Spandau Ballet

“Girls are foreign and strange to me” – Top of the Pops, 22 January 1981

Peter PowellWell, this is awkward. Keen to get 1981 over and done with as soon as possible, BBC Four have hit the turbo button and scheduled two editions per week for the foreseeable future, meaning that the idea of the show corresponding to the current week 35 years ago is very quickly going out of the window. Having said that, this idea wasn’t really working out anyway, what with the number of shows unexpectedly unavailable for broadcast due to the host finding himself on the wrong side of the law and the Beeb’s unpredictable scheduling which got us to September before the summer break last year with still almost a month to fill before Christmas. That feeling that time is racing away from us is increased now we have TOTP on Thursdays and Fridays, especially on weeks like this where we’ve skipped an edition in between, so Friday’s show is full of songs you heard last night too. Even the repeats are full of repeats these days. Anyway, here’s Peter Powell with a load of songs you’ve now heard more times over the weekend than in the past three decades.

Watch on iPlayer (UK only, available until 16 February 2016)
See the full top 75 for this week on the Official Charts Website.

THE LOOK – I Am the Beat (#6)

The LookI’m all for getting on with things, but really TOTP could use a theme tune or some kind of opening sequence instead of just launching straight into the opening song. Phil Lynott is on the case but in the meantime Pete, wearing a Beatles T-shirt under his normal shirt as if he’s worried the Beatles aren’t fashionable enough for him, hurls us straight into a second appearance for The Look. Twitter still hasn’t reached a consensus on who Johnny Whetstone looks like (the list of suggestions now ranges from Michael Praed to Al Pacino; it’s definitely Steve Punt on drums though) but their time is now up; after featuring on BBC Four two nights running (three if you include the Saturday evening repeats, shown back to back so now you’ve heard the song six times in three days), I Am the Beat failed to climb any higher than number 6 and The Look never returned to TOTP. It was eight months before their follow-up single Feeding Time emerged, peaking at number 50; an unexpected revival of Tonight from West Side Story bombed and that was the end of that. Having said that, with its closed groove I Am the Beat was technically infinite, so there may be a forgotten corner of Television Centre in which The Look are still going “Beat… beat… beat…”

BLONDIE – Rapture (#14)

BlondieOn to a rather better known act now, although after three number ones last year Blondie have peaked and are on the slippery slope downwards, not helped by this adventurous new single which is one of the first to attempt to bring this new-fangled “rap singing” to the masses. Although it’s by no means the first time a rap has made the chart, or even TOTP, Debbie Harry does have a claim to being the first white artist to have a hit with a rap record. It’s not just talking all the way through, of course, because the pop audience wasn’t ready for that, but there’s a couple of lengthy rap passages bolstering what is, in all fairness, a fairly lightweight song by Blondie’s high standards. They’re not in the studio, of course, because this isn’t the 1970s and they don’t need to be; instead we get the video which shows Debbie sashaying her way through the most boring party ever, dancing with various Blondie blokes and eventually chatting up the DJ who, sadly, isn’t the real Grandmaster Flash as namechecked in the song, although the fella doing the graffiti outside apparently is the real Fab 5 Freddy. It’s also one of very few hit singles to include the word “sacroiliac” in the lyrics; rest assured we’ll be listing the others as we come to them.

SPANDAU BALLET – The Freeze (#45)

Spandau Ballet“Really good atmosphere in the Top of the Pops studio on this Thursday night,” gushes an out-of-vision Powell, rather spoiling the effect gained by rerunning it on a Friday and/or Saturday. More club-based shenanigans now with Spandau Ballet, débuting just outside the top forty with their second single which is very much like their first one with the song removed. Still desperately in search of an image which works in the pop world at large and not just in the Blitz club, Spandau have ditched the tartan but replaced it with a right old mish-mash. Scarves are very much in evidence tonight, along with loose-fitting jackets / shawls / cardigans and, in Tony Hadley’s case, an ill-advised attempt at a beard. Even worse, Steve Norman appears to have come as Captain Sensible in beret and sunglasses. The Freeze is not their greatest song by some distance, but at this stage Spandau are cool and important enough for this not to matter too much and it’ll soon be in the top twenty. They’ll have to try harder to keep up their success though.

Related:  "Wriggle like a snake, waddle like a duck" - Top of the Pops, 12 February 1981

RACEY – Runaround Sue (#13)

RaceySound the alarm, Racey are back for one final throw of the pop dice. After a TOTP career stretching back to the summer of 1978, when they were doing acoustic ballads and being groomed as mal rasé successors to Rak labelmates Smokie rather than clean cut successors to former Rak labelmates Mud, this faithful cover of a twenty year old hit was their last chart entry and, consequently, their last TOTP appearance. They haven’t even come back for one last hurrah, it’s a repeat of their performance from two weeks ago – or last night in this strange new BBC Four timeline. So Racey are bowing out here and their powder blue suits can go back to the dry cleaners, but this wasn’t quite the last chart outing for Runaround Sue itself, as a version of it played a bit part in Jive Bunny & the Mastermixers’ lamentable 1989 number one medley That’s What I Like. Suddenly Racey don’t seem quite so bad.

XTC – Sgt Rock (Is Going To Help Me) (#54)

XTCWe’re still struggling to fill the show with top forty hits, so we descend to number 54 for this one from XTC. After two years and four TOTP appearances this is somehow their first time on the show with a song sung by regular vocalist Andy Partridge rather than bassist Colin Moulding, who seems to have struck lucky with Life Begins at the Hop, Making Plans for Nigel and Generals and Majors, the video for which opened that weird show last year when everyone was on strike. For some reason Partridge seems reluctant to lipsync to the song – perhaps related to his well-documented stagefright, or perhaps just because he can’t be arsed – while guitarist Dave Gregory seems to be taking on Steve Norman in a “Who can look more like Captain Sensible?” competition. Norman wins, obviously, but Gregory gets bonus points for incorporating a trombone break into his performance. This will go on to become the band’s biggest hit to date, exactly a year before their only top ten hit which we may yet see, either in the summer or after the Proms depending on how BBC Four decide to play this.

VISAGE – Fade to Grey (#23)

VisageAlthough it’s now almost down to the toss of a coin which editions of TOTP appear at any given time, some common sense has managed to work its way to the surface in as much as Visage (featuring Midge Ure and Billy Currie amongst their number) are being shown on opposite weeks / days from Ultravox (also featuring Midge Ure and Billy Currie amongst their number). Although it’s been in the chart since before Christmas it’s only now made it into the top thirty, inconveniently in the same week that Vienna leapfrogs it on its way from 52 to 16. Visage aren’t in the studio, given that the band didn’t actually exist in any real sense, so we get the video in which the late, lamented Steve Strange gets painted in various layers of make up, hides under a sheet, attacks himself with his own hand painted like a snake and eventually gets all the layers of make up taken off again. Despite being somewhat overshadowed by Vienna, Fade to Grey would become Visage’s only top ten hit and had absolutely no influence whatsoever on Kelly Osbourne’s 2005 hit One Word. Honest.

YARBROUGH & PEOPLES – Don’t Stop the Music (#8)

Legs & Co“If you follow this finger very carefully,” says Powell, pointing first at the camera and then wheeling round to indicate the stage behind him, “we will together find Legs & Co!” Well, thanks for the warning, Pete. Almost – but not quite – named after two British towns, Calvin Yarbrough & Alisa Peoples were a Texan duo, contemporaries and labelmates of the Gap Band, enjoying their first and only major worldwide hit and therefore far too busy to turn up to the TOTP studio. In their stead Limbs & Co have turned up in enormous frilly shirts and micro-kilts, suggesting that either they’ve been watching Spandau Ballet and disastrously misunderstood the concept of New Romanticism or, more likely, misheard “Peoples” as “Peebles” and dressed up in tartan because Peebles is in Scotland where everybody wears kilts all the time. Either way, the wardrobe confusion provides one intrepid camera person with a chance to shoot the girls from a low angle in order to find out once and for all if anything is worn under the kilt. All together now – “No, it’s all in perfect working order.”

ADAM AND THE ANTS – “Antmusic” (#2)

Adam and the AntsDon’t Stop the Music – as if we ever would!” Indeed, in the blink of an eye we’re whisked off back to last December for yet another showing of this performance of “Antmusic”, now in its second week at number 2 as John Lennon stubbornly remains dead and continues to monopolise the top spot. Lennon doesn’t have it all his way though, as both he and Adam have a remarkable five singles each in this week’s top 75. As well as “Antmusic” and previous single Dog Eat Dog, the reissue of the one-off 1978 Decca single Young Parisians is up to number 11 and two singles the Ants released for indie label Do-It over a year ago, Zerox and Cartrouble have débuted at 68 and 69 respectively. Suddenly Adam’s decision to give his style of music a distinctive title doesn’t seem quite as preposterous. Despite this, none of the early singles by the pre-fame line-ups of the band made it onto TOTP, except for the “OMG you can’t possibly reissue that” one in early 1982.

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HONEY BANE – Turn Me On, Turn Me Off (#64)

Honey BaneWe’ve left it very late again but finally it’s time for the first part of the chart count-up, including the fantastically misspelt “Dire Straights” at 25, before we return to Powell resting his elbow on the shoulder of a female audience member. “How old is this young lady?” he asks her, rather awkwardly. “Sixteen,” she replies, which is fortunate because it makes her (a) over the age of consent and (b) the same age as Honey Bane. Despite her young age and prototype Toyah look (including multi-coloured hair, fingerless lace gloves and unnecessary plastic mac), Honey was already a punk veteran, having been in Fatal Microbes in 1978 and collaborated with anarcho-punk collective Crass before Sham 69’s Jimmy Pursey got her a record contact with EMI. Mixing New Wave with a hint of ska, Turn Me On, Turn Me Off rocketed to number 37 after her TOTP appearance but couldn’t get any higher and became Bane’s only top forty hit. A similarly arranged version of the Supremes’ Baby Love struggled to number 58 after which Honey explored other career options, such as acting and dirty photos erotic modelling.

BAD MANNERS – Lorraine (#22)

Bad MannersTalking of erotic models, after the middle section of the chart we return to number 22 to revisit Buster Bloodvessel and his inflatable lover Lorraine. It’s another showing for the clip from two weeks ago (or last night if you’re watching BBC Four on Friday, or half an hour ago if you’re watching the Saturday night omnibus) with Buster still in full Henry VIII getup. We can deduce that Queen Lorraine was Henry’s sixth wife because, despite all the threats of physical violence, the song resolves itself with the two of them going to bed and the chorus “When I find her I’m gonna kill her” changing to “Now that I’ve found her, don’t wanna kill her,” hence the old aide-mèmoire pertaining to Henry’s wives: divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, exploded. While Bad Manners’ chart positions had improved with each of their first three singles, Lorraine bucked the trend by deflating at number 21.

JOHN LENNON – Imagine (#1)

John & YokoThe top ten then, again featuring three Lennon singles as while (Just Like) Starting Over has dropped out, Happy Xmas (War Is Over) is still shifting enough copies in mid-January to keep it at number 9 and his first posthumous release Woman débuts at 3. Combined with the reappearance of Give Peace a Chance at number 50, Imagine clings on to the top spot to give Adam and his various collections of Ants a run for their money. You know how the video goes by now and if you’re still getting teary-eyed at the thought of it, you’re in for some serious emotional turmoil next week. Pete bids us goodnight in front of a particularly rowdy crowd, one of whom persists in putting a 2 Tone trilby on his head and taking it off again – “What is that?” he demands, before noting with some relief, “Oh, it’s just a hat” – before we play out with the Gap Band and their latest Burn Rubber on Me which sounds terribly rude in all sorts of ways I can’t quite put my finger on.

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