Martha & The Muffins

“Far away in time” – Top of the Pops, 6 March 1980

DLTWe’ve been on a roll for the first two months of 1980 with no interruptions to the repeat run on BBC Four, but the long dark shadow of Operation Yewtree had to cast its gloom over the run sooner or later. Yes, despite having never been found guilty of any kind of impropriety at any point during his tenure as a TOTP presenter, Dave Lee Travis is still persona non grata as far as BBC Four is concerned. Luckily, thanks to some new fangled invention called The Internet, lots of things that you would never have hoped to see again are widely available if you know where to look, so let me talk you through what you missed, including a hairy man in an unattractive jerkin and the top thirty countup to the strains of Cuba by the Gibson Brothers. You may remember they were on last week’s show and they’ll turn up on next week’s show too, so at least they’re doing well.

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

THE LAMBRETTAS – Poison Ivy (#44)

The LambrettasCome to think of it, you could say it was DLT’s unattractive jerkin’ that got him into trouble in the first place, ha ha. Anyway, with the mod revival if not in full swing, at least still in three-quarters swing, here are the Lambrettas reviving Leiber and Stoller’s Poison Ivy, a song which compares a lover to a poisonous plant which causes an itchy rash. Yes folks, it’s a metaphor for the clap, although I probably shouldn’t mention that as the band perform the song another twice on episodes yet to be shown and I don’t want to alert the BBC censors to this appalling fact. Vocalist Jez Bird’s appalling red suit is bad enough, not to mention the horn section who are all wearing massive 1970s headphones for no obvious reason. Signed to Elton John’s Rocket label, the Lambrettas could have been huge if their third single hadn’t been torpedoed by The Sun, a fiasco you can read about here.

THE CAPTAIN & TENNILLE – Do That To Me One More Time (#25)

The Captain & TennilleYou probably won’t be surprised to learn that DLT loves this one, because it’s a generic love ballad with no redeeming features whatsoever. Although huge in the States where they had their own TV show in the mid ’70s, husband and wife duo The Captain (not a real captain) and Toni Tennille (not a real Toni, unless you consider that an acceptable abbreviation for Antoinette) had only scored a couple of minor hits over here with Love Will Keep Us Together and, er, The Way I Want To Touch You (silence the Yewtree klaxon!) before this became their biggest UK hit by a significant margin. The video is mainly soft focus shots of Tennille walking on a beach in a floaty dress while The Captain watches her through a window and writes a song about her, which is just moderately creepy until the instrumental break when he gets his recorder out and pops it in his mouth – I said silence the Yewtree klaxon!

UK SUBS – Warhead (#42)

UK SubsWe’ve established over the past couple of weeks that heavy metal isn’t dead, but you could argue a strong case that punk is, so here to blur the lines between the two are the UK Subs. Last seen just before Christmas with a dodgy version of the Zombies’ She’s Not There, Warhead was about to become their fourth top forty hit in nine months, although they had formed way back in 1976 at the dawn of the punk era. With singer Charlie Harper sporting a haircut closer to Leo Sayer (or, dare I suggest, DLT) than Johnny Rotten, Warhead was the beginning of the band’s shift from punk towards a more generic rock approach. The change in direction clearly worked as the band is still a going concern with a 25th album due for release soon; in a distinctly artistic and non-punk move, each of their album titles starts with a successive letter of the alphabet, from 1979’s Another Kind Of Blues to 2015’s Yellow Leader. Presumably after their next album they’ll have to use numbers or something.

THE BEAT – Hands Off… She’s Mine (#16)

The BeatWell, it might be The Beat, but there’s so much smoke / dry ice / steam from DLT’s underwear that it’s hard to tell exactly who’s on stage. Seemingly unconcerned that the studio might actually be on fire, The Beat skank their way through another run-through of their first self-penned hit, complete with xylophone solo, an instrument rarely used in ska. Hands Off… She’s Mine would go on to give the band their second top ten hit from two attempts and is one of the few hit singles to use an ellipsis in its title, the only obvious others being Britney Spears’ …Baby One More Time and Oops!… I Did It Again and Heaven 17’s minor 1985 hit …(And That’s No Lie) which nobody but me remembers.

MARTHA & THE MUFFINS – Echo Beach (#39)

Martha & The MuffinsAnnoyingly this is the only time Martha & The Muffins ever performed on TOTP – although we do get to see the video in a couple of weeks’ time – and what a peculiar looking lot they are, Two-Tone Martha seemingly leading a bunch of offcuts from the Attractions, Swing Out Sister, They Might Be Giants and the manager of the local branch of Barclays Bank on bass. Confusingly the band had two keyboardist/vocalists, both called Martha; Martha Johnson handles lead vocals on the band’s only UK hit Echo Beach and so is the only one anyone remembers, but Martha Ladley went on to work with the Associates in a couple of years’ time. Echo Beach is on its way into the top ten and was later covered by Toyah, but we don’t really talk about that.

SHAKIN’ STEVENS – Hot Dog (#30)

Shakin' StevensPerhaps feeling that Shaky’s début performance a fortnight ago was a tad lacklustre, the Flick Colby Big Book of Literal Interpretation comes out again and Stevens is joined on stage by the object of his affections, a young lady perched atop a mobile hot dog stand with the unpleasant sounding phrase “THE BIG BEEFY SNACK” painted on it. Oops, there goes the Yewtree klaxon again. Does she really work on a hot dog stand, or is the whole thing just an appalling sexual metaphor? I’m not sure I want to know. It seems to work for Shaky though, inspiring him to leap up and perform some of his signature leg shaking moves on top of his keyboard player’s large organ (oh, please). A lengthy career as the most successful singles act of the eighties does not appear imminent.

SQUEEZE – Another Nail In My Heart (#40)

SqueezeShowing the same respect for TV hosts as he would later show Richard Madeley, Shaky ends his performance by clambering up the scaffolding forming part of the set just as Travis emerges beside him. DLT jokily rebukes him for climbing on the set, to which Shaky responds by wrapping his leg around Travis’s neck and attempting to throttle him. All this, of course, is a Colby-esque literal introduction to Squeeze, still in their imperial phase after back-to-back no.2 hits with Cool For Cats and Up The Junction last year, even though a clerical error seems to have resulted in Glenn Tilbrook being partnered by Chris de Burgh rather than Chris Difford. Curiously keyboardist Jools Holland is stuck over on the side of the stage, largely out of shot, to the extent that it’s not entirely clear if he’s actually there or if this is a stand-in and he’s off playing boogie-woogie with someone else.

FERN KINNEY – Together We Are Beautiful (#2)

Legs & CoCor blimey. Remember Fern’s tepid performance of this song two weeks ago? To counteract that, here are Limbs & Co with perhaps their most baffling performance of the year. They’re all dressed as fairies, but fairies with massive Janet Street Porter glasses, wearing the standard fairy outfit of wings, magic wands, unfeasibly short dresses, stockings and suspenders. Er… what? To add to the confusion, their performance is interspersed with still photographs of celebrity couples such as Margaret and Denis Thatcher, Prince Charles and a mystery woman seen only from behind with a question mark drawn on the back of her head, and Tom & Jerry. The whole thing collapses into insanity as the fairies start moving cardboard cutout people around on a board in the manner of generals moving model soldiers on a map of a battlefield. Completely baffling, but at least we don’t have to deal with the TOTP Orchestra so, y’know, every cloud.

TONY RALLO & THE MIDNITE BAND – Holdin’ On (#41)

Tony Rallo & The Midnight BandHere’s the hairy one again. “Watch out for some great rhythms on this next piece of music, it’s gonna be a chart success.” Instant kiss of death there for Tony Rallo, whose previous claim to fame was conducting France’s entry in the 1976 Eurovision Song Contest. Like the Muffins earlier, the Midnite Band appear to be made up of various misfits from dodgy tribute bands; there’s a rubbish Elton John, a rubbish Ben Elton, a rubbish Weird Al Yankovic and a passable Mark Steel on the end pretending to play saxophone. After last week’s spirited attempt to prove that disco was still alive and kicking, this mid ’70s cabaret piece kills it stone dead, although thanks to DLT’s patronage the single got as high as number 34 the following week before disappearing into oblivion.

BLONDIE – Atomic (#1)

BlondieThird week in a row for this video, which still feels like it should have “REMAIN INDOORS” superimposed over it at regular intervals. This is Atomic‘s last week at number 1 but Blondie have two more chart toppers to come this year, neither of which come with unnecessary bass solos. We play out with Liquid Gold’s Dance Yourself Dizzy which, like the intro track Cuba was on last week and will be on again next week, as if to try and revive disco from its unfortunate but timely demise at the blood-stained hands of Tony Rallo. Steve Wright is next week’s host, so if you find him less objectionable than Dave Lee Travis, join us for that.

2 comments on ““Far away in time” – Top of the Pops, 6 March 1980

  1. sorry steve, but having just heard the 12″ version of “holdin on” on youtube i have to disagree with your comments on it being a “cabaret piece”. maybe your opinion was influenced by mr rallo’s dubious past rather than actually listening and judging it for what it is. to me “cabaret disco” is fern kinney, baccara and the nolans – not this infectious groove!

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