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True One-Hit Wonders of the '80s

'80s Artists Whose Only Pop Hit Went All the Way to No. 1

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The term "one-hit wonder" has been applied to dozens of artists over the years, sometimes even to performers that have enjoyed multiple stays on Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart. I don't mind a slightly broader definition of the term, but I thought it would be revealing to find out which '80s artists earned the designation in the truest and most complete sense, by posting only one hit ever on that most famous of charts but managing to take it all the way to No. 1. Ladies and gentlemen, here's a chronological list of the only '80s artists to satisfy the strictest definition of one-hit wonder. Don't you forget it.

1. Lipps, Inc. - "Funkytown"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of UMG
Pardon me for secretly hoping that this disco group would not qualify as an '80s one-hit wonder in the strictest sense of the term; I've simply never been a fan of "Funkytown" in any way, shape or form. Nevertheless, it did spend almost a month as the No. 1 pop hit in America during the early summer of 1980, so for that accomplishment alone it has earned its spot on this exclusive list. A novelty single in just about every way, this tune cashed in nimbly on the disco craze that was just beginning to lose its hold after a late-'70s surge into 1980. In many ways it's a '70s tune that found itself delayed by some kind of eerie musical time warp, but it always takes a year or more for a decade to forge its own style anyway.

2. Vangelis - "Theme from 'Chariots of Fire'"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of UMG
Some one-hit wonders undoubtedly qualify as aberrations, finding their way onto the pop charts in a notably inexplicable fashion. How else can the massive, slow-building success of this 1982 instrumental motion picture theme be summed up than to throw up one's hands in salute to a genuine pop culture mystery? A rousing piece that sets itself up nicely as emotionally fortifying but also exceedingly suited for parody, this composition from the well-established Greek instrumentalist found its way into the pop culture zeitgeist and has really never let go in the 30-plus years since the movie appeared. Perhaps few children of the '80s have ever actually watched the movie, but we sure as hell remember its bombastic theme.

3. Patti Austin - "Baby Come to Me" (duet with James Ingram)

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Rhino/Warner Bros.
Although she enjoyed multiple successes in the niche music genres of R&B, dance and jazz, singer Patti Austin became the truest example of a one-hit wonder on Billboard's pop charts on the strength of an unexpected soap opera smash duet with James Ingram in 1983. "Baby Come to Me" may have fallen by the wayside as a minor hit in 1982 if not for its use as romantic theme on General Hospital, but the song achieved an impressive second life, catapulting Austin into the one-hit wonder category many artists probably dread. As a respected singer with an ongoing career, perhaps Austin has less to be bitter about than most, even claiming a Grammy in 2008 for best jazz vocal album.

4. Dexy's Midnight Runners - "Come on Eileen"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Mercury
This UK band enjoyed an impressive number of major hits in its homeland during the early '80s, but for some reason or another only the quirky, worthy "Come on Eileen" gained attention on the Billboard charts. It didn't mess around in making its presence known, either, becoming a worldwide top hit in 1983 as well as one of the most memorable singles of the '80s. I hate to be so ethnocentric and focus exclusively on the American charts, but I suppose I did make the rules in my introduction. This great Celtic-inflected tune fully deserves its notoriety, but it remains a small but notable tragedy that the band responsible for it could not turn that success into at least one more appearance on the American Hot 100.

5. Jan Hammer - "'Miami Vice' Theme"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Geffen
Czech-born Hammer joins Vangelis on this list as one of a very select group of composers able to turn pop culture instrumental pieces into chart-topping pop hits. Hammer enjoyed additional success in Europe with some of his other contributions to Miami Vice, but the TV show's main theme distinguished itself in the States by becoming the last instrumental piece to date to reach No. 1. Iconic and genuinely entertaining, the rambunctious theme exploits keyboards within an inch of their lives, but it also showed something significant about pop culture's ability to spread like wildfire in multiple media. Few entities betray their '80s link more thoroughly than the fashion sense and music of Miami Vice, and that is truly saying something.

6. Gregory Abbott - "Shake You Down"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Columbia
Abbott may just stand among the world's most worthy one-hit wonders of all-time, as this 1986 chart-topper works as an R&B slow burn easily as well as it does as a genuine pop music classic. It's also one of those songs that I never get tired of hearing, perhaps partially because it never seemed to get overplayed back when it was a bona fide smash. In addition, it's always seemed like a tune perfectly suited for an acoustic, singer-songwriter remake or even a guitar-based hard rock interpretation. No matter what style in which it's performed, I feel confident that "Shake You Down" can never lose its appeal as successful musical seduction, and for that reason among many, Abbott shines as one of pop's most respectable one-hit wonders.

7. Bobby McFerrin - "Don't Worry, Be Happy"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Capitol
While I refuse to include blatant novelty songs on this list (Stars on 45, anyone?), I have decided - after much sober reflection - that I cannot in good conscience omit Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry Be Happy" from a countdown of "true" one-hit wonders. After all, if the term does not apply to that particular tune, then it has no practical use whatsoever. It's not particularly fair to the multi-talented McFerrin that he will always be best-known for this somewhat vapid effort, but in his defense I'm sure he didn't expect the playful ditty to saturate radio like it did. Anyway, McFerrin is an established success in jazz and a cappella music circles and a multiple Grammy winner for reasons not immediately apparent in this track.

8. Sheriff - "When I'm With You"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Capitol
This otherwise bland adult contemporary throwaway song features one of the strangest chart-topping histories of any Billboard hit in history. Originally released in 1983 by a struggling Canadian band that broke up shortly after failing to secure a hit at that time, the song somehow re-emerged and climbed the ultimate pop music ladder in early 1989. An apparently non-descript Las Vegas disc jockey began playing the tune at a level that convinced the defunct group's record company to re-release the track, and next thing you know "When I'm With You" was permanently inflicted upon the greater listening public. It's a fairly embarrassing, toothless ballad - no question about it - but a number one hit is a number one hit, after all.
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