Piranhas

“Moving with the rhythm, sweating with the heat” – Top of the Pops, 7 August 1980

Peter Powell & Elton John“Hello, we’re back!” Isn’t linear time a strange and intangible thing? In terms of BBC Four reruns of TOTP, it’s only been two weeks since the end of May and we’re used to losing a week every now and then because of The Sky at Night or some other unrelated nonsense. In the TOTP timeline though, we’ve lost two months to The Event and now everything has changed. Well, not quite everything; the Radio 1 DJs are still in charge, but now with the help / hindrance / pointless vacuum of a celebrity guest host. Filling those shoes tonight is Elton John, who at least has a bit of previous in this field having hosted an edition of TOTP in his own right just prior to Christmas 1977. For reasons known only to himself, Elton seems to be affecting some kind of vague West Country accent as Peter Powell shocks the nation by not going into the top thirty countup, but instead running through a list of acts coming up on the show. Thankfully the production crew has taken our retrospective advice since the pilot episode and tightened up this section, with a still picture and video clip crammed into a couple of seconds for each act, while that old favourite Whole Lotta Love chimes out in the background.


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

THE PIRANHAS – Tom Hark (#26)

Piranhas Without pausing to consider how odd it is that this revamp reinstates the old theme tune to the top of the show for the first time since the summer of ’77, we’re straight into the music. Proving that new executive producer Michael Hurll means business and that there’ll be no more light entertainment nonsense that was so prevalent under Robin Nash’s reign, we kick off with a novelty ska-punk cover of a South African kwela tune that was first a hit in 1958. With new lyrics added by lead singer “Boring” Bob Grover, Tom Hark was the Piranhas’ chart début and their only top ten hit, thanks in no small part to the efforts of drummer Dick Slexia who is, unless you know otherwise, the only drummer to have appeared on TOTP stripped to the waist, greased up and playing the drums in a standing position using fish instead of drumsticks. Even the drummer from Liquid Gold wasn’t this extreme. The idea of explaining what just happened via electronic captions hasn’t moved on much from the pilot episode a month ago, so a simple 10 PRINT “No. 26 THE PIRANHAS” : GO TO 10 loop ends the performance.

DIANA ROSS – Upside Down (#2)

Diana Ross“I tried to kill off disco, but it’s reared its ugly head again,” admits Elton in reference to his 1979 album Victim of Love which we ripped to shreds two weeks ago. Indeed, far from being dead, disco had thrived during The Event and two of its main practitioners had begun their quest to polish up all pop music with their particular disco sheen. Chic’s Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards wrote and produced Miss Ross’s 1980 album Diana but Motown baulked at the result and had it remixed to make it a bit less disco. This didn’t go unnoticed by Elton John who scandalously goes on to suggest that the original mixes were probably better. Nevertheless, it became Diana’s biggest selling album and this lead single gave her her biggest UK hit for nine years. Shame then that they didn’t bother to make a proper video, instead promoting it with this cack-handed montage of stills and brief video clips which zoom in and out and occasionally turn round and round, yet at no point does anything actually turn upside down. Poor show.

ROXY MUSIC – Oh Yeah (On The Radio) (#9)

Roxy MusicAt last we’ve found a valid reason to have two presenters; one, Sir Elton in this case, can do a rant about Diana Ross not appreciating the talents of Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers and then go on to introduce Roxy Music’s Oh Yeah, after which Pete can undermine him by completing the song title (On The Radio) as if Elton’s failure to read out the bit in brackets that nobody ever uses anyway was some kind of heinous error. Anyway, Roxy’s latest album Flesh + Blood had been released just prior to The Event and had spent the entire duration in the top five, so it was inevitable that this second single from the set would give them another top ten hit. Roxy are very much in smart casual mode tonight, although extra points must be awarded for Andy Mackay’s mullet which looks like it’s been flown in specially from 1985. “Good to see Bryan Ferry looking better,” observes Powell which suggests that he’s either been ill recently or Pete just didn’t like Bryan’s leather trousers last time he was on.

TOM BROWNE – Funkin’ For Jamaica (NY) (#16)

SUEAnother club hit that had crossed over to the mainstream while The Event starved other musical genres of publicity, Funkin’ For Jamaica (NY) is the second song in succession with a parenthetical addition that nobody ever uses. The song is an homage to Jamaica, a town in the Queens district of New York where trumpeter Browne grew up – so a sort of Tom Browne’s Schooldays then. Unfortunately Tom isn’t available, or couldn’t be arsed turning up to pretend to play the trumpet for three minutes, so – you’ve guessed it – enter Limbs & Co! Yes, while the new order of TOTP has dispensed with the services of the orchestra and the Maggie Stredder Singers, the services of Flick Colby and her girls were still very much required. Distressingly, it seems that the extra money spent on the electronic caption generator has been taken straight from the dancers’ costume budget, meaning that the girls are required to appear on TV in bra, knickers, girdle, stockings and suspenders. The end result is not particularly titillating – “Cold Gossip,” as one Tweeter put it – but at least the caption machine is put to good use, superimposing each dancer’s name over their brief solo routine. Whether this is reward or punishment for each dancer is not clear. To add to the confusion, the end caption reads “No. 16 TOM BROWNE’S FUNKING FOR JAMAICA” – is he really? That’s very interesting, but what’s the song called? Never mind, at least his next single Thighs High (Grip Your Hips And Move) didn’t make the top forty, Lord knows what kind of routine Limbs & Co would have done to that.

HOT CHOCOLATE – Are You Getting Enough Of What Makes You Happy (#21)

Hot ChocolateBefore the next song, part one of the top thirty countup is crowbarred in, with captions as before but now including helpful icons to indicate in which direction each song is moving. Awkwardly the captions still change at the same pace as before, meaning Pete has all sorts of trouble reading out each record’s details in its allotted three seconds. We break off at number 21 for some Hot Chocolate with a song which demonstrates why their chart positions over the years were so erratic. For every No Doubt About It or You Sexy Thing there was always a Mindless Boogie, a Going Through The Motions or this. “Are you getting enough happiness?” enquires Errol, following up his query with the explanatory “Are you getting enough of what makes you happy?” Well I was until you started singing this rubbish. All the usual ingredients are there – the funky keyboard line, the impossibly tight trousers – but on this occasion they don’t come together to form anything particularly nourishing. The pulsating “No. 21 HOT CHOCOLATE” at the end of the performance feels vaguely suggestive though, so that’s something.

KELLY MARIE – Feels Like I’m In Love (#29)

Kelly MarieSo, on with the “middle ten” countup and then back to number 29 for the former Jacqueline McKinnon who, like Lena Zavaroni from the last pre-Event show, had won Opportunity Knocks at a young age in the early ’70s. Although she had scored hits in Europe, Australia and South Africa, Kelly hadn’t repeated this success at home, which turned out to be beneficial as it meant she could launch an assault on the UK chart with this single without any of the baggage of being a “former child star”. Although it went on to become an enormous synthdrum-driven monster hit, Feels Like I’m In Love was written by folk-rocker Ray Dorset, hirsute singer with ’70s chart toppers Mungo Jerry. While they did record the song, it was actually written in the hope that Elvis Presley would record it, although Elvis inconsiderately died before he could do so. Shame really, because if he had recorded it it might have sounded like this.

THE GAP BAND – Oops Upside Your Head (#7)

The Gap BandAnother outbreak of disco here as Elton – now wearing a green leather overcoat for some reason – introduces “the biggest dance record at the moment.” Indeed Oops Upside Your Head had become something of a phenomenon in the clubs, with its accompanying dance requiring revellers to sit on the floor and pretend to be rowing a boat. This distracted from some of the song’s more suggestive lyrics such as “Jack and Jill went up the hill to have a little fun / Stoopid Jill forgot her pill and now they have a son” – and to think they wouldn’t play the last verse of Too Much Too Young a few months back. The video is standard performance fare but of remarkably low technical quality, having seemingly been played out from a domestic video cassette. Despite this, Oops Upside Your Head was a hit again in remixed form in 1987 and also formed the basis of hits for Snap (Ooops Up), Snoop Dogg (Snoop’s Upside Ya Head) and most recently Mark Ronson, whose oblique tribute to the song in his chart dominating Uptown Funk was recently deemed to be enough to entitle the Gap Band to a share of the writing credits.

THE GIBSON BROTHERS – Mariana (#14)

Gibson BrothersMore disco? Yep, more disco as the Gibson Brothers (Mel, William and Debbie) are back from Cuba and they’ve brought some marijuana with them. Ah… no, hang on, they’ve brought a girl called Mariana with them. Sorry about that. This is the first real glimpse of TOTP gaining its true ’80s party atmosphere, with the band performing in the middle of a crowd that actually seems to be having a good time; some of them are even dancing – which seems incredible given the complete indifference of the last audience before the strike, some of whom had to be propped up – and Michael Hurll has hit upon his secret weapon: balloons. Thousands of them. In all colours. On the stage, in the air, in the hands of dancers, balloons. They liven up the performance immeasurably, getting in the way of the drummer and distracting us from the fact that singer Mel Chris has a voice like a goose farting in the fog. This was the Brothers’ last TOTP appearance so it’s a final outing for the entertaining fact that this and their other hits were produced by Daniel Vangarde, father of Thomas Bangalter from Daft Punk. There you go.

SHEENA EASTON – 9 To 5 (#5)

Sheena Easton“This is Top of the Pops, and what was happening while we were away?” You tell us, Pete. We recap the last two months’ number ones in a quick montage – including a clip of Limbs & Co “dancing” to Use It Up And Wear It Out, the only officially broadcast clip from July’s pilot edition until the beginning of 2015 – and then the party balloon is well and truly popped with a behind the scenes clip – apparently from the “Top of the Pops Office” – of two unnamed characters poring over the chart and lamenting that Sheena Easton’s Modern Girl has gone down from 60 to 62. That clip comes from The Big Time, an Esther Rantzen-endorsed series which took ordinary people, gave them the chance to become famous, and then pointed and laughed as the whole thing fell to bits. Despite her relative failure in the programme, the actual airing of the show in July gave Sheena the publicity she needed and now her second single was in the top ten, with the first one on its way back up the chart to join it. Within a few years she would be an international superstar, romantically linked with Prince and roundly mocked for returning to Glasgow with a weird transatlantic accent, but for now it’s just some antiquated light entertainment moves and a jade onesie.

BAD MANNERS – Lip Up Fatty (#15)

Bad MannersWith Madness out of the charts over the summer as they realise they have to knuckle down and produce a second album, it’s left to Bad Manners to carry the torch for gloriously silly ska-pop, which is fair enough as no doubt your mum got the two confused anyway. Having stumbled into the top thirty with the nonsensical Ne-Ne Na-Na Na-Na Nu-Nu in April, their second hit was barely more intelligible but took them into the top twenty. The band’s shtick is much the same as last time: the huge, bald, sweaty man jogs on the spot while the rest of the band do whatever they like, safe in the knowledge that everyone’s looking at Buster Bloodvessel and not them. They would come up with numerous variations on the theme in order to keep the hits flowing for another two years, but for now it’s enough for Buster just to pull silly faces and do semi-vigorous exercise in a white boiler suit.

ABBA – The Winner Takes It All (#1)

ABBA“So, good manners would be to let you know what’s happening with the brand new top ten.” I see what you did there, Pete. The format for the top ten countup is not yet finalised; this week it involves the usual slide followed by a video clip for each song, which takes far too long, and who is this “Katie Bush” of whom Peter Powell speaks? We eventually get to number 1 and it’s ABBA – complete with trademark reversed “B” on the caption – tugging at your heartstrings with lots of still photos of the group in their pomp cutting suddenly to a lachrymose and heavily eyeshadowed Agnetha, the unlucky winner of the in-group “Who can get their ex-wife to sing the bleakest lyrics?” contest. “I don’t wanna talk about things we’ve gone through,” she insists, before listing everything she and Björn have gone through in eye-watering detail. After a quick gratuitous plug for Elton’s new single Sartorial Eloquence, which limped to number 44 at the end of the month, we play out with George Benson’s Give Me The Night which Elton professes not to like. Accordingly he shuffles off to leave us with the audience dancing under the end credits – yes, even the psychedelic kaleidoscope shots of the lighting rig have been done away with in this exciting new world. Join us again next week as we realise that this whole guest presenter thing is actually a complete disaster.

3 comments on ““Moving with the rhythm, sweating with the heat” – Top of the Pops, 7 August 1980

  1. It’s boiler/ jump crazy tonight. We have Sheena in a rather fetching blue, big Dougie ‘Buster Bloodvessel’ Trendle goes for a bog standard white, while Kelly Marie tries desperately to disguise her Buster Blood vessels like proportions in a billowing claret affair.

    Meanwhile The Gap Band do a great job of not actually performing the track that’s being played over them in their ‘video’ whilst a air hostess loon finishes the show by having a fit in the front of the crowd.

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