The 10 Best 80s Albums by One Hit Wonders
One of my most charming qualities is my musical elitism. You know what I mean. The way people act when they don’t like someone’s music and mistakes that opinion for fact? That’s me! It wasn’t always this way, but somewhere along the line I just got fed up with hearing the same shit all of the time. The nature of pop-radio, it seems, is to shove a song down your throat and then ditch it like a pencil with a dry eraser. Like remember Iggy Azalea? Yeah. She’s a private contractor now. You don’t even know if I’m kidding, is the wild thing! And I know you won’t look it up because you don’t care! Nobody cares! We all just heard the song a thousand times!
And I talk this trash like my taste backs it up. It doesn’t. Really. I don’t listen to Neil Young, Dr Dre, Sleater Kinney or Kasey Musgraves. The music I back is typically forgotten or underground greats, but in my defense... someone’s gotta do it! I have my head planted firmly up the ass of the 70’s punk movement, the 90’s Britpop scene, the Paisley Underground, “sophistipop” greats… and all the while I believe--in my heart of hearts--that this was the real shit. You know what I mean? I also believe that the 80s was the best decade in musical history. Yeah. That 80s. The most ridiculed decade in music history until the 90s.
I love the fake synthy beats, the finding-its-feet singularity of the New Wave, and just the unmistakable air of fun found in seemingly all of the music at the time, even in slower ballads.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “I love 80s music too! Don’t Stop Believing, right?!”
No one has ever listened to a Journey album. You like the hits is what you like! Now, what if I told you that nine times out of ten--well, maybe seven--the albums put out by the big one-hit-wonders of the 80s were full of songs just as good, and in most cases better than their singles. I kid you not. Your parents lied to you as did mine. I have nothing to gain from going to you about this. If you’re a fan of 80s music in any capacity, you absolutely owe it to yourself to check these out if you’re able. And this isn’t the well-trod Talking Heads, Tears for Fears, Talk Talk, Pet Shop Boys territory, either! These are albums no one talks about! And it kills me! Anyway, yeah. Let’s get into it.
Mr. Mister - Welcome to the Real World
Their Hit: “Broken Wings”
Mr. Mister is a group I can see a lot of people not giving a chance, but their 1985 album, Welcome to the Real World is immaculate. As I say a lot--frankly, too much--is that sometimes the lame hit is the one that sticks, and that’s what happened here. “Broken Wings” is the only snoozer on this thing. The opener, “Black/White” is a high-gear jam, and from there the mood is held with the head-bobbing “Uniform of Youth,” and then refuses to slow down with “Don’t Slow Down” immediately afterward. Their second most hit, “Kyrie” is a far better single and another highlight here, and it’s a damn shame it doesn’t get half-as-much airplay that “Broken Wings” does.
Thomas Dolby - The Golden Age of Wireless
His Hit: “She Blinded Me With Science”
So, two for two here I’m going to sound like a contrarian, but my God, is “She Blinded Me With Science” an AWFUL song. It’s a dud! It’s aged like peeled avocado and barely would fit the tone of a Ned’s Declassified reboot. I heard a lot of good things about Thomas Dolby though, back in my New Wave phase, but because I hated the song so much it took me awhile to give it a shot. I’m glad I did. Dolby brought a certain level of panache to the movement, like some mad musical scientist. His songs are immersive and well-written--in particular I’ll cite “Flying North” and “Commercial Breakup”--and his fluke hit is thankfully relegated to bonus-track status. He was like a Buggles for the sophisticates, and it’s a shame his music has so largely been forgotten. I wonder if the new stuff’s any good. I’d also like to say that his follow-up album, The Flat Earth, is even better and “Hyperactive” is a far-better single than “Blinded.”
The Weather Girls - Success
Their Hit: “It’s Raining Men”
I don’t know why I’m revealing this choice so early on in the rankings. You think I’m full of shit. Here’s the thing though, readers. I’m not. I’m so not. The funny thing about listening to these people--people being one-hit wonders--is that it’s so difficult to gauge what any one is about from one song. This was my relationship to The Weather Girls. I had no idea what to expect listening to it, but it’s a super fun dynamic this duo had going for them. They were two large women--one in her thirties, the other was in her forties--and they beat the odds achieving mainstream-success with their fun, devil-may-care attitude about food, friendship and romance, leaving them better-remembered than a lot of artists at the time. It’s just a fun album that I promise will put a smile on your face with a unique blend of pop and soul music, as well as the very unique dynamic the two share. I don’t know how long their schtick would hold out but, for this album at least, it was great.
Dexy’s Midnight Runners - Searching for the Young Soul Rebels
Their Hit: “Come on Eileen”
You can’t not love “Come on Eileen”. It’s almost like people haven’t given Dexy’s a go because they don’t think anything can top it. As for whether or not they ever did... that’s a tough question, and it’s a tough question because it isn’t a song that’s a great representation of what they were about. Maybe it is. I don’t know. And I certainly didn’t at the time. Dexy’s Midnight Runners were an Irish group, and as such, their sound is pretty uniquely Celtic, doing the whole Irish rock thing was their bag, but they did it with a fun pop flourish. Their best album is their debut, and while “Come on Eileen” is not present here, it’s hard for me to imagine one finding themselves disappointed. With a few instrumentals and poems thrown into the mix, the pop bursts forth even harder, making use on this one of the same horns that fill “Eileen” but are here much more sour, but in the best possible way. Kevin Rowland’s wail is also something that kicks in here super unique-ly. If this sounds unappealing, maybe skip it, but I just listened to it again yesterday and it’s even better than I remembered, and in some circles, Young Soul Rebels remains a classic.
Midnight Oil - Diesel and Dust
Their Hit: “Beds are Burning”
Now, here’s where things get criminal. How in any critic’s right mind is this album not a classic-classic?! I mean, it’s a classic in the way Songs From the Big Chair is a classic, but it should be like Doolittle-tier. That’s my take. Do what you will with it. Midnight Oil’s angry, political-pop album shines like a diamond in the outback, with every song being so killer it’s insane. A statement on the treatment Australian aborigines were receiving by the hands of their government, the squalor and disease rampant in their communities, runs through the album like rain and songs like “Warakurna” are exemplary protests and goosebumps-inducing.
Simple Minds - Once Upon a Time
Their Hits: “Alive and Kicking,” “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”
Both of those songs appear on this album, but I’m not a hack! I promise! This is the album I chose because, while Simple Minds were not a one-and-done group by any stretch of imagination, commercial breakthrough that’s also my favorite. Every song on this thing rules. I almost think they drew their singles out of a hat because any would have worked. Now “Don’t You” of course was a bonus track, considering it was written for the John Hughes classic, The Breakfast Club. You know that. But with or without it, this album is a high-water mark for 80s pop. It’s practically the playbook on how it’s done. “Once Upon a Time” is a phenomenal opener, kicking things into high gear with (read the following like a sixteen-year-old girl) literally zero chill, and “Come A Long Way” is a barn-burning piece of social-commentary that closes the album out with a wallop. The music is awesome, the lyrics are poetry. Check. It. Out. I mean it.
'Til Tuesday - Everything’s Different Now
Their Hit: “Voices Carry”
This is the last time I cheat, I swear it. “Voices Carry” is actually a song on their debut album of the same name, but it isn’t that album that’s anything special. I like the song, but the rest of it is mid. I hate to be that guy, but it’s mid. What a lot of people don’t know though is that 'Til Tuesday was fronted by indie-pop titan Aimee Mann, and as someone who really enjoys her solo stuff it is so cool to see her maturing as an artist through 'Til Tuesday’s three album run. Voices Carry was a nice prototype, but Welcome Home was something special and Everything’s Different Now is just powerful on a whole ‘nother level. Such a great album has been cast to the waves and it ain’t right, dammit! It ain’t right! It’s a heartbreaking record, this one, and every song is better than the last. I love all of them. It’s 'Til Tuesday’s best, it’s probably Mann’s best, and it’s one of the best of the decade. Listen if you don’t believe me.
Scritti Politti - Cupid and Psyche 85
Their Hit: “Perfect Way”
I can say with almost certainty--and with no small amount of pride--that I am one of maybe five people on this continent to own three Scritti Politti albums. I had to buy them. This said, unlike most of the songs in question, I feel like “Perfect Way” is unbeatable, and is perhaps the most perfect example of a pop song I’ve ever heard. It’s syrupy, saccharine, beautiful and different, to the point that listening to it more than once in a row could give your ears a cavity. I think everything the group has ever done is stellar though, and Cupid and Psyche 85 is probably their best album. My parents seem to hate “wimpy” music, but this is the best case for it I’ve ever seen. What almost began as a dirty secret has almost become a talking-point. I’ve never heard a pop band lean so hard into the sound before and likely never will again, but damn if it’s not an intoxicating listen--enchanting even--and it will always be one of my favorites.
The Vapors - New Clear Days
Their Hit: “Turning Japanese”
I wish I could like all the music people love now. I do. But New Clear Days is one of my favorite albums of all time. It’s a top-tenner. Maybe even a top-fiver, and I don’t even know if people felt that way then! The Vapors are the best example of an 80s one-hit wonder I can think of. Their goofy, perhaps-masturbation song (which is an argument I “get” more every time I hear it) was really their only wavemaker and it’s so sad to me. This album is the best new-wave/power pop album since This Year’s Model, and to not see it vaunted to that status in the court of public opinion is felonious! And with songs like “Spring Collection,” “Cold War,” and “Sixty Second Interval” all over this thing, one could also make the case that it’s the last great pop-punk album ever made. That’s my take. Do what you will with it.
The Human League - DARE!
Their Hit: “Don’t You Want Me”
The final one here may seem like an odd choice if you were alive in the 80s--in particular if you lived in England--but the fact is, and I hate to be the one to tell you this, that no one knows the group of the New Wave anymore. It’s insane. From what I can tell, and I wasn’t there, The Human League were huge! So it’s bizarre that their only claim to fame now is this weird little love song that no one loves or hates. I’m here to rectify that. Their debut album is a stunner, packed front to back with so many exemplary New Wave songs that your head will spin. It’s easy, fun and subtly foreboding listening, and missing it would be a catastrophic whoopsie-daisy! For an even greater time, check out the deluxe version. In the 80s, synth-heavy groups extended their songs for dance-clubs and as an excuse to resell the same song to the same people, and for the most part it showed--but every 12” remix on this thing is just as good as the original, with new instrumental breaks that actually fit, and occasional new vocals that feel as though all of these songs were that long to begin with. The opening track, “The Things That Dreams Are Made Of,” is also one of the finest openers I’ve ever heard in my life. It gets the ball rolling and tells you exactly what you’re going to get. If you don’t like that one, it’s best you stop listening right there.
So what are you waiting for, you 80s freak?! Stop letting Stranger Things dictate your playlist and check ‘em out! And if my opinion sucks, feel free to let me know. My email address is email@example.com and I will do my best to respond in a timely manner. This said, I hope you can understand that I will likely be listening to The Weather Girls.
Have a great week and here is a playlist with some of my favorite songs from these one hit wonders!