Watch the video to see how many of the songs you can name, then check below for all the answers and the complete songs!
Without a doubt, the 1980s was an incredible decade for music – not to mention for synths – but for some bands, maybe it’s true that a star that burns twice as bright only burns half as long. The actual definition of a “one hit wonder” seems to depend on who you’re asking, but we’re going to keep it simple. For this list, it’s either going to be the bands/singers that we forever associate with that one song, or it songs that we’ll always instant recognize without actually remembering who sang them. How many of these songs did you remember?
1) a-ha – Take On Me
We all tried to sing along when he went for the high note at the end of the chorus and even though we always failed that didn’t stop us from loving this song. The fact that it had a super awesome music video was just a bonus.
2) Toni Basil – Mickey
You may not remember any the words to any of the verses, but I know for a fact you still remember every single word to the chorus. Makes sense that VH1 would name it the #5 greatest one hit wonder of all time.
3) Bow Wow Wow – I Want Candy
Another example of a song where we all knew the chorus but little else. This song originally made it to the top 10 in the 1960s but the Bow Wow Wow cover didn’t make it quite as far, topping out in the top 50. Despite that, this is the version we all remember, probably because it’s turned up in the soundtracks of a lot of movies.
4) A Flock of Seagulls – I Ran
While most people only remember A Flock of Seagulls for this iconic song, I think we should also remember them for their truly incredible hair.
5) Dead or Alive – You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)
I dare you to listen to this song and not get it stuck in your head for the next week. Also, this video raises so many questions, like why is Pete Burns in a giant picture frame? Why did he always wear an eye patch? How much Aquanet did they have to use to hold their hair up? And most importantly, where can I get one of those purple robes, because it looks super comfy.
6) Michael Damian – Rock On
While the original 1973 version of “Rock On” was definitely a success, Michael Damian’s 1989 cover of it was actually more successful, making it to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
7) Midnight Oil – Beds Are Burning
While Midnight Oil were a pretty big deal in Australia and New Zealand, pretty much everywhere else this is the one song they’re known for.
8) Men Without Hats – Safety Dance
Without a doubt all of us have at one point quoted the line “Ah we can dance if we want to, we can leave your friends behind, cause your friends don’t dance and if they don’t dance, well they’re are no friends of mine.” Not only is this song unbelievably catchy, but it has probably one of the greatest/most ridiculous music videos ever made. I mean, just watch it, it’s incredible.
9) Devo – Whip It
There are two things that people think of when someone mentions the band Devo: those red hats, and this song.
10) Soft Cell – Tainted Love
This song has been covered plenty of times – including by Marilyn Manson of all people – but nothing compares to the original. Anyone who’s ever been a bad relationship or nasty breakup has blasted this on repeat.
Up next we’ve got the greatest song to ever come from a movie and the song that gave us the one phone number we will never, ever forget.
11) Dexys Midnight Runner – Come On Eileen
I honestly believe there are two types of people in this world: people who love this song and people who are lying.
12) Gary Numan – Cars
While he had a string of hits in the UK – where he still has a loyal cult following – “Cars” was his only song that had any success stateside. Considered one of the staples of new wave, it has stuck around thanks to its frequent use in everything from car commercials to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
13) Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Relax
Considering its unambiguously sexual lyrics, it’s not surprising that this song was controversial – the BBC went so far as to ban it from their radio stations. But as always, the controversy only made it more popular, so clearly everyone should relax and just do it.
14) Tommy Tutone – 8675309/Jenny
In an age where any phone numbers we really need are just stored in our phones, there are only two numbers that I can remember: my own, and Jenny’s.
15) Aldo Nova – Fantasy
This is definitely one of those songs that you completely forget existed until you hear it again, then suddenly you won’t be able to get it out of your head.
16) Cutting Crew – (I Just Died) In Your Arms
Cutting Crew is another example of a band that had decent success overseas, but over here are only known for the one song. At least it’s one hell of a song.
17) Bill Medley – (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life
By now we all know about the horrendous-looking and completely unnecessary TV remake of Dirty Dancing that airs later this month. So let’s just pretend it’s not happening and just bask in the glow of this iconic song from an even more iconic movie.
18) Michael Sembello – Maniac
Speaking of iconic songs from iconic movies, this one is definitely a close second. If hearing this song doesn’t make you want to do your best Alex Owens (Jennifer Beals) impression, then you’re definitely not an 80s kid.
19) Animotion – Obsession
As great as this song is, the music video makes it even better. Everything about it is just peak 80s weird, in the best possible way.
20) Harold Faltermeyer – Axel F
You’re probably starting to notice a bit of a trend in this list: a lot of these song are coming from movies. All this does is prove that not only were our movies awesome, but their music was equally good. This one of course comes from the classic Beverly Hills Cop, with the “Axel F” in the name referring to Murphy’s character Axel Foley. I wish someone would write me a theme song this awesome.
If you want to know which surprising song has become one of the most sampled in hip hop, and the weird connection between Michael Jackson and LMFAO head on to the next page.
21) Lipps Inc – Funky Town
Until 2005, this unbelievably funky disco number held the record for holding the number 1 spot on the charts in the most countries (28 in total). Not surprising, considering it’s the perfect blend of 70s disco funk and 80s synth.
22) Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock – It Takes Two
Probably one of the greatest hip hop song of all time and it’s easy to see why. It’s an absolute banger and it’s got an almost timeless quality to it. That’s probably why it’s been sampled and covered almost more times than you could count. This is the golden age of hip hop at it’s very best.
23) JJ Fad – Supersonic
There’s no way you can talk about 80s hip hop without mentioning JJ Fad and “Supersonic.” Keeping up with the lightning fast lyrics is a feat that few of us can manage, but Eminem did it justice when he gave the group a shout out in his song “Rap God.”
24) Musical Youth – Pass The Dutchie
In a great twist of irony, “Pass The Dutchie” was meant to be a clean cover of the song “Pass The Kouchie” which was about weed (kouchie being slang for a pipe). “Pass The Dutchie” scrubbed all the drug references and chose “dutchie” which was the term for a food pot. Of course, dutchie went on to become a slang term for a joint, because people hearing the song in the US and UK assumed it was about drugs, so it was all kind of pointless in the end.
25) Bobby McFerrin – Don’t Worry Be Happy
Despite the fact that this song tends to get stuck in your head for hours on end, it’s pretty much impossible to listen to it and feel upset about anything. Plus the music video features Robin Williams, so clearly it’s perfect.
26) Edie Brickell & New Bohemians – What I Am
There’s just something peculiar about this song. It manages to sound both perfectly 80s, while sounding perfectly 90s but still timeless.
27) Tom Tom Club – Genius of Love
Who would have guessed that a song by a couple members of Talking Heads would go on to become one of the most sampled tracks in hip hop. Such is legacy of “Genius of Love” though we should also take a moment to appreciate it’s truly bizarre music video.
28) Kajagoogoo – Too Shy
Like so many bands of the new wave era, Kajagoogoo’s popularity in the UK never translated to the US, but it at least gave us “Too Shy” and its incredible slap bass.
29) Rockwell – Somebody’s Watching Me
It really should come as no surprise that a song featuring Michael Jackson (along with brother Jermaine) on vocals would hit #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the 80s. Then add in that Rockwell – born Kennedy William Gordy – was the son of Motown founder Berry Gordy and it all becomes painfully obvious why this song was as big as it was. Unfortunately he never replicated the success he had with his debut, but almost 30 years later his half-brother and nephew would find success as pop/EDM group LMFAO. Yeah, you read that right.
Next up we’ve got two movie stars who tried their hand at music (and maybe shouldn’t have)
30) Grover Washington Jr. – Just the Two of Us
While the song was sung by Bill Withers – who found fame with songs like “Lean on Me” and “Ain’t No Sunshine” – it appeared on saxophonist Grover Washington Jr.’s 1980 album Winelight. It’s a perfect song for any romantic playlist.
31) Gregory Abbott – Shake You Down
Apparently the name of the song came from an idea Abbott had for expressing his appreciation for a beautiful woman. After trying it out on a female friend and not getting slapped, he decided to run with it for the song. Pretty brave move, if you ask me.
32) Bertie Higgins – Key Largo
Inspired by the Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall movie of the same name, Higgins wrote this as a plea for an ex-girlfriend to come back to him. It worked, but before you start writing any songs of your own just know that it wasn’t permanent; he and his wife split in 1995.
33) Scritti Politti – Perfect Way
This song actually made the charts twice; first as the synth-tastic one hit wonder we know and love, and a second time as an instrumental cover by Miles Davis of all people. The 80s were a weird time for us all.
34) Stacey Q – Two of Hearts
The producer of this song was apparently a huge fan of Kraftwerk, which you can totally hear in this Stacey Q single. The song only really blew up after she performed the song on the show The Facts of Life, which says a lot about both how catchy this song is, but also how many of us watched The Facts of Life.
35) Eddie Murphy – Party All The Time
This is admittedly a weird one to include, not only because Eddie Murphy was one of the biggest stars of the 80s, but also because he did have some mild success with a second single, “Put Your Mouth On Me.” When it comes to Eddie Murphy’s music career, however, this is the song that everyone remembers, though sometimes we wish we didn’t. The saddest part of all is that Rick James, who produced “Party All The Time,” never charted as high as this song did.
36) The Weather Girls – It’s Raining Men
A song that’s become an anthem for both straight women and gay men, it’s campy as hell and just damn fun. After The Weather Girls split, half of the duo, Martha Wash, found some success singing vocals for dance tracks, namely C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” which was a #1 hit in 1991.
37) Bruce Willis – Respect Yourself
While at the top of his TV career on Moonlighting, Bruce Willis decided to follow in Eddie Murphy’s footsteps and make the crossover into music. His cover of The Staple Singers classic is not nearly as bad as you’d expect, though it definitely helps that he had an assist from June Pointer of The Pointer Sisters. Though his music career faded into obscurity, I doubt he really cared, considering the following year he rocketed to movie stardom thanks to action movie and bonafide Christmas staple Die Hard.
38) Eddy Grant – Electric Avenue
Eddy Grant’s song refers to an area of Brixton that, at the time, housed many Caribbean immigrants. He was driven to write the song after racial tensions between residents and local police erupted into what would later be known as the 1981 Brixton Riot. While the sound of the song itself doesn’t necessarily seem like a political anthem, the lyrics themselves totally give it away.
Before we go, we’ve still got the music video that started it all, the song that everyone thinks is about masturbation (but maybe isn’t), and a iconic song whose music video was so controversial, most networks refused to play it.
39) The Buggles – Video Killed the Radio Star
Even though it was written and released in the 70s, no song captures the 80s as perfectly as “Video Killed the Radio Star.” It’s no wonder why MTV chose its video to be the first to air on its new channel in 1981, thus turning it into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
40) The Vapors – Turning Japanese
We’ve all heard the rumors about what the song is supposed to mean, but no, “Turning Japanese” is not actually about masturbation. It makes for a good story though.
41) Matthew Wilder – Break My Stride
While he did have another Top 40 hit with “The Kid’s American,” how many people actually remember that song compared to this pseudo-reggae pop hit. He ended up finding much more success behind the scenes, working as a songwriter and producing albums like No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom.
42) Taco – Puttin on the Ritz
Taco’s synthpop cover of the Irving Berlin classic managed to perfectly combine the 1920s and the 1980s, tap solos and all. There is, however, one part of the past that gets featured in the music video that really should have been left behind: all that blackface. While a censored version was later released – only after it had been banned by a number of networks – you could still see the racist caricatures in the background in some of the shots. Apparently just not doing blackface in the first place wasn’t considered an option.
43) Joey Scarbury – Believe It Or Not
It’s not unusual for a song from a movie soundtrack to crack the charts, but it’s much less common for the song to be the theme of a TV show. “Believe It Or Not” was the theme song for the early 80s TV show The Greatest American Hero, which ran from 1981 to 1983. Unfortunately for Joey Scarbury, it would be the only song of his that would ever find much success.
44) John Parr – St Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)
Speaking of songs from famous movies, the hit John Parr song gained popularity thanks to the Brat Pack classic of the same name. Funnily enough, the song wasn’t originally written for the film, but instead for Canadian athlete Rick Hansen who was trying to raise awareness about spinal injuries with his “Man in Motion” tour (hence the original title of the song).
45) Madness – Our House
As catchy as this song is, its popularity got a solid assist thanks to its music video getting plenty of airtime on MTV.
46) Timbuk 3 – The Future’s So Bright
If you graduated in the 80s it’s pretty likely this was your class’s graduation song. But there’s just one problem, despite the upbeat tempo of the song and, well, the title, this song isn’t actually about looking forward to an optimistic future. In fact the reason the future’s so bright, according the songwriter, is because of nuclear holocaust. Yikes.
47) Nena – 99 Luftballons
Meant as an anti-war anthem, Nena’s “99 Luftballons” is the rare example of a non-English language song finding mass success globally. After the success of the German version, they did release an English version – which they have since renounced – but it never matched the original.
We were so lucky to grow up with so much good music. These songs brought back so many great memories!