True One-Hit Wonders of the '80s

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 a one-hit wonder.

01
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Lipps, Inc. - "Funkytown"

Lipps, Inc. - "Funkytown"

Universal Music Group

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; "Funkytown" spent 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 eerie musical time warp, but it always takes a year or more for a decade to forge its style anyway.

02
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Vangelis - "Theme from 'Chariots of Fire'"

Vangelis - "Theme from 'Chariots of Fire'"

Universal Music Group

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 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.

03
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Patti Austin - "Baby Come to Me" (duet with James Ingram)

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

Rhino/Warner Bros.

Although she enjoyed multiple successes in the niche music genres of R&B, dance, and jazz, singer Patti Austin became the most authentic 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 a 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.

04
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Dexy's Midnight Runners - "Come on Eileen"

Dexy's Midnight Runners - "Come on Eileen"

 Mercury Records

This UK band enjoyed an impressive number of significant 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.

05
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Jan Hammer - "'Miami Vice' Theme"

Jan Hammer - "'Miami Vice' Theme"

Geffen Records

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, and that is indeed saying something.

06
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Gregory Abbott - "Shake You Down"

Gregory Abbott - "Shake You Down"

Columbia Records

Abbott may stand among the world's most true one-hit wonders of all-time, as this 1986 chart-topper works as an R&B slow burn readily as well as it does as a genuine pop music classic. 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, "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.

07
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Bobby McFerrin - "Don't Worry, Be Happy"

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

Capitol Records

We 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 as 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.

08
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Sheriff - "When I'm With You"

Sheriff - "When I'm With You"

Capitol Records

This otherwise bland adult contemporary throwaway song features one of the strangest chart-topping histories of any Billboard hit in history. Initially 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. A 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 reasonably embarrassing, toothless ballad, no question about it, but a number one hit is a number one hit, after all.