New Music

“Such a digital lifetime” – Top of the Pops, 17 January 1980

Simon Bates“Hello and welcome to Top Of The Pops.” Phew, rock ‘n’ roll, right kids? This week we’re in the large, manly hands of housewives’ favourite Simon Bates, author of Fifty Shades of Beige and director of the award-losing independent film Three Colours: Brown. This is his second attempt at hosting TOTP, having roundly ballsed up his first attempt by announcing Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight as “The Rapper” amongst other things, but he’s back for another go at the helm of this epic 45-minute show and fires us up with the appropriately insipid Spirits Having Flown, the Bee Gees’ final hit from the dregs of their disco era (they wouldn’t return to the top forty until You Win Again topped the chart in 1987). In the top 30 countup department, someone has either read the manual or pressed a wrong button as the chart this week is startlingly garish, with dark text on a bright yellow background instead of the other way around as usual. This plays all sorts of havoc with the recording and causes a wobbling effect on the boxes around the acts’ photos which would have taken weeks to create deliberately. They’re still using that photo of Pink Floyd though.


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

NEW MUSIK – Living By Numbers (#52)

New MusikOut of the top thirty countdown into a song called Living By Numbers, this show isn’t just thrown together you know. But hang on, we can’t start yet, Keith Harris and Bob Carolgees have turned up to paint the studio! Oh, wait… Nope, it’s actually New Musik in some kind of futuristic all-white clobber. This wasn’t their first appearance on the show – they were on last October with their debut Straight Lines – but the band’s new (vaguely) futuristic look, their sound and the song’s subject matter make it the perfect song for the first month of the new decade and it would soon become their biggest hit. If only there was some way of finding out whether or not they wanted your name. Not sure what the bassist is doing with his hand in his pocket (probably best not to ask) but singer Keith Harris Tony Mansfield would go on to produce some of the decade’s biggest hits including a-ha’s Take On Me… but not the version you remember.

BILLY PRESTON & SYREETA – With You I’m Born Again (#2)

Billy Preston & SyreetaActually, having just had a go at them, it occurs that Bob Carolgees does appear on the show sometime in May, albeit on a DLT-fronted episode which we won’t see, and in 1982 Keith Harris & Orville scored a bigger hit single than New Musik ever would, so I suppose that’s me told. Anyway, the Beatles’ former keyboard player and Stevie Wonder’s ex-wife are up to number 2 this week with a repeat showing of what Simes thinks is “a beautiful song”, which is as damning a critique as anything I could come up with. This was their last appearance on the show although they did release a follow-up single It Will Come In Time in March; despite giving them as much time as we could, it only made number 47. Let’s be charitable to Bates and assume that his comment “Billy Preston and Syreeta, and that’s the way God planned it” is a clever reference to Preston’s biggest solo hit and not just Simes messing up his song titles again.

SAD CAFÉ – Strange Little Girl (#53)

Sad CaféStrange Little Girl (no, not that one) was Sad Café’s second hit after the mighty Every Day Hurts reached number 3 last year, but this is an entirely different kettle of jelly babies. Singer Paul Young (no, not that one) has had a haircut, making him look very new wave and a lot less like Chris Morris, which can’t be bad, although the guitarist still has a slightly unhinged Brian May look about him. The track is altogether meatier than their first hit but the unsettling ice cream van intro and “Little girl who lives down the lane” refrain makes the whole thing sound a bit like a Scarfolk nursery rhyme. Being just a bit too weird for those who had discovered the band through Every Day Hurts, Strange Little Girl only reached number 32, but the band still had another top twenty hit in them and will be back on TOTP in a couple of months’ time. Thoughtfully, Bates pre-empts the confusion with The Stranglers’ Strange Little Girl from two and a half years in the future and announces the song simply as “Strange Girl”. Well played, Simes, well played.

SISTER SLEDGE – Got To Love Somebody (#47)

Sister SledgeWhat’s often forgotten about TV schedules before about the mid-1990s is that not everything ran in multiples of 30 minutes as it does these days. For example, when this edition was first broadcast there was an unusually large gap to fill between a 25-minute edition of Tomorrow’s World and a 25-minute edition of Wildlife On One, so Top Of The Pops was simply extended from its usual 35-ish minute slot to an eye-watering 45 minutes. In order to fill this unexpected ten minutes all sorts of filler had to be parachuted in, including this, apparently filmed some months earlier on the show’s much brighter and less futuristic 1979 set. Despite the continued input of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, Got To Love Somebody has none of the flair or, indeed, chic of We Are Family or Lost In Music and struggled to number 34; the sisters wouldn’t return to the top forty until 1984 when the record label gave in and released Thinking Of You as a belated fourth single from 1979’s We Are Family album. Oh, and one of the sisters is missing, but presumably we’re not supposed to notice that.

MADNESS – My Girl (#4)

Madness“The new records are really starting to make it,” observes Simes without a hint of pleasure. “At number 4, here’s Madness, one step further, and it’s their new one which is gonna be enormous.” Well, it got as high as number 3, if you consider that enormous; certainly it was the Nutty Boys’ biggest hit to date and a peak they wouldn’t better (only Baggy Trousers would match it) until House Of Fun reached number 1 in 1982. Presumably the “one step further” comment is another arch reference to a previous hit, well done Simes, etc. This is a repeat of the show’s first performance of the year, enormous pink “1980” sign and all, so Suggs still tries and fails to look sincere, Lee still contrives to fall off the stage with emotion and Chas still cheekily shares a keyboard with Mike. It’s also the third week in a row the song has graced TOTP, having been played behind the top thirty last week.

POSITIVE FORCE – We Got The Funk (#32)

Positive Force“Now, hidden behind me are two young ladies…” Let me stop you there, Simes, lest Operation Yewtree should jump to conclusions. In fact Positive Force consisted of six male musicians as well as singers Brenda Reynolds and Vickie Drayton, but for reasons unknown the two ladies are the only ones who have turned up. Pitching themselves somewhere between Althea & Donna and Mel & Kim’s aunties, the girls whoop, flail and improvise their way through a distinctly limp disco track consisting mainly of the phrase “We got the funk” repeated ad nauseum and a (seemingly exhaustive) list of people who, it seems, “got the funk”. These lucky funk possessors are identified only by Christian name, meaning that their identity remains hidden from the general public, lest we become jealous and try to appropriate the funk for ourselves. It’s all astonishingly grim, but don’t worry, they won’t be on again.

DEXYS MIDNIGHT RUNNERS – Dance Stance (#60)

Dexys Midnight Runners“Come with me just a bit and I will introduce you to some people from Birmingham.” Well, there’s an offer you can’t refuse. But hang on, because for once Bates has stumbled across something important: the debut appearance of Mark 1 Dexys Midnight Runners, in all their donkey jacketed and woolly hatted docker chic finery. Three months before Geno topped the chart – and a full two and a half years before a different line-up of the band scored a worldwide raggle-taggle hit while looking like they’d slept in a hedge – here they are performing their first single. Despite their introduction as “some people from Birmingham”, Dance Stance is about Kevin Rowland’s Irish heritage and namechecks writers such as Brendan Behan and Oscar Wilde. There’s a definite overstaffing problem – two saxophonists, really? – and at one point Rowland is forced to swim to safety, demonstrating an impressive front crawl technique.

DR HOOK – Better Love Next Time (#14)

Dr HookThere’s also a top comedy moment at the end of Dexys’ performance as the camera pans across to Bates for the next link, only to find him lounging against the gantry railings, script in hand, delivering a link which quite obviously should have been done out of vision. Somebody press the button! One quick electronic wipe later and we’re back with Dr Hook. It’s the same performance as two weeks ago, with the optically challenged Ray Sawyer shaking two sets of maracas like some kind of over-achieving Bez, while the backing band looks like a collection of Radio 1 DJ impersonators – that’s definitely Noel Edmonds on bass and over to his left I’m sure it must be Steve Wright on guitar. This is on its way up to number 8 to give the good doctor his second of three consecutive top ten hits, after which he never again ventured past number forty.

AMII STEWART – Paradise Bird (#58)

Amii StewartBack in the studio, Simon’s enormous comedy glasses have steamed up. “Now, there is a lady who lives just around the corner from me,” he announces to no relevance, “and when she goes to the supermarket she doesn’t look like this!” Well, you wouldn’t in this country, not in January anyway. Getting Simes all hot under the tweed collar is Amii Stewart in a state of undress that must have had Limbs & Co spitting feathers. Amii had scored top ten hits in 1979 with disco versions of Knock On Wood and Light My Fire and indeed this single was a double A-side with a disco-ish cover of The Box Tops’ 1967 hit The Letter. Sadly we don’t get the intriguing Amii Stewart Sings Alex Chilton moment as for some reason the downbeat Paradise Bird has been deemed more suitable. It’s pleasant enough, with hints of Rose Royce e-drums and Minnie Ripperton bird noises, but it stalled at number 39 and Amii wouldn’t be back on TOTP for another five years.

STYX – Babe (#17)

StyxAfter half a decade of success in the US peddling the kind of soft rock to which the UK is normally quite resistant – including Come Sail Away, best known over here in its cover version by South Park’s Eric Cartman – Styx finally broke through in Britain with this overwrought ballad. Lead vocalist Dennis DeYoung wrote the song for his wife, whose name appears to have slipped his mind as she is referred to only as “babe” for the full four minutes. The song would climb to number 6 over here but this white-trouser-electric-piano-and-luxuriant-moustache-heavy video would be their only appearance on TOTP. The band’s US success continued into the mid ’80s with hits like Mr Roboto from their sci-fi rock opera Kilroy Was Here while in the UK their name is kept alive in Half Man Half Biscuit’s epic tale of unimaginable embarrassment Styx Gig (Seen By My Mates Coming Out Of A).

BOOKER T. & THE M.G.s – Green Onions (#12)

Legs & CoOh dear, Bates is having one of his hot flushes again as he thinks about Legs & Company and their very short ’60s-style dresses. As if by magic, Simes is whisked backstage by a young lady in exactly that style of dress (this may be a dream sequence on Bates’s part, it’s not clear) and out come the girls to dance to a track older than Top Of The Pops itself. Originally dismissed as a throwaway B-side by Booker T. Jones when it was recorded back in 1962, the track gained new life through its use in the 1979 film version of The Who’s Quadrophenia, hence its sudden appearance in the chart. The performance is a curious mix of old and new as Limbs & Co, in short, black and white dresses, thrash around in front of futuristic rotating grids of some kind. Perhaps they’re supposed to be food processors, although Flick Colby has reined herself in and there are no vegetables of any kind involved in the performance – not once Simes has been led off-stage, anyway.

RUPERT HOLMES – Escape (The Pina Colada Song) (#38)

Rupert HolmesMuch proper BBC behaviour still in evidence in the pre-Michael Hurll era as Bates, dressed like a geography teacher, hands over to Rupert Holmes who has come as a slightly more hip music teacher – he’s even loosened his tie! At least, we’re told it’s Rupert Holmes, although he has the air of a BBC technician or aspiring local radio DJ who’s been asked to stand in at the last moment. Who would know? The song itself is an appalling tale of deception as Holmes gets the hump with his missus and takes out a personal ad for a replacement, only for the ad to be answered by the trouble and strife herself – a situation which resolves itself not with screaming and blood, but a resigned “Oh, it’s you.” Having said that, it’s quite possible she murdered him quietly once they’d gone home, which would explain why his part has been taken by Steve Wright’s brother.

PRETENDERS – Brass In Pocket (#1)

PretendersAnd so it came to pass that the first single to reach number 1 in the 1980s came from an ex-member of punk band Masters Of The Backside, the rest of whom went on to form The Damned. Looking the coolest she ever did, Chrissie Hynde is strangely positioned so far in front of the rest of the band that it’s not clear whether the unimpressed looking bloke in waistcoat and black tie behind her is actually in the audience or has just fallen off the stage. Finally Bates ponders whether the record will still be number 1 next week and closes his marathon shift by introducing Jon & Vangelis’s I Hear You Now, so exhausted by his 45 minutes’ work that he can’t even remember to say goodnight. It’s Mike Read on hosting duties next week, so mind your language.

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