The Human League

“Times are changing fast but we won’t forget” – Top of the Pops, 8 May 1980

Peter PowellOops, Peter Powell has misread the invitation and turned up in… well, I’m not sure what, but it’s an odd interpretation of “smart casual”. Some kind of turquoise jumpsuit with an unnecessary zip right across the chest and a very obvious Radio 1 patch sewn onto the breast; a timeless look that will never go out of fashion because it was never in fashion in the first place. It’s a bit of an odd show all round, really: not counting the number 1, half the songs chosen for tonight’s show are outside the top 40, which accidentally introduces us to two of the decade’s biggest bands and a much missed singer-songwriter miming to a record she didn’t even appear on. The top 30 countup is accompanied by Mystic Merlin’s Just Can’t Give You Up, a song about someone who just can’t give someone up and is at great pains to say so, to the exclusion of any other lyrics. In an amusing touch, the caption person has listed the act as “Mistik Merlin” – perhaps inspired by New Musik last week and M’s Pop Muzik last year, or perhaps they just couldn’t spell.


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

THE HUMAN LEAGUE – Rock ‘n’ Roll (#72)

The Human LeagueLook out, here comes the future! Ironic really that this original incarnation of the Human League, a band so diametrically opposed to any form of conventional non-synthetic musical instrument, made their only TOTP appearance with a cover version of a song about a genre of guitar-based music that was already quarter of a century old; the song itself had been the début hit for public enemy no.2 G*ry Gl*tt*r back in 1972. The League’s version was originally part of a medley with a cover of Iggy Pop’s Nightclubbing, although I hesitate to call it a medley; it was more a decision to stop playing one song and immediately start playing another at a completely different tempo. By the end of 1980 the League mark 1 had split, Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware naffing off to form the British Electric Foundation (and later Heaven 17) leaving Phil Oakey with custody of the haircut and very little else. Eighteen months from now the League mark 2 would be the biggest band in the country. That’s showbiz.

JOHNNY LOGAN – What’s Another Year? (#2)

Johnny LoganOf course, there’s probably a parallel universe where the League’s TOTP début sent the Holiday ’80 double single to number 1 for four weeks, during which time they performed a different track from the EP each week. The week they closed the show with Dancevision is still spoken about in hushed tones. No such frippery here though as Eurovision winner J-Lo’s unstoppable march to number 1 continues. He’s wisely ditched the stool and elected to remain standing throughout, although the blue shirt, blue slacks, white jacket combination is slightly marred by his choice of footwear; perhaps he should have listened to Frank Zappa’s advice that Brown Shoes Don’t Make It. Also, since Father Ted deconstructed Eurovision so comprehensively in 1996, it’s almost impossible to watch this clip without suddenly sitting bolt upright shouting “We have to lose that sax solo.”

PRELUDE – Platinum Blonde (#51)

PreludeAll the way from sunny Gateshead, folkies Prelude had almost reached the top twenty back in 1974 with an a capella version of Neil Young’s After The Gold Rush. Six years on they were tickling the underbelly of the top forty again with this cautionary tale of a girl who defies her parents and runs away to the big city (Newcastle) to become an “actress”. Her dad goes to see the show, only to discover his daughter is part of some kind of display of loose morals in a red light district – “It might not be Shakespeare,” she admits. Scandalised, her dad does what any self respecting father would do in this situation and shoots her. But there’s another twist! This was her last night in the naughty play, she was on her way home to her ma and pa that night. But now she isn’t, because he’s shot her. With a gun. As Oz from Auf Wiedersehen Pet once remarked, “Sex is in its infancy in Gateshead.” Platinum Blonde didn’t reach the top forty but Prelude did manage another hit in 1982… with a new recording of After The Gold Rush. Oh well.

MICHAEL JACKSON – She’s Out Of My Life (#25)

Michael JacksonIt’s a remarkably colour co-ordinated night tonight; Prelude’s Irene Hume turned up in a purple fake leather jumpsuit to complement Powell’s turquoise number, and now here’s Jacko in a purple shirt and turquoise jumper. Hang on, what’s that, Michael Jackson is in the studio? Yes! Well… he’s in a studio. Not the TOTP one, obviously, unless you can convince yourself that he did agree to do the show as long as there was no audience present. She’s Out Of My Life was the big emotional ballad from Off The Wall and became the joint biggest hit from the album, thanks to a devastatingly passionate vocal from Jackson; he recorded almost a dozen takes of the song but broke down in tears at the end of each one, convincing producer Quincy Jones – who had wanted to record the song with Frank Sinatra instead – to leave in the quavering vocal on the final few words. A powerful, heartfelt performance that even Jarvis Cocker wouldn’t waft his arse towards.

MATCHBOX – Midnite Dynamos (#67)

MatchboxAnd then you go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like “Here’s Matchbox!” A studio performance intercut with brief scenes from the video in a desperate attempt to make them look more interesting, in fact Matchbox look and sound like an Asda SmartPrice Showaddywaddy. In fairness Midnite Dynamos is probably their best single, certainly it became their biggest hit to date, but the staging is so light entertainment it feels as old as the musical genre they’re attempting to resuscitate. Starting out in various primary coloured jackets, the magic of television allows them to suddenly change into matching white suits during the instrumental break – “Baby get a load of our fancy clothes!” How did they do that? Shh, it’s a secret. Matchbox scored five top 40 hits between November 1979 and December 1980, but their recording career carried on into 1983 when they released a single featuring someone we’re about to see backing Jona Lewie. But I’m telling you the plot!

AVERAGE WHITE BAND – Let’s Go Round Again (#28)

Legs & Co“I’ve never seen Legs & Co quite so scantily dressed,” reckons Pete, which is alarming as they’ve completely forgotten their trousers for four of the last five weeks. Anyway, the Average White Band had scored their first and biggest hit back in 1975 with Pick Up The Pieces, a few months after the death of original drummer Robbie McIntosh whose father, actor Bonar Colleano, was mentioned in Ian Dury’s Reasons To Be Cheerful, Pt 3 – another element of the theory that everything about ’80s pop is inextricably interlinked. Let’s Go Round Again was on its way into the top twenty, making it the AWB’s biggest hit since their first, but they weren’t available tonight, so… enter Limbs & Co! And, sadly, Peter Powell is not wrong, the girls have given up on any pretence of wearing anything that might be considered clothes and are just wandering around in their Bill Grundies. At least they’re all spotlessly white, to the extent that you might consider Limbs & Co to be an Extremely Average White Band. Hopefully none of the girls’ fathers is waiting backstage with a shotgun.

JONA LEWIE – You’ll Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties (#73)

Jona Lewie“Who said you’ll always find me in the kitchen at midnight, hmmm? Who said that?” Er, no-one actually, Pete. Although this is Jona Lewie’s first solo hit, it’s not his TOTP début; that came eight years earlier when his band Terry Dactyl & The Dinosaurs reached no.2 with Seaside Shuffle. Now the artist formerly known as John Lewis has retired from running his chain of department stores and signed with Stiff Records, resulting in this new wave classic. If you look closely behind John/Jona you may notice that one of the backing singers is the late, great Kirsty MacColl, who didn’t actually sing on the record but, as a Stiff employee, stood in for one of the actual backing singers who were the wives of producer Bob Andrews and Stiff boss Dave Robinson. Presumably the real singers were in Ikea while the show was being recorded.

COCKNEY REJECTS – The Greatest Cockney Rip-Off (#23)

Cockney Rejects“The best parties go all the way through to midnight,” offers Pete, back-pedalling furiously as he realises he messed up the title of the previous song. This was the second and final showing for this prototype Spitting Image parody of Sham 69 and, therefore, probably our last chance for a while to call Jimmy Pursey a gobshite. Rich pickings for Cockney Rejects fans this month though as, due to an unusual sequence of events including the FA Cup Final and a series of allegations regarding the behaviour of a well known TOTP host, they’ll be back on next week’s BBC Four repeat performing a completely different song. A suitably chastened Sham 69 never appeared on TOTP again, but the sarcastic inclusion of a couple of lines from Maybe It’s Because I’m A Londoner in this one won’t seem so clever when you find out what the Rejects’ next single is.

BONEY M – My Friend Jack (#63)

Boney MBoney M’s fall from grace was alarmingly precipitous. In 1978 they released two of the UK’s ten biggest selling singles of all time, but at the end of the ’70s it appeared someone had flicked the off switch; previous single I’m Born Again struggled to number 35 and this one wouldn’t even break the top fifty. My Friend Jack was originally recorded by The Smoke, possibly the finest psych-pop band ever to come out of York, and concerns a man called Jack who, it transpires, “eats sugarlumps”. The reason for his unusual habit is never made clear, but it can be surmised that he is addicted to either (a) LSD, or (b) the polio vaccine. Quite how the previously clean cut Boney M, with their predilection for pseudo-religious songs such as Rivers of Babylon, came to be singing such appalling filth is unclear, although presumably it was an attempt to recreate the success of last year’s Painter Man, originally recorded by another English power-pop group The Creation. Despite the M’s natty turnout in three-piece suits and Bobby Farrell’s recently discovered ability to levitate, we won’t be seeing this again any time soon.

THE RUTS – Staring at the Rude Boys (#27)

The RutsAlthough Powell introduces this clip by embarrassing a couple of audience members who have turned up wearing identical shirts (funny nobody else turned up in a turquoise flying suit, eh Pete?), thankfully he doesn’t pull an alarming face like Savile did a couple of weeks ago in an attempt to illustrate the concept of “staring” to those who don’t understand it. It’s heartening to see this finally getting a BBC Four airing because it turned out to be Ruts singer Malcolm Owen’s last appearance on TOTP; two months later he died of a heroin overdose aged just 25. The others carried on for a couple of years as Ruts DC (from the musical term da capo meaning “return to the beginning”) with guitarist Paul Fox taking over vocal duties. In 2007 the Ruts reformed – with Henry Rollins filling Owen’s shoes – to play a benefit gig for Fox, who died of lung cancer later that year. That’s not the end of the story though, as remaining original members Segs Jennings and Dave Ruffy reformed Ruts DC in 2012 and are still touring. Where’s your stupid staring face now, Savile?

ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK – Messages (#53)

OMDLike the Human League, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark weren’t really interested in being a pop group, it just sort of happened to them. These arty hipsters who hadn’t yet started abbreviating themselves to “OMD” had been signed to über hip Factory Records and had their first minor hit earlier this year with Red Frame / White Light, a song about a telephone box with a title so painfully influenced by the Velvet Underground’s White Light / White Heat it’s a wonder they didn’t sue. With Messages though, it transpired that OMD had an irrepressible knack for writing great pop songs. This would go on to give them their first of eleven top 20 hits and although they would carry on creating awkward artistic gems like Souvenir and two different songs both called Joan of Arc, the enduring image of OMD remains Andy McCluskey’s awful dad-dancing. Significantly, the band’s tape machine has Musicians Union-baiting “Keep Music Live” stickers on its reels, a provocation which may have played an important part in precipitating The Event in a few weeks’ time.

THE UNDERTONES – My Perfect Cousin (#10)

The UndertonesWell, this is awkward. Having spent the last month goading the Human League by sneeringly suggesting that Kevin’s mum asked them to help her choose a synthesizer for her pampered little cherub, Feargal Sharkey now finds himself in the same studio as the League and in serious peril of having his head stamped on by a six-foot Sheffielder in stiletto heels. To combat this threat Sharkey has defied his mother and taken his jumper off, performing the song in his shirt sleeves with arms flailing everywhere, which has the effect of making him look like Scrappy Doo squaring up to Phil Oakey snarling “Lemme at him, lemme at him!” Annoyingly this and next week were the Undertones’ only two weeks ever in the top ten and we lose their next and possibly greatest single Wednesday Week to The Event. Where’s the justice?

DEXYS MIDNIGHT RUNNERS – Geno (#1)

Dexys Midnight RunnersLate for the show two weeks running, they’ll be getting sanctioned if they’re not careful. Actually it’s a repeat of last week’s performance but they’ve already done the song three times so we can’t really begrudge them a week off. Geno of course comes from Dexys’ legendary début album Searching For The Young Soul Rebels, which was eventually released in July after the band had stolen the tapes from the recording studio and held them to ransom, demanding more money from EMI. You won’t be surprised to learn that they parted company with the label shortly afterwards. We play out with Hot Chocolate’s No Doubt About It, Errol Brown’s recent passing still not having been properly commemorated with a full showing on BBC Four; we’ll have to wait until the very last show before The Event to see it because next week’s show is hosted by a man with lots of hair.

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