The Undertones

“Always the sound in my brain, can you hear it?” – Top of the Pops, 30 July 1981

Steve WrightIt’s Steve Wright – yes it is! You can tell because he’s wearing a huge badge bearing the slogan “YES IT IS”, dating this edition to somewhere in the brief period when he was trying ever so hard to popularise the catchphrase “It’s Steve Wright – yes it is!” on his Radio 1 show. Clearly it never took off, because here I am having to mansplain it to you. Anyway, this is Wrighty’s first time hosting TOTP for nearly a year – we last saw him back in August 1980 when he shared hosting duties with Cliff Richard – and the first of only four appearances on the show all year, including the Christmas Day show for which Michael Hurll solved the arguments about who was going to host it by getting all the Radio 1 DJs in to do a link each. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though, it’s still the height of summer and Wrighty promises us such stars as “Kim Wilde, Spandau Ballet, Stevie Wonder and this lot.”


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

DURAN DURAN – Girls on Film (#23)

Duran DuranMind you, this lot are still not the world-conquering behemoths they would go on to become in the next eighteen months or so. Indeed, their previous single Careless Memories only hobbled to number 37, but that one didn’t have naked ladies mud-wrestling in the video, so Girls on Film has an immediate advantage. You won’t be seeing that on TOTP of course, not even in 1981, so here they are in the studio. Like Spandau Ballet, Duran are struggling to find the right image, but casual suits and T-shirts (plain white or striped, your choice) seem to be the order of the day, although John Taylor’s snood is distinctly non-regulation. Now on their third visit to the TOTP studio, Simon Le Bon turns in a confident performance, even taking a moment to instigate a game of charades to illustrate the line “There’s a camera rolling on her back.” Is it Goldfinger, Simon?

KIM WILDE – Water on Glass (#35)

Kim WildeAlso enjoying her third hit, Kim Wilde is back in the studio and already the Flick Colby Big Book of Literal Interpretation is off the shelf as shots of Kim and her band are mixed with a shot of – guess what? A sheet of glass. With some water on it. Could be worse, I suppose, as the song is actually about tinnitus, so some wet perspex is a better prospect than having the pictures overlaid with a diagram of a damaged cochlea. Anyway, seems a strange subject for an apparently healthy 20 year old to be singing about, but it was written by her father Marty, so we can expect future singles to be about the war, the terrible queues at the Post Office and how much better everything was in the old days. Interestingly there seems to be a Moog on stage serving no purpose until brother Ricky wanders over and pretends to play the instrumental break on it with one hand, still holding his guitar with the other. The Musicians’ Union will be out on strike again if he’s not careful.

Related:  1985 Christmas Top 40

DEPECHE MODE – New Life (#12)

Depeche ModeThat is Marty Wilde’s daughter – yes it is!” Alright, calm down Steve, we know. That catchphrase really isn’t catching on, is it? Far more impressive is Wrighty’s ability to correctly pronounce the name of the next band, making him the first TOTP host to do so, although he clearly has to think long and hard about it and there’s a gaping hole between “Depeche” and “Mode” as he fights off the urge to add an “ay” into the mix. Also on their third appearance, the Mode are still fumbling towards their own style; this week they’ve almost cracked it with Dave Gahan and Martin Gore both wearing braces, while everyone except Gahan is wearing a bow tie. It’s a look. No overlaid oscilloscope patterns or futuristic strobe effects this week though, as the Beeb has spent the entire special effects budget on Kim Wilde’s damp window. New Life would peak at number 11 next week, the first of 43 top forty hits to date, perhaps more than you would expect from a group clearly so in thrall to the bow tie.

BILL WYMAN – (Si Si) Je Suis un Rock Star (#36)

Bill Wyman“Now comes the quiet Rolling Stone,” announces Wrighty, and with all the furore over underage activities that has surrounded TOTP in the past few years, it’s frankly amazing that this fella has sailed through the whole debacle completely unscathed. Yes, it’s Bill Wyman making a late bid for freedom with his first solo hit, a full eighteen years after the Stones first hit the chart. Without wishing to rake over the coals of his much publicised relationship with Mandy Smith, some of the lyrics here are remarkably prescient as Wyman attempts to smuggle a minor across a state border for immoral purposes: “They’ll think I’m your dad and you’re my daughter,” he deadpans. In order to protect younger viewers, however, one line of the song is subtly amended: nothing to do with the age of Wyman’s sweetheart, but his statement that “she smoked marijuana” is amended to a more family friendly “she was a disco dancer”. Anyway, if he’s hoping to get anywhere flying BEA he’s out of luck as they merged with BOAC to form British Airways in 1974. Still, his performance today is strangely compelling, mainly notable for Wyman’s appalling blue linen jacket and the remarkable continuity glitch which sees him switch between playing Moog (probably the one Depeche Mode didn’t really want) and bass at the drop of a hat, the other instrument disappearing from view entirely when not in use. What a talent.

ROYAL PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA – Hooked on Classics (#7)

Legs & Co“Well now,” muses Wrighty as someone in the crowd behind him slaps a cardboard hat on his bonce, “Legs & Co are going to dance to a surprise hit!” A surprise, yes, but not necessarily a pleasant one. Thankfully we’ve managed to keep it down to just the one medley single on the show this week, but one that requires the participation of the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Louis Clark, previously best known for his work with the Electric Light Orchestra. With so much going on in the studio, sadly we can’t fit the entire LPO into the studio, so… enter Limbs & Co, as previously discussed. While various classical pieces – including “that one that goes Hallelujah!“, “that one Morecambe and Wise did with Andrew Preview” and “that one where Gonzo ate a tyre” – are unceremoniously stapled together over the regulation boom-clap medley beat, Limbs Etc proceed to defile everything Radio 3 has ever stood for. In little more than tassely flesh-coloured swimsuits they gyrate grimly through a succession of unimaginative disco routines which achieve the unthinkable feat of making the Last Night of the Proms appear dignified. The single would go on to reach number 2, the joint highest position of any of the medley singles from this period, but luckily someone managed to throw some stock footage together for a makeshift video before then.

Related:  Virtual C90 - February 2016

THE UNDERTONES – Julie Ocean (#45)

The UndertonesChart time then, followed by the ominous phrase “But right now we go outside the top thirty…” In fact we’re going right outside the top forty for a song you might remember Peter Powell going gooey over when the Undertones were on with their previous single back in May. Now it’s finally out as a single and tanking badly, hence the desperate last ditch attempt to get it into the top forty via a TOTP performance. A shame really, because Julie Ocean is a refreshingly mature piece, a million miles away from the infantile tantrums of their biggest hit My Perfect Cousin, so naturally it peaked at number 41 next week and became their last top 75 hit. In fairness there’s probably a case to be made for Feargal Sharkey taking his hands out of his pockets and getting his lazy backside up off his stool for the jarring, atonal middle eight where he repeatedly bellows “That’s typical girl” into the mic, or at least trying not to look so bored by the end of the song, but that’s a minor point. As the Undertones’ musical sophistication increased over their next few releases, their sales plummeted and the band split in 1983; the O’Neill brothers formed That Petrol Emotion while Sharkey went on to a brief period of solo superstardom before ruining it all with a series of music industry desk jobs and turned down the chance to return to the Undertones when they reformed in 1999.

STEVIE WONDER – Happy Birthday (#4)

Stevie WonderMore chart action now as we take on a mammoth countup all the way from 20 to 4 in one fell swoop. We stop off at number 4 for another of those hastily cobbled together videos, comprising some random footage of Stevie Wonder (including a very brief clip of him performing this song and lots of him doing other things), some stock footage of black people marching and some inappropriate messing about on a Quantel machine with still photos of Martin Luther King. This doesn’t quite stretch to the full duration of the song though, so it gets padded out with shots of the TOTP audience shuffling listlessly and Limbs & Co waving balloons around. Happy Birthday serves both as Stevie’s tribute to Dr King and a plea for his birthday to be recognised as a public holiday, a campaign which finally came to fruition in 1986. The single didn’t hang around in the chart quite that long, peaking at number 2 next week.

Related:  Virtual C90: January 2017

SPANDAU BALLET – Chant No.1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On) (#3)

Spandau Ballet“We’ve got a great crowd in here tonight, yes we have.” For heaven’s sake, Steve, leave it alone now. We’re in a strange position here, with the chart countup done all the way to number 4 but ten minutes of the show left. Luckily Spandau Ballet are climbing to number 3 and someone’s found the video for that lying around, so let’s stick it on and hope nobody notices. Like the Visage video last week, this one involves the band visiting a nightclub, Tony Hadley screeching his car into a convenient parking space just oustide, although he looks so sweaty it makes one wonder if he’s really in a fit state to be driving. Mind you, with the whole of Spandau plus the horn section of Beggar & Co packed into this tiny club, it’s no wonder Tony is sweating like a man whose next two singles will be disastrous flops. No such worries for this one though as it becomes the band’s biggest hit to date.

SHAKIN’ STEVENS – Green Door (#1)

Shakin' StevensThe awkward top four countup continues with thirty seconds of the Specials’ Ghost Town video even though it’s going down, before Wrighty announces the new number 1 and points over to the part of the studio where Shakin’ Stevens isn’t. Having entered the chart at number 22 last week clearly Shaky wasn’t expecting to be on the show again quite so soon, but a spectacular 21-place climb has seen him claim his second number 1 hit. Very convenient, as it was Charles and Diana’s wedding yesterday and we wouldn’t want something as scathing as Ghost Town to be number 1 on a day of national celebration, would we? In the continued absence of a video, here’s another chance to see last week’s performance. We play out with Walk Right Now by the Jacksons as Steve mingles with the crowd of punters clapping, jumping up and down and waving patriotic red, white and blue balloons. At least Wrighty’s having a good time.