22 Great One-Hit Wonders Of The 1980s

Nobody knows anything: the late screenwriter William Goldman’s famous maxim for determining the likely commercial viability of a movie.

But it could also apply to the pop landscape of the 1980s. While the essential ingredients for a chart smash – great melodies, interesting sounds, emotional material – were probably intact, there were also novelty hits by the dozen. Soap-opera actors, kids and comedians were all over the shop.

But then there were the really striking, original one-time deals. Indeed the question hanging over most of the following is: why only the one hit? Yet maybe there is something singular about these songs. Even this writer, a big It Bites fan, can – almost grudgingly – hear only too well why ‘Calling All The Heroes’ was a hit when all of their other perfectly-worthy singles stalled just outside the top 40.

But hey – if one hit single doesn’t make for a lasting career, with a bit of luck it can still be a cash cow. So join us now for a trawl through some of the best one-hit wonders of the 1980s, starting with a bona fide pop classic…

22. Ollie & Jerry: ‘Breakin’ (There’s No Stopping Us)’ (1984)

21. Champaign: ‘How ‘Bout Us’ (1981)

20. Orange Juice: ‘Rip It Up’ (1983)

It’s mystifying why Edwyn Collins and the gang only managed one hit, but they did. And what a beauty. Reached #8 in February 1983.

19. Joe Dolce Music Theatre: ‘Shaddap You Face’ (1981)

It’s just the audacity of it, I guess – an American/Australian comes over ‘ere and makes a random, totally un-PC, comedy record. Kept Ultravox’s ‘Vienna’ off #1 in February 1981.

18. The Passions: ‘I’m In Love With A German Film Star’ (1981)

Clive Temperley’s gorgeous Echoplex-laden guitar, a great blanked-out vocal from Barbara Gogan and the early-’80s penchant for all things European ushered this into the top 30.

17. Re-Flex: ‘The Politics Of Dancing’ (1984)

Included mainly for a great vocal by lead singer John Baxter.

16. Yarbrough & Peoples: ‘Don’t Stop The Music’ (1981)

15. Fern Kinney: ‘Together We Are Beautiful’ (1980)

14. Breathe: ‘Hands To Heaven’ (1988)

A love or hate song depending on your proclivity for soppy tearjerkers, but a pretty damn committed piece of work either way.

13. Fiction Factory: ‘(Feels Like) Heaven’ (1984)

Produced by Police-helmer Nigel Gray, this Perth band produced a memorable piece of sophisti-pop with a great vocal by Kevin Patterson.

12. Ashford & Simpson: ‘Solid’ (1984)

They had of course written dozens of hits for others, and Valerie Simpson had sung back-up with everyone from Steely Dan to Quincy Jones, but this was the couple’s only UK hit.

11. Furniture: ‘Brilliant Mind’ (1986)

Fronted by future MOJO music writer Jim Irvin, this was a smart, intriguing single. Will also be familiar to fans of ‘Trigger Happy TV’. And Pulp may have checked it out too…

10. It Bites: ‘Calling All The Heroes’ (1986)

9. Kim Carnes: ‘Bette Davis Eyes’ (1981)

Apparently originally written as a loping country and western tune, it was given an icy synth-rock makeover and great John Bettis lyric, and eventually reached the top 10 and earned Carnes a Grammy.

8. Martha And The Muffins: ‘Echo Beach’ (1980)

7. Rosie Vela: ‘Magic Smile’ (1986)

6. The Icicle Works: ‘Love Is A Wonderful Colour’ (1984)

How did this end up being the only top 40 hit for Ian McNabb’s talented Merseysiders? When the likes of contemporaries Pete Wylie and Pete Burns were raking in the hits?

5. Will Powers: ‘Kissing With Confidence’ (1983)

Co-written by Steve Winwood, Todd Rundgren, Nile Rodgers and Jacob Brackman and featuring an uncredited Carly Simon on vocals and some brilliant stacked backups by…who? Of course Will Powers was a pseudonym for star-snapper Lynn Goldsmith.

4. Hipsway: ‘The Honeythief’ (1986)

The Glaswegians’ funky pop gem showed the way forward for Curiosity and Love & Money, but sadly they failed to follow it up.

3. Nena: ’99 Red Balloons’ (1984)

A rather excellent lyric and musically rich #1 single. The closing 30 seconds can still send a shiver down the spine.

2. Boy Meets Girl: ‘Waiting For A Star To Fall’ (1989)

Yes yes yes, it’s shiny and toothless, but anyone who loves ’80s pop surely has to like this.

1. The Lotus Eaters: ‘The First Picture Of You’ (1983)

Another Merseyside pop gem, this slow-building classic can immediately send one into the reverie of a sun-kissed, first-love British summer.

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1981: Best Pop Year Of The 1980s?

royEagle-eyed readers of this website may have noticed that 1981 has been a bit of a recurring theme recently. And watching the excellent BBC doc ‘The Story Of 1981a few weekends ago got me wondering if it was one of the very best years for pop.

Of course, all music fans have their ‘bedrock’ years, periods when their tastes are pretty much formed for life. 1981 was certainly the year when pop music first properly impinged itself onto my consciousness, but looking back now it certainly does seem to feature more than its fair share of classic singles and albums. There was so much variety on offer, from post-punk, revival rock’n’roll/psychedelia and classic heavy metal through to 2-Tone, jazz/funk, reggae and soul.

I was a nine-year-old football-and-cricket-mad whippersnapper in 1981. We had moved out of London for a few years because of my dad’s work, settling in Southsea on the South Coast. Save from a few hard lads picking fights with my brother and I on the Common or at the Rock Gardens, it was a very peaceful, fun time. You’d never have guessed that riots were exploding in Brixton, Toxteth, Moss Side, Wolverhampton, Birmingham and Coventry. It sounds selfish, but for me it was all about reading Roy Of The Rovers, playing football, collecting Space Lego and listening to The Beatles and the brilliant chart music of the day.

1981 was full of singles that to this day are among my favourites of all time. But, in almost all cases, I haven’t searched out much more music by the artists involved – it’s almost as if I don’t want to curse the golden memories. Here’s just a selection:

carnes

Altered Images’ ‘Happy Birthday’
Bill Wyman’s ‘Je Suis Un Rock Star’
Kim Carnes’ ‘Bette Davis Eyes’
Haircut 100’s ‘Favourite Shirt (Boy Meets Girl)’
OMD’s ‘Souvenir’
Tom Tom Club’s ‘Wordy Rappinghood’
Adam And The Ants’ ‘Ant Rap’
The Police’s ‘Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic’
The Specials’ ‘Ghost Town’
Ultravox’s ‘Vienna’
Human League’s ‘Love Action (I Believe In Love)’
Soft Cell’s ‘Tainted Love’
Third World’s ‘Dancing On The Floor’
Imagination’s ‘Body Talk’
Freeez’s ‘Southern Freeez’
Cliff Richard’s ‘Wired For Sound’
Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman’
Depeche Mode’s ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’
The Teardrop Explodes’ ‘Reward’

And that’s just scratching the surface. There were also brilliant singles by Linx, Visage, Scritti Politti, The Pretenders, Squeeze, XTC, Talking Heads, Madness, Roxy Music, Level 42, Light Of The World, Smokey Robinson, George Benson etc etc etc.

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And then there were the album releases of 1981. Here’s a partial list of favourites:

Human League: Dare
Phil Collins: Face Value
Randy Crawford: Secret Combination
Rickie Lee Jones: Pirates
Rush: Moving Pictures/Exit…Stage Left
Quincy Jones: The Dude
Chaka Khan: Whatcha Gonna Do For Me
Lee Ritenour: Rit
David Sanborn: Voyeur
Frank Zappa: Shut Up N Play Yer Guitar/You Are What You Is
John Martyn: Glorious Fool
David Byrne/Brian Eno: My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts
Grace Jones: Nightclubbing
Level 42: Level 42
John McLaughlin/Al Di Meola/Paco De Lucia: Friday Night In San Francisco
Jaco Pastorius: Word Of Mouth
King Crimson: Discipline
Japan: Tin Drum
The Tubes: The Completion Backward Principle
Bow Wow Wow: See Jungle

Cor. Not bad. I can’t see how another year is gonna beat 1981, but we shall see…