The Specials

“Christmas turkey, you can stuff it” – Top of the Pops, 18 December 1980

Simon BatesSo this is Christmas, and what have you done? Employed sensible Simon Bates to host the last regular TOTP of the year, that’s what. This could all go terribly, terribly wrong but thankfully he’s flanked by three young ladies in the now ubiquitous TOTP T-shirts (we never did find out how we could buy these, did we?) to wave balloons around and generally lighten the mood as the Stray Cats’ Runaway Boys plays in the background. This still fails to draw attention away from Bates and his total lack of hosting ability as he tells us “It’s the last Christmas Top of the Pops before the Christmas Top of the Pops… if you see what I mean.” Not really, Simes, no. There’s no “coming up” spot in the intro this week, but whether that’s because Michael Hurll has finally realised it doesn’t work or because Simes has forgotten to do it is unclear. By the time he reaches the end of the link, with one of the women doing rabbit ears behind another’s head as the third puts a party hat resembling a giant liquorice allsort on Simon’s bonce, all sensibility has gone out of the window. Behave yourself, Bates, this is Christmas, not a time for frivolity!

See the full top 75 for this week on the Official Charts Website.

THE BEAT – Too Nice To Talk To (#31)

The BeatIt’s been quite a year for The Beat, now on their fifth hit single, and Dave Wakeling has dressed up to celebrate, because nothing says Christmas like a ska revivalist wearing some kind of Russian military uniform. Rather than exchanging gifts this year, The Beat and The Specials have exchanged band members: look closely and you’ll notice Sir Horace Gentleman taking over bass duties here, while David Steele turns out for his former 2 Tone labelmates later on. Perhaps other bands should have swapped members too in the interests of keeping the show fresh, but they didn’t, so we’ll just have to make some up. Too Nice To Talk To was on its way to becoming The Beat’s fourth top ten hit, a level of success they would be unable to maintain with only a couple of top forty hits next year and none at all the year after that, before bowing out in 1983 with their biggest hit which, as it turned out, had been hiding on their 1980 début album I Just Can’t Stop It all along.

ST WINIFRED’S SCHOOL CHOIR – There’s No-one Quite Like Grandma (#2)

St Winfred's School ChoirMeanwhile, Simes still hasn’t quite got to grips with the concept of Christmas or how long it lasts. “There’s one more BBC Top 40 coming out before the end of Christmas… or the start of Christmas!” Well, which is it? What Bates means is that this isn’t the Christmas chart, but because December 25th fell on a Thursday in 1980 there was no proper TOTP for that week, just the traditional Christmas Day special which reviewed the entire year as per usual. Without wishing to give away any spoilers (which is quite hard to do for something that happened 35 years ago) you can find details of the 1980 Christmas top 40 elsewhere on this site. Simes does get one thing right, however, when he predicts that the Christmas number 1 slot might just go to the St Winalot Winifred’s School Choir – indeed, they would have been number 1 this week were it not for the actions of Mark Chapman. Due to the age of the participants the choir has not returned to the studio, that sole performance from two weeks ago remains the abiding image of TV’s Sally Lindsay and her childhood contemporaries and there’s no alternative clip in which one of the boys in the choir swaps places with Angus Young from AC/DC.

THE BARRON KNIGHTS – Never Mind the Presents (#27)

Barron Knights“Now then, there’s a band that produces a single every Christmas – every Christmas, sure as fate, they have a hit with it.” This rather over-simplifies the career of the Barron Knights; this was their fourth consecutive hit at this time of year but their first was back in the summer of 1964 and they had enjoyed numerous successes in various seasons since then. Never Mind the Presents sticks rigidly to their winning formula: three recent hit songs performed with humorous alternative lyrics on a similar theme. Previous hits had been based around bands being conscripted in to the armed forces (Call Up the Groups), casual violence (A Taste of Aggro) and last year’s infamous grubfest Food For Thought which was cut from the BBC Four reruns due to its dubious rewrite of M’s Pop Muzik as an ode to the Chinese takeaway. This year’s theme, not unreasonably, is Christmas, so we’re treated to parodies of Another Brick in the Wall, Day Trip to Bangor and The Sparrow, suggesting that the whole thing was written this time last year. Also not swapping places with a member of St Winifred’s School Choir is singer Duke D’Mond, in full school uniform for no obvious reason. Sadly D’Mond died in 2009 but comedy pop fans everywhere felt a little flicker of excitement, followed by crushing disappointment, when the unrelated Duke Dumont scored a number 1 hit in 2013.

THE SPECIALS – Do Nothing (#34)

The SpecialsSo Never Mind the Presents might not have been the Barron Knights’ finest hour, all things considered, but thoughtfully the Beeb have made them look infinitely more entertaining by bringing on Little & Large directly after them. Thankfully the BBC’s third-best comedy double act (since Morecambe & Wise went to ITV) don’t have a record to promote but they do have a TV show, a live show and a new series in the pipeline, none of which Syd Little seems to be able to talk about. Eddie Large does an Eddie Waring impression and tells us why Syd likes The Specials – “‘e likes Special Brew and ‘e went to a special school.” Okay… maybe the BBC’s fourth-best comedy double act. Having given their previous single Stereotype the cold shoulder to the extent that the title wasn’t even mentioned, this is a strange way for TOTP to welcome the Specials back to the studio. Never mind though, it’s Christmas and the band have found the trousers to match Madness’s tartan jackets from last week, teaming them with some very fetching Christmas jumpers which are humorously at odds with yet another grim single release from Jerry Dammers & Co. Still, it’s good to see that two members of the band have taken their own headgear advice from Too Much Too Young and tried wearing a cap.

GARY NUMAN – This Wreckage (#35)

Gary NumanThanks to the unique way the BBC is funded, it’s perfectly acceptable for Simes to plug a couple of “gramophone records” as perfect last minute Christmas gifts, because they’re both on the BBC Records label: that Best of Top of the Pops album again, or the Not The Nine O’Clock News album which has just gone platinum, because home video still wouldn’t take off properly for another few years and this was still the only way to relive the sketches from the TV series. That done, Bates introduces us to “a guy you might have thought you’d never see on Top of the Pops again.” Presumably this is a reference to Gary Numan’s interview last week in which he confirmed that he’d retired from live performance, but TOTP hardly counts. In fact Numan’s performance was almost certainly recorded last week while he was hanging around, as on the day this show was recorded he was busy getting his pilot’s licence. As well as being an entirely inappropriate title with which to celebrate such an occasion and sounding like a prototype for Soft Cell’s Say Hello Wave Goodbye, This Wreckage brought Numan’s run of top ten hits to an end, peaking at number 20.

ROBERT PALMER – Looking for Clues (#33)

Robert PalmerWhile a search party is dispatched to hunt for the chorus of Gary Numan’s single, Simes has his arm around a woman in some kind of makeshift Santa outfit. “This is Mummy Claus,” he tells us, “it’s a good family life we have on Top of the Pops.” No further explanation is forthcoming and it’s probably best not to ask. Bates has already moved on to introducing Robert Palmer, “who had a beautiful single out a while back called John and Mary, which wasn’t a massive hit.” Despite an inordinate amount of promotion on TOTP – as well as this performance, now on its second showing, the track was used as intro music last week and no less a personage than Jimmy Savile was raving about it back at the start of NovemberLooking for Clues wasn’t a massive hit either and holds the unusual distinction of having spent five consecutive weeks at number 33. Palmer would go on to bigger things, of course, but not with this drummer who looks like the kind of hipster who would put Christmas baubles in his beard.

CHAS & DAVE – Rabbit (#18)

Chas & DaveAnother plug for the Christmas and New Year specials takes us into the chart countup, all the way from 30 to 18, although Simes doesn’t seem to know any of the songs’ titles until we pause at 18 for the mighty Chas & Dave. Having been involved in music since the ’60s, mainly as session musicians in a career which eventually saw their work sampled by Eminem, Chas Hodges and Dave Peacock had settled into a life of novelty pop success, fusing rock with a Cockney accent to invent “Rockney”. That explains the unorthodox title for a song about someone who won’t stop talking – “rabbit and pork” being Cockney rhyming slang for “talk” – but sadly nobody seems to have understood this, so the audience is suddenly full of people in terrifying rabbit heads like you’ve fallen asleep and had a terrible nightmare during Watership Down. It doesn’t help that the Barron Knights’ Duke D’mond is now in the back row of the audience among the rabbits, still in his school uniform. No more cheese for me.

THE NOLANS – Who’s Gonna Rock You (#39)

The NolansAfter a pointlessly short countup from 17 to 11 (halfway through which Simes finally finds his sheet of paper with the song titles written on it) Bates makes a baffling rabbits / Nolans comparison: “Wherever you look in the TOTP studio tonight there are Nolans everywhere!” Funny, because I can only see four. It’s been a good year for the Nolans; this is their seventh time in the TOTP studio this year (and they’re not finished yet) and their fourth top forty hit. Although I’m In The Mood For Dancing remains a millstone around the collective Nolan neck to this day, here we find the sisters continuing to distance themselves from the cheesy disco of their first hit. Who’s Gonna Rock You is an unexpectedly funky synth workout which replaces the TOTP Orchestra of old with a proper band including Santa himself on drums, and like Gotta Pull Myself Together it’s much better than you remember it. If this carries on into 1981 we may all have to rethink our attitudes.

JONA LEWIE – Stop the Cavalry (#3)

Jona LewieDon’t worry, I won’t be asking you to rethink your attitude towards Simon Bates, who introduces the top ten countup via a terribly convoluted sentence about success stories which he himself doesn’t even seem to understand. Hang on though, the top ten already? Yes, everything has gone weird since the death of John Lennon just ten days ago, so while the countup has gained a spinning caption spelling out the position of each song, it only gets as far as number 3 before we pause to hear Stop the Cavalry in full. Given the success of this single and You’ll Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties a few months back you’d expect to be hearing a lot more from Jona in the coming year, but for some baffling reason this was his last hit and last appearance on the show. Still, he was good enough to give us a quick interview for our Tweet Little History feature, so he’s a top bloke in our book. Just remember it’s not a Christmas song.

JOHN LENNON – (Just Like) Starting Over (#1)

Legs & CoWith most of the top ten already counted up, there’s just time for a cursory mention of St Winifred’s at number 2 and yet another reminder about the Christmas specials we won’t see on BBC Four before we’re into the number 1. Rather jarring with Simes’s hope that we “have a marvellous time” over Christmas, a recent black and white photo of John Lennon fades into the star on top of a Christmas tree. Yes, being the most widely available single in the shops at the time of his unexpected demise, (Just Like) Starting Over has rocketed back up the chart from last week’s number 21 to the very top. All hopes of a dignified tribute are soon dashed, however, as Limbs & Co appear one by one from behind the tree in red dresses which seem to be adorned with ferrets. Their joyless shimmying is interspersed with various poignant portraits of Lennon: loveable moptop John in the Beatles, beardy four-eyed John in bed, cleaned-up respectable John in the ’70s and so on. The credits roll over the song’s outro and another shot of the top of the tree, bringing us to the end of the 1980 re-runs on BBC Four. Still those Christmas specials to come though, if you know where to look…

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