Phil Collins

“I saw it with my own two eyes” – Top of the Pops, 15 January 1981

Dave Lee TravisTwo episodes into the 1981 run on BBC Four and everyone’s already confused. Since the repeats started with 1976 back in 2010 it’s been once a week, generally on Thursdays at 7:30 as it used to be in the old days. Now BBC Four have stirred the pot by chucking out two episodes a week, on Thursdays and Fridays, leaving everyone wondering what’s going to happen when we get to the end of 1981 some time around late May. Will I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday get an airing in the summer, finally bringing Roy Wood some much needed royalties in time for Christmas? Will BBC Four carry on with 1982 straight away, or after the summer break for the Proms, or next year, or not at all? Exciting times. Meanwhile, it’s the 15th of January and DLT’s already on his second show of the year, meaning that no matter how many episodes BBC Four shows in a week, we still won’t get to see this one. Thanks to the new regime which has pruned back all the flow-spoiling unnecessary nonsense, the intro to the first song is already playing as the show starts, keeping Travis’s introductory blurb down to a bare minimum.

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

SUSAN FASSBENDER – Twilight Café (#63)

Susan FassbenderAfter last week’s show, which was something of an anti-climax due to the hangover of records from before Christmas, there’s an obvious clearing out of dead wood this week with a show made up almost entirely of new songs, many of which aren’t anywhere near the top forty yet. The main beneficiary of this decision is Susan Fassbender, bringing a touch of geek chic to the proceedings – the epic coolness of a woman in glasses playing a Moog being enough to get the single into the top forty next week and eventually as high as number 21. It also clearly caught the attention of the future members of Elastica, because if you can listen to Twilight Café without singing Connection over it, you’re a better man than I. Joining Susan is her musical partner Kay Russell, giving it the full Suzi Quatro with oversized guitar, oversized hairdo and oversized infectious grin. This is the first of many great performances lost to BBC Four this year, but thankfully we do get to see Susan again with Tommy Vance in a couple of weeks’ time.

GARY NUMAN – This Wreckage (#20)

Gary Numan“We now have for you Mr Gary Numan and a number dedicated to me, it’s called This Wreckage.” Travis smiles his winning smile straight to camera as we cut away to the only previously seen clip on tonight’s show. After the effortless cool of Susan Fassbender and knowing the direction pop music is about to take, Numan seems like he’s missed the boat here, concentrating too hard on being detached and other-worldly (only Bowie ever really got away with the whole “I might actually be an alien” shtick, and even he had given it up by now) while other acts pick up the synthpop baton and run with it. Even the Human League are about to turn into a pop sensation, but Gary’s still being deliberately obtuse and narrowing down his appeal; after two number 1 hits in 1979 and five consecutive top ten entries, This Wreckage barely managed to sneak into the top twenty. Still it gives me time to dust off my favourite “Gary Numan is 13 days older than Gary Oldman” fact again.

LIGHT OF THE WORLD – I Shot the Sheriff (#68)

Light of the World“There’s something to jolly up your Thursday evening for you!” sneers Travis. Something more to DLT’s taste now in the unwieldy and overmanned shape of Light of the World, leading figures of the often overlooked BritFunk movement heralded last autumn when Linx arrived on TOTP. Light of the World are also benefiting from the lack of new music in the top forty; their previous single reached number 41 but we have to go all the way down to number 68 to find this cover of the Bob Marley classic. The power of the Pops propelled it to number 40 next week but they would soon be outdone by their own spin-off group Beggar & Co whose biggest hit was already on its way to the pressing plant. Yes, there were so many people in Light of the World they could be two different groups at the same time; here we see them jostling for position on an inadequately large stage like The Specials on dress down day. The question remains though: if Bob Marley, Eric Clapton and everyone in Light of the World shot the sheriff, who shot the deputy? Probably Jimmy Savile, if you believe everything you read in the papers.

Related:  Off The Chart: 2 February 1986

DIRE STRAITS – Romeo & Juliet (#49)

Dire Straits“Now a little Shakespeare for you,” Travis promises us. It may sound like he’s about to unzip his trousers but in fact he’s introducing Dire Straits which, depending on your point of view, may or may not be a better prospect. Remarkably this is Dire Straits’ only ever visit to the Top of the Pops studio, as the success of their recently released Making Movies album (it spent 252 weeks on the chart over the next sixteen years, only 16 weeks less than Brothers in Arms) meant that they were about to become far too famous for trivialities like this. Nevertheless, here they are, Mark Knopfler strumming a steel guitar just like the one on the sleeve of Brothers in Arms and demonstrating the lack of stage presence that explains why they never came back. As great as the song is, and recognising the historical importance of this sole TOTP performance, it’s always fun to remember just how breathtakingly awful the song’s promo video was; a piece of filmmaking which interprets the lyrics so unflinchingly literally that even Flick Colby would have blushed.

STEVIE WONDER – I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It (#17)

Legs & CoSpeaking of whom… “Now, all the men in the house, hang on to the armchairs, guys.” Not sure exactly what Travis thinks all the men watching are going to do once Limbs & Co appear on screen (throw themselves out of a window, perhaps?) but here they come, and after last week’s débacle when their frocks didn’t arrive in time and they had to do their routine in their smalls, Flick has made sure this doesn’t happen again. This week the girls are dressed in a variety of brightly coloured Lycra bodysuits and to ensure their costumes don’t go AWOL between rehearsal and recording, Flick has chained everyone into them in a variety of brightly coloured bondage equipment. What this has to do with Stevie Wonder’s latest hit is unclear; I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It is a straightforward tale of infidelity laced with some eye-watering innuendo: “Someone’s been diggin’ ’round in my cake,” “Somebody’s been rubbin’ on my good luck charm” and so on. Maybe the outfits indicate what Stevie will do to whoever’s been knocking up his missus when he catches him.

PHIL COLLINS – In the Air Tonight (#36)

Phil Collins“That was Straps & Co for you, doing their thing to Stevie Wonder.” We all know what’s happening in the Travis boudoir this evening, then. Let’s draw a veil over that and move on to a record DLT has been raving about on his Radio 1 show, which is now so instantly familiar that it’s hard to imagine a time when it was a new release. Having led Genesis to their first ever TOTP appearance last year, young Phil is back with his first solo hit and, curiously, he’s seated not behind a drum kit but behind a synth, which makes the familiar “Ba-dum ba-dum ba-dum ba-dum DUM DUM” drum break a bit of a let down. You’ll note the paint pot balanced on a packing chest at the side of the stage – not “on top of his piano” as popular legend has it, and apparently not because Phil’s wife had run off with a painter and decorator, a legend which persisted until last year when ex-wife Andrea denied the story and laid the blame for their marriage problems firmly at Phil’s comfortably-shod feet. Still… doesn’t he have lovely hair?

UFO – Lonely Heart (#61)

UFO“Coming up now, a group you may well have heard of before.” Well, not really, Dave. Regular TOTP viewers and/or readers of this site may have done, as they were on the show almost exactly a year ago with their previous hit Young Blood, but it’s fair to say UFO never really made much of an impression on the public at large. After over a decade of peddling hard rock it’s all gone a bit Springsteen here as UFO opt for a lighter approach, its saxophone-heavy sound alienating the NWOBHM fans but failing to win them many new ones. Despite singer Phil Mogg’s fetching cravat, Lonely Heart stalled at number 41 and this was their last appearance on the show. Although, in true Spinal Tap style, their appeal has become more selective over the decades, UFO is still a going concern and in fact has undergone something of a resurgence in album sales in the past few years, most recently reaching number 50 with their 2015 album A Conspiracy of Stars.

MAC DAVIS – It’s Hard to be Humble (#27)

Mac DavisWe seem to have gone a fair old way into the show without counting up the chart, so let’s get on with it without pausing to ask why an out-of-vision pre-recorded Richard Skinner is doing the countup instead of DLT. That done, we rewind to number 27 for that most horrific of things, a novelty country & western song. It’s Hard to be Humble first charted back in November and was actually going down last week, yet somehow it’s hauled itself back up to its peak position so we can’t ignore it any longer. Before this happened Davis was in fact a well-respected songwriter, having written Elvis Presley’s hits In the Ghetto and A Little Less Conversation. The trouble with country & western, though, is that it so often lapses into inadvertent self-parody it’s hard to tell how much – if any – of Davis’s act is meant to be ironic. Number 27 was peak position for Davis; the humour, such as it was, was lost on the majority of viewers and the record went on to join a select group of singles to have gained exposure on TOTP and gone down the chart the following week.

Related:  Off The Chart: 12 April 1981

ULTRAVOX – Vienna (#52)

UltravoxMoving on, here’s another record which is now so famous it seems incredible that there was a time when it was languishing at number 52. Of course Ultravox were still a cult act at this point, having only recently dropped their exclamation mark and recruited Midge Ure to replace John Foxx of Underpants Underpass fame. As with Light of the World and/or Beggar & Co earlier, Ultravox were not averse to a bit of extra-curricular activity; in fact Midge Ure and Billy Currie were already involved with a record higher up this week’s chart, having co-written and played on Visage’s Fade to Grey. Due to the vagaries of TOTP, however, we won’t see that until next week by which time Vienna will have overtaken it. In contrast to Steve Strange’s trailblazing approach to New Romantic culture, Ultravox are very sensibly dressed tonight, their only affectation being Ure’s ludicrous pencil moustache which, teamed with his smart suit, makes him look less like a futurist dandy and more like a 1940s spiv.

QUEEN – Flash (#10)

QueenBefore Midge can open his jacket and attempt to sell DLT a watch, we move on with the next bit of the chart (again voiced by Richard Skinner) before alighting again on the video for Flash which is spending its second of three consecutive weeks at number 10. Call that a ‘tache, Ure? This is a ‘tache! 1981 would be a quiet year for Queen, Freddie spending most of the year convincing the others to record a disco album, until the release of their Bowie collaboration Under Pressure and their long mooted Greatest Hits album at the end of the year. In the meantime we’ll make do with this strange, undanceable but groundbreaking theme from the Flash Gordon movie. The video itself is even stranger, set up to suggest that Queen are improvising the theme as they watch the film on a screen in the background, but at least the single provides Brian Blessed with his only top ten hit. “Gordon’s alive!”

JOHN LENNON – Imagine (#1)

John Lennon“Has anybody seen where I parked me spaceship?” On with the top ten then, although with Queen at 10 we only need to count up the top nine. John Lennon remains dead and still has three singles in the top five, people apparently still feeling the need to buy Happy Xmas (War Is Over) well into January, although reinforcements are on their way and Give Peace a Chance will be joining them in the lower reaches of the chart next week. For now, however, nothing is coming close to outselling Imagine and so we pay another visit to Lennon Towers, complete with its special teleport mat that allows John & Yoko to enter the house just by standing outside the front door and waiting. We play out with Don’t Stop the Music by Yarbrough and Peoples, accompanied by an old fashioned kaleidoscope lights sequence the like of which we thought we’d seen the back of after The Event last summer, but with Michael Hurll still on his post-Xmas holidays Robin Nash has managed to sneak it back in. Just wait until Hurll gets back, he’ll be furious.

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2 comments on ““I saw it with my own two eyes” – Top of the Pops, 15 January 1981

  1. The reason why Skinner ran down the chart instead of DLT is because that part of the show was recorded in the afternoon before the in vision links and performances that evening and with Travis recently starting Radio 1 afternoons, it meant he was unavailable to voice the countdown.

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