What were you doing in the 1980s? I spent the first part of the decade living on MDMA and dancing as a club kid. Wild and crazy times. As for music, I was entrenched in new wave and gay disco. I look back on that decade with a smile on my face. And the music wasn’t as bad as some people might think.
Sure, MTV was in its infancy and played some pretty crappy stuff like Huey Lewis & the News, but they also introduced us to Madonna and paved the way for the King of Pop. They also gave otherwise obscure bands a platform, and while they were one-hit wonders, isn’t it better to have one hit than no hits?
Number Ten: Gary Numan’s “Cars.” Gary Numan began his music career fronting the new wave band Tubeway Army who enjoyed some success with their second album. Despite being a huge success in the UK, Gary Numan only charted in the States once with “Cars,” taken from the album The Pleasure Principle. The album and the single hit the number one spot on the UK and Canada charts, making Numan a bankable star. The song would hover around the No. 9 spot in the US as people were just getting used to the new genre (America is rather slow when it comes to change).
Number Nine: 1980s – Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love”
A side project for two Talking Heads members, Tom Tom Club were the brainchild of husband and wife Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz. The duo would go on to release six albums, but only their debut would find any kind of chart success with the track “Genius of Love.” The song only peaked at No. 31 on Billboard, but despite other potential hits such as “Under the Boardwalk,” they couldn’t buy another hit. Although, their one hit song still gets them royalties as it has been sampled by numerous artists since its release in 1981.
Number Eight: Haircut One Hundred’s “Love Plus One.” I’m seeing a pattern here as all these bands were bigger in the UK than in the States and so was the case with Haircut One Hundred. After charting well in the UK with “Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl),” the band set out to record Pelican West. The single “Love Plus One” was already in heavy rotation in the overseas market and was included on the LP. The tune made it stateside in 1981, and with the video on MTV, the band enjoyed accolades on both sides of the Atlantic. Despite critical praise, the single only charted at number 37 on Billboard’s top 100. Nick Heyward would leave the band a couple of years later.
Number Seven: Toni Basil’s “Mickey.” Toni Basil was already established by the time she had her one and only hit, “Mickey.” Basil has worked as a highly well-renowned choreographer for the likes of David Bowie, David Byrne, Tina Turner and Bette Midler. Her work on films is equally as impressive. As an actress, she appeared in some groundbreaking films like Five Easy Pieces, Easy Rider and The Last Movie. “Mickey” was recorded in 1980s and released in ’82. The video made Basil a household name with its infectious chant as it went on heavy rotation on radio, the clubs and on MTV.
Number Six: Dexys Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eileen.” While they enjoyed two number ones in the UK with “Come On Eileen” and “Geno,” Dexys Midnight Runners would only find success with one song in the States, “Come on Eileen.” They have had several records top the charts in the UK including “There, There, My Dear” and “Because of You” just to name a couple. As recently as 2012, the band – now going by the shorter Dexys – issued their first album in 27 years. One Day I’m Going to Soar was released to positive reviews, but it got no love in the States, of course, but was a triumphant return in their native land.
Number Five: Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me with Science.” It’s somewhat unfortunate that Thomas Dolby is remembered for such a whacky tune as he was a formidable songwriter who deserves accolades. Albums such as Astronauts and Heretics housed some great tunes such as “I Love You Goodbye,” but went vastly unnoticed by mainstream radio. Dolby is possibly the most underrated artists to emerge from the new wave scene. Though he did have a hit with “Hyperactive!,” it wasn’t good enough for America as it only reached number 62 on Billboard.
Number Four: Talk Talk’s “It’s My Life.” Despite charting six times in the UK, Talk Talk only entered Billboard’s top 40 once with the song “It’s My Life.” The song was a personal statement by singer Mark Hollis which found its way to the “New Romantic” movement of the 1980s. Though it sounded a bit Roxy Music-ish, it stood on its own and eventually went gold with the help of digital downloads. The song found new life when No Doubt used it to promote their greatest hits compilation in 2003 and was nominated for a Grammy Award, which showed how timeless “It’s My Life” was and is.
Number Three: Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax.” The genius behind the song “Relax” was it intertwined gay culture with the pop sensibility without the mainstream even noticing. The single was banned by the BBC as the line “when you wanna come” was clearly talking about an orgasm. Despite the British banning, the song would top the charts in the UK and would go on to become the biggest selling single in their history. Adding salt to the wound, it also took home a Brit award, and with the singles “Two Tribes” and “The Power of Love,” the band would be the only band since Gerry & the Pacemakers to achieve three number one hits with their first three singles. The U.S. market wasn’t as kind to the album, Welcome to the Pleasuredome, as it only peaked at no. 33 on Billboard. The song itself faired better, eventually reaching no. 10. The entire album was a masterpiece, but unfortunately, it would be a short-lived time in the spotlight for Frankie.
Number Two: World Party’s “Ship of Fools.” I’ve always adored and admired World Party and don’t know why it wasn’t a more successful endeavor for Karl Wallinger. The first album from the ex-Waterboys member was 1986s Private Revolution, which housed some incredible tracks as the title track, “World Party” and “Ship of Fools.” The ladder of the three was World Party’s one and only hit, peaking at a dismal no. 27 on Billboard’s Top 40 charts. Subsequent albums failed to chart and only really cool people followed the band after that.
Number One: Love and Rockets’ “So Alive.” Love and Rockets were the remaining members from Bauhaus after Peter Murphy left to pursue a solo career. Briefly, two members, Daniel Ash and Kevin Haskins, played in the band Tones on Tail before forming Love and Rockets in 1985. The trio put out seven albums, each one proved to be the catalyst for what became alternative rock. The band received little love from mainstream radio until 1989 with the track “I’m Alive.” The single would reach the no. three spot on Billboard’s Top 40 and number one on their Modern Rock charts before vanishing into obscurity. This band put out a bevy of great music such as the Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion,” “It Could Be Sunshine” and “No New Tale to Tell” just to name a few. Alas, the band only received mainstream success once.