Top 20 Cheesiest One Hit Wonders of the 1980s

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Top 20 Cheesiest One Hit Wonders of the 1980s

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Don Ekama
These songs aren't bad, they're just a little over-the-top. For this list, we'll be looking at extremely corny and melodramatic hit songs released in the 80s that marked the peak of the band/artist's career. Our countdown includes “I Want Candy”, “Bette Davis Eyes”, “Pac-Man Fever”, “Come On Eileen”, “It's Raining Men”, and more!
Transcript

Top 20 Cheesiest One-Hit Wonders of the 1980s


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Cheesiest One-Hit Wonders of the 1980s.

For this list, we’ll be looking at extremely corny and melodramatic hit songs released in the 80s that marked the peak of the band/artist’s career. Just for the record, we’re not saying these songs are bad, in fact, it is their simplicity and overproduction that have made us fall in love with them.

Which of these cheesy one-hit wonders do you still listen to today? Let us know in the comments.

#20: “I Want Candy” (1982)

Bow Wow Wow
Almost two decades after the faux Australian band The Strangeloves earned a Top 20 hit with “I Want Candy,” it reappeared on the charts sounding catchier, spunkier and a whole lot sweeter. This 1982 cover by English new wavers Bow Wow Wow combined the classic Bo Diddley beat from the original song with a fusion of African and Latin-inspired rhythms. Fronted by a then-teenage Annabella Lwin (le winn), Bow Wow Wow attained immense success across Europe mostly on the back of this song. While it only peaked at a moderate sixty-two in the U.S., the music video received heavy rotation on MTV and was a staple on alternative radio stations.

#19: “867-5309/Jenny” (1981)

Tommy Tutone
On behalf of Tommy Tutone, we would like to apologize if you were unlucky enough to have the same combination of numbers as this song’s title. Although they had grazed the top 40 one year earlier with “Angel Say No,” it was “Jenny” that gave Tommy Tutone the biggest hit of their career. The song details the struggles of a man who finds a girl’s number scribbled on a wall but lacks the courage to actually dial it. It’s nearly impossible not to sing along to this tune - its catchy chord progression and incredibly corny chorus will have you belting out the lyrics faster than you can take out your phone and actually dial the number.

#18: “The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” (1986)

Timbuk 3 (not timbuktu)
Timbuk 3 was an alternative rock band formed by husband and wife, Pat and Barbara K. MacDonald. Inspired by a comment made by Barbara about their potential success as a couple and as musicians, Pat penned this song about the prospects of a young nuclear scientist in the thick of the Cold War. The tongue-in-cheek chorus led people to misinterpret the song’s grim message as an optimistic outlook on the future. For that reason, it was heavily adopted as a graduation anthem. Sadly, the future wasn’t so bright for Timbuk 3, as this was their only song to chart on the Billboard Hot 100, and their subsequent albums generated little to no buzz.

#17: “Bette Davis Eyes” (1981)

Kim Carnes
The eyes, they say, are the nipples of the face. And in the case of Bette Davis, that saying couldn’t have been truer. Originally co-written and recorded by Jackie DeShannon for her 1975 album “New Arrangement,” the song was breathed new life by Californian singer-songwriter Kim Carnes. This rock-heavy version took the original boogie-woogie blues track and flipped it on its head - with riveting jazz-influenced guitars and keyboards, handclaps, and Carnes’ raw, raspy vocals. The song became a huge hit, peaking at number one in twenty-one countries and being named the biggest Billboard hit of 1981. It picked up the Grammys for Song and Record of the Year, giving Carnes the biggest hit of her career.

#16: “Too Shy” (1983)

Kajagoogoo
The early 80s brought with it a steady flow of British acts into the American music scene, largely through the music channel MTV. Some of these acts, like Duran Duran, were long-lasting while others, such as Kajagoogoo, pretty much faded away after one huge hit. For Kajagoogoo, that hit came in the form of “Too Shy,” a quintessential 80s rock tune - complete with a killer bass intro, synth-heavy beats and a dazzling music video. The song was an instant chart-topper in Kajagoogoo’s native UK, and eventually rose to the top five in the US, primarily through non-stop airplay on MTV. The band had further hits in the UK, but never achieved quite the same level of success again across the pond.

#15: “I Melt with You” (1982)

Modern English
As the threat of nuclear war heightened in the 80s, several musicians wrote songs that either directly addressed the Cold War era, or were influenced by it. One notable example was this new wave classic by the British band Modern English. A textbook case of a radically misunderstood song, “I Melt with You” sounds like a beautiful love song, about a couple wanting to stop the world just to be with each other. But the lyrics are more literal than metaphorical, as the songwriters intended to portray a couple melting together in the aftermath of an atomic bomb. Although it never broke into the top forty in the US, it received heavy rotation on MTV and quickly became a favorite in dance clubs.

#14: “Tarzan Boy” (1985)

Baltimora
Ever feel bogged down by the hustle and bustle of today’s fast-paced society? Want to just leave everything behind for a care-free life away from the city lights? Then this is your anthem. The debut single by the short-lived Italian band Baltimora, “Tarzan Boy” employs a simple electronic melody, featuring Tarzan’s famous feral cry as its chorus. Its simplistic structure and mindless lyrics helped the song become an international hit, topping the charts in five countries and reaching the top twenty in several others. After their second album received very little chart recognition, the band was dropped by their label and disbanded soon after.

#13: “I Know What Boys Like” (1982)

The Waitresses
The things that make this song cringey are the exact same things that make it instantly memorable. From Patty Donahue’s deadpan singing, to the mind-numbing lyrics and repetitive interlude, the track is structured to crawl its way into your head and remain there. The song’s original version was released in 1980 by Chris Butler to moderate club success, but it had very little impact otherwise. After forming The Waitresses with Donahue as lead vocalist, Butler re-recorded the song, releasing it as a single from the band’s debut album “Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?” This version took off pretty quickly, becoming the band’s only hit song, and one of the earliest new wave hits that helped the genre push its way into the mainstream.

#12: “The Safety Dance” (1982)

Men Without Hats
For a song released in the early 80s, whose music video featured heavy nuclear imagery, it’s easy to see why it was initially misunderstood as an anti-nuclear protest song. While the track is admittedly anti-establishment, it was instead inspired by Men Without Hats lead singer Ivan Doroschuk’s (door-shuck) experience getting bounced out of a club for pogoing on the dance floor. Doroschuk’s enchanting baritone layered over the song’s heavy synthesizers, creating a catchy and remarkable vehicle for their message of nonconformity and freedom of expression. Initially released in Canada, the tune became much more successful when it was released months later in the US, peaking at number three on the Hot 100.

#11: “Pac-Man Fever” (1981)

Buckner & Garcia
Although this wasn’t the first chart entry for the novelty duo Buckner & Garcia, it was their biggest hit and the song they’re best known for to date. The origins of the song are pretty simple - while working as TV jingle writers, they got hung up on a Pac-Man machine they saw at a diner and decided to write a song about it. Take the novelty genre, add video game references and hastily written lyrics, and you get “Pac-Man Fever” in all its cheesy glory. Buckner & Garcia were slightly ahead of the Pac-Man craze, releasing their song just as the game became a cultural phenomenon which helped the song soar to number nine on the Hot 100.

#10: “Maniac” (1983)

Michael Sembello
The 1983 movie “Flashdance” - a perennial guilty pleasure - received such negative reviews upon release that the legendary film critic Roger Ebert included it in his list of Most Hated films. Still, it became the third-highest-grossing film of that year in the U.S., largely due to the free publicity it got from “Maniac.” Co-written by Michael Sembello and Dennis Matkosky (mutt-KUSS-skee) for Sembello’s debut album, the song was inspired by a serial killer, but it was largely rewritten to fit the narrative of “Flashdance.” The final product was a fluffier, high-energy song about a girl hell-bent on achieving her dreams of becoming a dancer. It climbed right to the very top of the charts and inspired the use of music videos in movie marketing.

#9: “Puttin' On the Ritz” (1982)

Taco
This song was originally written by the great composer Irving Berlin and was used in the 1930 film of the same name. It saw a huge resurgence in popularity in the early 80s when a distinctive-looking Indonesian-Dutch musician named Taco put a radical synth-pop spin on it. Taco’s version of the song became an unlikely hit due to the constant rotation its music video received on MTV. Audiences were drawn to the tune for its off-beat rhyming sequences, coupled with Taco’s lavish costumes and captivating tap dance sequence from the music video. The track made Taco the ultimate one-hit wonder, as no one had ever heard of him before its release, and he pretty much faded into obscurity after it fell off.

#8: “She Blinded Me with Science” (1982)

Thomas Dolby
It was a pretty common occurrence in the 80s for a music video to be the sole vehicle driving a song to popularity. That was the case for “She Blinded Me with Science.” Equal parts funky, kooky, and scientific, this synth-pop jam was written after the concept for the music video had already been fully planned out. While that may have come at the expense of the quality of the song’s lyrics, the lead single from Thomas Dolby’s debut album was an immense success, peaking at number five on the Hot 100. Although he’s now viewed as a one-hit wonder, Dolby has gone on to found his own software company, and has done extensive work as a producer and session musician.

#7: “Funkytown” (1980)

Lipps Inc.
At the turn of the 80s, disco music was dying a slow, painful death, and new wave had risen to usher in the new decade. While most other disco artists struggled to remain relevant, Lipps Inc. soared to popularity on the back of their 1980 smash disco hit “Funkytown.” On the song, the band employs simplistic hooks and choruses, over a perfect blend of disco, new wave, and old R&B influences to create a funky, enduring classic. There was nary a dancefloor the world over that didn’t have this tune blaring from their speakers. It peaked at number one in over ten countries, including the U.S. and Canada, and saw a resurgence six years later, with a cover by Pseudo Echo.

#6: “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” (1984)

Dead or Alive
Before they went on to make hits for acts like Kylie Minogue and Rick Astley, the English production trio Stock Aitken Waterman got their first charting single with Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round.” The group’s frontman Pete Burns put his own spin on Luther Vandross’ “I Wanted Your Love” and Little Nell’s “See You ‘Round Like A Record” to create what would become their only number-one hit in the UK. Even though they later sent a single to the top 20, it is this song, with its shimmery synths, heavy pulsating beats, and Burns’ ferocious vocals, that the band became most associated with. You can only take so much of the chorus before you start getting dizzy.

#5: “99 Luftballons” (1983)

Nena (nina)
Recorded entirely in German, “99 Luftballons” started gaining traction in America after a radio DJ put it on the spin. Even with lyrics in a different language, English-speaking audiences still connected to the raw vocals and ominous feel of the song. Written at a turbulent time in Germany, the track imagined ninety-nine balloons flying over the Berlin wall and getting mistaken for enemy missiles. Due to its huge success, Nena recorded an English version that pretty much watered down the song’s message and wasn’t nearly as successful as the original. It reached number one in multiple countries and number two in the U.S., but just like those 99 balloons, Nena soon flew away and was never heard from again.

#4: “Come On Eileen” (1982)

Dexys Midnight Runners and the Emerald Express
For a time like the 80s, it was quite unusual for a song without any synthesizers to become a hit. But somehow, Dexys Midnight Runners managed to achieve that. Their first single ever released in the U.S., “Come On Eileen” used organic sounds like the banjo, accordion, fiddle, and saxophone to tell the story of two teenagers maturing out of their crushing hometown. The song hit number one on the Hot 100, and was so huge that it knocked Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” off the top spot. Like many other acts from the Second British Invasion, the track’s popularity was helped by its music video which, unlike most others from the 80s, had a gritty, hillbilly vibe to it.

#3: “(I Just) Died in Your Arms” (1986)

Cutting Crew
Lead singer Nick Van Eede (nick van eed) was inspired to write this song while having an affair with a former girlfriend. Apparently, the French phrase “la petite mort” which means “the little death” is used as a metaphor. The song lives up to its source material by being utterly passionate and having verses that slowly build up to an explosive chorus. The lead single off their debut album, the track shot to number one after being released in the U.S., paving the way for a potentially successful career for the previously unknown band. That potential would go on to die right in their arms, as the band struggled to find much success after their first album.

#2: “It’s Raining Men” (1982)

The Weather Girls
Look up in the sky! It’s a bird, no, it’s a plane, nope… it’s raining men! Released as the lead single from The Weather Girls’ third studio album, this camp post-disco song was novelty in every sense of the word. Not only did it objectify men in a way that had never been heard before, it also brought two women, who looked nothing like the popular female singers of the time, to pop mainstream. With its countless weather-related puns, uptempo beats, and thumping bass line, the song was rejected by multiple artists before it was recorded by The Weather Girls. It topped the dance charts in the U.S., went number two in the UK, and was widely embraced as a gay anthem.

#1: “Mickey” (1982)

Toni Basil
The cheerleading anthem of all cheerleading anthems, “Mickey” pom-pommed its way from a British pop song originally called “Kitty” to the number-one spot on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s a quintessential cheesy 80s tune - with its annoyingly repetitive yet irresistibly catchy chorus, suggestive lyrics, and an instantly recognizable music video. For the lattermost, Basil’s heavily synchronized choreography made her the first artist to direct, produce, and choreograph her own music video. Quite a feat for her debut album! The clip contributed significantly to the song’s success in the UK, and later with the advent of MTV, in the US too. An already established dancer and choreographer, Basil emerged, blew our minds, and soon backflipped her way right back out.
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