The 10 weirdest one-hit-wonders of the 1980s

Who knew that the Three Stooges, Mozart and Irving Berlin would be so popular in the Eighties?

Top image: RCA Records / Discogs

These days, just about anything — or anyone — can break into the pop charts thanks to the internet. Billboard counts streams on YouTube and other platforms, so the dream of being an overnight success is very much alive.

That being said, some pretty strange stuff made it into the Top 40 long before the internet. Actors recorded hit novelty songs. TV theme songs became hits.

In the 1980s, sampling and electronics opened up new possibilities for novelty songs. A handful of them drifted over from Europe to become sensations in the States. Nostalgia was also in style, as musicians wound back the clock to the 1930s — and even further. There were also some unlikely rock 'n' roll feats. 

We picked a single one-hit wonder from each year of the 1980s. Let's take a look and listen. Do you remember these big hits?


1. Benny Mardones - "Into the Night"



While there is nothing particularly weird about this rock ballad — you probably grew up assuming it was a Journey song — it does hold an unlikely place in history. "Into the Night" is reportedly just one of ten songs to twice soar into the Top 20. Mardones saw his hit rocket up the charts again in 1989.

2. The Afternoon Delights - "General Hospi-Tale"



When an act names itself after a Starland Vocal Band hit, even it must realize the short career ahead. The Boston quarter was also a disco group in 1981, giving it the shelf life of a banana in a brown bag. This Top 40 tune mixed the rap of Blondie's "Rapture" with plot recaps from the soap opera General Hospital. It also rhymed "Anybody likes to blab" with "Richard Simmons helps fight flab."

3. Louis Clark and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra - "Hooked on Classics" (Parts 1 & 2)


There is a common misconception that disco kicked the bucket once Reagan was elected, but as these tracks prove, the American public still had residual boogie fever. This mash-up breezed through 17 pieces of iconic classical music in five minutes. Sounding like Giorgio Moroder scoring a United Airlines commercial, the instrumental managed to break into the Top 10. Who said disco was dead? Or classical, for that matter?

4. Taco - "Puttin' on the Ritz"



There was no shortage of options this year, what with C-list actors such as Pia Zadora (the juvenile "The Clapping Song") and Frank Stallone ("Far from Over") breaking into the Top 40. However, how could we not include the Indonesian-Dutch sensation from Germany named after a beloved Mexican dish? Like the last cut, this one updated an archaic musical form for the synthesizer age. It made it all the way to No. 4.

5. Jump 'N The Saddle Band - "The Curly Shuffle"



Mozart, swing music… The Three Stooges? Nostalgia novelty songs proved to be quite fruitful in the 1980s. This brassy tribute to Larry, Moe and Curly poked its way to No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was a strange decade.

6. Paul Hardcastle - "19"



History lessons make for unlikely pop hits, but this British synthpop composer flew to No. 15 with "19." Perhaps the first techno song to go mainstream, this didactic dance cut reminded people of the average age of the soldiers in Vietnam (n-n-n-n-nineteen).

7. Baltimora - "Tarzan Boy"



If the Three Stooges can become a radio sensation in the mid-'80s, why not Tarzan? While you might look at the name Baltimora (it was an Italian act) and scratch your head, you will undoubtedly remember the vine-swinging chant of this chorus, which was impossible to avoid in arcades, night clubs and roller rinks.

8. Bruce Willis - "Respect Yourself"



Yes, as in the action star covering the Staple Singers with plasic blues. Moonlighting made him a celebrity before Die Hard came along. This thing made it all the way to No. 5.

9. M|A|R|R|S - "Pump Up the Volume"



The only release by a collaborative British act, "Pump Up the Volume" brought house music into American households. The somewhat industrial cut with a hip-hop lean stomped its way to No. 13. The cowbell probably helped. See, electronic dance music invading the charts is nothing new.

10. Sheriff - "When I'm with You"



This Canadian-born power ballad was not particularly weird in and of itself — it got lighters and hair in the air in a manner similar to Whitesnake, Winger and whatnot — but there is one fascinating fact that makes it stand out. "When I'm with You" made all the way to the top of the charts in 1989… without a music video. That was unheard of in the prime of the MTV era. Perhaps they should throw one together on YouTube now.



"Love Is in the Air" indeed. TAKE A LISTEN

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RedSamRackham 43 months ago
* Curly Shuffle a tribute to joy of watching 3 Stooges on TV and for every lad who prided himself as a Curly impersonator! ☺☺☺
Amalthea 43 months ago
The line in "General Hospi-tale" is "Amy Vining likes to blab". Amy Vining was a young nurse who loved to gossip. It's not "Anybody likes to blab".
TCKirkham 57 months ago
Even weirder about Sheriff - it hit #1 almost SEVEN years after it was original released, and several years after the band had broken up...they partially reformed with a new name, "Alias" while "When I'm With You" was on the charts and promptly had another hit with "More Than Words Can Say"...there were a few different members, but it was still the same sound...
CouchPotato19 58 months ago
Louis Clark was the orchestral arranger for the Electric Light Orchestra. I've often wondered if Jeff Lynne decided to drop the strings and orchestral sound from their act, after Louis put out this embarrassing schlock.
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