Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Take Five: Second Hits from VH1’s Top 100 Hit Wonders of the 80s

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 6, 2009


VH1 recently made my week by trotting out their list of the Top 100 Hit Wonders of the 80s over the course of five nights, hosted by the irrepressible Judah Friedlander. “Now hold on a minute,” you’re undoubtedly thinking to yourself. “Hasn’t VH1 already done this countdown, like, a dozen times already?” Or so you’d think. But while they’ve indeed put forth their selections for the Top 100 Songs of the 80s, and the Top 100 Hit Wonders of All-Time, this is the first time to date that they’ve combined the two for a list. And while the selections towards the top–Toni Basil, Soft Cell, Dexy’s Midnight Runners (who grabbed the #1 with “Come on Eileen”)–were predictably predictable, it was fun to see some of the more forgotten one-offs that just scraped their way onto the list. I mean, when was the last time you heard Nik Kershaw, Paul Lekakis or Robbie Dupree discussed by anyone, let alone Amanda Diva and Hollywood Steve? A guaranteed recipe for quality television in my book, now and always.

But as with all discussions on the topic of one-hit-wonderdom, there were issues to be had with the question of eligibility. Naturally, there were artists who had critically successful careers that belied their one-hit-wonderdom–Midnight Oil, The Church, XTC (and how big of a hit was “Dear God,” really?) But the choices that really irked me were the ones where the artists really did have legitimate second pop hits–just ones that weren’t as well remembered, for whatever reason, as their first. In some cases, these songs were pretty fucking good, too, so it sucks to see them completely written out of history like this. Here are some of the more egregious examples:

  • Club Nouveau – “Why You Treat Me So Bad?” (#39, 1987). Club Nouveau are, no doubt, best remembered for their reggae-fied #1 hit cover of Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” (#94 on Vh1’s list)–a cover which, to be perfectly honest, makes me far happier than the original. But their most lasting contribution to pop culture might actually be its follow-up, the tortured “Why You Treat Me So Bad”? The song in itself is a little awkward, but its main hook–that eerie, hypnotic keyboard part–would be a recurring theme over the next two decades of hit pop music, appearing as the basis of Luniz’s “I Got 5 On It,” Puff Daddy and R. Kelly’s “Satisfy You” and Jennifer Lopez’s “I’m Gonna Be Alright.” The song’s bizarro intro was even copied by Ashanti for the beginning to her underrated “Only U.” Wiki entry even claims that the song was the inspiration for Gwen Stefani’s Love. Angel. Music. Baby. (for, I suppose, better or worse). Not bad for a second hit.
  • Tommy Tutone – “Angel Say No” (#40, 1980) A highly respectable slice of early-80s power pop–perhaps lacking the unforgettable sort of hook that would eventually propel them to OHW infamy, but catchy and youthful and all those good things as well. More interestingly to me, it’s actually the band’s first hit, coming a full two years before “867-5309 / Jenny” (#4 on VH1’s list). That means for two whole years, Tommy Tutone were known to the public as “That ‘Angel Say No'” band, and people likely assumed that that was all they would ever be known for. There would be worse fates, anyway, but I’m sure it’s a better sell on the nostalgia circuit to list your peers as Bow Wow Wow and Thomas Dolby than Bram Tchaikovsky and The Records.
  • Neneh Cherry – “Kisses on the Wind” (#8, 1989) The success of Neneh Cherry seems like such a period fluke in retrospect–a beneficiary of that weird era in dance music between freestyle and diva house, maybe–that it seems only logical that Neneh Cherry would be a one-hit wonder. But indeed, the effervescent “Buffalo Stance” (#50 on the VH1 list) was just one or two of the top ten hits that Miss Cherry produced, the second being “Kisses on the Wind,” a similarly irrepressible dance number (about reaching puberty, of all things). Both songs are kind of obnoxious, but decently catchy, and certainly fascinating for their time–I have a feeling people will say similar things about M.I.A. 20 years or so down the road. (Regrettably, brother Eagle-Eye Cherry did in fact have just the one hit).
  • Rob Base & DJ EZ-Rock – “Joy and Pain” (#58, 1988) OK, so #58 isn’t very high, but in reality, “It Takes Two” (#18 on VH1’s list) wasn’t that huge a chart hit either, peaking at #36 in the era when Tone-Loc was the only rapper hitting the top ten. And “Joy and Pain” is a pretty well-remembered Golden Age party jam, which you still hear fairly frequently on old school nights on hip-hop stations and classic dance stations and the like. It’s clearly not as good as “It Takes Two”–not many things are–but it’s a more-than-worthy follow up. I can’t get enough Rob’s ceaseless shouting (“PUMP IT UP! PUMP IT UP! HERE WE GO! HERE WE GO! WHAT ELSE?? WHAT ELSE??”) over what could have otherwise been a rather unremarkable chorus hook–rap songs just don’t talk to themselves like that anymore.
  • A Flock of Seagulls – “Space Age Love Song,” “Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)” (#30 and #26). I find the placing of “I Ran (So Far Away)” (#2) particularly insulting, especially given that it finished just one out of the top spot. Not just because the band had two other top 40 hits, both of which still get play on 80s weekends and the like (though obviously nowhere near the levelof “I Ran”), but because both of those songs are actually considerably better than “I Ran.” Don’t believe me? OK, it might be an over-exposure thing–maybe. But check those other two songs out first, becuase they’re fucking dynamite–shimmering, soaring, absolutely glorious synth-pop anthems, part Soft Cell, part Big Country, all 80s. And people wonder why I like Angels and Airwaves so much–watch the videos for “Wishing” and “The Adventure” back-to-back and tell me Tom DeLonge wasn’t a megafan as well.

2 Responses to “Take Five: Second Hits from VH1’s Top 100 Hit Wonders of the 80s”

  1. sean said

    I’m glad to have found this blog. Space Age Love song is one of the better songs of the entire decade. Everything about it is near perfect. Most of my friends have no idea about this song, so I am forced to put it on mix cd’s. Paul Reynolds’ guitar is at its understated best, reminding me of why I love The Edge’s playing so much, and reminding us all that one’s guitar does not always have to be a giant cock to be effective.

  2. We’ve discover some good information right here. Seriously worth social bookmarking with regard to revisiting. I wonder just how much energy you put to produce any such superb insightful web page.

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