Ian Dury & The Blockheads

“I don’t care about the rest of the year” – Top of the Pops, 28 August 1980

Peter Powell & BA RobertsonGiven that BBC Four has spent four years rerunning episodes of Top of the Pops as historical documents from 35 years ago, it’s an unavoidable fact that there are certain people whose presence on the show is less welcome than others. Obviously Jimmy Savile and Dave Lee Travis are strictly out of bounds (although the justification for the latter’s absence is significantly flimsier than for the former). Then we have the likes of Jonathan King – who served his time and is now apparently allowed to be seen again – and Gary Glitter, whose eligibility for the show seems to be in a constant state of flux. Yet none of these people have drawn as much flak from social media over the past year or so as one man, a man whose every appearance on TOTP provokes an outpouring of foul-mouthed hatred so vitriolic that even Peter Powell doesn’t want to co-host with him. “I pleaded with them, I begged with them, please don’t let me do Top of the Pops with B.A. Robertson… and look what I got.” For some reason Robertson is opening with the same “Look, I’m really short” gag he opened with on the unbroadcast pilot episode last month, although his claim to be following “other great guest presenters like Atilla the Hun, Dame Edna Everage and Elton John” is at least one-third accurate.

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

THE BARRACUDAS – Summer Fun (#37)

The BarracudasLet’s be frank, the main selling point of the Barracudas’ only hit single was the introduction, based on a genuine 1966 US car commercial which attempted to sell the Plymouth Barracuda to hip young things via a hapless square salesman who “can’t pronounce Baccaruda”. Of course we can’t have advertising on BBC Television (even for a product that wasn’t available in the UK, although it was perfectly acceptable on Radio 1) so here’s B.A. to deliver the same idea in a much less entertaining style. “For the first time on TOTP this week, it’s the Pacaroonies!” The what now? With its novelty intro replaced by a weedy “1-2-3 rock!” that could easily be The Ramones – especially now that they’re all dead – the band still turn in an energetic performance of their classic punk/surf/power-pop hit. Singer Jeremy Gluck is particularly vigorous, jumping around and shaking his head in a desperate attempt to disguise how much he looks like Rowan Atkinson, while the rest of the band are required to wear dark glasses to combat the glare from their white denim outfits. Alas, despite their enthusiasm, Summer Fun failed to climb any higher than number 37 and was their only hit, so the washing powder commercial never came to fruition.

GARY NUMAN – I Die: You Die (#8)

Gary NumanWe leave the Baccarudas and find B.A. physically assaulting Peter Powell for reasons unknown. Robertson does his “Pacaroonies” joke again and proceeds to introduce Nary Guman, receiving an audible bonk on the head from Powell’s microphone for his troubles. There’ll be tears before bedtime at this rate. Nary Gary isn’t in the studio; he hasn’t been since last Christmas and won’t be again until just before this Christmas when he shares the bill with Chas & Dave, the Barron Knights and the St Winifred’s School Choir. You can pick your moments, can’t you Gary? Instead we get the video for I Die: You Die which consists largely of shots of Gary in his car and shots of Gary in the studio. It sounds horrible too, as if played off a worn out 78. After his two number ones in 1979, Numan was now a major cult artist but having trouble crossing back into the mainstream; he had a big enough fanbase to send I Die: You Die straight into the chart at number 8, but not sufficient crossover appeal to propel it any higher than number 6, after which it sank like a stone.

THE SELECTER – The Whisper (#44)

The SelecterLike Numan, the Selecter had quickly become aware of the law of diminishing returns. Attempting to broaden their horizons, the band had moved away from the 2 Tone label and signed directly to its parent label Chrysalis, while Pauline Black dared to dress in red and white rather than the compulsory monochrome of previous releases. Sadly, the song just wasn’t up there with the quality of their previous hits and stumbled to number 36, becoming the band’s last hit single. Black went solo the following year with little success, while the rest of the band split soon afterwards. Having spent the rest of the decade inserting a digit into various pies, from portraying Billie Holiday in a stage play to hosting kids’ game show Hold Tight, Black reformed the Selecter in 1991 with original guitarist and songwriter Neol Davies. Pauline still leads a version of the Selecter today; their 2015 album Subculture saw them back in the top sixty for the first time since 1981.

MIKE BERRY – The Sunshine Of Your Smile (#10)

Mike BerryAfter a rambling and barely coherent introduction from B.A. Robertson it’s the return of TV’s Mike Berry, who we saw patiently waiting in the background while the Selecter were on and who now gets to sing his song. Although popular legend has it that the all-powerful hand of Michael Hurll swept away all the easy listening and light entertainment nonsense the day he took over TOTP, it’s clearly not true, just as punk failed to infiltrate the show in any meaningful way despite what the 2012 TOTP documentary The Story of 1977 may tell you. In reality Hurll’s hands were tied as this was a massive hit; despite being as completely out of step with the musical zeitgeist then as it is now, it’s still a lovely song and it was produced by Chas Hodges out of Chas & Dave, so everyone who tweeted to say that they’d fallen asleep during it can do one. Although it was his last major hit, Berry did lots of other things in the ’80s: he replaced Trevor Bannister in Are You Being Served?, made a memorable TV ad for Blue Riband biscuits and inadvertently became a groundbreaker in multimedia technology when his song Everyone’s a Wally was released as part of the computer game of the same title: program on side 1 of the cassette, song on side 2, like an early Enhanced CD. Remember those? Blimey, I feel old.

THE SKIDS – Circus Games (#33)

The SkidsThings are getting physical between Powell and Robertson as Pete sticks his hand over B.A.’s mouth to stop him singing, only for the lanky Scot to bite it. “You’re the first donkey we’ve had on this show,” Powell tells him, which is clearly untrue as anyone who saw the Roger Daltrey edition will testify. Coming to Powell’s rescue are the Skids, fronted by TV’s Richard Jobson. Normally Jobson was wont to leap about, arms flailing, in an elaborate game of “The Floor is Made of Lava”; fortunately tonight someone (probably B.A. Robertson) has taken the pre-emptive measure of gluing Jobson’s shoes to the floor, meaning that his performance more resembles a Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Man. With his hair slicked back and his sensible jacket and tie combo, Jobson could also have been the inspiration for comedian John Sparkes’ character Gwyn who had similar difficulty keeping control of his extremities during a performance of Ken Dodd’s Tears. This was the Skids’ last top forty hit and the last time we’ll see them on the BBC Four reruns, although they will be back in a couple of weeks on an edition hosted by Public Enemy No.1.

ELTON JOHN – Sartorial Eloquence (#48)

Elton JohnBeing Scottish, of course B.A. knows the Skids: “They’re tremendously well educated young men… before I met them I thought Jean Paul Sartre played right back for Barcelona.” Powell’s resulting “What do you know about football?” line is a setup for a link into Elton John via Watford that’s so obvious the keeper saw it coming from the halfway line, but it would be remiss of me not to remind you that B.A. wrote and produced the 1982 Scottish World Cup Squad song We Have a Dream. Anyway, Elton’s latest assault on the chart is from the period when he was estranged from long term lyrical collaborator Bernie Taupin, leading him to have a go at writing with Tom Robinson, formerly of 2-4-6-8 Motorway fame and now a DJ on BBC 6 Music. Sadly Elton wasn’t ready to come out with something as brash as Robinson’s Glad To Be Gay so instead we get a nondescript ballad which Dame Elton performs in a jockey’s cap and schoolboy blazer, rather making a mockery of the song’s title. Sartorial Eloquence peaked at number 44 and Elton was still a year and a half away from returning to the top ten.

SUE WILKINSON – You Gotta Be A Hustler If You Wanna Get On (#25)

Sue WilkinsonThe 30-11 countup is next, Powell finally coming to terms with the sheer speed of the thing, before we’re tossed back down to number 25 for another performance of this… oddity. Slade’s Don Powell (no relation) is back pretending to be playing drums, a favour to bandmate Jim Lea, co-owner of Cheapskate Records who released the single. Slade themselves would soon sign to the same label having revitalised their career with a legendary performance at the 1980 Reading Festival. Annoyingly this fascinating piece of social comment set to minimalist electronica still isn’t on iTunes or Spotify or anything, which seems a terrible oversight as it could have sold well as one of those bizarre records you’d forgotten about or never heard before until the TOTP repeats brought it to your attention. This was, inevitably, Sue’s only hit; this and the rest of her output are lost to the mists of time (or the vagaries of whoever owns the rights to the Cheapskate back catalogue) although she did attempt a comeback in 1987 with a single Toy Boys on the Hustler label. Don Powell went back to Slade for their renaissance in the early ’80s; sadly Sue died of cancer in 2005.

IAN DURY & THE BLOCKHEADS – I Want To Be Straight (#39)

Ian Dury & The BlockheadsCriminally cut from the 7.30 edit by someone who clearly knows nothing about musical history but has to get the show down to a tight 28 minutes at any cost, this was Dury’s first single since Reasons To Be Cheerful Pt 3 a year earlier, during which time there had been some upheaval in the Blockheads’ line-up, so it’s only fair that they should get to introduce themselves individually at the start of the track, with varying degrees of menace. In fact it’s all quite amiable until we get to the band’s new guitarist, the indefatigable Wilko Johnson, formerly of BBC Four favourites Dr Feelgood, and indeed this must be the first time BBC Four has cut him out of anything. Wilko, of course, has become a national treasure in the past few years as he fought a long and very public battle with cancer and – remarkably – seems to have won, albeit after having numerous parts of his body removed. Dury, on the other hand, succumbed to the disease back in 2000, yet here they both are in their pomp. A shaven-haired and strangely made-up Dury leads us through what isn’t perhaps his catchiest single but one which is more representative of his uncompromising style than his bigger, better known hits. Wilko, of course, is just Wilko.

VILLAGE PEOPLE – Can’t Stop The Music (#17)

Village PeopleNow I know what you’re thinking, “Everyone has managed to make it in to the studio this week, except that wastrel Gary Numan who you’re dying to tell us again is older than Gary Oldman, but if all the acts are here, where is our favourite literal interpretive dance troupe?” Well, do try and restrain yourselves but I’m afraid Limbs & Co are not on the show this week. They’re “on holiday” according to Peter Powell, which conjures up all sorts of images of the girls sharing a chalet at Butlins, going to the bingo and dancing in a circle around the lucky winner who’s just deprived them of a full house, reproachfully wagging their fingers at him or her. Still, don’t despair because Pete tells us we have “the next best thing” – that clip from the Village People movie again. Not sure whether that’s a bigger slight on Limbs & Co or the Village People. This is almost the last we’ll see of the People on TOTP; their brief reinvention as a poor man’s Frankie Goes To Hollywood in 1985 fell flat when Sex Over The Phone only just made the top sixty, so their only appearance on the show after this was a brief video clip when a remix of YMCA became a hit in 1993. No doubt Roger Daltrey was furious.

JUDAS PRIEST – United (#49)

Judas PriestBut if you’re a fan of the Derek Smalls look, don’t fret, because here comes the man who invented it. No, not B.A. Robertson – “Can’t Stop The Music from the Village People, and I’m glad I don’t live in their village… don’t laugh, you’re not here to enjoy yourself y’know” – we’re talking about Rob Halford, leader of Judas Priest and high-camp leather-clad NWOBHM icon. Like Ian Dury he’s had his hair cut surprisingly short, dispensing with the pudding bowl cut which made him resemble Graham Chapman a few months back. United is a no-nonsense “everybody come together, it’ll be great” anthem which, if anything, is a bit too no-nonsense – it sounds like a demo recording, crying out for some exciting production tricks to lift it off the ground and rubbing our noses in the fact that The Event deprived us of their greatest single Breaking The Law back in June. Like Samson, Halford seems to be have been robbed of his power by having his hair chopped off, turning in a lacklustre performance in which he seems to be more concerned with chewing gum than actually lip-synching to the song. A disappointing performance all round, which is a shame as the song deserves better.

DAVID BOWIE – Ashes To Ashes (#1)

David BowieSo on with the top ten countup, which still isn’t quite working somehow and seemed to be better that one time they just overlaid the captions straight onto the video clips. Never mind, because Ashes To Ashes is still number 1 and David Bowie is here in the studio! No, sorry, of course he’s not, it’s the video again. Still, we’re only about six months away from the point where you can discuss just how much of an influence the “My mother said to get things done you’d better not mess with Major Tom” line was on the outro of Landscape’s hit Einstein A Go-Go. Powell and Robertson close the show amongst a throng of excited audience members, or perhaps they’re about to get lynched, it’s hard to tell. We play out with a static camera shot of the crowd dancing uninterestedly to The Beat’s new single Best Friend as we come to an interesting point in the BBC Four reruns. With only a week to go before the Proms take the repeats off air over the summer, we’re going to have to jump into mid-September for a week before disappearing. That episode won’t be here for a while though, as we have two forbidden episodes to get through first.

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