The 1980s were a time of heavily synthesized great music that crossed nearly all genres. Some of the best songs from the decade came from so-called one-hit wonders. While these artists never replicated the same critical and popular successes from their greatest hits, these songs stand the test of time.
1. Whip It by Devo
This new wave song was a massive success due to its music video on MTV. Some parents believe it was about inappropriate subject matter, but the song eventually went on to be a family favorite.
2. Funkytown by Lipps Inc.
The disco era may have been waning by 1980, but Lipps Inc. kept it alive with the soulful track Funkytown. While the song was a global hit, the group never charted in the United States again.
3. Mickey by Toni Basil
A remake of the song Kitty, Basil’s 1981 new wave hit about a girl’s crush on a boy named Mickey, was a global sensation that reached the number one spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 charts. Its cheerleading-themed video was choreographed by Basil herself.
4. Tainted Love by Soft Cell
Gloria Jones originally released the song in 1965 to little fanfare. However, it wasn’t until Soft Cell’s 1982 cover that the single became a global hit that is still popular on pop music radio today. One version of Soft Cell’s version has an ending that morphs into Where Did Our Love Go? by the Supremes.
5. Take My Breath Away by Berlin
The love song from the hit 1986 movie Top Gun topped the charts worldwide and won Best Original Song at the Academy Awards. The American new wave band split in 1987 after being unable to repeat the success of their number-one song.
6. Don’t Worry Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin
This joyful melody is the first a cappella song to land the number one spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in 1988. The official video features the comic stylings of Bill Irwin and the late great Robin Williams.
7. Only The Lonely by The Motels
The first single from the new wave band’s third studio album would be their only hit song. Propelled into the top ten mainly by its music video, the 1982 song about achieving success without joy struck a chord with listeners.
8. Double Dutch Bus by Frankie Smith
The catchy 1981 jam was dedicated to the Double Dutch jump rope game, especially popular in Smith’s hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The song has had an incredible influence on hip-hop language and music and has been sampled by numerous artists.
9. Forget Me Nots by Patrice Rushen
Despite being considered a failure by music company executives in the U.S., Patrice Rushen’s song achieved moderate success worldwide in 1982. In addition to being sampled by numerous artists, including Will Smith in Men in Black and George Michael in Fastlove, the single was featured prominently in the Tom Hanks movie Big.
10. Rock Me Amadeus by Falco
Inspired by the 1984 film Amadeus, Falco’s part rap/part pop performance of Rock Me Amadeus made him the first and only German-speaking artist so far to top Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. Falco was on the brink of releasing new music before passing away in 1995 at age 40.
11. Lady In Red by Chris de Burgh
Inspired by the first time he saw the woman who would eventually become his wife, de Burgh’s 1986 ballad is also a polarizing one-hit-wonder. Even though it achieved popularity across the globe, it has also been named one of the most annoying songs of the 1980s.
12. Take On Me by A-ha
After receiving virtually zero attention after its original 1984 release, the music video was retooled with a live-action/pencil sketch animation combination the following year. In addition to helping the song reach the top of the charts, the video also won numerous awards and is one of the most recognizable videos and songs of the 1980s.
13. Somebody’s Watching Me by Rockwell
This 1984 single was destined to be a hit: unbeknownst to many, Rockwell was the son of legendary Motown founder Berry Gordy. In addition, Michael Jackson sang the chorus, and Jermaine Jackson performed background vocals.
14. Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood
The first song by the synth-pop group Frankie Goes to Hollywood was initially released in 1983. Still, it took until the spring of 1984 before it gained momentum on the pop charts. Fun fact: three video versions were made, including a live performance and a version featured in Brian De Palma’s film Body Double.
15. Our House by Madness
The pop/ska band’s only top-ten hit single from 1983 was from their fourth studio album. The video is a dedication to houses, including a modest, working-class home, Buckingham Palace, and Hugh Hefner’s infamous mansion.
16. Catch Me (I’m Falling) by Pretty Poison
An infectious 1987 song from Philadelphia dance group Pretty Poison, it still gets the party going even today. In addition to being featured in the Jon Cryer movie Hiding Out, it also saw a recent resurgence when it was used in Netflix’s Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story soundtrack.
17. St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion) by John Parr
The theme song from the 1985 Brat Pack film St. Elmo’s Fire was a global number-one hit and received a Grammy nomination. Parr remade the song in 2012 as a homage to football player Tim Tebow, calling it Tim Tebow’s Fire.
18. Come on Eileen by Dexy's Midnight Runners
“Come on Eileen,” won the Best British Single at the 1983 Brit Awards and was once again voted as one of the best songs from the 1980s across Britain in 2015.
19. Electric Avenue by Eddy Grant
With the help of MTV, Eddy Grant shot to the top of the charts in 1983 with “Electric Avenue.” The song refers to an actual street called Electric Avenue in London, which was the location of a riot in 1981.
20. She Blinded Me With Science by Thomas Dolby
This funky, scientific song is known to be one of the biggest one-hit-wonder songs ever. It was even used as the theme song in the pilot episode of The Big Bang Theory.
Freelance Writer and Technical Writer
- Areas of expertise: Technology, user experience, pop culture, and entertainment.
- Education: West Chester University of Pennsylvania and Kutztown University of Pennsylvania
Her articles have appeared in publications such as Wealth of Geeks, MSN (US), MSN Ireland, Flipboard, The Facts, The Cents of Money, A Dime Saved, The Times (Frankfort), Invested Wallet, Chronicle-Tribune, Mama of Five Blog, Lafourche Gazette, The Herald-Press, Kinda Frugal, Peru Tribune, and Financially Well Off. Stephanie Allen got her start in writing by teaching college writing and technical writing courses. She transitioned to working as a contract technical writer specializing in information technology. Her love for writing on various subjects led her to Wealth of Geeks.