Special Report

Biggest One-Hit Wonders of the 1980s

David Redfern / Redferns via Getty Images

The debut of MTV on Aug. 1, 1981, had a profound effect on the music industry and helped shape what people listened to in the 1980s. Besides boosting the careers of acts such as Madonna and Duran Duran, MTV provided an opportunity for quirky bands like Devo and international acts such as Nena and a-ha. 

Some of these performers would have continued success, while others would only have a brief moment of glory, becoming known as one-hit wonders.

To determine the biggest one-hit wonders of the 1980s, 24/7 Tempo reviewed performance data for the top 40 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 charts. Songs that reached No. 1 or No. 2 between the years 1980 and 1989 were ranked based on an inverse score wherein a week at No. 1 is worth 40 points, a week at No. 2 worth 39 points, and so on, up to a week at No. 40 worth one point. To be considered, artists must have had no more than three Top 40 hits, either as individual artists or as featured artists, and must have sold no more than five million albums in the United States throughout their careers. Chart data is current through April 8, 2023.

Music genres such as rap and hip-hop entered the music mainstream in the 1980s, which also saw wider audience acceptance of musical styles like synth-pop, techno, reggae and ska. (Note the stylistic differences between the songs of the ‘80s and those of the previous decade in this list of the biggest one-hit wonders of the 1970s.)

Click here to see the biggest one-hit wonders of the 1980s

In addition to the German singer Nena, whose anti-war single “99 Luftballons” reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and the Norwegian synth-pop band a-ha, which scaled the chart to No. 1 with the song “Take on Me,” one-hit wonders from abroad included three British acts that topped the Billboard Hot 100 for one week each: Fine Young Cannibals (“She Drives Me Crazy”), Dexys Midnight Runners (“Come On Eileen”), and The Escape Club (“Wild, Wild West”).

The most successful one-hit wonder of the era came In 1983, when husky-voiced Welsh-born vocalist Bonnie Tyler posted her lone No. 1 single, “Total Eclipse Of The Heart.” It occupied the top spot for four weeks, and was in the Billboard top 40 for 18 weeks in all. (These are the biggest hits of the ‘80s according to Billboard.)

25. 99 Luftballons
> Artist: Nena
> Peak position on Top 40: No. 2 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Top 40: 13 weeks
> Entered charts: Jan. 21, 1984
> Left charts: April 14, 1984

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24. Wild Thing
> Artist: Tone-Loc
> Peak position on Top 40: No. 2 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Top 40: 14 weeks
> Entered charts: Dec. 24, 1988
> Left charts: March 25, 1989

23. Keep Your Hands to Yourself
> Artist: The Georgia Satellites
> Peak position on Top 40: No. 2 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Top 40: 14 weeks
> Entered charts: Dec. 20, 1986
> Left charts: March 21, 1987

22. She Drives Me Crazy
> Artist: Fine Young Cannibals
> Peak position on Top 40: No. 1 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Top 40: 14 weeks
> Entered charts: Feb. 25, 1989
> Left charts: May 27, 1989

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21. La Bamba
> Artist: Los Lobos
> Peak position on Top 40: No. 1 (for 3 weeks)
> Total time on Top 40: 14 weeks
> Entered charts: July 18, 1987
> Left charts: Oct. 17, 1987

20. St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)
> Artist: John Parr
> Peak position on Top 40: No. 1 (for 2 weeks)
> Total time on Top 40: 14 weeks
> Entered charts: July 20, 1985
> Left charts: Oct. 19, 1985

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19. Friends and Lovers
> Artist: Carl Anderson & Gloria Loring
> Peak position on Top 40: No. 2 (for 2 weeks)
> Total time on Top 40: 14 weeks
> Entered charts: Aug. 2, 1986
> Left charts: Nov. 1, 1986

18. Jeopardy
> Artist: Greg Kihn Band
> Peak position on Top 40: No. 2 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Top 40: 14 weeks
> Entered charts: March 5, 1983
> Left charts: June 4, 1983

17. Somebody’s Watching Me
> Artist: Rockwell
> Peak position on Top 40: No. 2 (for 3 weeks)
> Total time on Top 40: 14 weeks
> Entered charts: Feb. 11, 1984
> Left charts: May 12, 1984

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16. Come on Eileen
> Artist: Dexys Midnight Runners
> Peak position on Top 40: No. 1 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Top 40: 14 weeks
> Entered charts: Feb. 26, 1983
> Left charts: May 28, 1983

15. At This Moment
> Artist: Billy Vera & The Beaters
> Peak position on Top 40: No. 1 (for 2 weeks)
> Total time on Top 40: 15 weeks
> Entered charts: Dec. 6, 1986
> Left charts: March 14, 1987

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14. Medley
> Artist: Stars On 45
> Peak position on Top 40: No. 1 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Top 40: 14 weeks
> Entered charts: May 2, 1981
> Left charts: Aug. 1, 1981

13. Wishing Well
> Artist: Terence Trent D’Arby
> Peak position on Top 40: No. 1 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Top 40: 15 weeks
> Entered charts: Feb. 27, 1988
> Left charts: June 4, 1988

12. Let’s Hear It for the Boy
> Artist: Deniece Williams
> Peak position on Top 40: No. 1 (for 2 weeks)
> Total time on Top 40: 14 weeks
> Entered charts: April 14, 1984
> Left charts: July 14, 1984

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11. Don’t Dream It’s Over
> Artist: Crowded House
> Peak position on Top 40: No. 2 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Top 40: 15 weeks
> Entered charts: Feb. 21, 1987
> Left charts: May 30, 1987

10. Baby, I Love Your Way/Freebird Medley
> Artist: Will To Power
> Peak position on Top 40: No. 1 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Top 40: 15 weeks
> Entered charts: Oct. 15, 1988
> Left charts: Jan. 21, 1989

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9. Take on Me
> Artist: a-ha
> Peak position on Top 40: No. 1 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Top 40: 15 weeks
> Entered charts: Aug. 24, 1985
> Left charts: Nov. 30, 1985

8. Funkytown
> Artist: Lipps, Inc.
> Peak position on Top 40: No. 1 (for 4 weeks)
> Total time on Top 40: 15 weeks
> Entered charts: April 19, 1980
> Left charts: July 26, 1980

7. Wild, Wild West
> Artist: The Escape Club
> Peak position on Top 40: No. 1 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Top 40: 16 weeks
> Entered charts: Sept. 17, 1988
> Left charts: Dec. 31, 1988

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6. Electric Avenue
> Artist: Eddy Grant
> Peak position on Top 40: No. 2 (for 5 weeks)
> Total time on Top 40: 15 weeks
> Entered charts: May 21, 1983
> Left charts: Aug. 27, 1983

5. Shake You Down
> Artist: Gregory Abbott
> Peak position on Top 40: No. 1 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Top 40: 16 weeks
> Entered charts: Nov. 8, 1986
> Left charts: Feb. 21, 1987

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4. Pump Up the Jam
> Artist: Technotronic Featuring Felly
> Peak position on Top 40: No. 2 (for 2 weeks)
> Total time on Top 40: 16 weeks
> Entered charts: Nov. 11, 1989
> Left charts: Feb. 24, 1990

3. Maniac
> Artist: Michael Sembello
> Peak position on Top 40: No. 1 (for 2 weeks)
> Total time on Top 40: 16 weeks
> Entered charts: July 2, 1983
> Left charts: Oct. 15, 1983

2. Mickey
> Artist: Toni Basil
> Peak position on Top 40: No. 1 (for 1 week)
> Total time on Top 40: 18 weeks
> Entered charts: Oct. 9, 1982
> Left charts: Feb. 5, 1983

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1. Total Eclipse of the Heart
> Artist: Bonnie Tyler
> Peak position on Top 40: No. 1 (for 4 weeks)
> Total time on Top 40: 18 weeks
> Entered charts: Aug. 13, 1983
> Left charts: Dec. 10, 1983

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