From the moonwalk to the Walkman, the ’80s were an awesome time for music. With disco going underground and mutating into new genres, the charts were ruled by new wave, rap, R&B, and rock—along with plenty of one-hit wonders. Here’s a look at the favorites we still play on repeat.
Lipps Inc. – “Funkytown”
Memorize this piece of pop-culture trivia for Jeopardy! In 1980, “Funkytown” reached No. 1 in 28 countries—more than any other single—until Madonna’s “Hung Up” came along 25 years later. Piling on the hooks with electro beeps, robotic vocals, funky strings, and the best cowbells ever, Minnesota’s Lipps Inc. proved that there was life after disco. (The infamous Disco Demolition Night happened in 1979.) But the group never repeated the runaway success of “Funkytown,” releasing a few more singles from a few more albums that popped up only on the dance charts.
Bow Wow Wow – “I Want Candy”
Lead singer Annabella Lwin was 15 years old when she recorded this cover in 1982—two years earlier she was handpicked for Bow Wow Wow by Malcolm McLaren, who managed the Sex Pistols. “I Want Candy” was originally released by the Strangeloves in 1965. Bow Wow Wow revved things up with punk-pop guitar riffs, big drums, and Lwin’s bigger pipes (and then-shocking mohawk). It wasn’t a huge hit on the charts, and the English band broke up a year later. But it’s definitely one of the ’80s most iconic songs and the most memorable version of “I Want Candy.” (No offense, Aaron Carter.)
A-ha – “Take on Me”
When you think of one-hit wonders from the ’80s, there’s a 99.783% chance this chart-topper from A-ha is top of mind. From those sweeping synths to lead singer Morten Harket’s epic falsetto, “Take on Me” is nothing less than new-wave magic. Arguably the biggest song of 1985, it was also the biggest music video of the year. The MTV era was in full swing, and the video’s rad special effects blew everyone away—and won the Norwegian band six MTV awards. A-ha remained insanely popular in their home country after “Take on Me.” But stateside, pretty much no one can name another song by them.
Nu Shooz – “I Can’t Wait”
Once your ear latches onto that quacking keyboard hook, “I Can’t Wait” will have you doing the cabbage patch. Recorded by Oregon’s Nu Shooz in 1984, it was a remix by a Swedish DJ that invaded the dance clubs and airwaves two years later, earning them a Grammy nomination for Best New Band. But Nu Shooz didn’t come up with another hit and quietly retired. With nostalgia calling, they finally reappeared this decade, recording a new album and joining an ’80s-themed tour. Recently, “I Can’t Wait” was covered by Icona Pop with ?uestlove.
The Church – “Under the Milky Way”
Coming from Down Under, “Under the Milky Way” gave the world the shivers in 1988. Floating on an acoustic guitar melody and lead singer Steve Kilbey’s haunting baritone voice, the song takes a surprising turn with what sounds like bagpipes (it’s a synthesized guitar). It won Single of the Year at the ARIA Music Awards in 1989, which Kilbey rejected in protest of Australia’s music industry. The Church never stormed the charts again, but “Under the Milky Way” is still well-loved, covered by the likes of the Killers and Sia. And maybe you remember it from that crazy scene in Donnie Darko.
Biz Markie – “Just a Friend”
It seems like every other song is about problems with the opposite sex. But we challenge you to find one as funny and endearing as “Just a Friend.” Over an interpolation of ’60s soul hit “(You) Got What I Need,” Biz Markie raps about a girl who strings him along and sings the chorus totally—and charmingly—off-key. “Just a Friend” was on heavy rotation in 1989 and went platinum the following spring. Then in 1991, a legal battle over a sample set back Biz’s rap career. But the New York native has kept busy, recently appearing in Yo Gabba Gabba!, Empire, and, yup, the Sharknado sequel.
Love them? Hate them? Don’t see your favorite one-hit wonders from the ’80s here? Sound off in the comments below! And if you’re feeling inspired, you can find some sheet music in our online store to perform a few one-hit wonders yourself.