The Real Decade of the One Hit Wonder

Categories: Fiesta!

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In the last couple of weeks St. Louis has had somewhat of an influx of '90s nostalgia acts coming through town. Sponge played Cicero's, Soul Asylum made an appearance at the Old Rock House and Reel Big Fish just played the Pageant. This got us to thinking....

The '80s are remembered musically for the birth of MTV, the origin of icons like Michael Jackson and Madonna and the introduction of the term "one-hit wonder" into the national consciousness. Certainly, every decade has plenty of artists whose apex lasted exactly one song - I mean, did Antonio Vivaldi have another hit in the 1720s besides "The Four Seasons"? - but the '80s, more than any other decade, carry with them the stigma of being particularly full of short-lived musical careers. Some of that reputation is well-earned, thanks to flame-outs like Toni Basil, The Musical Youth, Nena, and of course, Dexy's Midnight Runners. However, a great deal of '80s acts that the general populace would recall as one-hit wonders had a little more time in the spotlight than many may think.

As for the '90s, however - what is it about that time that is worth remembering? The decade is highlighted by the short-lived grunge explosion, the unfortunate emergence of the "boy band" and the even more unfortunate existence of bands like Bush, Creed and Limp Bizkit. I can't back this up with scientific data (though apparently Harvard has done a little research of their own -- speaking of Soul Asylum), but as someone who lived through the 80's and 90's, I'll take the latter as the home for more bands with blink-and-you-missed-it peaks. For purposes of this column, a "hit" is defined as a song that reached the top ten of the Billboard singles chart.

The 1980s: One-Hit Wonder Blunders

Below is a short list of '80s musicians regularly identified as one-hit wonders who deserve the same respect afforded acts such as Cyndi Lauper, Quiet Riot and Culture Club.

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A Flock of Seagulls
You remember: "I Ran (So Far Away)"
But you forgot: "Space Age Love Song", "Wishing (If I Had a Photograph)"

My theory is that people became so fixated on the preposterous hairdo of lead singer Michael Score that it made them incapable of remembering more than that and "I Ran (So Far Away)". Unfortunately and incorrectly categorized as a one-hit wonder, the Seagulls' biggest hit is, in this writer's opinion, the weakest song of the three that found their way into the top ten.

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Bonnie Tyler
You remember: "Total Eclipse of the Heart"
But you forgot: "Holding Out For a Hero"

The raspy-voiced Tyler produced one of the most memorable songs of the decade with the impossibly over-the-top "Heart", memorably lampooned in "Old School". From the soundtrack of "Footloose", "Hero" would probably be more easily recalled if Kevin Bacon had angrily and aggressively danced to it in a deserted warehouse.

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Simple Minds
You remember: "Don't You (Forget About Me)"
But you forgot: "Alive and Kicking", "Sanctify Yourself", "All the Things She Said"

No child of the '80s could ever forget the iconic freeze frame of John Bender pumping his fist in the air at the end of "The Breakfast Club" while "hey hey hey heeeeeeeyyyyyyy" plays. In spite of the warning they give in the title of their most-famous song, few remember that Simple Minds hit the top ten three more times, something that cannot be said about the movie career of Judd Nelson.



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3 comments
Jason Toon
Jason Toon

I went to that show! And got berated afterwards when I interviewed Alice Nutter and called Leeds a "backwater". (I meant it as a compliment, I swear!)

Matt Harnish
Matt Harnish

Oh,I know what you're doing, RFT Music. You're trying to bait someone into defending Chumbawamba's earlier Crass-related political low-fi squatter-sound collage punk & then talk about going to see them at the Wabash Cafe when they played St Louis like 6 years before Tubthumping even happened, right? Well, it ain't gonna be me! I didn't even go to that show. It was like 8 bucks. I didn't pay 8 bucks for a show in 1994.

Jason Rosenbaum
Jason Rosenbaum

The Verve Pipe had another reasonable hit called "Photograph" before "Freshmen" came out.

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