'80s One-Hit Wonders

One-hit wonders enter our lives like fresh flowers. The colors quickly fade, and into the trash they go! Find out what happened to six of our faves from the '80s.

Toni Basil, "Mickey"

Peppy cheerleader Toni Basil is pretty much the perfect, 100-percent-pure one-hit wonder. Don't believe it? Okay, name one other song of hers besides the enduring single "Mickey." See? That catchy little number is essentially the only thing she ever did -- and it's still well known, popping up here and there at dances, parties, roller rinks and, yes, pep rallies. But a closer look at Toni Basil reveals a varied and successful career. She's acted in the cult favorites Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces, directed music videos such as Talking Heads' groundbreaking "Once in a Lifetime" and choreographed sequences in slews of Hollywood films. Hey, Toni!

Song: "Mickey"
Artist: Toni Basil
Year: 1981
Album: Word of Mouth
U.S. chart peak: #1
Selected lyric: "Oh Mickey, what a pity, you don't understand / You take me by the heart when you take me by the hand / Oh Mickey, you're so pretty, can't you understand / It's guys like you, Mickey / Ooh what you do Mickey, do Mickey / Don't break my heart, Mickey!"
What's happening now: After her one hit had run its course, Toni returned to film choreography -- she recently worked on My Best Friend's Wedding and Legally Blonde

Fun facts:

Toni was born Antonia Christina Basilotta in Philadelphia
Yes, she really was a cheerleader -- at her Las Vegas high school
"Mickey," written by Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn (who also wrote "In the Heat of the Night" for Pat Benatar), was originally named "Kitty" and was recorded by the no-hit non-wonder called Racey

Dexy's Midnight Runners, "Come On Eileen"

Sure, those grimy gypsy duds worn by Dexy's Midnight Runners in the "Come On Eileen" video looked authentically lived-in, but did you know the gypsy thing was only the latest in the group's many stabs at hitting upon a sellable image? But let's back up.

Though they're forever -- and solely -- known in the U.S. for their wondrous one hit, the Runners were actually critically acclaimed in their native U.K. for longer than 15 minutes. Their organic, horn-based sound made them an oasis in the desert of synth-y, futuristic new wave that was dominating the charts. Formed in 1978 by singer Kevin Rowland as an honest-to-goodness soul group, Dexy's first tried the New York dockworker look inspired by the Martin Scorsese film Mean Streets. Then came boxing boots and ponytails. At last, the group incorporated Irish folk influences, added that crucial violin, rubbed dirt into some gypsy clothes and -- voila! -- out popped the unforgettable "Come On Eileen."

Song: "Come On Eileen"
Band: Dexy's Midnight Runners
Year: 1982
Album: Too-Rye-Ay
U.S. chart peak: #1
Selected lyric: "Come on Eileen / Oh, I swear (what he means) / At this moment, you mean everything / With you in that dress, my thoughts I confess / Verge on dirty / Ah, come on Eileen!"
What's happening now: In 1999 Kevin Rowland released My Beauty, an album of cover versions (including songs by the Monkees and the Beatles), and appeared in drag on the front sleeve ... the record tanked

Fun facts:

The band was named after the stimulant Dexedrine (in one of those unique one-hit-wonder ironies, Rowland would later decree no drinking or drugs in the group -- then battle addiction after his career plummeted)
It's rumored that in their lean startup days Dexy's many band members would resort to the old five-finger discount on food-shopping trips -- an age-old rock tradition
While we're on the topic, the Runners also reportedly stole the completed master tapes of their first album, Searching for the Young Soul Rebels, and held them hostage in order to get a better royalty deal from their record company

Nena, "99 Luftballons"

There are two kinds of people in this world: purists who feel that the original German rendition of "99 Luftballons" is the only version, and the more liberal group that's tickled by Nena's accent and the English-as-a-second-language lyrics on the U.S. release "99 Red Balloons." Both were very popular in the States during the mid-'80s. Which do you prefer?

In case you've forgotten, the smash hit, with its bouncy riff and central image of balloons floating in the sky, is actually a war song. This fact was probably lost on all the kids who blew their milk money on the 45 in 1984. But by the end of the English version (which is not a direct translation of the original but a slightly whitewashed take on a similar subject), jet fighters have destroyed the unnamed city, and Nena releases the last balloon, "a souvenir, just to prove the world was here." Not your usual one-hit wonder stuff.

Song: "99 Luftballons" ("99 Red Balloons" in English)
Artist: Nena
Year: 1984
Album: 99 Luftballons
U.S. chart peak: #2
Selected lyric: "99 Duesenjager / Jeder war ein grosser Krieger / Hielten sich fuer Captain Kirk / Das gab ein grosses Feuerwerk"
What's happening now: Nena's last release was 2001's Tausend Sterne (translation: 1,000 Stars), a collection of children's lullabies

Fun facts:

Nena is a band AND a person -- the singer's full name is Nena Kerner
Nena Kerner is regarded in the U.S. as a one-hit wonder, but in Germany she's one of the most successful artists of all time
Kids' records, schmids records -- she likes to rock; many of her touring bands over the years have favored a sharp-edged sound

The Buggles, "Video Killed the Radio Star"

No one will ever forget the Buggles -- as long as no one forgets MTV. You see, on August 1, 1981, the Buggles' one hit, "Video Killed the Radio Star," gained the unique distinction of being the first clip ever aired on the then brand-new cable network. And that's about it. Well, for music obsessives, there's a little more. But it's kinda strange...

The Buggles, a two-man band comprised of British producers Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, had actually split by the time MTV launched -- even though their crystal-ball-like prophecy about video conquering the world had hit number one in the U.K. after its 1979 release. Still, breakup or not, stateside success prodded the duo to try and capitalize on their sudden popularity. The result was 1982's Adventures in Modern Recording, essentially a Trevor Horn solo album. Heard of it? Riiiiiiiiight.

Song: "Video Killed the Radio Star"
Artist: The Buggles
Year: Single 1979; LP version 1980
Album: The Age of Plastic
U.S. chart peak: #1
Selected lyric: "Oh-a oh / You were the first one / Oh-a oh / You were the last one / Video killed the radio star / Video killed the radio star / In my mind and in my car / We can't rewind, we've gone to far"
What's happening now: Trevor Horn continues to produce records, and won a Grammy for his work on Seal's self-titled sophomore record in 1985; Geoff Downes's latest release is 2000's The World Service

Fun facts:

In a 1982 interview with Fiona Russell Powell, Trevor Horn says that in an age of punk bands with ridiculous names (as if today is any different) he simply picked the most "disgusting" one he could come up with, adding that he quickly regretted being called the Buggles
Almost immediately after The Age of Plastic came out, both Horn and Downes joined the famed progressive-rock band Yes, which coincided with Yes's least successful period; neither man remained in the band for very long (apparently it's no fun to be booed off stage every night)
Keyboardist Downes went on to form Asia, which has the distinction of being both a supergroup AND a one-hit wonder ("Heat of the Moment")

A Flock of Seagulls, "I Ran (So Far Away)"

Not since the 1982 heyday of this Liverpool one-hit wonder has the world seen such haircuts on robots. You'll probably be relieved to learn, though, that not one, but two Seagulls were actual hairdressers. (Do not attempt such styling at home without enlisting the help of a professional.) In the legendary, dizzying video for "I Ran," singer/keyboardist Mike Score lip-synched in front of angled mirrored surfaces that suggest a space-age Lord & Taylor dressing room. It was probably very difficult for him to avoid going cross-eyed with that pointed duck's bill of moussed blonde hair hanging in his face, yet he handled it like a consummate professional.

Song: "I Ran (So Far Away)"
Artist: A Flock of Seagulls
Year: 1982
Album: A Flock of Seagulls
U.S. chart peak: #1
Selected lyric: "I walked along the avenue / I never thought I'd meet a girl like you / Meet a girl like you ... and I ran / I ran so far away / I just ran / I ran all night and day / I couldn't get away"
What's happening now: AFOS is still together, though only Mike Score remains from the original lineup; their most recent album, A Light at the End of the World, was released in 1995

Fun facts:

The group's name was inspired by Richard Bach's book Jonathan Livingston Seagull
"I Ran" is about alien abduction
Maybe it's a coinkydink, but the success of AFOS seemed to start slipping right around the time that Mike Score combed back that big waterfall of hair

a-ha, "Take On Me"

By now we take the fusion of live action and animation for granted, but could it be that the forward-thinking video for a-ha's "Take On Me" started the trend way back in '85? Probably not. But still, the clip was revolutionary for its time. Mixing pencil-drawn cartoons with full-color live action, the vid shows the Norwegian band playing its bouncy, synthesizer-heavy hit as singer Morten Harket pursues his dream girl. Reaching his animated hand out to her through her comic book, he pulls her into the strange black-and-white world of a-ha, changing her humdrum life forever....

Song: "Take On Me"
Artist: a-ha
Year: 1985
Album: Hunting High and Low
U.S. chart peak: #1
Selected lyric: "Take on me / Take me on / I'll be gone / In a day or two" [note: Could it be that this line is a knowing prediction of a-ha's soon-to-be one-hit-wonder status?]
What's happening now: a-ha is still going strong -- Lifelines was released in 2002, and a live album is in the works for 2003

Fun facts:

The girl in the "Take On Me" video was Bunty Bailey, then girlfriend of singer Harket (she was also in Billy Idol's "Got to Be a Lover" clip and a bunch of little-known slasher flicks)
a-ha contributed three songs to the soundtrack of the 1987 James Bond film The Living Daylights
According to allmusic.com, a-ha guitarist Paul Waaktaar said in a late-'80s interview that his band was "more rock and roll" than those British bad boys Def Leppard

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