Top 10 Best One Hit Wonders of the ’80s

Still Great Artists Though

The ’80s was a pretty weird time in music. It’s as if most of the songs were slathered in gooey cheese. Were they lame? Well not exactly because they were huge hits. Besides, it was in this era when finally disco started dying a slow death and was being replaced by new wave and dance pop.

Of course, it was also the decade when hair metal was all the rage – you know, rockstars with their glorious, luscious mane in full display while donning spandex and tight leather clothing. And how can we forget Bruce Willis’ chart-topping single “Respect Yourself?”

But more importantly, there were several one-hit wonders who enjoyed the limelight for a brief period. And it only took less than five minutes for them to change the world.

10. Quarterflash – “Harden My Heart”

Probably one of the sexiest and most seductive tracks ever, this is one easy way to travel back in time. Would you believe this was released more than three decades ago? They were originally called Seafood Mama but eventually renamed themselves after “Harden my Heart” became a massive hit. Quarterflash came from an Australian slogan, “a quarter flash and three parts foolish.”

The song peaked at #3 on the US Billboard Hot 100 but unfortunately, they were unable to replicate their success.

“Even though Quarterflash harbors a definitive ’80s-pop sound, the rich saxophone and sultry vocals of Rindy Ross give this average-sounding chorus-and-bridge rock a slightly distinct edge.” – AllMusic’s Mike DeGagne

And lead vocalist Rindy Ross does a lot more than just sing – she plays the saxophone too. However, Quarterflash only released three albums before they disbanded. They reunited in 1990 and released another record. There were two more albums but those didn’t chart too.

9. John Parr – “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion)”

Who needs coffee when you can listen to John Parr’s masterpiece to perk you up? David Foster and John Parr wrote this for the 1985 coming-of-age film “St. Elmo’s Fire” – man, if only the movie was as good as this song.

It topped the US Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks and was also a chart-topper in other countries. It even earned him a Grammy nomination.

“I wrote the lyric when we were working on the movie. David showed me a video of Rick Hansen and I was inspired to write the story of his planned epic journey to circumnavigate the globe in his wheel chair.” – John Parr

He has shared the stage with other rock legends like Heart, The Beach Boys and John Entwistle. He had several other works but nothing quite like “St. Elmo’s Fire.” From TV shows to Google’s campaign, the song remains timeless. It’s an absolute classic.

8. Edie Brickell & New Bohemians – “What I Am”

This alternative rock tune from Edie Brickell & New Bohemians peaked at #7 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and also managed to break into the Top 40 in Canada and UK. You’ve probably heard it several times on TV because it’s been featured in numerous series and shows.

You might also notice that the guitar solo is kind of similar to Jerry Garcia’s style. Thanks to this track, their debut album achieved commercial success but the follow-up was a bit of a disappointment.

“I haven’t ever stopped thinking about music or writing music or playing music, and I just end up with different bands based on circumstance. Whichever musicians I’m with are the musicians I end up playing with because I can’t resist playing.” – Edie Brickell

The last time the band played together was on April 2017 for a benefit concert at the Kessler Theater in Oak Cliff. Edie Brickell is currently married to Paul Simon.

7. Devo – “Whip It”

Everyone was surprised when “Whip It” peaked at #14 on the US Billboard Hot 100. The lyrics don’t make sense and even the official music video was, well, weird. Devo had other songs but nothing else cracked the Top 40 mostly because their tracks were too much about counter-culture to appeal to mainstream audience.

“We started practicing it every day, until we got it to the point where we really liked it and we thought it was really snappy. Then we recorded it. We didn’t like it any better or any less than any of the other songs we were doing, and we had no idea it would become a hit.” – Jerry Casale

Still, “Whip It” propelled them towards international stardom since it was certified gold in both Canada and the United States.

The song experienced some resurgence in popularity after it was used in the highly popular science fiction-horror TV series Stranger Things.

6. Big Country – “In A Big Country”

Big Country was an ‘80s one-hit wonder with a tragic end. Their song “In A Big Country” peaked at #17 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and #3 on the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks. Even their music video was put on heavy rotation in MTV.

It was because of this track that their album “The Crossing” earned gold certification status in the US and sold more than a million copies in the UK. Their other songs didn’t achieve the same success even though they were one of the most promising acts of the decade.

“’I could try to think of a lot of artistic reasons why I drank so much, but basically there weren’t any. The truth is that I drank because I wanted to.” – Stuart Adamson

And in 2001, lead vocalist Stuart Adamson was found dead in his hotel room in Hawaii after hanging himself. He was only 43 years old when he died.

5. Cutting Crew – “I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight”

Who would forget the band who gave us the iconic “I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight?” This power ballad peaked at #1 in several countries including US and Canada. The track catapulted them to international stardom.

The song was inspired by lead singer Nick Van Eede’s relationship with his girlfriend. Rumor has it, he thought of the phrase “I just died in your arms tonight” while sleeping with her. Err, of course, he did.

“It’s a song written about my girlfriend (who is actually the mother of my daughter). We got back together for one night after a year apart and I guess there were some fireworks but all the time tinged with a feeling of ‘should I really be doing this?’ Hence the lyric, ‘I should have walked away.’ I know it sounds corny but I awoke that morning and wrote the basic lyrics within an hour and wrote and recorded the demo completely within three days.” – Nick Van Eede

It’s been sampled numerous times and whenever we think of Cutting Crew, that’s the only song that comes to mind. In 2015, the band released their fifth album but it failed to chart. They even hit the road shortly for a tour around UK shortly after its release.

4. Timbuk3 – “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades”

Timbuk3 has a total of six studio albums but the only song which broke into the Top 40 was “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.” So that title might make you roll your eyeballs (don’t worry, we’re guilty of doing the same thing) but hey, it’s an iconic ‘80s track.

Also, contrary to popular belief, this has a pretty grim theme.

“The only problem is, it’s a bit too neat. McDonald and partner Barbara K treat the song’s subject with the smug disdain that he deserves, yet the song is so obviously a “look at this yutz” put-down that it’s not as effective as it might have been.” – AllMusic’s Stewart Mason

The song’s a bit of an oddball and that’s perhaps where its appeal lies. Timbuk3 received several lucrative offers for commercial licensing from big brands such as the U.S. Army, Ford, and a $900,000 offer from AT&T. They rejected all of them though.

3. Joan Jett and The Blackhearts – “I Love Rock ‘n Roll”

Just when Joan Jett thought her career was over when it was brought to a standstill, she hit the jackpot with her cover version of “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” which was originally recorded by The Arrows in 1975. Her rendition topped the US Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks and was certified platinum by the RIAA.

Even her music video received heavy airplay from MTV.

“I think most people who love some kind of rock ‘n’ roll can relate to it. Everyone knows a song that just makes them feel amazing and want to jump up and down. I quickly realized, this song is gonna follow you, so you’re either gonna let it bother you, or you gotta make peace with it, and feel blessed that you were involved with something that touched so many people.” – Joan Jett

It’s not the first time that a cover became way more popular than the original version. In fact, even today, most listeners would associate “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” with Joan Jett. After all, she made it big with this classic.

2. Twisted Sister – “We’re Not Gonna Take It”

Ah yes, the perpetual question of whether or not Twisted Sister is considered a one-hit wonder. We believe so, yes. They had several songs, that’s true, but they only had one Top 40 hit which makes them qualified for this list.

“We’re Not Gonna Take It” peaked at #21 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and it also helped that their music video is as iconic as the song itself. And MTV gave them a boost by putting it on heavy rotation.

“You’ll see things like ‘one-hit wonder’ — it’s actually two — or the word ‘flash in a pan,’ or ‘lucky,’ or things like that applied to our band when that couldn’t be anything further from the truth.” – Dee Snider

They had a gold album after but it was nowhere near as successful as “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” Dee Snider may not agree but all things considered, they’re definitely a one-hit wonder.

1. A Flock of Seagulls – “I Ran (So Far Away)”

Love or hate the ‘80s, the decade still managed to produce several classics and epic masterpieces at that. Okay, now tell us another track from A Flock of Seagulls aside from “I Ran.” We’ll wait.

Tick tock, tick tock. Time’s up. You can’t, can you? They’re probably the very definition of ‘one-hit wonder.’ Of course that is, if we don’t count their insanely memorable hairstyle (that’s another hit, as well). In fact during interviews, leader Mike Score gets asked more about his hair than his music.

“I Ran” peaked at #9 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and in 2016, the band gained a stream of new fans after their song was used in the musical film “La La Land.”

“Every time I perform live, everyone just wants to hear ‘I Ran’… I’m sick of it!” – Mike Score

You can’t blame him though especially because they had other hits, one of which performed better than “I Ran” in the UK Charts.