Category Archives: One-Hit Wonders

One Hit Wonders: Dexys Midnight Runners

Come on Eileen by Dexys Midnight Runners

by Robert Mishou

We end the One Hit Wonders mix tape with another international hit – it reached the top ten in no fewer than fifteen countries, including #1 on the AT40 in April of 1983. I will be the first (of what should be many) to admit that I really had no idea what the lyrics to this song were when I was a fourteen. I could understand the first line “Poor old Johnny Ray” (it was written on the video) and the chorus was rather intelligible, but the rest of the song remained a mystery as I sang nonsensical lyrics that sounded close to what I was hearing. Since the invention of the internet and all of this useless information at our fingertips, I have frequently searched for and found the elusive lyrics to this hit (in fact, I am looking at them right now). As the chorus suggests, the song is a plea – a plea for Eileen to “come on” and go along with the song’s speaker. He fully admits to being smitten with Eileen, emotionally, as well as physically, “You in that dress, my thoughts I confess / Verge on dirty.” He later implores her sense of youth and not settling for the mundane as most people do:

These people ‘round here
Wear beat down eyes sunk in smoke dried faces
They’re resigned to what their fate is
But not us (no never), no not us (no never)
We are far too young and clever

He begs and pleads – and we all hope, for him, that he is successful. The video suggests that they are. Despite lyrics that are nearly impossible to discern, this song endures. “Come on Eileen” can be frequently heard on any station that plays ‘80s music. VH1 recognizes the brilliance of this song by ranking it as the #1 greatest One Hit Wonder from the ‘80s – I can’t disagree.

There you have twenty shooting stars – songs that hit and then disappeared – bright lights that quickly faded. Some are still heard on stations that feature ‘80s music and some have been forgotten. Regardless of future successes, the songs by these artists touched us briefly and left an indelible mark on our hearts and ears. These songs may be in the discount bin now, but at one time they ruled the airwaves and I, for one, will never let them go.

One Hit Wonders: John Parr

St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion) by John Parr

by Robert Mishou

This is not the only One Hit Wonder from a soundtrack to a film, but it might be the best one. No need to mention (but I will) that this song was featured on the soundtrack to the film St. Elmo’s Fire, the classic ‘80s film with that mega- cast (Rob Lowe, Ally Sheedy, Emilio Estevez, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson). This song reached #1 on the AT 40 for two weeks in September of 1985. One of my favorite bands in the ‘80s is Toto – I love their sound and musicianship. Toto began as studio musicians who played on other artist’s albums and several members of Toto play on this song: Steve Porcaro and David Paisch on keyboards with Steve Lukather on guitars (Lukather also played most of the guitars on Michael Jackson’s Thriller). Quick note that Richard Marx is one of the backing vocalists on this song as well. While the lyrics may fit the film, they are more importantly directed at Rick Hansen who was on an important journey, taking himself in his wheelchair around the work in an effort to raise awareness of spinal cord injuries. Hansen himself became paralyzed at the age of fifteen due to a car accident. Now the song takes on an inspirational twist, which makes sense with:

Play the game, you know you can’t quit until it’s won
Soldier on, only you can do what must be done
You know in some ways you’re a lot like me
You’re just a prisoner, and you’re trying to break free
The song hits inspirational heights in the memorable chorus:
I can see a new horizon underneath the blazing sky
I’ll be where the eagles flying higher and higher
Gonna be your man in motion
All I need it a pair of wheels
Take me where the future’s lying: St. Elmo’s Fire

This anthemic song becomes one of pushing yourself to succeed and to never let anything get in your way. I love the movie, but I love this song more. It is a true testament to the power and inspiration a simple song can have. “I can climb the highest mountain, cross the proudest sea / I can feel St. Elmo’s Fire burning in me.”

One Hit Wonders: Men Without Hats

The Safety Dance by Men Without Hats

by Robert Mishou

This somewhat cryptic hit reached #4 on the AT 40 in September of 1983. There has been much discussion about the meaning to the lyrics ranging from an anti nuclear protest song to a plea for safe sex. The band’s singer and lyricist, Ivan Doroschuk, says it is neither. He wrote the lyrics to this song as a protest, not to nuclear weapons, rather to club bouncers. When New Wave music was becoming popular, it began to replace disco music in many clubs. As the style of music changed, so did the style of dancing. Dancers started to perform pogoing; a form of dancing that consisted remaining upright and thrashing about (this would eventually evolve into slam dancing and yes, I had to look this up). The bouncers at the clubs that Doroschuk attended did not allow this type of dancing and kicked out anyone who insisted on dancing in this style. This now becomes a great song that is not nearly as deep as many thought it to be. Keeping the dancing style in mind, the lyrics to this song do express the natural tendencies for young people to resent and resist authority:

I say we can go where we want to
A place they will never find
And we can act like we come from out of this world
Leave the real one far behind

And later:

We can go where we want to
The night is young and so am I
We can dress real neat
From our hands to our feet
And surprise them with a victory cry

And later still:

We can act like we want to
If we don’t, nobody will
We can act real rude
And totally removed
And I can act like an imbecile

Clearly now, this song becomes a typical teenage rebellion song, a staple of rock since the ‘50s. Couple these sentiments with an infectious keyboard and we have a perfect one hit wonder. And don’t forget the intro to the album (long) version of this song:
Sss – Aaa – Fff – Eee – Ttt – Yyy

One Hit Wonders: Soft Cell

Tainted Love by Soft Cell

by Robert Mishou

This mega international hit is a cover of a 1965 song by Gloria Jones that failed to dent the charts. In January of 1982 it entered the Billboard Hot 100 and bounced around for a while, taking nineteen weeks to reach the Top 40 and peaked at #4. This song remained on the American charts for a combined forty-three weeks! In addition it reached the top ten in fifteen European countries as well – a true definition of a hit. The song is simple and catchy (you know you vocally hit that keyboard every time you hear this song). The speaker in the song is in dire straits – his love has left him and he is struggling:

Sometime I feel I’ve got to run away
I’ve got to get away
From the pain you drive into the heart of me
The love we seem to share seems to go nowhere
And I’ve lost my life
I toss and turn, I can’t sleep at night

Then comes the heart wrenching line, “Once I ran to you, now I run from you.” He is clearly upset and cannot imagine a way out of this situation. Eventually, he accepts his pain and decides the only way out is to leave:

Don’t touch me, please, I cannot stand the way you tease
I love you though you hurt me so
Now I’m gonna pack my things and go

Lyrically, the song is devastating, but musically the song has that new wave synthesized upbeat feel to it. This creates an interesting clash – I like it. When I think of One Hit Wonders, this is typically the first song that jumps in my head. This song has proven to have some longevity, as is has been used in films and sampled in several songs in the 2000’s.

One Hit Wonders: Tommy Tutone

Hi Everybody! Robert is back for the final week of one-hit wonders. And man, what a way to wrap it up!!! Once again, the one-hit wonders of this series are artists who only had one song crack the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. Now, let’s get back to Robert as he covers an ultimate ’80s tune!

Here they are, the last five songs that I am putting on my One Hit Wonders mixtape. Five more great tunes that have been relegated and sometimes scoffed at, but still hold an important place in the hearts of ‘80s music fans everywhere. So far, there has been no particular order to these songs – I just like them – but for the final five I have saved my favorites. So sit back and once again push play in your Walkman and enjoy these songs that complete the cassette.

867-5309/ Jenny by Tommy Tutone

Many of us cannot remember a phone number any more. I can still remember my home phone number from sixth grade, but I would struggle with telling you my number today. Most us have hundreds of important phone numbers saved in our smart phones, eliminating the need to memorize them. To remember these numbers all we really need is a catch song. The title of this #4 hit from 1981 is just a phone number, but it is a number that most of us will never forget. This catchy song by the California band hit American radio with a force and that phone number has been used in prank calls ever since. The song itself is a typical early ‘80s pop rock song in the vein of early Rick Springfield. Lyrically, it has an edge of desperation:

Jenny, Jenny who can I turn to?
You give me something I can hold on to
I know you think I’m like the others before
Who saw your name and number on the wall
Jenny, I got your number
I need to make you mine
Jenny, don’t change your number

Come on everyone (you know the next part sing it with me), “8 – 6 – 7 – 5 – 3 – 0 – 9.” The man’s desperation does not quite overcome his nervousness though, as he tries to call her, but chickens out at first, “You don’t know me but you make me so happy / I tried to call you before but I lost my nerve.” Perhaps he has a bit of a problem – maybe he is stalking her – I’m not sure but he does say, “I tried my imagination but I was disturbed.” What he have here is a great song and a two pronged lesson. Guys: no matter how desperate you are, calling a number you get from a bathroom wall is probably not a great idea. Ladies: never, never, leave your phone number on a bathroom wall – you never know who will call.

One Hit Wonders: Billy Vera and the Beaters

At This Moment by Billy Vera and the Beaters

by Robert Mishou

This One Hit Wonder was originally recorded in 1981 (reached #79), but did not receive any attention until 1986 when is was used in the sitcom Family Ties as a love theme for Alex Keaton (Michael J. Fox) and his on screen girlfriend (and future real life wife) Ellen (Tracy Pollan). The exposure that the song received from this popular TV show catapulted it all the way to #1 in January of 1987. The song is has a clear bar band sound with a piano and bass accompanied by an excellent horn section (with a great sax solo). Lyrically, the song is a lament for a fading relationship. The man is agonizing over his love moving on and finding someone else:

What did you think
I would do at this moment
When you’re standing before me
With tears in your eyes
Tryin’ to tell me that you
Found you another
And you just don’t love me no more

He explains to her that he is hurt, but still loves her too much to anything crazy. Yes, he does miss her and wants her back, but he is not going to yell and scream at her or he would never hurt her. His desperation is clear in the last verse (my favorite):

What do you think
I would give at this moment
If you stay I’d subtract twenty years from my life
I’d fall down on my knees
Kiss the ground that you walk on
If I could just hold you again

The song ends with Billy Vera singing his desperate pleas, finally going quiet as the band belts out one final burst. I have never purchased or even listened to an entire Billy Vera and the Beaters album and I most likely never will; but if you only get one hit – one minute in the sun – then this song is a great one to do it with. Every time I hear it I think of Family Ties and bask in ‘80s nostalgia. Of all the One HIt Wonders, I am most glad that this song resurfaced and claimed the honor of being a One Hit Wonder in this decade.

hese five make a total of fifteen One Hit Wonders over the last three weeks – these songs would make quite a mix tape – hey, not a bad idea. I will round out the first mix tape next week with five more great songs that fit into this beloved category of the ‘80s.

One Hit Wonders: ‘Til Tuesday

Voices Carry by ‘Til Tuesday

by Robert Mishou

The lyrics to this somewhat chilling song were written by lead singer Aimee Mann and depict an unfortunate and domineering relationship. The woman in this song is looking at her relationship with her boyfriend and coming to the realization that he is emotionally abusive. She says that she is falling in love with him, but she is unsure of his thoughts because he is not forthcoming and his thoughts scare her a bit:

I’m in the dark, I’d like to read his mind
But I’m frightened of the things I might find
Oh, there must be something he’s thinking of
To tear him away
When I tell him that I’m falling in love
Why does he say

His response to her revealing her feelings is the song’s chorus, “Hush, hush, keep it down now, voices carry.” Is he embarrassed about being with her? Or is he emotionally unavailable? The next verse gives the listener a partial answer – and it is not a positive one:

I try so hard not to get upset
Because I know all the trouble I’ll get
Oh, he tells me tears are something to hide
And something to fear
And I try so hard to keep it inside
So no one can hear

He wants her to behave as she is told – be seen and not heard. This possible dangerous situation is reaching a breaking points as she is coming to the realization that this is not the best situation. She must admit to herself that, “He wants me only part of the time / He wants me if he can keep me in line.” In the video, the actor playing her love interest does an excellent job in being a jerk, but he has to because this is the essence of the song. This is ‘Til Tuesday’s first single and it reached #8, but like everyone else in this series, the great start fizzled and they quietly faded into the background of ‘80s music.

One Hit Wonders: Nena

99 Luftballons by Nena

by Robert Mishou

Yes, I am going back to Europe! So far on the One Hit Wonder series I have had several songs that were absolute monster hits overseas: “I Don’t Like Mondays”, “Wouldn’t It Be Good”, and “Der Kommisar” were all hits here, but have been tossed into the One Hit Wonder category. This song by Nena is an anti war protest song whose German title is “Nuenundnuenzig Luftballons”, is a narrative that depicts the story of an misunderstanding. A large bunch of balloons is floating through the sky and are mistaken for a UFO or nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, this results in a war which ends with no clear winner and both sides completely devastated. The final verse captures the irony of the entire situation:

99 dreams I have had
In every one a red balloon
It’s all over and I’m standing pretty
In this dust that was a city
If I could find a souvenir
Just to prove the world was here
And here is a red balloon
Just to prove the world was here
And here is a red balloon
I think of you, and let it go

Once the truth of the misunderstanding is understood, it is too late. The speaker releases ninety-nine more red balloons in honor of what was lost. Note: I once again deferred to my wife’s expertise with German- she says the translation is not as good as After the Fire’s translation of “Der Kommisar” – but it tells a similar story as the German lyrics that is a bit softer, but captures the same sentiment.

English translation:

Have you some time for me,
then I’ll sing a song for you
about 99 balloons
on their way to the horizon.
If you’re perhaps thinking about me right now
then I’ll sing a song for you
about 99 balloons
and that such a thing comes from such a thing.

99 balloons
on their way to the horizon
People think they’re UFO’s from space
so a general sent up
a fighter squadron after them
Sound the alarm if it’s so
but there on the horizon were
only 99 balloons.

99 fighter jets
Each one’s a great warrior
Thought they were Captain Kirk
then came a lot of fireworks
the neighbors didn’t understand anything
and felt like they were being provoked
so they shot at the horizon
at 99 balloons.

99 war ministers
matches and gasoline canisters
They thought they were clever people
already smelled a nice bounty
Called for war and wanted power.
Man, who would’ve thought
that things would someday go so far
because of 99 balloons.

99 years of war
left no room for victors.
There are no more war ministers
nor any jet fighters.
Today I’m making my rounds
see the world lying in ruins.
I found a balloon,
think of you and let it fly (away).

One Hit Wonders: Eddie Murphy

Party All the Time by Eddie Murphy

by Robert Mishou

For the each of the first two weeks of this One Hit Wonder series I have one actor who turned singer and I can see no reason to deviate from this, so here is this week’s actor. Growing up – and even today – I LOVE EDDIE MURPHY! Way back when my best friends and I were allowed to watch his stand up Delirious and quickly moved through 48 Hours and all of his other films, I have diligently studied his work. Oh, ok, you got me – no studying, just laughing my butt off. Yes, it was very strange for him to record a music album – and Rick James’ presence may be even stranger, but this catchy song absolutely deserves a place in the all time great One Hit Wonder of the ‘80s. The song reached #2 on the AT 40 and finished at #7 for the entire year of 1986. This song, written by Rick James, was kept out of the top spot on the charts by Lionel Richie’s “Say You Say Me” – so close, but a worthy song denied the peak spot. Lyrically, this song is the ultimate in simplicity. A guy is ga-ga over a girl and is trying to give things that she likes:

Girl, I can’t understand it why you want to hurt me
After all the things I’ve done for you.
I buy you champagne and roses and diamonds on your finger –
Diamonds on your finger –
Still you hang out all night
What am I to do?

The source of his frustration lies in the catchy-as-hell chorus, “My girl wants to party all the time.” She does not seem to be taking his efforts seriously. By song’s end, it does not seem that the situation will come to a satisfying conclusion for him, “You never come home at night because you’re out romancing / I wish you bring some of your love home to me.” The song is light, but I love it! Murphy’s ‘80s musical career did not last long, although he will release another album So Happy, in 1989 but he would have no more hit singles.

One Hit Wonders: Madness

Hi Everybody! Welcome back to another week of one-hit wonders, courtesy of Robert. Again, a quick disclaimer: these artists have only charted in the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. only once. Some artists, such as today’s may have had hits in other countries. But, we are only including one hit wonders in the U.S. Now, here is Robert!

Yes, I am back with more One Hit Wonders of the ‘80s. I hope you have enjoyed the first ten songs and maybe even (re)discovered a few you have not heard in a while. This week I have five more comin’ at you – hope you enjoy this week’s selections.

Our House by Madness

1983 marks this English ska band’s only hit here in the U.S. Granted, they have achieved enormous success in their native England and other European countries, but #7 on the AT 40 charts is their highest (and only) single to break through here. This song was an enormous hit in Holland where I spent many of my summers living with my grandparents. I was lucky enough to have several Dutch friends who spoke perfect English and helped me learn Dutch so I could effectively communicate with my grandparents (who only knew the English curse words). We loved this song and listened to it hundreds of times. In 1983, at the tender age of fourteen, I probably did not fully understood why I liked this song – but now I do! “Our House” offers a idyllic look at middle class life. A large, close knit family is living together in a large house and working just to get by. It just a normal household:

Father wears his Sunday best
Mother’s tired she needs a rest
The kids are playing up downstairs
Sister’s sighing in her sleep
Brother’s got a date to keep
He can’t hang around

Nothing fancy or unusual here, just a glimpse into an everyday home. What I did not realize when I was a kid is that I would miss this easy growing up style of life. I, like most of us, took this time for granted – just like Madness:

I remember way back then when everything was true and when
We would have such a very good time such a fine time
Such a happy time
And I remember how we’d play simply waste the day away
Then we’d say nothing would come between us two dreamers

Man, do I miss those times! For the past twenty-five years I have tried to give my own four children a similar basis for their memories. I know very little about ska music, so it is the lyrics that touch me in this song.