B.A. Robertson

“The public gets what the public wants” – Top of the Pops, 20 March 1980

Mike Read“Welcome, ye of good music taste, to another Top of the Pops.” It’s very easy to take the mickey out of Mike Read, so here’s a space to write in your own comments. _______________________________________________ (You may wish to focus on his UKIP membership and accompanying calypso, his seemingly unquenchable desire to get his guitar out and give us a song at the slightest provocation, his attitude to Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax or his Cliff Richard impression.) Now that’s out of the way, we can concentrate on a detailed critique of his TOTP presentation skills. The countup is to the sound of the Detroit Spinners’ Working My Way Back To You and it seems like someone’s been sticking a screwdriver into the Top Thirty Machine and wiggling it around again, because the captions this week are in blue on an appalling turquoise background. Still better than Legs & Co’s routine to this song last week, mind.

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

THE BODYSNATCHERS – Let’s Do Rock Steady (#31)

The BodysnatchersAnother week, another massively overstaffed 2 Tone act, this time the all-female septet The Bodysnatchers who had only played their first gig some four months earlier. Like the Specials’ A Message To You Rudy which had been a hit at the end of 1979, Let’s Do Rock Steady was written and originally recorded by Dandy Livingstone, best known in the UK for his 1972 hit Suzanne, Beware Of The Devil. Technically the Bodysnatchers’ version is too fast to be rocksteady, but let’s not split hairs; more important is that there is so little lyrical content to the song, singer Rhoda Dakar has time to introduce most of the band during it. The band’s controversial approach to 2 Tone involves some of them wearing red as well as black and white, which is probably why they failed to reach the heights that the Specials and Madness did. That and the fact that they split up after two singles.

SQUEEZE – Another Nail In My Heart (#26)

Squeeze“They can snatch my body any time,” remarks Read, cryptically, raising the question of whether or not he has to be dead before they do so. Anyway, another outing for this performance from two weeks ago which we didn’t see on BBC Four because of the show’s host; Squeeze will only appear on the show once more this year, and it’s on another DLT show so we won’t see that either. For shame. This would climb as high as number 17, still not as high as it deserved on the back of two number 2 hits the previous year, but somehow the band seemed unable to maintain even this level of success, making this their last top twenty single until the countrified Labelled With Love at the end of 1981. “They can squeeze me any time,” Read fails to remark afterwards.

RUSH – Spirit Of Radio (#16)

Legs & Co, probablyThis was by far the biggest UK hit for Canadian rock legends Rush, eclipsing their only previous hit Closer To The Heart which reached number 36 two years earlier. But, hey, guess what, they’re not here, so… enter Limbs & Co. Their literal interpretation doesn’t involve a massive radio, ghosts or enormous bottle of vodka, but a few vignettes – involving the girls waking up in bed to represent the phrase “Begin the day”, driving in a car to represent “the open road” and so on – are inset over footage of the troupe dancing aimlessly in one-armed, one-legged leotards, itself overlaid with terrifying flash close-ups of faces pulling various alarming expressions. This is then treated to a psychedelic fit-inducing blue and red treatment which plays merry hell with the digital encoding and makes the whole thing look like your aerial has fallen off the roof. Exactly what Rush had in mind when they wrote the song, I’m sure.

SAD CAFE – My Oh My (#43)

Sad CaféHaving been forcibly restrained from saying “They can rush my legs any time,” Read introduces Sad Café, last seen on here two months ago with their not-really-much-of-a-hit Strange Little Girl. This time around they have a severe case of loud-quiet-loud syndrome, My Oh My beginning in a restrained fashion which recalls their biggest hit Every Day Hurts from last year, before bursting into all-out rock for the chorus, although the mix seems very heavy on drums and light on everything else. Lead singer Paul “not that one” Young still has the look of Chris Morris about him, and by the second verse his voice is descending into some kind of half-arsed Mick Jagger impression; at one point Young even holds his guitar over his head, but fails to smash it on the ground in an act of rock ‘n’ roll rebellion. Still, Mike Read seems impressed – “They can sadden my café any…” Nah, that one doesn’t work.

THE LAMBRETTAS – Poison Ivy (#27)

The Lambrettas“Back in the 1950s the Coasters first did Poison Ivy, since then a lot of people have had a go at it,” reckons British Hit Singles co-author Read, and he should know. Indeed, the Coasters took it to number 15 in 1959, the Paramounts reached number 35 with it in 1964, but the Lambrettas’ version was the most successful in the UK, going on to reach number 7. Singer Jez Bird is still wearing that awful red suit from two weeks ago and looking somewhat uncomfortable with his new-found “pop star” status as a couple of lads at the front of the crowd look on, arms folded and eyebrows furrowed, as if waiting to beat them up after the show. Such is the lonely life of a mod revivalist. “They can poison my ivy any time,” Read doesn’t say, because that would be a reference to a sexually transmitted disease and therefore unacceptable for a family show such as this.

BARBARA DICKSON – January February (#29)

Barbara DicksonDunfermline! Unlikely rock capital of Scotland, at least at this point in time. Home to the Skids, Nazareth, the Rezillos/Revillos‘ Fay Fife (so named because she came “fae Fife”) and Barbara Dickson. Still half a decade away from topping the charts in league with Elaine Paige on a song written by ABBA’s Björn and Benny, here she enlists the writing and production help of the mighty Alan Tarney for what would become her biggest hit for four years, the fact that it’s a song called January February in the charts in March on a show repeated in April notwithstanding. None of this explains why Read introduces her by climbing the spiral staircase which has suddenly been added to the set and sticking his microphone into the beak of a toy owl at the top. “She can Barbara my di…” No, that’s just wrong.

SHAKIN’ STEVENS – Hot Dog (#24)

Shakin' StevensAnother repeat of an earlier performance, sadly it’s Shaky’s first appearance on the show from a month ago rather than his more interesting and innuendo-laden second. What’s more alarming is that four weeks after his first appearance on the show – and despite his spirited attempt to strangle Dave Lee Travis last time he was on – the single has still only climbed as high as number 24. Shaky would release three more singles in 1980, only one of them reaching the top forty, before 1981’s This Ole House rocketed to number 1 and kicked off a run of twenty-one consecutive top twenty hits. Must have been his adoption of the double denim look, because here he still looks like a ’50s throwback. Following the clip Read unconvincingly describes Shaky as the “Eddie Cochran of the ’80s,” although as we all know he didn’t die in a car crash two years later. “He can shake my…” No, no, no.

UB40 – Food For Thought (#40)

UB40Before the next song, Mike Read inexplicably – and very briefly – interviews David Soul, who had his last hit single two years ago and, despite his best efforts, would never have another. As if to sweep away this mid ’70s relic, David is brushed aside to make way for the very first appearance of UB40 who, along with Shaky and Madness, would dominate the charts and the show for the next decade or so. It’s easy to forget just how vital and relevant UB40 were in these early days when many of their songs were overtly political; Food For Thought was about African famine and was released as a double A-side with King which discussed the fate of Martin Luther King’s followers after his death. A few years later they started having number 1 hits with novelty covers and that was the end of that. “They can…” No, there’s nothing I can do with this one.

MARTHA & THE MUFFINS – Echo Beach (#15)

Martha & The MuffinsNot a new studio performance, not even a repeat of the performance from two weeks ago, but the video for Echo Beach for some reason. Not that there’s much difference between the two: they’re still miming to the song in a dimly lit studio, just with a larger stage and no disinterested audience. Martha (Johnson) is even wearing the same two tone jumpsuit she wore on the show. This is the last we’ll see of the band on TOTP as Echo Beach remains their only top forty hit, although they scraped the top fifty in 1984 with Black Stations, White Stations by which time they had lost several members and shortened their name to M + M. Having said that, if the TOTP repeats carry on for another couple of years you might see Martha Ladley again singing backing vocals with the Associates, and you may be interested in this 30th anniversary version of Echo Beach from 1980. “She can Martha my muffins any time.” “Which one?” “Don’t really mind.”

B.A. ROBERTSON – Kool In The Kaftan (#45)

B.A. RobertsonRarely has an artist provoked such divided opinion on Twitter after appearing on the Pops as B.A. Robertson. The general rule of thumb seems to be that if you liked his records at the time, you still do; if you’re just discovering him you probably think he’s an utter arse. After two top ten hits with Bang Bang and Knocked It Off B.A. was discovering the law of diminishing returns, only reaching number 17 with this song about jacking it all in to become a hippy only thirteen years after the summer of love, but he still gives it his all and the mix of sitar and weird angular keyboards could almost be Blancmange if you’re not listening very hard. Robertson still had another top ten hit in him later in the year, but after a few flops and a brief period with Mike & The Mechanics, he went on to become Rob Brydon in the late 1990s. (Note: check this before publishing.) “He can kool my kaftan any time, I expect.”

THE JAM – Going Underground (#1)

The Jam“Straight in at number 1 it’s The Jam and Going Underground.” Let’s just let that sink in for a minute. From the mid ’90s onwards, as record labels concentrated on getting as many people as possible to buy a record in its week of release, it became unusual for anything to climb to number 1 instead of débuting at the top, but in 1980 Going Underground was only the ninth single ever to enter the chart at the highest position. It had happened only three times in the 1960s and four in the 1970s; the last record to achieve this feat was Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody back in 1973. The Jam would go on to repeat the trick another twice before their demise at the end of 1982. Strangely Mike Read seems to be of the opinion that Lonnie Donegan also achieved this feat; he had three chart toppers but never entered the chart at number 1. Anyway, after all that, The Jam aren’t even here so we just get the video and Read doesn’t get to say “They can jam my underground any time,” which is for the best. We play out with The Vapors’ Turning Japanese and it’s a good job Read didn’t listen to closely to the lyrics of that.

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One comment on ““The public gets what the public wants” – Top of the Pops, 20 March 1980

  1. Amazingly, the four times a record went in at number one in the 70s were all in 1973. Three by Slade and one by Gary Glitter.

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