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One Hit Wonders of the 80s Worth Revisiting

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by Steven G (subscribe)
Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler...Former teacher... Scientist... Published author... Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published July 16th 2018
One Hit Woners are still Hits
One Hit Wonders of the 80s Worth Revisiting

Ah, the good ol' one hit wonder. That one song that a band that's been struggling for years records that hits some sort of nerve in the community and propels them briefly to the top, and then they fade once more into obscurity. You look at and think: Why didn't that band make it bigger?

Of course, sometimes the fade into obscurity is deserved.
vanilla ice, music, song
Not looking at anyone in particular… (Wikipedia)

But the thing is, because the bands didn't become huge, the one-hit wonders are often left on the shelf of history, next to the pickled herring of time, unless suddenly dragged kicking and screaming into the present in an album imaginatively called One Hit Wonders.

Of course, then there's the definition of a hit. If it made the Top 40, it was a hit. Simple. So that means everyone's favourite One Hit Wonder of the 80s – 'Vienna' by Ultravox – isn't really because 'Dancing With Tears In My Eyes' cracked the top 20. (For what it's worth – both are cracking songs…) Also, I've ignored songs by members of bands that had other hits because, really, they weren't One Hit Wonders, per se (e.g. Midge Ure, lead singer of Ultravox, with 'If I Was'). (Yes, I'm an Ultravox fan – deal with it!)

ultravox, band, stage, music
Insert fanboy noises here. (Wikipedia)

So, here is a brief list of some One Hit Wonders of the 80s that I think are worth a second look. Hope you enjoy!

'Singing In The 80s' – The Monitors (1980)

Have a gander at the video!

A song that asks what people will be singing in the 1980s, and answers its own question by its very nature – over-produced synth pop with layered instrumentation and vocals.

This song came out when I was in primary school, and I remember being fascinated by the clip (featuring the Blakeney twins) and the line "I saw Sergeant Pepper standing high on a hill with George, John, Ringo and Paul." I had no idea what it meant until 4 years later when I discovered the joys that were The Beatles. Lyrically an interesting piece. Drawing a parallel of the 60s to the 80s.

Of course, the Stock, Aitken, Waterman production machine did sort of mirror Motown (though with less quality) so there is that.

'Guardian Angel' – Masquerade (1984)

Check out the video!

The juxtaposition of the two voices makes this song what it is – an irresistible power ballad. A song of love lost, but I just felt it spoke to me…

Sure, I first heard this song (and bought the 45… yes, on vinyl!) when I was 14 (in 1985) and going through one of those periods of teenaged angst that seems to hit us when we least like it – I had just broken up with a girl who I was sure was the love of my life and this song mirrored what I was feeling but was too, well, me to be able to put it into words myself. But isn't that the mark of a good song – when it can speak for you because you can't speak for yourself because you're basically inarticulate like that?

record, vinyl, album, record player, music
Still the best… (morguefile)

Despite that, it is actually a really good song.

'Love Missile F1-11' – Sigue Sigue Sputnik (1986)

Here's the video clip!

Ah, yes, the 1980s sometimes do have a lot to answer for don't they? This was one of the first songs I heard that sampled things like movies, sound effects and other songs for use in a cohesive whole. I'm still not 100% sure what the lyrics are actually about, but it seems to be either a protest song against nuclear armament or the singer is bragging about his sexual prowess.

This is one of those songs that stood out at the time for being so incredibly different. It certainly isn't a hold the cigarette lighter in the air and sing along sort of song, but it is definitely an aural experience that is virtually unrivalled.

As a side-note, I played this for a group of teenagers about 6 years ago and they all thought it was a new release, so maybe this sort of thing could be considered 'timeless'. Maybe. I only said maybe. Not definitely…

'Small Circles' – Rainmakers (1987)

Look! Pictures with the music!

A song that tells a definite story. Boy meets girl, boy sleeps with girl, boy and girl drift apart, boy claims he doesn't think about girl except that he's just written a pretty awesome song about her.

Oh, this song… I'd just broken up with Barbara (and it was all my fault… me and my ego… "Ah, regrets, I've had a few") and the timing was that this song came out almost at the same time. It was like the 16 year old me had some sort of psychic connection with the music business. I wore out my first copy and had to go and buy a second one (yes, on vinyl! again!), I played it so often. It was stupid as it only vaguely resembled my own relationship, but it still had that hold on me like, as I've said, good music does.

couple, break-up, man, woman
Well, this is how I remember it… (Pexels)

Then I met Mel and she introduced me to the B-52s and… yeah, another regret there, with Mel.

But as the song says, "I just said all this to be working my mouth."

'Major Tom (Coming Home)' – Tom Schilling (1983)

A clip with video properties here.

A song originally released in German (which the inevitable 1980s 12" mix included bits of) which was written as a sort of sequel to David Bowie's 'Space Oddity'. No, really.

Don't know what it is about this song, except it's just so darn catchy. That chorus – "Earth below us, drifting, falling, floating weightless…" – is so singable it's got 'earworm' written all over it. This is just a song that is fun.

It also might not belong here, as my rather limited researching skills have told me that Mr Schilling had several German-language hits in Germany (d'uh!), but as I do not speak German, I found this hard to actually ascertain, so as far as the English-speaking world is concerned – One Hit Wonder!

'Safety Dance' – Men Without Hats (1983)

Wouldn't you know it? A video!

A song about dancing with a video clip that features Morris Dancing and stereotypical Englishness that to the 14 year old me when I first saw it made me go: "Huh?"

But it is a fun song for all that, with a really cool 12" extended mix (as 90% of 80s songs had) and bits where we can clap along in time when we are dancing at the Blue Light Disco at the Campbelltown Rec Centre… Hey, remember Blue Light Discoes where literally hundreds of teenagers went and just had fun? Well, this song brings out the memories of those events and doing stupid things on the dance floor.

Though we didn't do any Morris Dancing…
morris dancing, English, dance, safety dance
My generation wouldn't even do this… (Wikipedia)

'Life In A Northern Town' – The Dream Academy (1985)

Check out the moving pictures!

"Hey-yah…" etc. Come on, who hasn't sung along with that little bit of nonsense in this song? So wonderful was it that Dario G used it as the basis for an entire chill-out track called 'Sunchyme'.

Okay, the song is a tribute the Nick Drake, whose death inspired its writing, but, really, who outside of that part of England at the time would have known that? And does it matter? No, it does not. Because this is one of those songs that you just want to sing along to, especially that chorus. And it made Salvation Army Bands cool for a few months. And maybe even drinking lemonade.

About the only other thing I can add is: This song is just so beautiful.

'Break My Stride' – Matthew Wilder (1983)

Lookit! More singy-talky movies!

Blink and you'll miss it, and probably overtaken by the cover version by Unique II in 1996 (hey, the One Hit Wonders keep on coming!), but this has a sort of joyous innocence that the later version didn't.

It has one of the best opening lines: "Last night I had the strangest dream…" And automatically you are listening to find out what is going on. I still don't know what was going on in the whole song, but it is a fun ride. Something about not letting yourself get stagnant or letting anyone else hold you back, I think. Who cares? "Ain't nothing gonna break my stride…"

'Turning Japanese' – The Vapors (1980)

And you may peruse it here. (I'd like to point out the actual video is not on YouTube! Wow!)

Singularly catchy song that really, lyrically, isn't a masterpiece and doesn't make a great deal of sense. At first glance.
This is one of those songs that makes you curse the Internet. See, as a kid, we just thought it was about a guy who was in love with a Japanese woman. Very John Lennon of him, but – meh! And then along comes that suppository of all wisdom (I know what I typed…), the Internet, and suddenly it is declared that this song is about, well, self-gratification.


No! Say it isn't so… Now, look, I don't know if that's true or not, but it does sort of give the song a whole new meaning that I'm not sure it deserves.

Still, ignoring that – fun song with a chorus you can sing along to. But now that you've read this, try singing along to it without smirking…

Okay, what did I miss? Sound off in the comments section below!

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