Susan Fassbender

“Imaginary playing heavy riffs, no diminisheds or fancy fifths” – Top of the Pops, 29 January 1981

Tommy VanceWeek two of the new supercharged BBC Four repeat run and it’s the end of January already; in all probability the 8 January show will have been the last time we weren’t way ahead of ourselves. Your host this week is the one and only Richard Anthony Crispian Francis Prew Hope-Weston who, in a bizarre case of identity theft, was obliged to adopt the persona of “Tommy Vance” while working for a US radio station in the 1960s. Having spent a fortune promoting a completely different Tommy Vance who failed to show up, the station asked the former Rick West to take his place, his name and his jingles and the rest is rock history. Tonight Rick / Tommy is resplendent in a black sweatshirt bearing the catchphrase “Rock on Tommy”; unfortunately when Vance moves his arms they tend to block out important parts of certain letters, meaning that at times his shirt could be seen to read “F*ck off Tommy”. That’s no way to treat a legend of guitar based rock!

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

SLADE – We’ll Bring the House Down (#58)

Slade“This is the programme that does not hang around,” boasts Vance, and he’s not wrong as we’re already off and running with Don Powell’s thunderous drums heralding the return of more legends of guitar based rock. Other than Powell occasionally tapping a cymbal for Sue Wilkinson last summer, we haven’t seen Slade on TOTP since 1977 when their Elvis tribute My Baby Left Me / That’s All Right was at number 50. With their glam rock heyday long behind them, the band was on the verge of breaking up – at one point Noddy Holder was lined up to replace the late Bon Scott in AC/DC – when a planned farewell performance at the 1980 Reading Festival gained them a whole new generation of fans and revitalised the band. A live EP recorded at Reading became the band’s first hit in three years and We’ll Bring the House Down was on its way to becoming their first top ten entry since 1975, a fact clearly not lost on Noddy who can’t keep the grin off his face. So Slade are back and while they never quite recaptured their early ’70s success, they had a number of hits throughout the ’80s, not all of which were Merry Xmas Everybody.

JOHN LENNON – Woman (#2)

John LennonClearly Tommy is also glad to have Slade back in the chart, although why he insists on calling them “The Slade” is not obvious. His exuberance has to be restrained in the next link though as he suddenly remembers John Lennon is still dead and the official period of mourning is still in place. Lennon’s chart domination continues, with Give Peace a Chance climbing to 35 to give him five singles inside the top forty, something even Adam & the Ants can’t match this week. Woman is the second single from Double Fantasy and the video was apparently put together in a hurry by Yoko as a tribute to John. Of course grief affects people in different and unpredictable ways but there are some remarkably questionable scenes in this video, which largely consists of footage of John and Yoko walking in Central Park a few weeks before his death, intercut with shots of Yoko on her own and photos of them together. Poignant, but inoffensive enough until suddenly we’re confronted with a newspaper cutting showing John signing an autograph for Mark Chapman hours before Chapman shot him. Seconds later we see a still photo of John lying on his back (from the Imagine album sleeve) which fades into a photo of Lennon in the same position, but dead. Yes, Yoko managed to get a photo of John’s corpse shown on television, not just in the confused weeks after his passing but again 35 years later. “For John, love Yoko” reads the handwritten caption at the end of the film, because for sure having a picture of his lifeless body shown on worldwide television is exactly how he wanted to be remembered.

THE STRANGLERS – Thrown Away (#44)

The Stranglers“In many ways it’s kinda sad to see that film,” says Vance, displaying a remarkable talent for understatement. No time for moping around though as we’ve another thirty-five songs to get through this week, or so it seems; now that we’ve dispensed with all the filler interviews and music news sections, we’re having to fill the show with records that aren’t in the top forty. To that end, here come the “famous – and sometimes infamous” Stranglers with what appears at first to be almost a disco number, with its four on the floor beat and jaunty keyboard riff, until bass player Jean-Jacques Burnel opens his gob and starts droning some impenetrable lyrics in an equally bass (and indeed base) voice. It’s something of a surprise to see the band on the show at all; they hadn’t had a top thirty hit since Duchess back in 1979 and Thrown Away didn’t change that, only managing to reach number 42 on the back of this appearance. It’ll be another year before we see them again with the unexpectedly successful Golden Brown in January 1982.

Related:  Off The Chart: 30 December 1982

MADNESS – The Return of the Los Palmas 7 (#18)

Madness“I like their music because you never know exactly what they’re gonna come out with,” offers Vance in defence of the previous offering. “Sometimes, neither do you know what Madness are gonna do either!” You certainly can’t argue with that statement, as the Nutty Boys have taken the closing track on their latest album Absolutely, a throwaway supper club instrumental of barely two minutes’ duration, and released it as a single, apparently at the insistence of Stiff Records boss Dave Robinson who wanted another instrumental hit after the success of One Step Beyond. With Embarrassment barely out of the charts the video had to be made in rather a hurry, so some footage of the band in a greasy spoon café and a fancy restaurant (to tie in with the cry of “Waiter!” some 40 seconds in) is intercut with dozens of very brief stock film clips. There’s an eye-wateringly comprehensive list of these clips on the single’s Wikipedia page but they include “Failed car stunt”, “Ted Heath being applauded” and “Very brief shot of a woman.” Oh, and almost inevitably there’s a clip of John & Yoko in there somewhere too.

SHEILA HYLTON – The Bed’s Too Big Without You (#46)

Sheila Hylton“Talk about taking coals to Newcastle,” suggests Vance ahead of the next song, so we will. The Bed’s Too Big Without You was a hit for The Police last summer in bizarre circumstances: its single release was accompanied by all five of the band’s previous hits in a Six Pack of 7″ singles which somehow got to number 17 on the singles chart despite quite clearly being an album in the original sense of the word. First released on the band’s 1979 album Regatta de Blanc, meaning “White Reggae” in some non-existent language Sting presumably just made up, the song made its way to Jamaica where legends Harry J and Sly & Robbie turned it into a proper reggae track. Obviously Sheila doesn’t copy Sting’s regular trick of taking his clothes off at any given opportunity, but she does model a remarkable sparkly one piece which Sumner would have looked great in. As with the Stranglers’ track, TOTP exposure didn’t do Sheila a lot of good, although the song did eventually climb to number 35.

ULTRAVOX – Vienna (#6)

UltravoxUnusually, we crossfade from Sheila Hylton into Ultravox with no Vance voiceover – are BBC Four trying to hide something, or is Tommy just speechless at Midge’s moustache? Anyway, after their Mr Benn adventure in which they tried on New Romantic outfits and found themselves helping Visage’s Fade to Grey up to number 12 this week, as if by magic the shopkeeper appeared and Ure and Currie had to change back into their normal clothes to promote their own record which, as it turns out, is doing better than Visage’s. It’s the same clip as two weeks ago, complete with clunky edit excising most of the instrumental break, but Billy Currie gets to play his violin and amazingly nobody on Twitter thinks to make a snide remark about fiddlers. Plenty of time yet though as Vienna is still moving up the chart, at least until we meet the band’s nemesis next week.

THE GAP BAND – Burn Rubber on Me (Why You Wanna Hurt Me) (#26)

The Gap Band“You wanna hear a good discotheque record and watch it too? How about the Gap Band?” Tommy Vance there, trying to pretend that he’s not just an expert on Guitar Based Rock, he knows about other types of music too, like “discotheque music”. To that end, here indeed are the Gap Band on video, with a new single which sounds a hundred times more like Uptown Funk than previous hit Oops Upside Your Head did, whatever the copyright lawyers may say. I mentioned last week that Burn Rubber on Me sounded vaguely rude, given that Oops included lines like “Jack and Jill went up the hill to have a little fun / Stoopid Jill forgot her pill and now they have a son”, but in fact it seems that the lover who “burned rubber on” poor Charlie Wilson did so by taking all her stuff and driving away really fast, rather than having anything to do with rubber-based “gentleman’s products”. That’s alright then, but they’d better have a good explanation for the title of their next hit, Humpin’.

DIANA ROSS – It’s My Turn (#25)

Legs & CoNo such filth and depravity with our next act, because of course Diana Ross hasn’t been back to the studio since that time Jimmy Savile scared her off, but she has a new hit so… enter Limbs & Co! Unfortunately Ms Ross has run out of singles to release from her Chic-produced album of discotheque music Diana, so we’re back to tedious string-drenched syrupy ballads. This one is the theme song from the “romantic comedy-drama” movie also called It’s My Turn, which apparently included an “erotic dancing” scene that was cut from the movie but inspired Dirty Dancing. No such worries here as a demurely dressed (except for the incongruous inclusion of one lilac wig) Limbs & Co interpret the song for the hard of hearing, standing in a crowd at the back of the stage and allowing one member to come forward at a time to do a quick solo routine because, yes, It’s Her Turn. The Flick Colby Big Book of Literal Choreography doesn’t even need to come off the shelf for this one.

Related:  Off The Chart: 22 July 1980

PHIL COLLINS – In The Air Tonight (#3)

Phil CollinsOn with the first part of the chart countup – and, yes, people are still buying Happy Xmas (War is Over) – before we jump to number 3 for another showing of that Phil Collins clip from two weeks back. Having rocketed from 36 to 4 last week, In the Air Tonight would reach number 2 next week but couldn’t quite make the final push to the summit, for reasons we’ll come to shortly. Even so, Phil’s first solo release was a bigger hit than Genesis ever managed in the singles chart, before or since; their biggest hit single was 1983’s Mama which reached number 4. In the Air Tonight, meanwhile, has spent a total of 42 weeks in the chart over the years, including the 1988 remix when it was used in a TV ad for communications company Mercury, the 2007 re-entry after the infamous gorilla commercial, and its appropriation by Lil’ Kim for her 2001 hit. And not a paint pot in sight between the lot of ’em.

SUSAN FASSBENDER – Twilight Café (#29)

Susan FassbenderA bit more chart countup, courtesy of someone who’s learned how to spell “Dire Straits” properly, before we get to the second and final TOTP performance for Susan Fassbender. Try not to be distracted by the bass player who, with his moustache, white vest, flat cap and glasses looks like a badly disguised Freddie Mercury. Instead marvel at how a record as great as Twilight Café only got to number 21. Susan and her songwriting partner, the ever-smiling Kay Russell, released two more singles which, for various reasons, didn’t chart; it probably didn’t help that CBS confused matters by releasing her next single Stay as “Fassbender – Russell” and the third one Merry-Go-Round as “Susan Fassbender featuring the Fassbender/Russell Band”. Disheartened, Susan and Kay went their separate ways and retired from music to raise their families; Susan took her own life in 1991 at the age of just 32. With no albums of her work available other than a collection of demos, Twilight Café is a great pop record in serious danger of being forgotten, so it’s gratifying to see it getting an airing on TV and attracting lots of attention on social media, even if many of the comments were “Ha ha, she looks like my mum.”

JOHN LENNON – Imagine (#1)

John Lennon“Nice to see a lady rhythm guitarist,” observes Tommy, completely ignoring the lady singer and keyboard player whose name is on the record, because guitars are all he knows. The top ten is 20% Ant this week as well as being 20% Lennon, but the late Beatle is again monopolising the top two positions. Don’t worry though, this is Imagine‘s last week at number 1 although far from its last week in the chart; a 1988 reissue to coincide with the documentary film Imagine: John Lennon reached number 45 and it returned to the top three in 1999 when it was apparently voted “greatest song of the millennium”. It also bears a striking resemblance to the song Imogen by Bad News, as heard in the Comic Strip film More Bad News which also stars Tommy in a cameo role, but Channel 4 has blocked that clip in the UK so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Back in the studio, once Vance has scared the living daylights out of an unsuspecting audience member by asking her, without warning, to say goodnight (“Uh, what?” is the best she can offer) we play out with Gangsters of the Groove by Heatwave over another of those kaleidoscopic lighting effects. Michael Hurll is still on holiday.

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