Mystic Merlin

“Memories are uncertain friends” – Top of the Pops, 29 May 1980

Kid Jensen“Hello there and welcome to Top of the Pops!” Hello there to you too, Kid. This edition was always going to be the end of an era, as it was the likeable Canadian’s last show before leaving the BBC and moving to Atlanta to join CNN, which might explain why he’s dressed as a newsreader tonight in sensible suit and tie. That’s the least of our worries at the moment though, as this is the last TOTP as we know it before The Event (a Musicians’ Union strike over the BBC’s plans to save money by disbanding five of its orchestras – yes, the BBC had so many orchestras that it could ditch five of them and still get by) took the show off air for two months. When it returned in August the show had been totally revamped, with Michael Hurll taking over as producer and the TOTP Orchestra and the Maggie Stredder Singers being given their marching orders. The top thirty countup at the start of the show was also jettisoned, meaning that this week’s countup, soundtracked by Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway’s Back Together Again, was the last gasp of a tradition stretching right back to the 1960s.


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

LIQUID GOLD – Substitute (#52)

Liquid GoldOh, look out, they’re back again. Despite their previous hit Dance Yourself Dizzy having “one hit wonder” written all the way through it like a stick of rock, it was actually the second of six top sixty hits for Liquid Gold between 1978 and 1982. This was the third, not a cover of The Who’s Substitute or even Clout’s Substitute but, ironically, a pale imitation of Dance Yourself Dizzy with all the catchy hooks carefully removed. The drummer is still a shameless attention seeker though, coming out from behind the kit in his white one-piece jumpsuit (tastefully open to the navel) to join the rest of the band up front, drumsticks flailing aimlessly in the breeze. But if you’re up here, who’s playing drums? Liquid Gold still have a few TOTP appearances up their collective sleeve after this one, including one which could have been the UK’s 1981 Eurovision entry had not common sense – and Bucks Fizz – prevailed.

HOT CHOCOLATE – No Doubt About It (#2)

Hot ChocolateAlthough it’s been in the charts for a month already, this is the first time No Doubt About It has graced the 7.30 BBC Four showing, thanks to a combination of aggressive editing and attempts to placate the Daily Mail. It’s a repeat of the performance from two weeks back, with the band spookily appearing on stage out of nowhere. An impressive effect for the time, one supposes, although it might have been better without the obvious appearance of someone behind the empty stage operating the smoke machine. Altogether Hot Chocolate scored 14 top ten hits in their career (although, to be fair, three of those were You Sexy Thing in 1975, 1987 and 1997); No Doubt About It was their biggest hit of the ’80s but couldn’t quite make that final push to the summit, spending three weeks at number 2. Would another TOTP showing in two weeks time – denied to us by The Event – have spurred it on to number 1? Probably not, but we’ll never know for sure.

ELTON JOHN – Little Jeannie (#44)

Elton JohnNo amount of plugging on TOTP would have helped this to number 1 though. Dame Elton was going through a bit of a rough patch; it was a full year since his last visit to the singles chart, the number 42 hit Are You Ready For Love? which remained almost completely forgotten until it unexpectedly shot to number 1 in 2003. Things were even worse in the album chart where Elton’s 1979 album Victim of Love, a rum affair including an eight-minute disco version of Johnny B. Goode, had completely missed the top forty, ending a run of eleven consecutive top ten LPs. Back to the drawing board then for this ballad which harked back to classics like Daniel and Song For Guy without ever coming close to either. The only real winner here is the person in charge of the smoke machine who must be on double time – either that or Elton had some of his exotic smoking equipment stashed under his Bontempi. Little Jeannie wandered briefly into the top forty but it would still be another two years before Reg returned to the top ten.

CROWN HEIGHTS AFFAIR – You Gave Me Love (#17)

Legs & Co“Right, it’s party time on Top of the Pops…” Well, thank flip for that… oh, hang on… “…as Legs & Co move to the music of Crown Heights Affair!” Oh. It may be the Kid’s last show but he’s not taking any chances, referring to Limbs & Co’s actions as “moving to the music” rather than “dancing” for fear of becoming embroiled in a dispute involving the Trade Descriptions Act. You Gave Me Love was on a particularly casual stroll up the chart, having already taken five weeks to get this far, but would eventually climb to number 10 while TOTP was off air. There is a theory which states that The Event actually helped disco hits like this and Lipps Inc’s Funkytown achieve higher chart placings over the summer, as they were still gaining sales through exposure in the clubs while less dance-friendly records were denied publicity on prime time BBC1. It also removed the necessity for potential buyers to sit through Limbs & Co jumping around in unnecessarily short nighties when the band in question couldn’t make the studio or – in the case of Lipps Inc – didn’t actually exist.

DON McLEAN – Crying (#13)

Don McLeanSafe to say it’s no longer party time on TOTP. Don McLean (not to be confused with 1970s Crackerjack host Don Maclean, not that you ever would) had reached number 2 in 1972 with the deathless American Pie and followed it up with the number 1 hit Vincent but hadn’t scored any significant hits since then. This version of the Roy Orbison classic was first released on McLean’s 1978 album Chain Lightning but it wasn’t until 1980 that the single took off. The simple video of McLean sitting by the fire singing the song and playing acoustic guitar is all very well until the face of his former love appears in the fire, all Tales of the Unexpected-like, when everything becomes a bit sinister. Although it’s hard to argue that McLean’s version is in the same league as Orbison’s, the fact remains that the Big O only ever got as high as number 25 with the song in his own right, while McLean’s recording was on its way to number 1. Even a posthumously released duet between Orbison and k.d. lang only reached number 13. Where’s the justice?

THIN LIZZY – Chinatown (#37)

Thin LizzyWe didn’t get to see Phil Lynott’s first solo hit on BBC Four because of a certain Mr Fix-It and we won’t get to see his second because of The Event, so you could be forgiven for thinking that Lynott had no intention of going solo and Thin Lizzy was just carrying on as normal. Chinatown is typical vaguely threatening Lizzy material; “You don’t stand a chance if you go down in Chinatown,” apparently, although it’s never made clear why, evoking memories of the oft-repeated and similarly imprecise line from Jailbreak, “Tonight there’s gonna be a jailbreak somewhere in this town.” – I’m no crime expert, but may I humbly suggest you start at the jail and work your way out from there? The Chinatown album saw the introduction of guitarist Snowy White to Lizzy’s ever-changing line-up; White was previously a session musician best known for adding a guitar solo to Pink Floyd’s Pigs on the Wing in order to join parts 1 and 2 of the song to make it fit nicely on the 8-track version of Animals. White left Lizzy in 1982 and scored his own solo hit with Bird of Paradise in 1984.

ROXY MUSIC – Over You (#6)

Roxy MusicIt’s lucky for the Kid that he’s already secured a job with CNN, because he’s about to stretch your credulity to the limit with his next two sentences. “Thin Lizzy, on the way to… I would have thought the top five there with Chinatown.” Really, Kid? Given that Whiskey in the Jar, The Boys Are Back in Town and Waiting for an Alibi all fell short of the top five? But his next statement takes even more believing. “One of the most requested records on the radio is definitely this one these days, the latest from Roxy Music.” Well, I know people are easily pleased, but who’s requesting it? Certainly not anyone who remembers Roxy from their heyday in the first half of the ’70s. Over You is a limp, fake leather trousered, entirely chorus-free plodder which, incredibly, was considered good enough to be the first single – the first single, no less – from the band’s latest album Flesh + Blood. Mind you, the album became their first chart topper since 1973 and spent 60 weeks on the chart, so their move from art rock to bland pop obviously had some benefits.

ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK – Messages (#26)

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the DarkWhile the Human League took a year or so to get over their TOTP début and reconfigure themselves into the electronic Abba, OMD – who débuted on the same show, lest we forget – hit the ground running and managed to stay true to their artistic leanings while carrying on a pop career in a way that the original all-male Human League never did. This is OMD’s second appearance on the show and they’re already growing in confidence, propping up their equipment with die-cut panels echoing the design of their album sleeve while Andy McCluskey plays a colour co-ordinated bass guitar. He still manages to look like Beaker from the Muppet Show, but there’s not much they can do about that. Messages climbed as high as number 13, paving the way for their first top ten hit Enola Gay after The Event.

JERMAINE JACKSON – Let’s Get Serious (#21)

Jermaine Jackson“The runaway Jackson,” as Kid Jensen charmingly refers to him, Jermaine was one of the Jackson Five until they got a bit arsey with Motown in the mid-’70s and decided to change labels. Being married to the daughter of Motown boss Berry Gordy, Jermaine wisely stayed behind and was replaced by little brother Randy in the new, non-numerically specific Jacksons. Although he had scored a solo hit in the US with Daddy’s Home, better known in the UK as a Cliff Richard hit, Let’s Get Serious was Jermaine’s first solo chart entry in the UK. He certainly looks serious enough, in his non-matching three piece suit, flanked by two dancers in rainbow dresses on a set which seems to almost spell out “Top of the Pops” in an abstract fashion (in fact the clip comes from the Dutch equivalent show Top Pop). While Let’s Get Serious would eventually reach number 8, Jermaine’s only other hit of any note over here was Do What You Do five years later, giving him a level of minor stardom which made him a perfect fit for a role in Celebrity Big Brother in 2007.

STIFF LITTLE FINGERS – Nobody’s Hero (#36)

Stiff Little FingersIt’s not easy being a TOTP presenter, of course, and there are times when you just have to laugh. Unfortunately for The Kid, one of these times occurs midway through his introduction to Stiff Little Fingers with no obvious indication of what’s set him off. It could be the generic Smashie-and-Niceyness of the link (“Jermaine Jackson and Let’s Get Serious, and now getting serious are Stiff Little Fingers…”), it could be the fact that in the background bassist Ali McMordie is desperately running to get on stage before the song starts, or it could just be that Kid knows that when Jake Burns starts singing it’s going to be in a comical rasp that sounds uncannily like (Sir) Lenny Henry’s Tiswas character Algernon Razzmatazz. Stiff Little Fingers had already peaked chartwise with previous single At The Edge; Nobody’s Hero failed to climb any higher than number 36 and, surprisingly, has yet to be picked up by any enterprising advertising agency for use in an ad for throat lozenges.

MYSTIC MERLIN – Just Can’t Give You Up (#23)

Mystic MerlinThere’s still a barely suppressed giggle in Kid’s voice as he introduces Mystic Merlin, a band so unsure of their musical talents that they have to do a magic act at the same time. The result is the worst kind of disco cabaret, involving a smoking saxophone and a singer who somehow seduces a lady onto a conveniently placed bed, only to spend the next few minutes making her levitate, in a way which is not a euphemism for anything vaguely sexual. What a romantic. Just Can’t Give You Up eventually reached number 20 but was Mystic Merlin’s only UK hit, although the band released three albums and a later line-up included vocalist Freddie Jackson who went on to have numerous solo successes including the 1986 top twenty hit Rock Me Tonight (For Old Times’ Sake). As far as is known, however, Jackson never sawed a woman in half.

LENA ZAVARONI – Jump Down Jimmy

Lena ZavaroniAnd so we reach the end of an era, the last desperate gasps of the TOTP Orchestra backing former child star and Opportunity Knocks winner Lena Zavaroni on a song which everyone involved must have known had absolutely no chance of going anywhere near the chart. It seems churlish to be rude about Lena, who became hugely famous at a very young age and then lost it all soon afterwards, suffered from anorexia and depression for much of her life and died in 1999 at the age of just 35. However, in the interests of fairness and context, it cannot be denied that Jump Down Jimmy is utter horseshit. This is quite possibly the worst song that ever appeared on TOTP in the whole of the 1980s, and given that Ken Dodd is on the show in December 1981, that’s saying something. It’s an horrific song, full of references to “the bayou” and Lena’s “momma and poppa”, phrases no other 16 year old from Renfrewshire has ever uttered. The audience is suitably unmoved, some of them even turning their backs on the stage in disgust, while one young man glares at Lena with his arms folded as if attending the show at gunpoint. With acts like this being given airtime, it’s worrying to think what TOTP might have become if The Event hadn’t intervened.

THE MASH – Theme from M*A*S*H (#1)

Legs & CoAnd so, what better way to end the last edition of this era of TOTP than with the total anti-climax of a repeat of Limbs & Co swaying aimlessly to a decade-old song about suicide? Yes, The Mash, a band that never existed outside of the minds of some record company executives, have made it to number 1. You won’t be surprised to learn that this was their only hit, unless you’re in charge of the Official Charts Database, in which case you’ll have confused them with dubious mid-90s dance act Mash! who reached number 37 with a track loosely based on Dusty Springfield’s You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me. This ’70s/’80s Mash spent three weeks at number 1, so you can thank The Event for sparing you two of those, although on the original broadcast the Limbs & Co routine was intercut with clips from the film, which BBC Four has deemed too expensive to show again. So it’s farewell to ’70s style TOTP and farewell to Kid Jensen, who signs off with just the briefest of mentions for his final Radio 1 show the next day, but don’t worry because – SPOILER ALERT – the CNN job doesn’t work out and he’ll be back on Radio 1 and TOTP in just over a year’s time. TOTP will also be back on BBC Four in a couple of weeks, as The Event doesn’t quite coincide with the annual break for the Proms, so before you know where you are it’ll be August and everything will be different. Until then, remain indoors.

One comment on ““Memories are uncertain friends” – Top of the Pops, 29 May 1980

  1. Was worried for a moment that “the event” was going to be two months of Savile-fronted programmes or something.

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