10 poppy, plastic one-hit wonders from 1986
In some circles, Eighties music gets a bad rap. It's too synthetic and vapid, some protest. Certainly, there was an abundance of keyboards. In the ten songs below, you will hear nothing but the sounds of electronics, computer chips and machines.
But for all the programming, the hits were far more unexpected and surprising than modern pop. Quirky men from Austria and Italy stormed the Top 20. There was a Madonna associate who acted in McGruff the Crime Dog public service announcements. There was the first R&B singer signed to a rap label. There was a bubblegum act featuring a backup singer from Parliament-Funkadelic. There was a former elephant rider for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus who took her stage name from a James Bond character.
They all became one-hit wonders. Funny thing about one-hit wonders: On paper, they seem completely alien to you. Then, you hear the tune and go… that song. Yeah, that song!
Let's zap back to 1986 and check out those songs of the year.
Falco - "Rock Me Amadeus"
Peaked: No. 1, March 1986
Hans Hölzel was certainly a patriot. The Vienna-born performer took the stage name Falco and took the world by storm by honoring his homeland's music hero, Mozart. "Rock Me Amadeus" came at a point of renewed Mozart-mania. The film Amadeus had gathered all sort of trophies two years earlier, and those Hooked on Classics compilations from K-Tel transformed classic works into synth-pop for sale on TV. Falco's next single, "Vienna Calling," cracked the Top 20 a few months later, but today he's only remembered for "Amadeus."
Stacey Q - "Two of Hearts"
Peaked: No. 3, October 1986
Stacey Swain grew up in Southern California. Her mom bred Corgi dogs for Hollywood films. Studying dancing from a young age, Swain would later put her athleticism to work in Disneyland parades and atop elephants for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. After meeting a record producer, Swain formed a band called Q, named in honor of James Bond's boss. She later went solo and scored with this hit, which millions of people likely mistook for Madonna. "Two. Of. Hearts. Two hearts that beat as one."
Jermaine Stewart - "We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off"
Peaked: No. 5, August 1986
There was good money to be made sounding like Michael Jackson in the 1980s. Stewart got his start in Chicago, dancing for Soul Train on WCIU-TV, sister network to MeTV. When the show moved to Los Angeles, so did Stewart. He and coworker Jody Watley became dancers for Shalamar, the group put together by Don Cornelius. With the encouragement of a dude in Culture Club, Stewart kicked off a solo career. This smash celebrating good, clean fun came off his second album.
Swing Out Sister - "Breakout"
Peaked: No. 6, November 1986
With bright horns and a jazzy… well, swing… Swing Out Sister stood out in England's Manchester scene, better known for the darker club sound of Joy Division, New Order, etc.
Sly Fox - "Let's Go All the Way"
Peaked: No. 7, April 1986
Not to be confused with Sly Fox, the horse that won the 1898 Preakness Stakes, this band was one of those manufactured acts tailored to the style of the times. Gary "Mudbone" Cooper, who once sang backup for funk giants Parliament-Funkadelic and Bootsy's Rubber Band, teamed with Michael Camacho to form this clean-cut dup.
Timex Social Club - "Rumors"
Peaked: No. 8, August 1986
Today, with chart-toppers like Drake and Post Malone, R&B and hip-hop have essentially fused to become the same genre. In 1986, the two genres were distinctly different markets and demographics. Until artists like Timex Social Club (and the new two acts on this list). This Bay Area crew incorporated the sounds of rap into their love ballads. The new sound propelled "Rumors" up the charts. Russell Simmons took notice and asked the Social Club to open for Run-DMC on the 1986 Raising Hell Tour, alongside the Beastie Boys and LL Cool J.
Oran "Juice" Jones - "The Rain"
Peaked: No. 9, November 1986
"Juice" signed to OBR Records, a subsidiary of Def Jam, which earned him the distinction of being the first R&B singer recording for a label dedicated to rap. That would explain the prolonged, bizarre, somewhat disturbing spoken word section of this tune ("I ain't wanna mess up this 37-hundred-dollar lynx coat") that would inspire one of the funniest Saturday Night Live sketches of 2018.
Force M.D.'s - "Tender Love"
Peaked: No. 10, April 1986
Audiences were hungry for this new mix of hip-hop and soul, as evidenced by this ballad, one of the primo slow-dance cuts of 1986 proms. The song soared on the back of its use in Krush Groove, the sort of Saturday Night Fever of the nascent NYC rap scene. Boys II Men would later turn this sound into gold.
Regina - "Baby Love"
Peaked: No. 10, September 1986
Like Stacey Q, Regina undoubtedly had listeners thinking another Madonna track was on the radio. But there was good reason for the confusion in this case. Brooklyn-bred singer Regina Richards, a new-wave singer who assisted Madonna with vocal harmonies on her demo tapes. "Baby Love" was written with Madonna in mind, intended for sale to the Material Girl. But Regina's record label thought she should sing it herself. And — voila! — Top Ten hit!
Baltimora - "Tarzan Boy"
Peaked: No. 13, March 1986
Despite the name Baltimora, this fellow came from Italy, not Maryland. As if you couldn't tell from the accent. Using Tarzan's jungle cry as a pop hook was an inspired move. Years later, the song would turn up in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 and Beverly Hills Ninja. Guess it goes well with ninjas?