Sunday, December 29, 2013

Music Sunday: The "One-Hit Wonders of the 1980s" Edition, probably Part I

After writing recently about one-hit wonders from the 1960s and 1970s, I got really curious about the one-hit wonders of the 1980s. And so I did a little research.

Turns out that I've never heard of a lot of the songs on the 1980s list. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that by the 1980s I had mostly quit listening to Top 40 radio, to the extent that it still existed. I could be wrong, but it seems that by that time music radio had splintered into stations that mostly only played specific genres of music - New Wave or Hard Rock or Classic Rock or whatever. Still, I managed to find a good list of music I knew and liked in the 1980s on the list.

Just to review, a one-hit wonder is an artist or group that has just one hit that reached the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States just once in their career in that formulation. An artist can have had other Top 40 hits with a group, for example, and still be a one-hit wonder as a solo act. Other charts in other countries also produce one-hit wonders, but as with my other surveys of one-hit wonders, I'm sticking to hits in the US.

The first thing that struck me on this list was that 1985 was the year of the charity (or consciousness-raising) one-hit wonder. There were three of those that hit the Top 40 that year.

The first of those, in chronological order, was "Do They Know It's Christmas?", by Band Aid. The song was written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, and was released in late 1984 as a way to raise money for famine victims in Ethiopia. The record quickly went to number one on the UK charts, staying there for five weeks, but in the US it made it to number 13 on the Hot 100 in January 1985. As you can see in the video made of the recording session, Geldof managed to convince a number of the top UK recording artists of the time to participate:

Following in April, "We Are The World" by USA for Africa went to number 1 in the United States on April 13. It also went to number on Billboard's Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart, and Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles chart, and it reached 27 on the industry magazine's Hot Mainstream Rock tracks chart and number 76 on it's Country Singles chart. The idea for the single was proposed by singer and activist Harry Belafonte and was taken up by producer Quincy Jones and by Michael Jackson, who co-wrote the song with Lionel Richie. Again, a long list of top recording artists was recruited. The resulting record won three Grammy Awards and by some estimates sold over 20 million copies worldwide. It also managed to raise over $63 million for humanitarian relief:

And then the consciousness-raising turned specifically political as a group called Artists United Against Apartheid got together and recorded "Sun City", written by Steven Van Zandt. The point of the exercise was to call down artists who had performed at Sun City, a resort within Bophuthatswana, one of several supposedly independent states within South Africa, which had been created by the South African government for the forcible relocation of the black population of that country. Again, a list of internationally recognized artists participated. The song did not get nearly as much airplay in the United States as had "Do They Know It's Christmas?" and "We Are The World" because as many as half of the radio stations in the US would not play the single because the management did not like that some of the lyrics were explicitly critical of then-president Ronald Reagan's South Africa policy of "constructive engagement" rather than boycott of the white government South Africa. In addition, the song was banned in South Africa itself. In consequence, "Sun City" only reached #38 on the Hot 100 in December of 1985. The record was more successful in other parts of the world, including reaching number 21 in the UK and number 4 in Australia:

"Sun City" was not the only politically-tinged one-hit wonder in the 1980s. In 1988, Australian band Midnight Oil released "Beds are Burning", which took up the subject of returning lands to back to the Pintupi people, one of the last native Australian peoples to be contacted by westerners and who were forcibly relocated from their native lands during the 1950s and 1960s. It shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone that Midnight Oil would release such a political song, considering that the band's lead singer, Peter Garret was a lawyer and activist, who subsequently held several ministerial positions in the Australian government and was a Member of Parliament there from 2004 to 2013. The song reached number 17 on the Hot 100 in the US:

Another much less political song from another Australian band became a one-hit wonder in the United States in 1988. This was "Under the Milky Way", by The Church:

I want to end today's post with a very American band, and a very well-known band, who had their only Top 40 hit in 1987. The closest the Grateful Dead had come previously to the Top 40 was in 1970 with "Truckin'", which got to number 64 on the Hot 100. But in 1987 the by-then aging band recorded and released "Touch of Grey", which made it all the way to number 9:

There's quite a few other songs I had hoped to share today, but if I do, I won't get anything else done today. Sharing more would also leave fewer good songs to share next year here on Music Sunday.

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