The Undertones

“Not to lose now but to win” – Top of the Pops, 10 April 1980

Simon Bates“Thank you sir, and welcome to Top of the Pops!” Yep, less than a second into this week’s episode and Bates has done it again, thanking the continuity announcer which would have worked very well if the BBC Four announcer wasn’t so blatantly female. Maybe there were no female continuity announcers in 1980. Simes, a man who has always looked and sounded middle-aged even though he was only 33 here, introduces the top thirty countup to the strains of Liquid Gold’s Dance Yourself Dizzy – yes, again. After eighteen years in the chart the song has now climbed as high as number 2, but at least we’re spared the sight of the exhibitionist drummer in just his pants. The top 30 machine has been reset to yellow on black, which Bates has approved as being both sensible, and sensible. Please be warned, however, than Simes is sticking two fingers up to the establishment by not wearing a tie. Restrain yourselves, ladies.

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

THE UNDERTONES – My Perfect Cousin (#43)

The UndertonesAll the way from Norn Iron, The Undertones had first appeared on TOTP back in 1978 with Teenage Kicks, a song which apparently moved John Peel to tears when he first heard it and became his all-time favourite record, the opening line even being engraved on his gravestone following his death in 2004. This, on the other hand, is a rather tedious bit of nerd-bashing, Teenage Kicks with all the life-affirming joy sucked out of it. Feargal Sharkey vents his frustrations about his cousin Kevin who, it seems, is much, much cleverer than Feargal, has four degrees (unusual at such a young age) and has even learned to play music, anathema to Feargal and his mates. Quite how Sharkey can stand there and pretend to be punk while wearing that awful jumper is an issue which the song does not address. Still, the Human League, eh? Bunch of charlatans, that’s not proper music, they’ll never be as big as the Undertones, etc.

DAVID ESSEX – Silver Dream Machine (#19)

David EssexFrom the soundtrack of Silver Dream Racer, a film starring Essex as a motorbike racer, comes this song and a video starring Essex as a disembodied head which floats gormlessly into shot superimposed over footage of bikes racing around Silverstone. The footage, of course, comes from the film which also stars the unlikely combination of Beau Bridges and Harry H. Corbett. Essex’s chart success had been patchy in the previous few years with only one top ten hit to his name since his last no.1 Hold Me Close in 1975, but he could still knock out the occasional hit to remind everyone he was still around; in fact Simes reckons the single is going to be number one. He is wrong. Silver Dream Machine did make it into the top ten though, whereas Silver Dream Racer was a commercial and critical disaster and convinced the Rank Organisation, once the biggest film company in the UK, to stop making films for good.

DR HOOK – Sexy Eyes (#4)

Legs & CoSimes seems unprepared for the next link; we find him sitting cross-legged in a plastic chair, script visibly resting on his lap, unable to comprehend that Silver Dream Racer is the name of the film, not the song. Moving on, you’ll be distraught / delighted / massively unmoved (delete as appropriate) to learn that this is Dr Hook’s last outing on TOTP and would you believe it, they’re not even there! What to do? Never mind, because we’ve got “Sexy Eyes and a few sexy legs… and Co!” Careful now, Bates. Yes, enter Limbs & Co to illustrate the song in no particular way. It seems incredible that Flick didn’t seize her chance to dress the girls up as giant eyeballs on legs, or even as letter “I”s in a kind of nightmarish Sesame Street scenario. Instead, the ladies gyrate aimlessly in dresses even shorter than the ones they wore last week, and that’s eye-wateringly short. Farewell Dr Hook, we hardly knew ye.

SAXON – Wheels of Steel (#37)

Saxon“The first of two heavy metal bands on Top of the Pops,” announces Simes with little enthusiasm. Yes, the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (or “NWOBHM” – I’m not making this up, you know) was approaching its peak and this was the first TOTP appearance for one of the movement’s leading acts. Saxon had formed back in 1976 under the splendidly radio-unfriendly name “Son of a Bitch”, unexpectedly signed to the mainly disco label Carerre (also home to Dollar and Sheila & B. Devotion) and went on to score eighteen hit singles, although only five of those made the top 40. Here the band has adopted the time-honoured “drummer at the front” formation, with vocalist “Biff” Byford obscured from view in a cloud of smoke and bad lighting. As a unit they look like the archetypal heavy metal band, an image cemented by the fact that Harry Shearer joined the band on tour in 1983 while researching This Is Spinal Tap – Tap’s bassist Derek Smalls is, to all intents and purposes, Saxon bass player Steve Dawson.

SKY – Toccata (#46)

Sky“This is what you get when five top musicians take hold of Johann Sebastian Bach, call themselves Sky and rock it!” Oh, wait, did he mean “rock it” or “rocket”? Simes, you slippery eel. While the Undertones were busy having a sly dig at the Human League, the exact thing punk was supposed to have swept away has snuck in the back door. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s the prog rock revival. Featuring famed classical guitarist John Williams, bassist Herbie “Walk on the Wild Side” Flowers and drummer Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys among their number, Sky took Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 and rocked it up very slightly for this unlikely hit. Like the Shadows before them, the guitarists seem unable to contain their “How the hell did this happen?” grins as they pretend to play the piece sitting on what appear to be dining room chairs. This eventually went as high as number 5, while virtuosa violinist and failed skier Vanessa-Mae took her version into the top twenty fifteen years later.

JUDAS PRIEST – Living After Midnight (#12)

Judas Priest“That piece of music is 300 years old, the band is younger.” Not much, Simes. Time for the déja vu section now with the first of three repeat performances in a row, and while Spinal Tap’s Derek Smalls was factually based on Saxon’s bassist, it’s clear that his look owes a lot more to this lot. While the leather and studs approach became the defining image of NWOBHM, Rob Halford’s pudding bowl haircut left Twitter debating whether he looked more like Graham Chapman or Tim Brooke-Taylor. Oddly there are also two people at the front of the crowd in flat caps, as if celebrating the appointment of Brian Johnson as AC/DC’s new singer, which would be very impressive as it hadn’t happened yet. Anyway, such was the Priest’s accuracy this was the first of two consecutive number 12 hits for the band, and if we move on now we’ll have managed not to mention the court case.

SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES – Happy House (#17)

Siouxsie & The BansheesIntroduced by Simes surrounded by five young ladies, with whom he attempts and fails to have a pre-arranged spontaneous joke – he even tells one of them “Give us a smile” and sticks the microphone up to her face so we can hear it – it’s a third outing for this sole performance of Happy House. The Banshees appeared on the show eleven times in total, from their early punk days through their ’80s goth period right up to their early ’90s indie-dance years, Kiss Them For Me being their last appearance in 1991. Siouxsie split the band in 1996, partly in protest at the Sex Pistols’ reunion the same year. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves! This was the band’s only performance on the show this year, their next single Christine reached number 22 in the summer but fell victim to The Event.

SAD CAFE – My Oh My (#24)

Sad CaféHang on, the scaffolding’s back up! Ah, no, it’s another repeat. Still, it provides us with this week’s Half Man Half Biscuit reference, having been namechecked in their paean to Radio 2’s Charles Nove, Nove On The Sly. Bates thinks My Oh My is “beautiful”, which it clearly isn’t if you listen beyond the first minute when it erupts into a bluesy Rolling Stones “tribute”, the likes of which Primal Scream have been trading on for the last twenty-odd years. This was Sad Café’s last major hit although they did sneak into the top forty with I’m In Love Again at the start of 1981. My Oh My is still on its way up the chart though, which means in two weeks time we’ll have to fill this entry with lots of amusing observations about Paul Young looking like Chris Morris. Again.

BODYSNATCHERS – Let’s Do Rock Steady (#22)

Bodysnatchers“Here’s a bunch of ladies I’ve been playing on the wireless a lot!” Not through your own choice though, Simes. Anyway, this is the Bodysnatchers’ second and final performance on the show, another run through of their deceptively slight 2 Tone anthem. The writing was already on the wall for the band called “the female Madness” by absolutely no-one; they’ve stuck drummer Judy Parsons at the front but she’s already lacking the ability or inclination to carry on miming to the song, giving up halfway through with her head in her hands and deciding that conducting the rest of the band with her drumstick is a better option. After one further single the Bodysnatchers split, singer Rhoda Dakar going on to join The Special AKA while most of the others formed the Belle Stars, ditching the ska stylings and following Madness to Stiff Records for a more successful pop career. Coincidentally the Belle Stars’ first TOTP appearance in July 1982 was on an edition hosted by the one and only… Simon Bates!

BUGGLES – Clean, Clean (#45)

BugglesSurprisingly the next link wasn’t edited out of the 7.30 showing, despite clearly being unsuitable for a pre-watershed slot. Not in the way you’re thinking, madam, but because it shows Simes “auditioning for a late night horror movie on BBC2” as he has it. This involves him being lit from below, making him look even more terrifying than he usually does for no obvious reason. He’s linking us into the third hit for the Buggles, a source of total amazement for those who weren’t even aware that they’d had a second hit. Like Video Killed The Radio Star, Clean, Clean had previously been released by Bruce Woolley, a former member of the Buggles who co-wrote the songs but left the band before they secured a recording contract. This version was the Buggles’ final top forty hit and it’s situation normal for their performance: Trevor Horn still looks like he’s just come from a wedding and Geoff Downes is still wearing washing-up gloves. After Clean, Clean snuck into the top forty and next single Elstree topped out at number 55, Horn and Downes were assimilated into prog rock behemoths Yes, before Horn escaped to become a production god and form ZTT Records.

DETROIT SPINNERS – Working My Way Back To You / Forgive Me Girl (#1)

Detroit SpinnersIntroduced by Simes being wrong again, with some spiel about remembering “the first time that this song came out, by the Four Tops.” Oh dear, Simes, it’s good but it’s not right. Of course it was the Four Seasons who originally recorded Working My Way Back To You, but hey, the Four Seasons, the Four Tops, the Four Bucketeers, they’re all the same, aren’t they? This is the same clip from Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert as shown two weeks ago, except they’ve taken my advice and cut out the sign with the show’s name on it at the start of the clip. Simes reckons next week there’ll be a new number one, “tune in and see!” Alas, it’s not that simple, as you’ll find out. We play out with My World by Secret Affair, who it turns out are still together and still touring. Jimmy Savile or Steve Wright presenting next week, depending on who you find less offensive.

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One comment on ““Not to lose now but to win” – Top of the Pops, 10 April 1980

  1. the bodysnatchers drummer was not judy parsons but her predecessor (who may well have got the boot as a result of this taken-less-than-seriously performance!)

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