“Earth keeps on rolling, witnesses falling” – Top of the Pops, 9 April 1981

Mike Read“Welcome to Top of the Pops! Some 19 million people every week tune in to see some of the top acts of 1981 on this show!” That’s what Mike Read tells us, and as one of the co-authors of the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles it seems churlish to question his authority, or his figures, but I strongly suspect that the figure of 19 million viewers was only ever reached in 1979 when ITV was on strike and the only televisual alternative was the news for the hard of hearing on BBC2. That said, the 2016 reruns tend not to even feature in the weekly top ten of BBC Four viewing figures, although the 1978 Christmas edition was the second most watched BBC4 programme in Christmas week 2015 with just over 600,000 viewers even though (or perhaps because) this was the third year in succession BBC Four had shown it. Still, it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality, and given that the Beeb has confirmed it’ll be zooming through 1982 in the second half of 2016 after it’s finished zooming through 1981, we’d better stop waffling and get on with it.


See the full top 75 for this week on the Official Charts Website.
Listen to our take on this week’s hits on our Mixcloud show Off The Chart!

LINX – Intuition (#7)

LinxIt’s all killer and no filler on the show this week, or at least we’re spared Lena Zavaroni-style light entertainment hell and even the one song that wasn’t already in the top forty would go on to become a hit, so we’re taking the unusual step of kicking off with a track that’s already been on the show twice. This week though, instead of making us sit through the comedy video again, Linx are actually in the studio – and what a week to do it, as this would be their highest ever position in the chart. It’s not that big a step though, as everyone has come in the costume they wore in the video; like Jake Burns last week, David Grant seems to have come straight from refereeing the World Snooker Championship (67-year-old Fred Davis, world champion in 1948, 1949 and 1951, began his second round match against David Taylor tonight, baize fans). TV’s David Grant and friends had another two top forty hits to come before Grant went solo, married one of 1983 Eurovision hopefuls Sweet Dreams and opened a Pop Shop.

BUCKS FIZZ – Making Your Mind Up (#2)

Bucks Fizz“Since it started in 1956, only four UK acts have ever won Eurovision!” That’s four wins in 26 years compared to just one win in the 33 years since, and ironically we missed out on a Friday TOTP on BBC Four this week as we were busy picking Joe and Jake to represent us in 2016. Whether they’ll make it six for us remains to be seen, but here are Bucks Fizz back in the studio mere days after winning in Dublin. In the event their victory wasn’t as clear cut as it should have been; they only won by four points thanks to some dodgy sound mixing on the night and some unexpectedly strong voting for the German entry. Nevertheless the skirt removal routine did its job and here are the triumphant Fizz, still in their primary coloured jumpers which must be getting a bit whiffy by now, except this time the girls are already in mini skirts so we don’t get to “see some more” this week. Not until Limbs & Co turn up, at any rate.

SAXON – And The Bands Played On (#27)

Saxon“Last year, 1980, Saxon had five hits!” Well, yes, that’s technically true, although only two of them got higher than number 63 and two of the other three were reissues. The devil’s in the detail, isn’t it, Mike? Anyway, despite their numerous hits this is only their second time in the TOTP studio, although they are one of the acts with the dubious honour of having (not) appeared on the unbroadcast edition from July 1980 when the Musicians Union were on strike and an unsure bespectacled bloke and a frustrated axe hero had to mime to 747 (Strangers in the Night). Stand aside, uncredited stand-ins and let the improbably named Biff Byford & co show you how it’s done: with ridiculously tight spandex trousers, studded wristbands, fringed leather jackets and a guitarist with a rotating guitar years before ZZ Top picked up on the idea. And The Bands Played On went on to become Saxon’s biggest UK hit, which is remarkable as it’s now almost completely forgotten.

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KEITH MARSHALL – Only Crying (#39)

Keith Marshall“And now a guy who charted before, a while ago.” Yes, he’s come a long way since the days of Captain Beaky last year… wait, what? Oh, right. Apparently this isn’t Keith Michell, it’s Keith Marshall, former guitarist with appallingly-named glam rock also-rans Hello who scored two hits in the mid-’70s with Tell Him and New York Groove. Hello were labelmates with the Bay City Rollers, Showaddywaddy and Gary Glitter, so you could say it’s a case of “Hello, Hello, I’m back again,” but you probably wouldn’t for fear of upsetting the Daily Mail. Keith has retained his remarkable bouffant ’70s hairdo but replaced the rest of Hello with an equally odd-looking bunch including Bob Carolgees on guitar (Spit The Dog not present) but Only Crying displays a subtle touch that Hello and most of their glam contemporaries didn’t seem to possess. It would be Marshall’s only solo hit but it was a well deserved success, even if the band’s moustaches weren’t.

DAVID BOWIE – Up The Hill Backwards (#32)

Legs & CoHow do you follow that? Well, with “Julie Brown, the UK and the World Disco Dancing Champion,” obviously. Mike and Julie proceed to “perform an amazing dance feat never before done on Top of the Pops,” which involves Brown leaping into Read’s arms… and that’s it. The more mean-spirited among you would probably say that this is still better than anything Limbs & Co could come up with, and watch them fail to prove you wrong as they illustrate the first appearance of David Bowie on the 2016 reruns since his death in January (lame rockabilly cover of John, I’m Only Dancing two weeks ago notwithstanding). Up The Hill Backwards was the fourth single from the Scary Monsters album and it almost seems as if RCA were throwing out increasingly uncommercial tracks as singles and watching in amazement as they all reached the top forty. Surprisingly nobody has built a hill in the studio for Limbs to go up backwards, so tilting the camera to an angle of about 20° will have to suffice. Up The Hill Backwards peaked here at number 32 and nobody was really surprised.

GRAHAM BONNET – Night Games (#12)

Graham Bonnett“And now, at great expense, all the way from Legs & Co, it’s Rosemary!” Ah, bless, it’s Rosemary from Limbs & Co’s 21st birthday and Read has arranged for the delivery of a bottle of “special BBC Champagne – not often seen around these parts.” Read plies the unfortunate Rosemary with drink before asking, “Do you like Night Games?” “Yes, good tune,” replies Rosemary, defusing the impending Yewtree klaxon like a boss. Before Read can explain himself we cut straight to another showing of Graham Bonnet’s performance from two weeks ago, complete with unsuspecting audience member being unceremoniously shoved out of the way to avoid being run over by the cameraman. Night Games got as high as number 6 next week but was Bonnet’s only solo top forty hit. Rainbow didn’t have any more top ten hits either though, so that’s something.

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PUBLIC IMAGE LTD – Flowers of Romance (#31)

Public Image Ltd“It’s two years since Public Image Ltd have been in the charts.” Blimey, doesn’t time fly? Of course The Sex Pistols never appeared in the TOTP studio during the punk era, but Virgin and Malcolm McLaren kept the band’s lifeless corpse twitching long after Johnny Rotten had left to form PiL; indeed, the Pistols’ version of C’mon Everybody graced the editions of TOTP immediately before and after PiL’s only appearance to date, performing Death Disco in 1979. Compared to that, Flowers of Romance seems almost commercial; John Lydon is in a typically belligerent mood, wearing what appears to be a priest’s collar and howling out unintelligible lyrics over an unusually rhythmical backing which seems to consist of drums, violin, cello and not much else. The BBC clearly still regards Lydon as some kind of enfant terrible, hence the visual echo effects which surround his face at all times, suggesting “this man in an anti-establishment figure and should not be approached.” Despite the feeling that PiL are only on the show because they couldn’t get anyone else, Flowers of Romance climbed to a peak of number 24 next week but it would be another five years before they were allowed back into the studio.

EDDY GRANT – Can’t Get Enough Of You (#44)

Eddy Grant“Record sales are booming at the moment and the charts more varied than ever.” Sadly the same can’t be said of Eddy Grant who’s back with another single sounding just like the last two. His performance has a familiar look to it as well, with a load of curiously dressed musicians, Eddy’s glamorous aunties on backing vocals and a bloke whose job seems to be to hold an African shekere and prevent it moving around sufficiently to produce any kind of sound. “I don’t wanna shock you,” leather-clad, hip-swivelling Eddy warns us, “but baby I’m in love with you.” Oh Eddy, can’t we just be friends? Can’t Get Enough Of You was on a protracted journey up the chart, eventually peaking at number 13 in about a month’s time, but although it was on the show another twice this was the only time we saw it on BBC Four, for various reasons which are not all Yewtree-related.

GILLAN – New Orleans (#24)

GillanOh look, it’s Ian Gillan and the new Ian Gillan band again. If only there was a shorter name we could use to identify them. While Saxon were a huge influence on Spinal Tap, to the extent that Harry Shearer joined them on tour to pick up tips for the character of Derek Smalls, Gillan’s influence on Bad News shouldn’t be underestimated – Ian Gillan’s grimy denim and impenetrable mop of hair, often completely obscuring his face, provide a template for gormless Bad News rhythm guitarist Den Dennis, while Vim Fuego’s blond locks and ludicrous guitar hero posturing could be lifted directly from Bernie Tormé’s performance, and that’s before we get to the predictable riffing that permeates Bad News classics like Warriors of Genghis Khan and Drink Till I Die. “New Orleans has been in the chart four times,” Read tells us in a desperate attempt to inject something new into another repeat performance, and it’s true; originally a hit for U.S. Bonds in 1961, a Merseybeat-styled version by Bern Elliott & the Fenmen charted in 1964 and in 1972 a vaguely glammed-up version was a hit for Harley Quinne, a non-existent band of sessions musicians and labelmates of the Bay City Rollers, Gary Glitter and Hello. I think this is where I came in.

THE WHISPERS – It’s a Love Thing (#9)

The WhispersThoughtfully Mike gives us the whole of the Gillan performance to remember who the other acts that had hits with New Orleans were before revealing the answers, so sorry if I’ve just ruined that for you. The first part of the chart countup next, followed by the first, last and only chance to see the Whispers on TOTP rather than having Limbs & Co hoofing around to their records. They’re still not in the studio, but their video explains why we haven’t seen them before – they’re clearly the result of some horrific cloning experiment involving the Jackson 5 and your dad. There are five Whispers, comically mismatched in height, every single one of them sporting a white shirt, maroon sweater, beige slacks, medallion, afro and moustache – except one who’s somehow come out of the cloning machine with a full beard. Must remember to adjust the cloning machine before the Nolans are next on. It’s a Love Thing spent three weeks at number 9 but couldn’t climb any higher and was the Whispers’ last top forty hit until Rock Steady stumbled to number 38 in 1987, by which time they’d bought some designer suits but otherwise looked exactly the same.

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HAZEL O’CONNOR – D-Days (#10)

Hazel O'ConnorOn with the chart countup then, conveniently pausing at number 10 for a repeat of this bizarre performance from two weeks ago which, shorn of its context and starting after Hazel has removed her disguise, looks even less like some kind of feminist statement and more like she’s just forgotten to put a shirt on. She’ll catch her death in this weather. “These are decadent days!” she complains, like a Daily Mail editorial set to a sanitised, synthesised version of the riff from Pretty Vacant, while leaping around in just her bra as if to illustrate just what terrible, decadent days they really are. Unaware of just how decadent these days are, most of the audience pogo obediently, apart from one free spirit in a red jumper who’s here to do some serious dad dancing and won’t let a woman in a bra tell him otherwise. D-Days was O’Connor’s second top ten hit after last year’s Eighth Day; her third would follow in a couple of months’ time when she would be properly dressed.

SHAKIN’ STEVENS – This Ole House (#1)

Shakin' StevensWith number 10 already taken care of it’s time for the top nine countup, the ever knowledgeable Read throwing in facts like “Stevie Wonder… he’s never had a British number 1” and “for the first time since 1976 our Eurovision entry has made the top ten”, culminating in a third week for Shaky at the top of the chart with a song that was written by a friend of John Wayne’s. (That’s not a euphemism.) It’s not really about a house, of course, it’s about the mortal spirit no longer having a need for the physical body it inhabits once it dies and goes to – yes – “meet the saints”. Bit bloody morbid, isn’t it, Shaky? Still, as well as being the rickety Mr Stevens’ first number 1, This Ole House would also be his last hit to date; after winning the TV show Hit Me Baby One More Time – a sort of X Factor for venerable pop stars – in 2005, This Ole House was reissued as a double A-side with a cover of Pink’s Trouble and reached number 20. Lots more Shaky to come over the rest of the decade of course, but for now we play out with yet another showing of that hand-jiving performance from five whole weeks ago. Decadent days indeed.

One comment on ““Earth keeps on rolling, witnesses falling” – Top of the Pops, 9 April 1981

  1. This was broadcast the week I turned 5 and I definitely remember watching it; well bits of it anyway. What makes me smile is the way we seemingly erase from our memories the records that aren’t absolute dross, sentimental to us in some way or are just a personal favourite. Looking back, we all construct our own personal view of how the charts looked and it is only when we read blogs like this and watch TOTP on BBC4 that the reality is different.

    On that basis I remember none of the rock/punk tracks as it (generally) isn’t my cup of tea. Didn’t realise there was so much of this music in the charts to be fair.

    Shakin’ Stevens would fall into the sentimental category as me and my schoolfriend both used to sing this at school and quite liked the double denim combo and white shoes thing. (Yes, I know) Bucks Fizz because I loved this and my mum managed to put it on in its entirety at 33 rpm at my birthday party; I wasn’t too impressed at the time but everybody else found it amusing.

    Personal favourites include The Whispers, Linx and Eddy Grant. Then and now.

    Loving this blog btw

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