ABBA

“It wasn’t an illusion” – Top of the Pops, 1 January 1981

DLT & Tommy VanceThe holiday period has been unusually helpful to the BBC One schedulers this year. Some years are awkward and the Christmas Day TOTP special has to be slotted in a day or two before or after a regular edition, but with 25th December 1980 and 1st January 1981 both falling on Thursdays, the Beeb has been able to stick rigidly to the usual quota of one edition of TOTP per week, no more, no less. Last week’s special may have been shunted up the schedule to 2pm in order to drum up extra viewers for the Queen’s Speech at 3, as per usual, but on New Year’s Day everything starts to get back to normal and here we are back in our usual slot just after 7pm. This strict rationing does raise a minor issue though, in that the Christmas week chart didn’t have a proper TOTP of its own. Never mind, because in those days no chart was published in the Twilight Zone between Xmas and New Year, so the previous week’s chart still stands, ergo we can do it this week, right? Hmmm… actually, no, best not, we tried that last year and ended up with a load of Christmas records in January. Best stick with what you know and go for another compilation of hits from 1980, hosted by “Thomas the Vance” and “D.L. the T.” who bash their mics together as a toast to another year gone by.


STATUS QUO – What You’re Proposing

Status QuoAnd what better way to kick off than with a pre-recorded clip from a previous show? What You’re Proposing was Quo’s biggest hit for a good five years either side, since Down Down had reached number 1 in January 1975 and until In The Army Now matched Proposing‘s number 2 position in 1986. Despite this we only saw it once on BBC Four, having featured on both a DLT edition and a Savile edition, and now this clip from the Travis-hosted show on 23 October gets Yewtreed again. Not for us the jeans, white shirt, waistcoat and runny nose look which Francis Rossi made his own; nor the Neanderthal thumping of John Coghlan, Quo drummer of almost twenty years’ standing, who just got up and left during the making of the band’s 1982 album 1+9+8+2 and didn’t come back for three decades. On the bright side, we’re spared the pogoing antics of the insufferable 4″ Be 2″ in their shamrock T-shirts, so it’s not all doom and gloom.

OTTAWAN – D.I.S.C.O.

Ottawan“Tommy, you’re really into heavy rock… heavy metal, aren’t you?” Travis asks Vance, almost blowing the punchline in the process. “Oh, I love heavy Metal, David!” Tommy enthuses. “Cop for that then,” sniggers Travis, handing Vance a large weight, which is heavy, and made of metal. Doesn’t sound funny on paper, but the way Vance falls out of shot and lands on the floor with a clatter is a performance of great beauty and provokes a moment of genuine shock from DLT, followed of course by hysterical laughter. Still, the show must go on… “Right, well, we’ve got one dead presenter and we’ve got Ottawan and Disco!” While Tommy Vance is rebuilt we get another outing for this video, complete with female singer Annette dressed up like a parrot beside Jean Patrick Baptiste in a Norwegian blue jumpsuit. This is the fifth and final time D.I.S.C.O. graced the TOTP airwaves – if we’re counting the times it was played in an endless loop in the background for an entire programme as one play per week – but don’t worry, Ottawan will be back with a remarkably similar hit later in 1981.

MADNESS – Baggy Trousers

MadnessThankfully, despite his recent accident Tommy is fit and well enough to provide the next link, although he may have suffered a blow to the head as he struggles to remember the title of D.I.S.C.O. and then introduces Baggy Trousers by showing his arse to the camera – still inside his fetching grey slacks, thankfully, but even so, it’s not what you want if you’re still nursing a Hogmanay hangover. Having behaved impeccably during their performance of Embarrassment a few weeks back, the Nutty Boys have been allowed back into the studio to create mayhem. They’re covered in white powder – presumably fake snow, although this is unclear – and Chas Smash seems to have come as an undertaker, while Lee Thompson has brought his toy saxophone again, even taking a phone call on it during the first chorus. By the end of the song they’ve formed a line across the front of the stage, Bedders spraying more fake snow into the air, and they’ll all be banned again for another month or so. By now you wouldn’t expect anything less from them.

THE JAM – Going Underground

The JamAnd now here’s Dave Lee Travis surrounded by five women. Some things never change, eh Dave? He mutters something by way of vague explanation but really, with the canned applause even more deafening than usual, it’s like trying to decipher a Rowley Birkin QC monologue. “Right, mumble mumble sublime to the ridiculous, mumble mumble rather nice dresses, mumble cameraman on number 5, mumble mumble ha ha ha! These are the Jam.” Yes, Weller & Co are back to perform Going Underground for only the second time in the studio, and Weller himself could not be less happy to be here. Maybe it’s because the BBC made him leave his Heinz Tomato Soup apron at home this time, but even though he gets to show off the splendid Roy Lichtenstein “Whaam!” guitar he got for Christmas, Weller still looks like a man who’d rather be down the pub. Still, only another two years of the Jam and then he can go swanning off to France and take his shirt off with Mick Talbot. We’re jumping ahead, though. The Jam had two more number 1 hits to come and Going Underground also gave Buffalo Tom their only UK hit in 1999.

BILLY PRESTON & SYREETA – With You I’m Born Again

Billy Preston & SyreetaSeems like Vance and Travis have been sent to opposite ends of the studio since the first link ended in near disaster. It’s Tommy’s turn to do a link now, so he promises us “something by two really talented people: Syreeta Wright is the lady, Billy Preston, of course, is the fella.” It’s another run out for this number 2 from the start of 1980 starring Stevie Wonder’s ex-wife and the featured keyboardist on the Beatles’ Get Back. Written for the soundtrack of the movie Fast Break (yeah, me neither – it’s a comedy about basketball, apparently) the song remains as mawkish and turgid as it was this time last year, but it was the last top forty hit for either of the duo as Syreeta died in 2004 and Billy in 2006. Back in 1977 Syreeta recorded an album with G.C. Cameron, former lead singer of American soul group The Spinners – whatever happened to them?

DETROIT SPINNERS – Working My Way Back To You / Forgive Me Girl

Legs & CoOops, look out, Travis and Vance are back together again. “It’s time to send the kiddies off to bed,” advises DLT, “and me, possibly.” The reason for such drastic advice? Yes, inevitably, it’s time for Limbs & Co. “Down boy!” scolds Vance, quickly ushering Travis off stage, not that the girls are even in the studio this week as it’s another showing for that routine from the Flick Colby Big Book of Literal Choreography. Remember when it fell open at the word “working” and Flick had the set decorated with workman’s tents and big signs reading “DANGER! LADIES AT WORK”? Yes, that one. We missed out on the Spinners’ similarly-themed follow-up Cupid / I’ve Loved You For a Long Time, another medley of a ’60s hit with a freshly-penned Michael Zager composition which reached number 4 during The Event, so this is the last we’ll hear of them on TOTP until 2003, when the group’s backing vocals on Elton John’s Are You Ready For Love? finally made the chart 24 years after they were recorded.

UB40 – Food for Thought

UB40As DLT reminds us that this is the first TOTP of 1981 (and tries to confuse the cameraperson by swaying from side to side) we continue with another hit from 1980. With so many bands of this era having huge line-ups – UB40, Dexys, Madness, the Specials, Bad Manners et al – it’s surprising that nobody has yet suggested to Michael Hurll that a bigger stage might be in order. UB40 had three hits in 1980, all of them double A-sides, and we know what that means because Tommy Vance explained it last time they were on. This was the more popular A-side of their first hit and, technically, a Christmas song, although only in as much as it juxtaposes African famine with Western Christmas gluttony in a far more eloquent way than Do They Know It’s Christmas? ever managed. Nobody really listened to the lyrics though, but UB40 persevered with this kind of material for a couple of years before slowly descending from political rhetoric into reggae karaoke. At least nobody blacked up for this one.

KELLY MARIE – Feels Like I’m In Love

Kelly MarieMaybe UB40 weren’t that bothered about having to squeeze onto a tiny stage for their performance though, because as Tommy Vance informs us “that record was recorded in a two room flat in Birmingham just over a year ago, and they had to keep on putting ten pees in the meter to keep the actual machinery running!” (Emphasis: model’s own.) No such problems for Kelly Marie, one presumes. Aware that nobody gives a monkey’s about her other songs, Kelly is back in the studio for one final outing for the song Ray Dorset of Mungo Jerry wrote for Elvis Presley and which became Pye Records’ last ever number 1 hit. For reasons unknown we’re still using the same mix that’s slightly different to the one on the record, and the two twirling loons are still in place behind Kelly, this time in Elvis-style jumpsuits just to rub it in. Despite Kelly’s constant whinging that the media are only interested in Sheena Easton we’ll still get to see her next single Hot Love three times in 1981, which is more airings than some number ones get.

HOT CHOCOLATE – No Doubt About It

Hot ChocolateMore baffling behaviour from Travis as we find him sat behind a drum kit. “We’re gonna have a quickie quiz!” he announces. “Here’s a clue as to the start of the next record, it starts like this.” Cue five seconds of DLT knocking seven bells out of the drum kit, quickly fading into the start of No Doubt About It which quite blatantly doesn’t have a drum solo at the beginning, or indeed at any point. We shan’t dwell on that though, just as we shan’t dwell on where the applause is coming from when we can quite clearly see the audience standing around not applauding. This is a repeat of the first performance of the song from the beginning of May, complete with video feedback effects giving you a whole army of Errols at key moments. Despite the oft-repeated fact that Hot Chocolate had a hit every year between 1970 and 1984, this is all we’ll see of them in 1981 as their only hit of the year You’ll Never Be So Wrong only reached number 52, maybe because it was written for Kim Wilde.

BOOMTOWN RATS – Banana Republic

Boomtown RatsWhile DLT is elsewhere, probably still amusing himself on the drums, Tommy has found a young, apprehensive-looking lady called Debbie to put his arm around. He proceeds to tell her all about the story behind No Doubt About It, except he’s under the impression that it was Hot Chocolate themselves who were visited by little green men, when in fact none of the band had anything to do with writing the song. Vance noticeably fails to impart any information regarding the story behind Banana Republic, which is probably just as well. This seems a bit recent to be appearing on a review of the year, being still at number 11 this week, but it was the Rats’ biggest hit of the year and, as it turned out, their last ever top twenty hit. Be warned though that this is the video again, so everyone takes their shirt off for no adequately explained reason and Geldof almost has a nasty accident with a set of chest expanders. Do be careful, Bob.

STEVIE WONDER – Master Blaster (Jammin’)

Stevie Wonder“I hope 1981 is going well for you… what do you want?” Travis is back to interrupt Vance’s sincere good wishes to the viewing public, but he’s gained a pair of braces from somewhere and decided that it would be a great idea to come on doing an impression of Bobby Ball. “I’m worried about your trousers at the moment,” Tommy admits, causing DLT to snigger again. “I’m not worried about my trousers at all, I’m worried about that fact that we have Stevie Wonder and we’re talking when he should be singing!” Don’t worry yourself, Dave, he’s not actually here, it’s that video again and it goes on for a full minute before he even starts singing. After a bit of a lull around the turn of the decade, Wonder was back on form and had another three top ten hits to come in 1981, including another number 2. In contrast it’s fair to say that Bob Marley, the subject of this song, didn’t have such a good year, but we’ll come to that in May.

ABBA – The Winner Takes It All

ABBAOh dear, Travis has finally lost it. Holding a briefcase with “BBC TV 51” printed on it, he adopts some kind of vaguely American accent. “For 1981, Top of the Pops goes commercial. Do you have a friend who’s awfully dirty? Buy him an official BBC portable sink!” The joke might have worked better if we’d been able to see what was inside the briefcase when Travis flipped it open, but we’ll never know. Still, it’s not easy to pad these out to 45 minutes. On with DLT’s favourite group in the whole world, still at each other’s throats and antagonising each other in their song lyrics while pretending in interviews that nothing’s wrong and they’ve got no plans to split up. ABBA would release their final album The Visitors at the end of 1981 but with previous LP Super Trouper still in the middle of a nine-week run at number 1, here’s another chance to see that toe-curlingly awkward video for the album’s first single. Agnetha’s restraint in this video is remarkable; while everyone else is laughing uproariously at the one about the two nuns in the nudist colony, she stares quietly at her salad rather than flipping the table, giving everyone the finger and torching the place. Maybe she realises that, if you count this as the last TOTP of 1980 instead of the first of 1981, this is ABBA’s ninth appearance of the year without them ever being in the studio, putting them at the top of that particularly niche leaderboard.

THE PRETENDERS – Brass in Pocket

The Pretenders“If you can think back 365 days, you might even remember that this particular record by the Pretenders was at number 1!” Oh Tommy, it’s good but it’s not right. Of course Brass in Pocket was the first single to reach the top in 1980, but not until Pink Floyd relinquished the position in mid-January. Let’s not worry about little things like facts, though, as Chrissie and the boys are back for one last run through of the song before 1980 is finally consigned to history. Vance and Travis say goodnight, but not before a reminder of the impending Radio 1 reshuffle: DLT is handing over the reins of the Breakfast Show to Mike Read, whose evening show has already been taken over by Richard Skinner, while Tommy Vance… gets to carry on doing the Friday Rock Show as per usual. No personnel changes on TOTP over the coming year, apart from the return of a certain likeable Canadian later in the autumn, if BBC Four lasts that long.

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