instantly create a retro atmosphere.

For example, Shannon’s “Let the Music Play” is often used in scenes that aim to transport viewers back to the 80s. This track brings an authentic retro feel to the media.

Additionally, these songs often appear in themed parties and retro playlists, allowing new generations to experience and appreciate them. Events like 80s music festivals celebrate these one-hit wonders, ensuring they remain relevant in today’s culture.

The enduring popularity of these tracks shows how deeply they have been ingrained in collective memory, shaping not just music but also cultural trends.

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