The Teardrop Explodes

“Bless my cotton socks, I’m in the news” – Top of the Pops, 19 February 1981

DLTDoesn’t time fly? We’re certainly powering through the run on BBC Four now they’ve started showing two editions every week, and as they’re still skipping the ones hosted by Dave Lee Travis it’s possible to get through a short month like February in just eight days. Mustn’t grumble though, because the more episodes we can get through before someone in charge changes their mind and drops the reruns, the better. Again, thanks to the miracle of early satellite channels and VHS recorders we’re able to piece together the contents of this week’s edition even though it didn’t receive a BBC Four showing. We’re still persisting in crashing straight into the show with no opening titles other than an establishing shot of the TOTP logo on the video screen, but at least DLT doesn’t get jostled to the ground by rowdy audience members, as was Richard Skinner’s fate last week. Indeed the lady directly to Travis’s right looks as if she’s just realised she’s in the wrong place. Hang on, this isn’t Question Time!

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


The Teardrop ExplodesFirst off, an apology as last week we mistakenly stated that everyone had stopped taking LSD by 1981. This statement was made in good faith but of course we’d forgotten about Julian Cope and his famous adventure, related in his autobiography Head-On, when he appeared on a live edition of TOTP hopelessly off his face on acid and terrified that the piano was going to eat him. This is not that occasion, although that’s not to say he’s not off his face this time too, it’s hard to tell; staring intently into camera may just be part of his act. After a number of unsuccessful early releases such as Sleeping Gas and Bouncing Babies, Reward had been hovering outside the top forty for three weeks before this début performance propelled it towards the top ten. Also outside the top forty this week (bear with me) was I’m In Love With The Girl On The Manchester Virgin Megastore Checkout Desk by The Freshies, featuring the late great Chris “Frank Sidebottom” Sievey, who followed up their only hit with an obscure single about the frustrations of collecting obscure singles, I Can’t Get “Bouncing Babies” By The Teardrop Explodes. How did anyone manage before eBay?

RAINBOW – I Surrender (#4)

RainbowAnd as if that wasn’t convoluted enough, Mark Cottrell released a single a couple of years ago called I Can’t Get “I Can’t Get ‘Bouncing Babies’ By The Teardrop Explodes” By The Freshies. If anyone knows of, or is thinking of writing, a song called I Can’t Get ‘I Can’t Get “I Can’t Get ‘Bouncing Babies’ By The Teardrop Explodes” By The Freshies’ By Mark Cottrell, please for the love of God keep it to yourself. Anyway, back to the show and Travis thinks he’s spotted Attila the Hun playing trumpet for the Teardrop Explodes – now who’s tripping? Another showing for the Rainbow video next and despite their recent lineup changes they’re playing a very consistent game; their last two hits reached number 6 (Since You’ve Been Gone in 1979) and number 5 (All Night Long in 1980) and now I Surrender has reached number 4 in 1981. This would suggest a number 1 hit for them in 1984 but, alas, I Surrender spoiled it all by marching on to number 3 next week, ruining the pattern and ensuring they never troubled the top ten again.

FRED WEDLOCK – The Oldest Swinger in Town (#6)

Fred WedlockNext up, in a lovely bit of multimedia cross promotion, DLT points out his “Oldest Swinger in Town” badge, barely legible from this distance but never mind. “This song was written for Tony Blackburn,” Travis tells us, although one suspects the lyrics are every bit as relevant to the Hairy Cornflake himself. Fred Wedlock is back again and it seems it wasn’t a clerical error with Freeez last week, we really have stopped using microphones. Not completely, as Julian Cope had one earlier (even if he wasn’t always entirely sure where it was) but Wedlock’s performance is entirely mic-free. Unfortunately it’s also shirt-free, the old Flick Colby Big Book of Literal Choreography demanding he perform the song in a silver jacket unzipped to the bulging waistline, revealing “a little gold ingot and a lot of gold hair” as per the lyrics. Don’t dwell on the horrific display of middle aged male flesh though, there’s plenty of female flesh on show too as Limbs & Co have been pressed into service as a distraction. Number 6 was peak position for this one and you won’t be surprised that no further hits were forthcoming for Fred; he returned to the folk circuit, later branching out into TV presentation and acting before his death in 2010.

Related:  Off The Chart: 28 January 1981

MOTÖRHEAD & GIRLSCHOOL – Please Don’t Touch (#15)

Motorhead & Girlschool“Talking of old things,” begins Travis, thoughtfully pausing long enough for everyone to shout “You’d know all about those, wouldn’t you?” But hush. Please Don’t Touch was, as DLT points out, originally a hit way back in 1959 for Johnny Kidd & the Pirates, “but you’ve never heard it quite like you’re gonna hear it now.” Well, the guitars are louder, the pronunciation less received and it’s been rewritten as a duet between Lemmy and Kelly Johnson, but Lemmy always maintained that Motörhead played “pure rock ‘n’ roll” so other than that it’s quite faithful to the original. Please Don’t Touch was the lead track on the St Valentine’s Day Massacre EP, which also featured each band covering a song by the other. The two bands had long been mutual admirers but the idea of making a record together was forged late in 1980 after Motörhead drummer “Philthy Animal” Taylor broke his neck in an “incident” involving a stone staircase and a drunken game of “Who can lift each other the highest?” Taylor was therefore restricted to providing “insults and inspiration” while Girlschool’s Denise Dufort played drums on all three tracks.

TOYAH – It’s a Mystery (#42)

ToyahFrom one EP to another now with the lead track from the Four From Toyah EP, and Honey Bane puts her foot through her TV screen and sends the BBC the bill as someone comes along and steals her act from a few weeks ago but with a catchier song. Of course that’s not really how it happened; Toyah (which, if we’re being really pedantic, was the name of the whole band at this point and not just the flamboyant lead singer) had been releasing strange post-punk pieces like Victims of the Riddle and Ieya (not to mention the 6-track EP Sheep Farming in Barnet) since 1979 without commercial interest until It’s a Mystery began to pick up airplay. Toyah (the singer) would go on to gain a reputation for continually changing her image with elaborate make-up and bizarrely coloured hair (you know, like David Bowie did) but other than her bright orange hairdo it’s hard to see anything particularly outrageous in this performance. In fact, it’s hard to see anything as either someone has overfilled the smoke machine or DLT has gone back to his dressing room to make some toast.

STRAY CATS – Rock This Town (#9)

Stray CatsOstentatious, gaudily coloured hair and ridiculous make-up? No, it’s not Toyah again, it’s Brian Setzer of the Stray Cats trying desperately to become the missing link between Rock ‘n’ Roll and the New Romantics. This may be why they weren’t initially successful in the States; for sure Setzer never walked into a bar in Memphis covered in blusher and eyeliner like his sister (or, in this case, possibly one of Motörhead) had been practising make-up skills on him while he was asleep. In the UK though, where we’re more assured about our own sexuality and make-up on male pop stars has long been considered a positive boon, Rock This Town became the band’s second consecutive top ten hit, peaking here at number 9 just as Runaway Boys had done a couple of months ago. It wasn’t to last though and the Stray Cats wouldn’t be back in the TOTP studio until 1983, by which time Boy George had happened and everyone looked like this.

TALKING HEADS – Once in a Lifetime (#35)

Legs & CoTime to calm things down with “the bottom half of the top thirty” (apparently the chart is in three halves this week) followed by something you might be surprised to learn DLT is “very proud of” as he’s apparently been playing it for ages and it’s finally in the charts. Although they’d been releasing great singles like Psycho Killer and Love → Building on Fire since 1977, Once in a Lifetime was Talking Heads’ first hit single in the UK and, although they’d been on TOTP’s cooler big brother Old Grey Whistle Test years earlier, they weren’t here to promote this one so… enter Limbs & Co! Because this was all very new wave and modern and scary, Flick has dressed the girls up in their “futuristic” costumes: quilted tunics, white satin jumpsuits and headgear that sits somewhere between 21st century lightweight safety helmet and knotted hanky. You know, the sort of thing we’ll all be wearing by the year 1991. If you’ve ever tried to dance to Once in a Lifetime at an indie disco you’ll know how bloody hard it is, so Limbs Etc just pull various gymnastic poses while an image of “water flowing all around” is overlaid on top of them. Yeah, that’ll do, we’ll never see it again anyway.

Related:  Virtual C90: February 2017

VISAGE – Fade to Grey (#12)

VisageAfter the middle half of the countup we come to Visage at number 12, which seems a bit of a cheat as Fade to Grey had already been as high as number 8 two weeks ago and gone down last week, but this week it had rallied slightly and, as you know, it’s not easy to pad these out to forty minutes and the video for Fade to Grey has to be better than getting Dr Hook on again to talk about their next single, so here we are. Once again diplomatically slotted in on a show that Ultravox don’t appear on, this was the last gasp of positive chart progress for Fade to Grey until a remixed version reached number 39 in 1993; an orchestral version was also released as a single in 2014, a few months before Steve Strange’s sudden death last year. Fade to Grey also holds the unusual distinction of being the only hit single to be performed entirely in English and French within the same recording… unless you can think of any others.

ADAM AND THE ANTS – Kings of the Wild Frontier (#39)

Adam and the AntsWhile the official period of mourning for John Lennon has more or less worn itself out – only Woman and Imagine are still in the chart, although Roxy Music’s opportunistic respectful cover of Jealous Guy is new at 21 and picking up sales – Antmania is still very much in progress. Once again there are four Ants singles in the top forty, the newest of which is the title track from their massive hit album Kings of the Wild Frontier which has temporarily given up the number 1 spot but will be back there for another ten consecutive weeks come springtime. This single had been the band’s first chart entry last August when it got to number 48, but now Adam was a proper star and there was a desperate clamour for anything with his name on it, it was back in the shops and back in the chart. Like Fred Wedlock before him, Adam needs neither microphone nor shirt as he gurns and gyrates through his latest hit, although he is the first act whose performance is actually improved by the removal of the need to pretend to be singing live, as it frees him up to flail his arms, flaunt his torso and reduce the front six rows of the audience to something slightly less substantial than jelly. Like the Ants’ previous proper single “Antmusic”, Kings was on its way to number 2 and Adam was on his way to becoming the world’s greatest pop star, at least for the next nine months or so.

JOE DOLCE – Shaddap You Face (#1)

Joe DolceNormally this would be the part of the show where the excitement reaches fever pitch, but with most of the crowd unable to stand after watching Adam Ant for three minutes, the top ten countup is something of a welcome relief (including as it does a clip from that awful Dire Straits video at number 8) and when we find out what’s made it to number 1 it’s time for everyone to pack up and go home. While Ultravox wait patiently at number 2, Australian piss performance artist Joe Dolce (with his Music Theatre, whatever that is) has leapfrogged them to take the top spot with that song about his mother. It’s another showing for his only studio performance of the song from two weeks ago and although Midge Ure is desperately scribbling “The feelings are gone – hey! Only you and I – hey! It means nothing to me – hey!” on a blackboard, we know it’s already too late. Even Adam and couple of Ants are looking on in something which could be awe but is probably disbelief; Travis briefly attempts to interview them (“Have you enjoyed the show, guys?” “Great, yeah,” lies Adam) before we play out with Return of the Los Palmas 7 and one of those psychedelic light shows we thought Michael Hurll had got rid of.

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