The Human League

“Blow up the TV, blow up the car” – Top of the Pops, 21 May 1981

Dave Lee TravisIf you had fond memories of late April and early May 1981 and were looking forward to reliving those memories via the BBC Four reruns of Top of the Pops, you’re probably feeling pretty short changed by now. What with one thing and another, four out of five episodes from that period have been expunged from the run and the only one that could be shown was barely twenty minutes long. Yes, another forbidden episode this week, with the self-styled “Hairy Monster” Dave Lee Travis at the helm (presumably he doesn’t use that nickname anymore) and once again we are grateful to the Phantom Taper for having the foresight to record this edition when it was first shown. So grateful, in fact, that we won’t even mention the fact that the opening section is missing and we find ourselves thrown straight in at the deep end with the first act. You’ll have to make up your own pithy, erudite introduction for the Undertones, I’m afraid.

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

THE UNDERTONES – It’s Going to Happen! (#21)

The UndertonesNever mind, at least the Phantom Taper managed to record the important part of the show, which is more than can be said for whoever was in charge of recording the live edition two weeks ago for the BBC archive. Exactly what the problem was with the recording isn’t entirely clear but there are numerous songs on tonight that were also on that show and only one of those performances is repeated here. The Undertones are one of the acts that have been recalled to the studio, turning in another performance of It’s Going to Happen! without black armbands this time; we established previously that the song is something to do with the IRA and hunger strikes, although nobody seems to have figured that out at the time. Doubtless if the Beeb had caught the slightest whiff of any such controversy the song would have been quietly swept under the carpet, as the Police would find out when they released Invisibe Sun later in the year. Still, Feargal Sharkey, flailing his arms and pointing in an agitated manner at nothing in particular, is adamant that it’s going to happen, whatever it is. He even removes his jacket at one point, just to prove that he means business. This wasn’t quite the Undertones’ last appearance on the show, but it was their last top forty hit and would peak at number 18 next week.

SHAKIN’ STEVENS – You Drive Me Crazy (#2)

Shakin' Stevens“What a good way to start off the programme,” enthuses Travis, who we now discover is wearing a red woolly hat with the letters “DLT T.O.T.P.” knitted into it and some kind of yellow, green and purple appendage growing out of the top. It may be a flower, it may be the arm of an alien visitor, but whatever it is it’s piqued the interest of the young lady standing next to DLT who can’t resist reaching out to give said appendage a quick pull, causing it to spring back into position and provoking mild rebuke from Travis. Whether a grinning “Do you mind?” is his usual response when a young lady pulls his appendage is a matter for the courts. Before we get dragged into that legal mire, here’s Shaky again, again with the mandatory audience participation and luminous pink jacket but without the “assistance” of Limbs & Co this week. If only the audience could decide in advance whether to sway left or right, it would make life so much easier for those caught in the middle. You Drive Me Crazy was Shaky’s biggest non-cover hit of the year but it would spend a full four weeks at number two, waiting in vain for Adam & The Ants to move over. How rude of them.

SMOKEY ROBINSON – Being With You (#23)

Smokey RobinsonNow that DLT has had a young lady play with his appendage, it seems to be getting bigger – in fact it’s now long enough for him to stick the bowl of his pipe in it. I mean the appendage on top of his hat, of course, just to be absolutely clear. Travis would go on to be voted Pipe Smoker of the Year 1982, placing him in the same category as J.B. Priestley, Peter Cushing and Manny Shinwell for surely the only time in history. The reason for the pipe’s appearance here, though, is as a rather lame link to the next act. William “Smokey” Robinson had scored several UK hits in the late ’60s and early ’70s with the Miracles including Tears of a Clown (a hit in 1980 for The Beat) and I Second That Emotion (a hit in 1982 for Japan) but Being With You was his first top thirty hit as a soloist and his biggest hit in a decade. Here we encounter Smokey pottering around his beachside mansion, lounging on an unpleasant white and blue striped sofa, gazing forlornly out of the window, picking a flower from the display on the table and sniffing it (the flower, not the table) and half-heartedly playing a shot on his pool table, apparently covered in the same material that Shaky’s jacket was made from, all the time singing about how he only cares about being with… well, we don’t know who he’s singing about, because there’s nobody else there. Maybe we’ll find out in future editions if we ever get to the second verse.

TOYAH – I Want To Be Free (#13)

ToyahEnough of this idyllic fantasy, it’s back to the studio for more titferesque tomfoolery from Travis, who now appears to have the end of his hat appendage stuck in his ear as he introduces Toyah and “a number dedicated to all two-year-olds everywhere.” No doubt it was meant to be a lame pun on “I want to be three” but this is a Travis quip that works on two levels: for someone regularly described as a “punk princess”, on I Want To Be Free Toyah just sounds like she’s having a tantrum in the supermarket because her mum won’t let her get out of the trolley. “I’m bored,” she complains, before proceeding to leap around as if on a particularly well-sprung trampoline, uttering platitudes such as “I don’t wanna go to school” and “Don’t wanna be told what to wear” like a whiny toddler who hasn’t had her nap and has just been told she can’t watch another episode of Peppa Pig because it’s bedtime. Still, it helps draw attention away from her bandmates who appear to have some kind of gold paint on their noses and foreheads. Maybe Toyah drew on them. That’s it, straight to bed with no supper for you, young lady.

Related:  "Please remember to mention me in tapes you leave behind" - Top of the Pops, 11 June 1981

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR F.A. CUP FINAL SQUAD with CHAS & DAVE – Ossie’s Dream (Spurs Are On Their Way To Wembley) (#5)

Ossie ArdilesHat status: the appendage is now at full length – a good two or three feet, it transpires – but somehow jutting out at 90° in a manner that suggests all sorts of health and safety issues. “The hat is at half mast,” Travis explains, “because of City, who went down to Tottenham Hotspurs.” Yes, you remember the feetballs shenanigans last week which meant TOTP was sliced in half to make way for the FA Cup Final replay, don’t you? Well, Spurs finally prevailed, beating Manchester City 3-2 at the second time of asking, and gaining an extra week’s sales for their celebratory single. Whatever happened to the tape of the live edition, it seems this performance was at least salvageable as here it is again, Ossie Ardiles still hoping to “play a blinder” “in the cup for Tottingham,” although it turned out to be his fellow countryman Ricky Villa who scored Spurs’ winning goal. The success of Ossie’s Dream meant that for over a decade afterwards it was compulsory for both teams in the FA Cup final to record a single, most of which became hits to varying degrees, peaking in 1994 when Manchester United appropriated Status Quo’s Burning Bridges (On And Off And On Again) and actually reached number 1 with their single Come On You Reds. It also meant that Chas and Dave were guaranteed a hit single every time Spurs got to the final, as we’ll see next year.

THE TEARDROP EXPLODES – Treason (It’s Just a Story) (#18)

The Teardrop ExplodesHat status: the appendage is now, er, erect again and Travis has taken to poking the camera with it. “Take that, camera five,” he leers, before suddenly musing “I didn’t know we could afford five cameras!” For heaven’s sake don’t tell the government you’ve got five cameras or they’ll make you convert three of them into luxury flats. Little bit of politics there, yes indeed. Still, here are the Teardrop Explodes again, as seen (or not) on the Savile-fronted edition three weeks ago. The Teardrops only managed one more top forty hit after this one, leading to manager Bill Drummond’s now infamous suggestion that in order to sell more records, the band’s frontman Julian Cope should kill himself, an idea well documented in the song Bill Drummond Said from Cope’s 1984 solo album Fried and the rather more candid Julian Cope Is Dead from Drummond’s own solo album The Man in 1986. Obviously Cope wasn’t particularly open to Drummond’s recommendation; he remains alive – and content with record sales that are merely reasonable – to this day.

STRAY CATS – Stray Cat Strut (#11)

Legs & CoHat status: appendage surprisingly not fully erect despite a female leg being clearly visible in shot behind Travis’s head. His response to being so close to a group of reasonably attractive women is predictable: “And now this is where I get hot under the collar,” he admits, because despite the Stray Cats turning in three studio performances between November and February, they can’t be bothered anymore so… enter Limbs & Co! If Travis’s Cosmo Smallpiece routine was predictable, the dance routine is equally obvious. Flick hasn’t bothered to dress Limbs Etc up as actual cats, but their feline mannerisms are exquisitely observed: Lulu may not have an actual tail with which to “strut right by with my tail in the air” (although the budget does stretch to an actual garbage can with a fish skeleton in it) but she still presents her backside to camera with the pride of a particularly affectionate family pet leaping on your bed and demanding attention at 3am when you’re fast asleep. No wonder Travis is aroused. No more Stray Cats on the show until 1983, when they return with another number destined to get certain establishment figures into trouble.

THE HUMAN LEAGUE – The Sound of the Crowd (#15)

The Human LeagueHat status: appendage now at a jaunty post-Limbs & Co angle as DLT links to the Human League, the forgotten heroes of 1981 TOTP who only ever appeared on Travis or Savile-hosted editions right up until December. It’s a second performance for this song which remains a fantastic name for an ’80s-music-based website, the new-look League seemingly having settled quickly into being the greatest pop group of the era. Joanne and Susan – in cocktail dresses, because obviously they were working as waitresses at a cocktail bar until very recently – swing with an effortless coolness that makes Limbs & Co look like try-hards; Ian Burden’s prodding at his keyboard from a safe distance now looks assured rather than anxious; Adrian Wright seems to have nothing to do but is fine with that; and Phil Oakey has taken advantage of the spring weather and come out without a shirt on. It’s all completely ludicrous, but in a good way: the exact crossover point between old-style arty Human League and new all-singing, all-dancing, pop star Human League. At home in Sheffield, the two members of the British Electric Foundation are very, very cross indeed.

Related:  Off The Chart: 14 January 1982

KIM WILDE – Chequered Love (#4)

Kim WildeHat status: largely irrelevant as Travis heroically saves the girls behind him from the wrath of camera five, zooming towards them at great speed. His heroic pose soon turns to leering and raised eyebrows, of course, because up next it’s Luscious, Pouting Kim Wilde™ – only on video though, which is perhaps just as well. The video for Chequered Love is a remarkable thing indeed, full of suggestive imagery involving Kim in some kind of communal bathroom full of shower cubicles, although disappointingly they all seem to be occupied by members of her band. While these establishing shots lure every teenage boy in the country (and DLT) into watching the whole video in the desperate hope of seeing Kim undress for the shower – or even, heaven forfend, some wet T-shirt action – the video completely fails to deliver on these promises and her dignity remains intact. There are a couple of very brief shots of Kim actually in the shower – but only from the neck up, because this is a family show and we refuse to bring smut into your homes. Otherwise she remains bone dry, fully clothed and pouting for all she’s worth in a video that looks like it was conceived for her next single Water on Glass before a last minute clerical error ruined everything.

THE BEAT – All Out To Get You (#25)

The BeatHat status: appendage now looped around Travis’s neck as if attempting to throttle him as he counts up the first part of the top thirty. A choice of viewing next on BBC1 as the Beat’s double A-side, which peaked at number 22 three weeks ago and then dropped to 31, has now rallied slightly and is awarded a third showing. Alas Peter Powell’s fave Drowning from a full five weeks ago doesn’t get another airing as we’ve all now fully thrown our weight behind All Out To Get You as the main A-side, so we get a repeat from three weeks ago instead. Coincidentally the band’s previous double A-side Best Friend / Stand Down Margaret also peaked at number 22, but the obvious decision to stop releasing double A-sides because it confuses people didn’t help their fortunes; next single Doors Of Your Heart only made number 33 and the (English) Beat went off to crack America at the expense of UK success. Apart from the 1981 Christmas Day show (which, in the unlikely event that BBC Four decides to air a version of the show with Travis and Savile unceremoniously edited out, we’ll see sometime in the summer at this rate), the Beat won’t be back until 1983 with an unexpected hit single from their first album. The music business, there.

DURAN DURAN – Careless Memories (#37)

Duran DuranHat status: appendage now wound into a spiral as we go through the middle bit of the chart and DLT somehow almost manages to fall over before introducing another of those rarely seen performances we’ve missed out on on BBC Four. Having narrowly missed the top ten with début single Planet Earth a few weeks back, Duran were making heavy weather of following it up. Careless Memories charted at 38, spent two weeks at 37, fell back to 38 and disappeared, making it easily their least successful single of the decade. A shame really, as it hints at a much darker direction in which Duran might have veered off had the single been a bigger hit. John and Andy Taylor hammer away at their guitars as if trying to force the record further up the chart through sheer physical effort, while Simon Le Bon hasn’t even had time to change out of his painting overalls but has tarted them up with a scarf hanging jauntily from his belt. This may well have been the last we ever saw of them, were it not for a controversial video that boosted the profile of their next single even though it couldn’t be shown on television.

ADAM AND THE ANTS – Stand and Deliver (#1)

Adam and the AntsHat status: appendage still in a spiral but now fully erect like a giant psychedelic corkscrew. The lengths to which some people will go to draw attention away from their personality. Top ten time then, with the Dandy Highwayman and his merry band enjoying the third of five weeks at the top, but still only on video and still with the hanging scene inexpertly removed, yet still no warnings about the dangers of jumping through closed windows or painting your nose with correction fluid. We play out with the audience dancing to Ai No Corrida by Quincy Jones and look forward to a special event next week: two consecutive editions that are actually fit for broadcast, albeit hosted by people whose stage presence could be helped immeasurably by the simple addition of a silly hat.

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