Legs & Co

“Strong words in the staff room” – Top of the Pops, 25 September 1980

Russ Abbot & Mike ReadThe world of 1980 TOTP on BBC Four is a strange place indeed. Earlier in the year two entire months disappeared without comment as we skipped over The Event – which wiped out the whole of June and July – without a murmur. Now we come back from a break of ten weeks for the Proms, The Sky at Night and whatever else they can crowbar into the gap – and we’ve only progressed a week. Even stranger, when we do return we come crashing straight into the “coming up later” section with no introductory preamble. Another tweak as Michael Hurll attempts to fine tune the formula? No, it’s the BBC Four editor again – Mr E. Scissorhands, as we established a few weeks ago – deciding that the modern audience couldn’t stomach this week’s celebrity guest host Russ Abbot dressed as a Boy Scout exchanging banter with Mike “this record is obscene and I’m not going to play it” Read. “Unfortunately the Beatles will not be appearing tonight,” Russ warns us, “and you will not be grabbed by the Dooleys…” See, it’s not just me using that joke, everyone was doing it back then. There’s even a genuinely funny moment as the turn introduces himself to Read as “Russ Abbot, BSc.” Read appears genuinely impressed. “You’re a Bachelor of Science?” “No, Boy Scout.” Why this section was excised remains a mystery, but having averted the potential of another unsavoury Daily Mail filler article, we move on with the show.

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

BLACK SLATE – Amigo (#35)

Black SlateOff we go then, with “a bunch of guys from Hackney, North London, but come from Jamaica,” however that works. This was the first and only top forty hit for Black Slate, its bog-standard Rastafarian message – that Jah is your best mate and if you believe in him he won’t mess you about or nuffink – is somewhat undermined by singer Keith Drummond’s sombrero, a titfer of such gargantuan proportions it makes Speedy Gonzales look like a subtly underplayed depiction of everyday Mexican life. A catchy piece of pop-reggae like it used to be before UB40 devalued the genre with their radio-friendly karaoke, Amigo would rocket into the top ten next week, peaking at number 9. Black Slate carried on into the mid-’90s before splitting, but reformed in 2013 with new singer Jesse Brade – presumably chosen for his lack of colossal headwear – and are still performing and recording, having released their latest album World Citizen in 2014.

SPLIT ENZ – I Got You (#22)

Split Enz“And talking of amigos, here is my amigo Leo Sayer!” Yes, not content with one guest host, Read requires a second backup presenter in the shape of curly-haired songster Sayer, making his second non-singing appearance on the show in three weeks. Yes, he has a new single out, Once In A While which, despite being written and produced by pop legend Alan Tarney, made no impact on the top 75 whatsoever. Yes, Leo secretly wrote the lyrics to Cliff Richard’s current hit Dreamin’, which is as good a reason as any for Read to wheel out his Cliff impression. Yes, the only way Leo can get on the show these days is as a guest presenter, so he makes himself useful by introducing Split Enz. This is a repeat of their performance from two weeks ago but it’s the clip’s first airing on BBC Four, so the Antipodean New Wave Showaddywaddy suits are still a surprise to most. Yes, it’s baby Neil Finn on vocals, years before finding any kind of success with Crowded House. Yes, the fact that large sections of the audience are wearing police helmets goes unremarked upon; presumably they were something to do with Ian Dury’s performance on the original show. Yes, it’s a cracking one hit wonder. No, it’s not as good as Six Months In A Leaky Boat.

DIANA ROSS – My Old Piano (#13)

Diana RossHang on though, Sayer’s building his part up and coming back to introduce the next song too! Bear in mind that BBC Four viewers haven’t seen Russ Abbot yet, so it looks for all the world as if Leo is the guest host this week. Oh boy, are they in for a treat in a couple of links’ time. “Here’s Miss Diana Ross, the wonderful Diana Ross,” enthuses Sayer, all unnecessarily. She was in the studio with Leo and Split Enz and Public Enemy No.1 two weeks back, but having received her sales awards from Richard Skinner she clearly didn’t hang around to record a performance for the show, as we’re subjected to the video for My Old Piano. And what a video it is, with Miss Ross apparently in the lounge of a boarding house in Brighton where she strokes, dances around, rubs herself against and generally fetishises a relatively new-looking grand piano. Note that at no point does she actually attempt to play it. Like previous single Upside Down this came from the Nile Rodgers / Bernard Edwards produced album Diana, which Diana hated and insisted be remixed by someone else before release, proving that she knows as much about disco as she does about penalty taking.

QUEEN – Another One Bites The Dust (#7)

Legs & CoQueen, Read informs us, have been in the States for two months and have a Greatest Hits album coming out at Christmas. Indeed they did, but not until Christmas 1981, so either there was a last minute change of plan as the all-conquering Queen’s Greatest Hits was pushed back a year to make room for the band’s Flash Gordon soundtrack, or Mike Read wasn’t really listening to Queen’s press officer. Maybe Queen weren’t really in the US either, maybe they were at home watching TOTP and wondering why they’d bothered making a video for a single they didn’t really like in the first place; after being used as the play-out track two weeks running, Another One Bites The Dust finally gets on the show proper and… enter Limbs & Co! Unfortunately the Flick Colby Big Book of Literal Choreography has gone missing, otherwise it might have fallen open at “dust” and we’d have had the girls doing the housework in PVC skirts and stilettos four years ahead of the I Want To Break Free video, which would have confused future pop music historians like me no end. Instead the literal interpretation extends no further than Pauline walking “warily down the street” and the others pointing at the camera every time the word “you” appears in the lyrics. Another opportunity missed.

OTTAWAN – D.I.S.C.O. (#8)

OttawanOn with the relentless pace of the nation’s fastest moving, most breathlessly exciting pop show as we stop everything for the Tedious News Section™. Read gets very excited about Toots & The Maytals and boxer Alan Minter, whose walk on music for his next fight will be released as a single, surely the most tenuous piece of so-called pop news ever broadcast. It’s almost a relief when Abbot’s Teddy Boy character Vince Prince interrupts him – “‘ey, just a minute, Eamonn” – to plug his own single, The Space Invaders Meet The Purple People Eater. You’ll be devastated to learn that he doesn’t get to perform the song on the show and it wasn’t a hit, although 1982’s A Day In The Life Of Vince Prince reached number 62 and Abbot returned to TOTP in 1985 for a toe-curlingly uncomfortable performance of his inexplicable hit All Night Holiday. After the first section of the chart countup we’re treated to the video for D.I.S.C.O. performed by one of the Gibson Brothers and a dancing parrot. Ah… no, apparently that’s not right, but it was produced by Daniel Vangarde, famous for producing (a) the Gibson Brothers and (b) a son, Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk. BBC Four being what it is, this is the only time we’ll see the video in full, so make the most of it, plumage fans.

SHALAMAR – I Owe You One (#16)

ShalamarAfter the middle section of the countup (still awkwardly divided into 30-20 and 19-11, even when they’re not pausing for the number 20 record) we get our first view of Shalamar on TOTP, three years after their first hit but still eighteen months away from their run of top ten hits in 1982-83. After a suspiciously high rate of staff turnover in the group’s early years, I Owe You One was the first hit for the classic Shalamar line-up of Howard Hewett, Jody Watley and Jeffrey Daniel; Hewett in particular seems ill-prepared for his new role, having apparently forgotten to put his shirt on before going on stage. Don’t worry, they’re not in the studio, this is a clip of the group performing live in front of a throng of enthusiastic backing musicians who are apparently having a lot more fun than the audience, two of whom can be seen walking out during the first verse. Don’t worry about what you owe us, Howard, we’ll pick it up later.

LINX – You’re Lying (#43)

LinxEven Vince Prince has nothing to say about Shalamar, so he links us straight into, er, Linx. Let’s get the roll call out of the way: the singer in the massive comedy specs is TV’s David Grant, as seen on Fame Academy and even pre-school kids show Carrie & David’s Pop Shop; bassist Peter “Sketch” Martin is Richard Blackwood’s uncle; keyboardist Bob Carter and drummer Andy Duncan were last seen as part of Hazel O’Connor’s Breaking Glass band; and backing vocals came from an unseen Junior Giscombe. Undoubtedly the highlight of the band’s performance comes when Carter, having apparently detached the keyboard from an old analogue synthesizer and slung it around his neck, attempts to play it one-handed while using the other hand to fiddle with the synth’s controls, none of which seems to make any difference to the sound coming out of the machine. Like Shalamar, Linx would go on to have bigger and better remembered hits, although by the time of Intuition and So This Is Romance they were down to a duo of David and Sketch. Still, the influence of You’re Lying on Jimmy Nail‘s music career should not be underestimated.

THE POLICE – Don’t Stand So Close To Me (#1)

The PoliceRight, enough frivolity, on with the top ten countup, this week done without on-screen numbers but with a snippet of fascinating news about each artist in the top ten… until we get to Kelly Marie at number 4, at which point Read runs out of news. He does have a fascinating fact about the Police though, which is that they’re only the seventh act ever to enter the singles chart at number 1. Despite the subject matter, Don’t Stand So Close To Me is not drowned out by the Yewtree klaxon and we even get far enough into the video for Mr Sting to remove his jacket, shirt and tie in one well-practised movement. Just time, then, for a baffling final sequence involving Mike Read with a balloon up his jacket and Russ Abbot as Cooperman flinging himself face-first onto the studio floor. Don’t worry kids, he’s not hurt, although it might have been better for him if he was, as he’s forced to get up and dance an awkward can can with Read, Sayer and some random audience members as Searching by Change plays us out. Somewhere in an office in Television Centre, Michael Hurll crumples up a piece of paper with “celebrity guest hosts” written on it and throws it in the bin.

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