John Lennon

“That music’s lost its taste so try another flavour” – Top of the Pops, 11 December 1980

Richard SkinnerDecember 1980 was all set to be a cracking month for Richard Skinner. After years reading the news on Radio 1 he’d landed a proper DJ gig on the station, taking over Mike Read’s evening show in the post-Christmas week, and after a couple of supporting roles on TOTP (on editions nominally hosted by Jimmy Savile, which is why we haven’t seen him on BBC Four until now) he’s graduated to the main hosting rota. Of course every silver lining has a cloud and Skinner’s first solo flight on TOTP came just three days after John Lennon was murdered; still working on Newsbeat when the news broke, Richard had the unenviable job of calling Paul McCartney to tell him what had happened. No wonder Skinner’s entirely devoid of colour tonight, rocking the grey shirt / grey jumper / grey slacks / grey hair look like only a newsreader can. The Pops don’t stop though, and as that Robert Palmer track plays in the background again (no matter how many plays it gets on the show, it’s still not going to make the top thirty) Skinner draws us in with the line “If you’re Looking for Clues as to what we’ve got on today’s TOTP, how’s about this for a start?” Smooth.

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

ADAM AND THE ANTS – “Antmusic” (#16)

Adam and the AntsWhile the cool kids already had “hussar jacket” and “year’s supply of correction fluid” on their letters to Santa after seeing Dog Eat Dog a few weeks back, it was the blatant self-mythologising of this song that really established Adam as a force to be reckoned with in the coming year. “Antmusic” – the quotation marks are an indispensable part of the title, like Bowie’s “Heroes” – differed little from Dog Eat Dog except for having a catchier chorus, but established the clickety-clack twin-drummer Ants sound as a recognised musical genre and helped distinguish it from the similar sound peddled by Adam’s former Ants, now working for Malcolm McLaren as Bow Wow Wow. For some reason the video screen has been pressed into service as a prototype karaoke machine, displaying the lyrics for you to sing along with so everyone can see how alternative you are. Don’t forget to look out for cameras though – one of the hulking early ’80s beasts almost flattens a couple of unfortunate audience members as it gets wheeled back into position for the next link.

SHOWADDYWADDY – Blue Moon (#32)

Showaddywaddy“That’s number 16 in the charts this week and if you double 16 you come to 32, and at number 32 it’s Showaddywaddy and Blue Moon!” With irrefutable logic like that it’s no wonder Skinner spent so long in the news department. This is another outing for the clip from two weeks ago with only lead singer Dave Bartram persevering with the coloured suit (and if anyone’s lost a Pepperami, Dave has found it and is keeping it safe for you. In his pants.) while the rest of the band have variously opted for leather jackets, white satin shirts or just plain black T-shirts which isn’t really entering into the spirit of things. The enthusiastic tag-team backing singers do make up for the lack of wardrobe effort, although it seems unfair that the BBC couldn’t give them a microphone each. Blue Moon dropped down the chart over Christmas and climbed back up to number 32 in January but got no higher.

MADNESS – Embarrassment (#4)

MadnessTime to bring the show to a crashing halt again by bringing on Jermaine Jackson who’s here “promoting my album and meeting people.” He hints at a possible Jackson Five reunion in the new year (it didn’t happen) and is presented with a birthday cake (complete with eye-wateringly suggestive candle) as Skinner haltingly and erroneously suggests that he doesn’t look a day over 15. Jackson has also never heard of Madness, “but I hear that they’re very exciting,” he lies. Appropriately enough after such a cringeworthy interview, Embarrassment is up to number 4 and the Nutty Boys have outdone Showaddywaddy in a range of gaudy tartan jackets which suggest that they’ve skipped Christmas altogether and have already moved on to celebrating Hogmanay. For once there are no shenanigans, apart from Chas Smash smirking into a trumpet for the entire song, and nobody gets banned from ever appearing on the show again like they usually do.

STATUS QUO – Lies (#17)

Status Quo“If you think we’re a bit legless tonight,” begins Richard, apropos of nothing, “it’s because Legs & Co are actually rehearsing today for our two Christmas shows, both on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, so stay tuned for that one.” Which one? Doesn’t really matter, because thanks to the vagaries of the presenter rota BBC Four won’t be showing either of them. It’s also a pretty flimsy excuse for their absence because there’s only one new Limbs & Co routine and two repeats across both specials. More BBC deception and propaganda, there. Speaking of falsehoods, Lies and its double A-side Don’t Drive My Car were the second single from Quo’s coke-fuelled enthusiastic recording sessions this year which spawned two whole albums. After numerous visits to the TOTP studio for What You’re Proposing we only get the video for Lies, not that it’s really any different from a standard Quo TV appearance except for the smoke and wind machines which are playing merry hell with some of the shaggy perms on display. The single spent six weeks slowly climbing the top twenty, with a post-Xmas switch to promoting Don’t Drive My Car as the main A-side propelling it as high as number 11.

MATCHBOX – Over The Rainbow / You Belong To Me (#31)

MatchboxHow to follow the good-time boogie of the Quo within the confines of an upbeat pop music show? Mention the fact that John Lennon died three days ago, obviously, “but as well as that, it’s Christmas coming up soon!” Apparently Dire Straits are playing all the way up to Christmas, as if things weren’t bleak enough. Then, to lighten the mood even further, we get a quick interview with smiling Gary Numan, who it seems is retiring from playing live. “Why are you withdrawing from live appearances?” Skinner asks. “Er… I don’t know!” Skinner also asks Numan about his new hobby, flying – not by flapping his arms really fast, but piloting aeroplanes. “Bit of a dangerous hobby?” “Nah, it’s alright,” scoffs Numan, offering some excuse about being able to switch to the second engine if one fails, but overlooking the possibility that the plane might run out of fuel. Still, once you’ve heard Matchbox simpering through Somewhere Over The Rainbow, even crowbarring in an unnecessary verse from You Belong To Me, death loses its sting a bit.

THE POLICE – De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da (#9)

The PoliceAnd talking of Sting – ha ha, this thing isn’t just thrown together you know – the Police are still refusing to come to the studio but have sent in another video, this one set in the mountains of Canada; the band arse about in the snow while Stewart Copeland films them on a Super-8 camera, footage Copeland used in his 2006 documentary Everyone Stares – The Police Inside Out. Sting maintains that the banality of the chorus is a statement about the power of simplicity in lyrics, although what “When their eloquence escapes you, their logic ties you up and rapes you” means is, frankly, anyone’s guess. At least he doesn’t get his kit off in this one. Like their previous hit Don’t Stand So Close To Me, the Police re-recorded De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da in 1986 for inclusion on their album Every Breath You Take – The Singles, but it was decided to use the original version instead and the new recording remains unreleased, except for the time it slipped out on an obscure SACD version of the album in 1995.

QUEEN – Flash (#20)

QueenBack to normal in the chart countup this week as we go from 30 to 20, including obligatory subdued voice as John Lennon’s (Just Like) Starting Over sinks to 21, to reach Queen, still illustrated by a photo from at least five years earlier even though they look completely different in the Flash video. Except Brian May, obviously. In fact this is the first time we’ve seen Freddie’s face furniture (‘Tache! Aa-aaaah!) in full since he grew it sometime between making the videos for Save Me and Play The Game earlier in the year. The theme from the much heralded remake of the Flash Gordon film serials of the 1930s and ’40s, Flash makes extensive use of sampled snippets of dialogue from the film, making it the prototype for subsequent movie themes such as Prince’s Batdance. Although now a favourite, the track polarised opinions of Queen fans at the time, in much the same way that Freddie’s moustache had done back in the spring but to nowhere near the same extent that Hot Space would in 1982. Oh, and if you haven’t seen Flash Gordon, turn on ITV2 now and wait, they seem to show it every two or three hours.

STRAY CATS – Runaway Boys (#10)

Stray CatsBack to the chart for a countup from 19 to 11, followed by the number 10 hit which begins with a close-up of the giant video screen so you can see just how low quality it really is. Produced by Dave Edmunds, who for once hasn’t brought Nick Lowe with him, this was the first of three huge UK hits for the Cats over the next six months or so. Although American, the band moved to the UK to be part of the ongoing rockabilly revival and didn’t really take off in the States until 1982, by which time their British success had faded somewhat. We’re getting ahead of ourselves though; this is a second showing for the band’s performance of Runaway Boys which peaked at number 9 next week. Presumably they’re not in the studio because, with their authentic rock ‘n’ roll haircuts, instruments and tattoos, Matchbox are terrified of them. Richard Skinner had the pleasure of working with them in Norwich recently, which is nice in an Alan Partridge kind of way.

ABBA – Super Trouper (#1)

John LennonOn with the top nine then, and the end of an era as ABBA spend their last ever week at number 1 in the UK singles chart. It’s the video again of course, but unusually the credits run over the end of the video and we fade back to Skinner, looking disembodied in front of a stark black background. It’s the inevitable Lennon tribute as a sombre Skinner suggests that we should “remember him as he was at his best.” We don’t get to do that though, because apart from an insert in an episode of Doctor Who, all the Beatles’ TOTP performances were disposed of years ago. Instead we get footage of Lennon’s last public performance back in 1975, singing Imagine at an all-star tribute to Sir Lew Grade, head of ATV (makers of Tiswas, The Muppet Show and Crossroads) and, following many protracted and baffling legal battles, owner of Lennon’s music publishing rights. Lennon was clearly in no mood to salute Sir Lew, unless it was a one-fingered salute, but was contractually obliged to appear at the event. Fractiously he brought with him his new backing band BOMF – “Brothers of Mother F***ers”, which makes Frank Zappa’s Mothers seem pretty tame – and ran through a couple of songs, dressed in an appalling red leather onesie while other members of the Lennon entourage wore masks on the back of their heads as a sardonic reference to Grade’s “two-faced” business dealings. It’s all pretty shabby and makes the fact that this was Lennon’s last live performance all the more depressing. Still, it’s nearly Christmas.

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