Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark

“We got your message on the radio” – Top of the Pops, 9 October 1980

Peter PowellGood times afoot in the TOTP studio as we join the show already in progress with a group of generic audience members grooving unenthusiastically to Ottawan’s D.I.S.C.O. – the English language version, not the more exotic French version on the B-side, but our genial host Peter Powell is looking decidedly French himself, with stripy top and red jumper casually hung around his shoulders like a prototype Long Hot Summer-era Paul Weller. “As you can see we’ve already started,” Powell grins chummily, “but you’re very welcome to tonight’s edition of Top of the Pops.” Oh good, because it would really awkward if you were just staging the show for your own amusement. Is this the latest in a long line of tweaks to the format as Michael Hurll fumbles towards the show’s classic era? Yes, probably. Coming up on the show tonight we have Linx “for you jazz-funkers,” the Nolans looking like an advertisement for lemons, and that bleeding Police video again. But Pete, you’re giving away the plot!


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

STATUS QUO – What You’re Proposing (#27)

Status QuoOpening the show tonight, The Status Quo on the 216th of their 492 appearances on TOTP during their 90-year career. Okay, they’ve been on a lot of times but nowhere near the figure of 106 appearances their press office blithely trots out at any given opportunity – that would work out at almost two separate performances of each of their fifty-five top forty hits during the show’s run. Presumably that figure includes videos, repeat performances, being danced to by Limbs & Co and brief clips of this song in the top ten countup over the next few weeks, as it’s on its way to being their biggest hit since Down Down reached number 1 in 1974. Accordingly, the band is still very much in classic ’70s Quo mode: the ponytail for men isn’t yet a thing so Francis Rossi’s hair is still dangling over the shoulders of his denim waistcoat, Rick Parfitt is sporting the full David St Hubbins shaggy perm and drummer John Coghlan still has the type of moustache everyone else grew around 1968. Having said that, the vaguest hints of ’80s excess are beginning to show – almost hidden at the edge of the stage, the Quo have acquired a keyboard player. And he’s wearing a tie. It’s a slippery slope from this to sampled vocals and comedy videos.

DIANA ROSS – My Old Piano (#5)

Diana Ross“What we’ve been proposing to do for ages is to get you some T-shirts,” links Powell without a hint of embarrassment. Yes, BBC Enterprises have come up with the breathtaking idea of printing the TOTP logo on some T-shirts and hawking them to gullible members of the public. Apparently only available in red with yellow print (although there are a couple of girls in the audience wearing sky blue versions over their normal clothes) and modelled by two random blonde females, this is not some cheap excuse to fill the screen with a shot of a lady’s chest, but a genuine once in a lifetime opportunity to own a piece of pop history. Er, or something. But don’t go mad, because for reasons which are not divulged, the T-shirts aren’t available for another two weeks yet! No doubt the details of how to order said garments will be culled from the BBC Four reruns lest some dolt should attempt to send a postal order to 1980. That infomercial out of the way, we move on with another showing of the My Old Piano video as it reaches its chart peak. Makes you wonder what she’s doing with that piano, as she’s clearly never played it. Just waving your hands over the keys doesn’t work!

ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK – Enola Gay (#35)

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The DarkAlthough the idea of having a celebrity guest host seems to have fallen by the wayside, we’re now just getting random celebrities in to plug whatever they’re doing at the moment, and if anything that’s even more annoying. For example, before we get on to OMD Pete has to drag in Dennis Waterman – formerly of The Sweeney, now of Minder – to plug his “rock ‘n’ roll tour” (with such well known rock ‘n’ rollers as Gerard Kenny and Sheena Easton) and his single, a vocal version of the Minder theme I Could Be So Good For You, which we won’t see on BBC Four because of reasons. Anyway, OMD are back with a second hit, rocking the groovy geography teacher look, Andy McCluskey swinging his bass from side to side as if fighting off imaginary baddies with it. Two hit singles, real instruments, cardigans? The Human League must be fuming. Enola Gay would eclipse OMD’s first hit Messages to become their first top ten single, despite the band looking just a little too jaunty to be singing a song about the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and killed 80,000 people. Still, prime time TV, people!

COFFEE – Casanova (#19)

Legs & CoUh oh, look out, it’s the Tedious News Section™ already! What’s happening this week that we don’t care about? Well, the Crusaders are playing the Albert Hall tonight (which isn’t actually tedious, but quite startling – were the Crusaders really big enough to fill the Royal Albert Hall? Or was it the Albert Hall in Stirling?), the Shadows are on tour, and there’s “good news for Queen fans… and indeed for Queen as well,” as they’re number 1 in both the singles and albums charts in the US. “Talking about our charts, which we weren’t, but we will now…” Oh dear, Pete, this is why rehearsals are so important. Counting up from 30 we break at number 19 for coffee. Ah, no, sorry, we break for Coffee, a female vocal trio enjoying their only hit with a discofied cover of a 1967 US hit for Ruby Andrews. They’re not here, of course, so… enter Limbs & Co! Now then, Flick has employed some lateral thinking this week: Casanova, the great adventurer, author and – let’s be honest – tart lived during the Georgian era, so the obvious thing to do is to dress the girls up in Georgian costumes. Unfortunately there’s been some terrible accident in the wardrobe department so all the dresses are cut off just below the waist and barely cover the girls’ frilly knickers. Obviously they can’t go on television like that, so we’ll just cut this section and have the song playing over a blank screen for three minutes. What’s that? Oh, sorry, apparently that’s not allowed so you’ll just have to get out there and make the best of it. Blimey, the things you have to do for television.

BLACK SLATE – Amigo (#9)

Black SlateBack to the chart for a brief 18-11 countup after which we’re back in front of the (still resolutely monochrome) video screen as Powell introduces Black Slate – “For a new name to go straight into the charts and do so well, it’s gotta be right!” Hang on, Mike Read told us last time they were on that they’d had six singles out! Get your story straight before you go on telly. And now there’s someone in the audience in a black TOTP T-shirt as well. Lies and deception everywhere. Still, the Slate are back for their second and final appearance but, horror of horrors, Keith Drummond’s colossal sombrero has shrunk in the wash! By way of compensation he’s come in full costume this week, but whether his outlandish outfit is supposed to be mariachi or matador is unclear. Either way, he’s blown the entire costume budget on it so the rest of the band have to stand around in jeans and casual shirts. Number 9 was peak position for Amigo so alas we never got to see what Drummond would have dressed up as if it had gone higher. The mind boggles.

THE NOLANS – Gotta Pull Myself Together (#25)

The NolansPulling back from this bizarre scene, the camera picks up Powell and Waterman looking on in disbelief. There’s a lovely bit of behind the scenes nonsense as Powell starts applauding too early so has to stop and start again five seconds later. After a quick plug for Dennis Waterman’s Showbiz XI charity football team, Pete makes the mistake of mentioning the Nolans and asking Den “What does that conjure up in your mind?” Obviously Waterman can’t express it in words, not at 7.30 in the evening anyway, but the face he pulls says it all. Dirty bleeder. Luckily the sisters aren’t in the studio this week but they’ve sent along a video which involves a suitably wholesome dance routine, although for some reason someone’s put some black plastic sheeting on the floor. Maybe they’re getting ready to paint the set yellow to match the girls’ outfits, apparently part of a sponsorship deal with the Banana Marketing Board. Having moved on from the forced disco pomp of I’m In The Mood For Dancing, the Nolans are doing pretty well for themselves; Gotta Pull Myself Together is a fine pop song, slowly making its way into the top ten, and nobody says “Doctor, I feel like a pair of curtains,” so that’s a bonus.

LINX – You’re Lying (#23)

LinxWhat this fast moving show needs now is another celebrity guest so it can grind to a halt again. And we’re in luck! Here comes Paul Jones, the former Manfred Mann singer who, in a strange reverse Yewtree moment, can be seen fending off the advances of the audience in one of the few surviving ’60s TOTP clips. That was fifteen years earlier though, since when he’s had a few solo hits, done a bit of acting and now formed a blues band called, with staggering originality, The Blues Band. He’s here to plug their new record but also, more excitingly, their appearance on BBC 2’s Boom Boom… Out Go The Lights, a show most alternative comedy aficionados have heard of but few have actually seen. Jones promises us “the sort of comedians you get at the Comedy Shop. I don’t want to say ‘alternative’ comedians, but they’re not… ‘conventional’ comedians.” It’s okay Paul, you can say “alternative comedians” as the show included early TV appearances by Rik Mayall, Alexei Sayle and Nigel Planer and was an important step towards the Beeb commissioning The Young Ones and The Comic Strip getting a series on Channel 4. Oh, and it’s the Comedy Store, Paul. More TV-related shenanigans next with another chance to see TV’s David Grant – novelty Trevor McDoughnut glasses and all – in a repeat of Linx’s performance from a fortnight ago. After two weeks at 23 You’re Lying would jump to number 15 next week but that was as high as it went.

GILBERT O’SULLIVAN – What’s In A Kiss? (#36)

Gilbert O'SullivanIt’s been a long, hard show for Pete who has to do the next link sitting in an old fashioned looking armchair, the kind you see in ads targeted at the elderly during Countdown. Mind you, he’s not getting any younger, nor is the next guest, “someone who hasn’t been with us for a long, long time.” Not as long as Paul Jones, to be fair, but it’s been four and a half years since Gilbert O’Sullivan was on TOTP, way back in the very first month of the BBC Four repeats. Back then he was performing his single Doing What I Know, but after five years of hits people were getting bored of him doing what he knew, so he stopped doing it for a while. Now he’s back, doing exactly the same thing, and despite being at odds with just about everything else in the chart What’s In A Kiss? has given Gilbert his first top forty hit since 1975. You could argue that it’s not up with his best work – lines like “Any time you need a light refreshment, baby you can count on me, I am your very own delicatessen” don’t compare favourably with the devastating Alone Again (Naturally) for example – but bear in mind that O’Sullivan also had hits called Ooh Baby and Ooh-Wakka-Doo-Wakka-Day as well as the more erudite ones you remember. You could at least put a shirt on to play the grand piano though, Gilbert. Even Diana Ross put on a nice frock and she never touched the damn thing.

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

The PoliceIt’s a curious top ten countup as Pete does everything he can – short of actually shouting “Look! Over there! A puppy!” – to divert attention away from the controversial new Specials single Stereotype at number 6. Okay, there wasn’t much of it you could play on daytime radio but Powell doesn’t even mention the song’s title. It’s another outing for the Don’t Stand So Close To Me video to finish, but by now everyone is wise to Sting’s behaviour and as soon as he stands up with that look in his eye, we’re whisked back to the studio before the shirt can come off again. The ending of the show seems very abrupt, as if BBC Four’s editor E. Scissorhands has had enough of Jones and Waterman’s banter and just wants to get off home for the night. And D.I.S.C.O. is still playing in the background. If anyone knows where to find this 35-minute-long hyper extended mix, please, for heaven’s sake, keep it to yourself.

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