Saturday, 8 February 2014

One-Hit Wonders On The Australian Charts - The 80s part 1

JUMP TO: Part 1 II Part 2 II Part 3 II Part 4


It's an endless source of frustration to me when music channels air "one-hit wonder" specials or compilations called Ultimate One-Hit Wonders (or something) are released - and artists like MC Hammer, The Proclaimers, Bros and a-ha are included. Even under the very loosest definition of what constitutes a one-hit wonder, there's no way those acts qualify.

Nena: bona fide one-hit wonder, at least in Australia

So what is a one-hit wonder? In the strictest sense, it's an artist who scores a number 1 hit and then never returns to the top 50 (or, if we're being really picky, the top 100). A more lenient definition would be an artist who has one major hit single (a top 10 hit would do) and that's it - no further top 50 positions.

To set the record straight once and for all, I'm going to list the true one-hit wonders from the Australian charts in the 1980s in this post and then recap artists who qualify under the broader definition in Parts 2 and 3.

I'll eventually work my way through the '90s and '00s, and even throw in a list of two-hit wonders as well (hello, Feargal Sharkey).

But, let's not get carried away. To start us off - here are the acts who topped the Australian singles chart in the '80s and never troubled the top 50 (or, in some cases, the top 100) again. Not included on this list: one-off charity ensembles Band Aid and USA For Africa, and The Young Ones (although "Living Doll" was their only chart hit, it was one of many for Cliff Richard).


"Turning Japanese" by The Vapors
Year of release: 1980
Weeks at number 1: 2
No other top 100 entries
It's one of the most misinterpreted songs of all time and the band has since set the record straight about what the song is actually about. It's apparently not about masturbation (as many theorised), but about going crazy (or "turning Japanese") after a failed relationship. I'm not sure you'd get away with a song like this anymore, but in the politically incorrect '80s, you could be vaguely racist without anyone kicking up too much of a stink.




"Moscow" by Genghis Khan
Year of release: 1980
Weeks at number 1: 6
No other top 50 entries
Next biggest hit: "Genghis Khan", number 86 in 1979

Apparently, this song by the West German group that'd formed to enter 1979's Eurovision Song Contest did cause a bit of a stir at the time in Russia. In Australia, however, we embraced "Moscow" and it became one of 1980's biggest hits, thanks in no small part to Channel 7's use of the song in coverage of that year's Moscow Olympics.




"Shaddap You Face" by Joe Dolce Music Theatre
Year of release: 1980
Weeks at number 1: 8
No other top 50 entries
Next biggest hit: "If You Want To Be Happy", number 61 in 1981

It was really all about racial stereotyping in the early '80s, wasn't it? At least Joe had the Italian heritage that made it OK for him to perform this track which was massive not only in Australia but globally, with reported sales of over six million copies. The joke wore thin before long with 1982's "You Toucha My Car I Breaka You Face" completely failing to chart.




"Trouble" by Lindsey Buckingham
Year of release: 1981
Weeks at number 1: 3
No other top 50 entries
Next biggest hit: "It Was I", number 74 in 1982

Of course, Lindsey had several hits before and after this solo single as a member of Fleetwood Mac, but "Trouble" was the only song he put his own name to that really connected with record buyers in Australia.




"Tainted Love" by Soft Cell
Year of release: 1981
Weeks at number 1: 3
No other top 50 entries
Next biggest hit: "Torch", number 68 in 1982

Back in the UK, Marc Almond and Dave Ball scored five consecutive top 5 hits and three top 10 albums in a row, but in Australia, only this cover of Gloria Jones' northern soul track made a mark. Both went on to successful solo careers at home, but again, each only landed a single hit on the ARIA chart away from Soft Cell - Marc, with his UK chart-topping duet with Gene Pitney, "Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart", and Dave, with '90s dance act The Grid's "Swamp Thing".




"Mickey" by Toni Basil
Year of release: 1982
Weeks at number 1: 2
No other top 100 entries
As I've mentioned elsewhere on this blog, "Mickey" started life as "Kitty", a track by Racey (who scored two number 1 hits in Australia in 1979). Toni was the Paula Abdul of her day - a singer/choreography with a healthy dose of crazy who turned the song into a cheerleading chant that became so big, she was never able to outdo it.




"I've Never Been To Me" by Charlene
Year of re-release: 1982
Weeks at number 1: 6
No other top 50 entries
Next biggest hit: "Used To Be" (with Stevie Wonder), number 71 in 1982
Originally released in 1977 - by not only American singer Charlene Oliver but a handful of other artists as well - it took five years for this song to become a hit, by which point Charlene had quit the music industry and had to be re-signed to her label. Her success was short-lived, but the song gained another burst of popularity following its use in The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert in 1994.




"Eye Of The Tiger" by Survivor
Year of release: 1982
Weeks at number 1: 6
No other top 50 entries
Next biggest hit: "Burning Heart", number 55 in 1986
1982 was really a huge year for one-hit wonders in Australia (Soft Cell and Lindsey Buckingham charted mostly in '82 as well) - and this song from the Rocky III soundtrack ended up as the year's highest-selling single overall. Even though the band didn't have another track anywhere near as big (despite trying to repeat the formula with Rocky IV's "Burning Heart"), "Eye Of The Tiger" continues to sell well today as a download, so at least the royalties would still be coming in from that.




"Pass The Dutchie" by Musical Youth
Year of release: 1982
Weeks at number 1: 3
No other top 50 entries
Next biggest hit: "Youth Of Today", number 99 in 1983
Since it wasn't a great idea for a group of kids to sing about passing drugs around (although no doubt such a song would've also become a massive hit), this track, which had started life as "Pass The Kouchie", had its lyrics changed to make the song about a stewing pot instead of a marijuana receptacle. Since it was effectively a cover version, the surviving members of the group recently lost a claim for royalties for continued use of the song.




"99 Luftballoons / 99 Red Balloons" by Nena
Year of release: 1984
Weeks at number 1: 5
No other top 50 entries
Next biggest hit: "Just A Dream", number 71 in 1984
European songs did big business around the world in the mid-80s, with Nena joining the likes of Ryan Paris ("Dolce Vita") and Falco ("Der Kommissar") in the upper reaches of charts in English-speaking countries. In Australia, Nena's tale of balloons being mistaken as missiles and causing nuclear war became a runaway hit, even though most of us had no idea what she was singing about. English version "99 Red Balloons" was included on the flip side of the single, but Australians were just as happy with the German version on the A side. Nena was the name of the group behind the song as well as the stage name of singer Gabriele Kerner, who, despite her one-hit wonder status in other parts of the world, continues to be a big star back home.




"I Should Have Known Better" by Jim Diamond
Year of release: 1984
Weeks at number 1: 1
No other top 50 entries
Next biggest hit: "Remember I Love You", number 96 in 1985
This might be his only hit under his own name, but Scottish singer Jim did appear on another top 5 single in Australia - and that was also the only hit for the group concerned, so we'll get to it in Part 2. "I Should Have Known Better" is the type of sentimental ballad people either love or hate - but it's certainly not the drippiest song on this list. 




"I Wanna Wake Up With You" by Boris Gardiner
Year of release: 1986
Weeks at number 1: 1
No other top 100 entries
Speaking of... arguably the slushiest song to grace the top of the Australian chart in the '80s, "I Wanna Wake Up With You" (or "I Want To Wake Up With You", depending on what single cover you're looking at) became an unexpected smash for the reggae artist who'd been plugging away for decades as a singer and session bass player.




"Boom Boom (Let's Go Back To My Room)" by Paul Lekakis
Year of release: 1987
Weeks at number 1: 5
No other top 100 entries
Ah, the '80s, when you could be discovered dancing in a nightclub and turned into a star - even if only for a brief time, in the case of model-turned-singer-turned-actor Paul. This high-energy Euro-disco track jumped from the clubs to the singles chart at a time when similarly-styled songs by Michael Bow and Man 2 Man Meets Man Parrish were doing the same. No music video? It didn't matter - the Countdown dancers could take care of that. No hit follow-up? Who needs one when you can just remix your chart-topping song every few years - indeed, "Boom Boom" was revisited in 1992, 1997 and 2007, but never as successfully as it originally was.




"Slice Of Heaven" by Dave Dobbyn with Herbs
Year of release: 1987
Weeks at number 1: 4
No other top 50 entries
Next biggest hit: "You Oughta Be In Love", number 63 in 1987
A song that was just made to be an advertising jingle, "Slice Of Heaven" has lived on thanks to its use in ad campaigns for Tourism New Zealand. Originally, it was used in animated film Footrot Flats: The Dog's Tale, a big-screen adaptation of the comic strip. Dave continued to land hits in his native New Zealand, but he had no further luck in Australia.




"Perfect" by Fairground Attraction
Year of release: 1988
Weeks at number 1: 3
No other top 50 entries
Next biggest hit: "Find My Love", number 86 in 1988
Like so many of the songs on this list, "Perfect" is a love it or hate it type of tune - and also one of those songs that overshadow everything else an act produces. In the UK, Fairground Attraction and singer Eddi Reader did go on to enjoy some further success, but this perky ditty was the beginning and the end for them in Australia.




"Don't Worry Be Happy" by Bobby McFerrin
Year of release: 1988
Weeks at number 1: 7
No other top 50 entries
Next biggest hit: "Good Lovin'", number 76 in 1989
As regular readers of my ARIA chart recaps would know, this song is a hate it and then hate it some more type of song. But, there's no denying its success - a Grammy-winning single and one of only a handful of a cappella songs to grace the chart during the '80s.




In Parts 2 and 3, I'll take a look at acts who scored just one top 10 single in Australia and no further top 50 hits - one part for each half of the decade.




11 comments:

  1. It's a shame that Dave Dobbyn's "You Oughta Be in Love" wasn't a much bigger hit. It's a good'un. :)

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    1. I agree - I liked that one as well. At least it was big in NZ!

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  2. I share your frustration at the misuse/overly generous use of 'one hit wonder'. The worst culprit I'm aware of is the Countdown One Hit Wonders 2 DVD, which I bought. Amongst the tracks are:

    Martika 'Toy Soldiers' (not even her highest-charting single in Oz, and she had 3 top 5 hits including a #1!)

    a-ha 'Take On Me' (which you've already dealt with)

    D:Ream 'Things Can Only Get Better' (they had another top 10 hit)

    Tiffany 'I Think We're Alone Now' (never mind her two, higher-charting top 10 singles)

    Mel & Kim 'Respectable' (never mind they had another single on the top 50 of 1987)

    Starship 'We Built This City' (c'mon... surely they're not being serious)


    and two of my favourite acts from the 80's/90's, Shakespears Sister & Yazz.

    What I find most fascinating are the two-hit wonders whose hits were many years apart (e.g. Fischer-Z, Underworld). They almost qualify as one-hit wonders twice over.

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  3. I'm going to have to tackle the 90s later this year - but there will no doubt be just as many legitimate 1HWs.

    2HWs list of the 80s is on its way...

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  4. As I was reading the Soft Cell entry, I thought Marc Almond was also a solo one-hit wonder (as you've mentioned). But then I remembered that he also featured on Bronski Beat's 'I Feel Love' medley, which cracked the top 40 in 1985, and sort of (but not fully) counts.

    It's a shame Toni Basil didn't have a second hit with the (much better than Mickey IMO) 'Over My Head', released at the end of 1983. The 'Shoppin' From A to Z' song/video is also insanely catchy, and should have also been a (admittedly novelty) hit.

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    1. Yes, Marc's Bronski Beat collab would count, but since "Something's Gotten..." didn't get near the top 10 here, he was never in contention for these lists anyway.

      I have never heard another Toni Basil song in my life - and I can probably survive without starting now, I imagine!

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    2. I understand your wariness of her other 'music', based on 'Mickey'... but if you like 80's electropop, you've gotta give 'Over My Head' a listen... at least once!

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  5. i was wondering if you could help me, i have been searching for a song for ages. My dad had taped an episode of rage, and there was this song with a video clip, whereby this man in a white room drew a girl on the wall in charcoal, and she slowly comes to life, being created from plaster, and eventually pulls him into the wall, it isn't aha-take on me, it is a stop motion video, i am quite certain that prince's kiss and robert palmers addicted to love were on the same video, so i am thinking that it was from 1986? any help would be good, the video had a petter gabriel-esque feel to it....

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    1. I haven't viewed the whole clip recently, but the first thing that sprung to mind was Hugh Cornwell's (the singer from The Stranglers) 'Another Kind of Love' - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8mGf3aw2BE . Not sure if he draws a woman on the wall, but the video is similar to 'Sledgehammer' and she pulls him (or a claymation version of him) into the wall at the end.

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  6. Thanks for your compilation (and the following ones) - brings back great memories.

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