Common Thread: Albums by Noteworthy '80s One-Hit-Wonders (Part 2)

by Jeff Fiedler

Common Thread is a regular feature on in which we offer up mini-reviews of a small (and often very diverse) assortment of albums that all have one specific shared trait; that "common thread" can vary from column to column. 


Tom Tom Club, Tom Tom Club (1981, Sire)

Less a full-time band at first than a way for bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chis Frantz (who, impressively for a show-biz couple, have been married since 1977) to kill time between Talking Heads projects, Tom Tom Club have traditionally been much more popular in dance clubs than on pop radio, but their lone brush with Top 40 crossover success was a pretty monumental one. “Genius of Love” would only reach #31, but the song (co-written with King Crimson’s Adrian Belew) would be an instant club classic and would later provide the instrumental track – and the bridge – for Mariah Carey’s massive Number One hit “Fantasy” in 1995.


Marshall Crenshaw, Marshall Crenshaw (1982, Warner Bros.)

It’s one of the greatest crimes in pop music that Crenshaw has just one Top 40 hit to his name as a performer, the rockabilly-tinged “Someday, Someway,” taken from this much-highly-regarded self-titled affair, one of the finest debut discs of the ‘80s by any artist.
[“Mary Anne” and “There She Goes Again” are just two of many cuts that are as every bit as infectious as the album’s lone chart hit.] Crenshaw’s never stopped making great albums – 1983’s Field Day (highlighted by the single “Whenever You’re on My Mind”) and 1965’s World of Science (which boasts such standouts as “What Do You Dream Of?” and “Starless, Summer Sky,” originally recorded for – but left off of – this self-titled debut) are especially recommended as well – but he’s sadly remained largely a cult artist, though he did quietly score a very sizable success on the pop charts in the mid-‘90s as the co-writer behind Gin Blossoms’ Empire Records soundtrack contribution “’Til I Hear It from You,” which rocketed all the way to #11 and became the second-biggest hit the band ever had. [Only “Follow You Down,” which reached #9, surpassed it.]  Crenshaw’s also been known to pop up on occasion on both the small and big screens: he played Buddy Holly in the wildly successful Richie Valens bio-pic La Bamba (he’d already appeared in Peggy Sue Got Married) and also popped up as a meter reader in the beloved Nickelodeon series The Adventures of Pete and Pete. He’s also responsible for writing the title theme for the wildly hilarious John C. Reilly-starring spoof film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.  


Straight Between the Eyes, Rainbow (1982, Mercury)

It’s not the hard rock band’s most highly-regarded album – that distinction belongs to their 1976 album Rising, named by Rolling Stone in 2017 as one of the fifty greatest metal albums of all-time – but this disc gave the band its only Top 40 single, “Stone Cold.” Though the band itself is technically a one-hit wonder, its members certainly aren’t – the band’s founder, Richie Blackmore, served as a member of Deep Purple (“Hush,” “Smoke on the Water”) from 1968 to 1975, and the band’s then-bassist and producer, Roger Glover, was also a Deep Purple alumnus. Tony Carey, the band’s keyboardist from 1975 to 1977, would go on to score two Top 40 pop hits as a solo artist in 1984, “A Fine, Fine Day” and “The First Day of Summer,” while Rainbow’s first lead singer was none other than revered hard-rocker Ronnie James Dio, later to replace Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath and helm his own much-loved band, Dio, of Holy Diver fame.   


Special Pain, Robert Ellis Orrall (1983, RCA)

Orrall’s success on the pop charts was short-lived, the singer-songwriter reaching the Top 40 just once, thanks to this album’s delightful #32-peaking single “I Couldn’t Say No,” a duet with country singer Carlene Carter (the daughter of June Carter, stepdaughter of Johnny Cash, and the then-wife of Nick Lowe), herself just a one-hit-wonder on the pop charts.  But Orrall would find greater success in later years as both a performer and songwriter in the world of country music, penning sizable hits for the likes of Shenandoah (the Number One hit “Next to You, Next to Me”), Reba McEntire (“What If It’s You”), Clay Walker (the Number One hit “What’s It to You”), amd Martina McBride (“Wrong Baby Wrong Baby Wrong.”) He’d also go on to co-write with and mentor a young then-up-and-comer by the name of Taylor Swift, co-producing her debut album and scoring his biggest Top 40 hit yet as the co-writer of her Top Twenty smash “Crazier,” taken from the soundtrack of the movie Hannah Montana: The Movie and quite arguably still the best ballad she’s made to date all these years later.


Sheriff, Sheriff (1983, Capitol)

The story behind Sheriff’s success is even more fascinating than that of most bands with more hits to their name. The Canadian band only ever recorded one album together, and it didn’t do much outside their home country, the single “When I’m with You” initially stalling at #61 in the U.S. Six years later, a radio station in Las Vegas unearthed the song and gave it another chance, and the song started to explode all around the country and became the biggest surprise hit of 1989, going all the way to Number One. There was just one minor problem: the band had broken up four years earlier! Contractual obligations prevented the full band from reuniting, so lead singer Freddy Curci and guitarist Steve DeMarchi instead teamed up with former Heart members Roger Fisher, Steve Fossen, and Michael Derosier to form the new band Alias, who soared all the way to #2 with the power ballad “More Than Words Can Say” and reached #13 with the follow-up hit “Waiting for Love.” Arnold Lanni, who had written “When I’m with You,” would resurface himself in the ‘90s as the go-to producer for such well-known Canadian rock bands as Our Lady Peace, Simple Plan, and Finger Eleven.  


Warrior, Scandal (1984, Columbia)

There are some bands you may be utterly shocked to find out are technically one-hit wonders. The Grateful Dead, for instance, reached the Top 40 only once (with 1987’s “Touch of Grey”), as did the Jimi Hendrix Experience (with “All Along the Watchtower”). [Even Pink Floyd, classic-rock-radio fixtures though they are, have only ever had two bona fide Top 40 hits: “Money” and “Another Brick in the Wall.”] Scandal might not strike you as being one-hit wonders since they have multiple songs that are still in rotation on radio today. But, beloved though the song is, “Goodbye to You” – taken from the band’s self-titled EP – never actually reached the Top 40, stalling at #65 and getting out-performed by the follow-up single, “Love’s Got a Line on You,” which itself still stopped shy of the upper regions, petering out at #59. The band’s lone Top 40 hit, in fact, is this album’s still-classic and Top Ten-charting opening cut, “The Warrior,” co-written by another famous one-hit wonder, Nick Gilder of “Hot Child in the City” fame. The band unfortunately couldn’t capitalize on its biggest hit, and the album’s follow-up singles (“Hands Tied” and “Beat of a Heart”) would both coincidentally stop just one spot shy of the Top 40, peaking at #41. But Smyth (who – true story – was originally offered the chance of replacing David Lee Roth in Van Halen before Sammy Hagar got the gig) would do even better on her own in the early ‘90s, making it all the way to #2 with the ballad “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough” (co-written by Styx’s Glen Burtnik) and reaching #33 with the follow-up “No Mistakes” before taking a hiatus from music to raise a family with her husband, tennis legend John McEnroe. 


Righteous Anger, Van Stephenson (1984, MCA)

The late, great Stephenson was a crossover sensation only briefly, reaching the Top 40 with this album’s excellent hit single “Modern Day Delilah” before vanishing from pop radio for good. But Stephenson would find new life for himself as a songwriter in Nashville, and he’d go on to write a long string of hits for one of the biggest country bands of all, Restless Heart, including “The Bluest Eyes in Texas,” “Big Dreams in a Small Town,” “(Back to the) Heartbreak Kid,” and “Til I Loved You.” But he eventually got the itch to record again, and in the ‘90s, he’d re-emerge on the stage as one-third of the hitmaking trio BlackHawk, who scored a long run of Top Ten Country hits that included the Number Two smashes “Every Once in a While” and “I’m Not Strong Enough to Say No.”