UB40

“What will the neighbours think?” – Top of the Pops, 27 November 1980

Tommy VanceHow do you set up an edition of Top of the Pops in late 1980? Follow these steps and you’ll be there in no time. Fire up Stephanie Mills’ Never Knew Love Like This Before yet again! Flood the studio with unenthusiastic punters! Sit one of them in the wrong place so he has to run across the front of the seating area to get into position before the show starts properly! Drag Tommy Vance away from preparing for the Friday Rock Show, stick him in a terrible jumper and prop him up in the studio! Surround him with girls! Give him something daft to say, like “Tonight it’s my absolute promise that it’s going to be a good one!” Tempt us in with clips of Spandau Ballet, Robert Palmer and Madness! Have we started yet? Yes we have!


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

SHOWADDYWADDY – Blue Moon (#50)

Showaddywaddy“First we’re gonna have a band for you.” Well, that’s a good way to start. Or is it? Well, judge for yourself because the band in question is Showaddywaddy and they’ve got another single out less than a month after they were on doing their previous one. We’ve established that the ‘Waddy have a penchant for covering old songs but they’ve outdone themselves here, reviving one that was written by Rodgers and Hart back in 1934. Originally conceived as a ballad, as per Elvis Presley’s 1956 hit version, the most successful version of Blue Moon was the Marcels’ 1961 doo-wop interpretation and it’s this version that Showaddywaddy have gone for. Interestingly, Showaddywaddy’s American equivalents Sha Na Na had been performing a similar version of the song since the early ’70s, but when called upon to record it for the Grease soundtrack in 1978 they opted for the ballad version instead. Showaddywaddy put in an energetic performance and at least it’s not Beady Eye‘s version, so we can be thankful for that.

UB40 – Dream a Lie (#10)

UB40“Now, every once in a while record companies put out a thing called a double A-side.” Indeed they do, Tom, and UB40’s record label Graduate had done it with all three of their singles to date; indeed, we speculated a few weeks back that the video for Dream a Lie might have been better prime time viewing than The Earth Dies Screaming, never thinking that they would actually show it. With the BBC going out of its way to avoid drawing criticism from the press, dropping shows due to their presenters and editing out potentially offensive content from the Barron Knights (not to mention Roger Daltrey’s infamous “Mind yer backs” comment about the Village People) there was no way they were going to show a video which featured the lead singer in blackface make-up. As we’ve found out, however, nothing is straightforward in TOTP land and the video did indeed make it to the BBC Four reruns, even the edited 7:30 showing. There’s a lot more to the video than meets the eye, of course, as once you’re over the shock / offence / hysterical laughter you’ll notice that only the white band members are in blackface, while the black musicians are in whiteface; the video was the band’s response to death threats from racists who compared them to the Black and White Minstrels. As it turned out the 2015 showings went unnoticed by the press, although some eyebrows were raised on Twitter, mostly by people making Papa Lazarou jokes.

ROBERT PALMER – Looking for Clues (#42)

Robert Palmer“They, of course, come from Birmingham, here are a couple of gentlemen who come from the United States of America.” Nicely done, Tom, linking UB40 to Daryl Hall and John Oates by virtue of the fact that they both come from somewhere. After several false starts Hall & Oates were finally enjoying a UK top 40 hit with Kiss On My List, which they’ve come to talk about but not sing, hence the reason it didn’t get any higher than this week’s position of number 33. This method of promotion very rarely achieved results, but one act bucking the trend is Robert Palmer whose Looking for Clues is on its way up the charts, although nowhere near the number 1 position Jimmy Savile confidently predicted for it a few weeks back. It’s certainly working better for him than his former Vinegar Joe bandmate Elkie Brooks. Although it feels like Palmer had lots of hits over the next decade or so, he only performed on TOTP a handful of times; this was the first, but he won’t be back until 1982. Shame really, as a xylophone solo is something you don’t often hear in pop music these days.

ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA – Don’t Walk Away (#26)

Legs & CoFollowing a 20-second summary of Robert Palmer’s entire life so far, Vance brings on improbably-named ELO drummer Bev Bevan. Bevan’s written a book about ELO which Vance is having trouble asking him about. “In just one word, how, really, is it?” he asks. “How is it?” repeats a baffled Bevan, before answering “great” in a long-winded sentence which Vance has to interrupt in order to stop it taking over the entire show. ELO were noticeably reticent when it came to TOTP appearances, their last was in 1976 and just having the drummer in the studio wasn’t enough to constitute a full performance, so… enter Limbs & Co! The Flick Colby Big Book of Literal Choreography has let everyone down tonight; dressed in different coloured but equally revealing tiny outfits like an exhibitionist Showaddywaddy, the girls do exactly what they were asked not to and spend the whole song just walking around. Remarkably this was the sixth hit single out of the ten tracks on the Xanadu soundtrack album; even Michael Jackson hadn’t managed six hits from an album yet so this was quite some achievement, especially when the movie itself stiffed so badly.

STRAY CATS – Runaway Boys (#49)

Stray CatsA bolt through the bottom third of the top 30 (including AC/DC represented by a photo of their first appearance on TOTP, complete with now deceased singer Bon Scott) and we’re on to the second half of a coded message: “Legs & Co: Don’t walk away – run away, boys!” Vance reckons the Stray Cats are “one of the hottest properties in the record business at the moment,” although the market for ’50s rock ‘n’ roll revivalists seems quite crowded already with Matchbox, Showaddywaddy and Shakin’ Stevens all fighting for chart space. The Stray Cats have a few points in their favour though, as they’re authentically American and sing songs about rebellion and teenage angst in preference to the limp love songs favoured by the British acts, even if Brian Setzer’s hair makes him look like an authentic ’50s rocker who’s been put in a teleport machine with members of A Flock Of Seagulls. This would become the first of five top 40 hits for the Cats although their last, 1983’s (She’s) Sexy and 17 probably wouldn’t make it past the Yewtree police today.

SPANDAU BALLET – To Cut a Long Story Short (#11)

Spandau Ballet“What do you think, twins, good?” The two completely dissimilar looking young women either side of Vance grin and nod. “They had to agree, ’cause they’re twins, right?” They grin and look a bit sheepish, knowing that they told Tommy they were twins in an attempt to get noticed and he fell for it, so now they have to continue with their deceit and go on TV pretending to be twins when all their friends know they’re not. On with the next bit of the chart countup then, pausing at 11 for a repeat of Spandau Ballet’s début performance from two weeks back, everyone still in tartan for no clear reason and Tony Hadley looking so fresh faced you wouldn’t imagine he’d last five minutes in the jungle, even as he faced the prospect of having to eat kangaroos’ unmentionables as a contestant on I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here in the same week this repeat went out on BBC Four. It’s a funny old game, showbiz.

MADNESS – Embarrassment (#12)

MadnessAnd so we reach the low water mark of the “bring someone on to talk about their single without actually singing it” era as Tommy welcomes Martha Davis and Marty Jourard of The Motels. Who? Exactly. They had reached number 42 in October with the single Whose Problem? and would go one place better in January 1981 with Days Are OK but never actually performed on the show and this rambling excuse for an interview tells us absolutely nothing about them. Moving along as swiftly as he can, Vance introduces Madness with their fourth hit of the year, but we only get to see the video as it’s much easier than having the band back in the studio to cause even more chaos. To be fair though, Madness have grown up pretty quickly over the past fifteen months; Embarrassment is an acerbic comment on the attitudes of flying saxophonist Lee Thompson’s family towards his sister having a mixed race child – “How can you show your face when you’re a disgrace to the human race?” – and nobody has to black up to make the point. Except Mike Barson, who blacks up anyway.

ABBA – Super Trouper (#1)

ABBATime for the top ten, including the return of Papa Lazarou UB40 at number 10 and “more exposure” for John Lennon at number 8 – he’s about to get more exposure than anyone ever expected. ABBA are at number 1 for the ninth and final time, replacing The Tide is High with its lyric “I’m gonna be your number 1” with a song that includes the line “feeling like a number 1” just like Mamma Mia replaced Bohemian Rhapsody with its “Mamma mia, mamma mia let me go” opera section in 1976. Pop genius or what? Super Trouper is a strange beast, ostensibly an upbeat love song but with an unmistakable subtext of “It’s shite being in ABBA.” Still, at least you’re not Tommy Vance, forced to hobnob with Hall & Oates, Bev Bevan and two of the Motels while making incorrect predictions about the Christmas number 1 as Young & Company’s I Like (What You’re Doing To Me) plays us out again. Peter Powell hosts next week, meaning that for the first time in ages BBC Four will be able to transmit two consecutive shows.

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