Shakin' Stevens

“Strong are the bonds that we make” – Top of the Pops, 2 April 1981

Simon BatesAnother week, another two editions of TOTP on BBC Four as we attempt to crack on through the whole year before the Proms, the Olympics and whatever else has been displaced by the closure of BBC Three as a linear broadcast TV channel interrupt proceedings over the summer. Tonight sees the return of Simon Bates who promises us “no less than nine new numbers” on the show, which is just about true if you include the playout track. Of course, as we’ll find out, being new is not the same as being good, and with performances including an appalling cash-in on an already cynical cash-in and a return to the light entertainment hell we thought we’d seen the back of last summer, tonight’s show is quite possibly one of the worst of the year. But, hey, keep reading!

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

STIFF LITTLE FINGERS – Just Fade Away (#47)

Stiff Little FingersAttempting to come to terms with the idea that punk is, if not actually dead, at least pogoing unsteadily on its last legs, Stiff Little Fingers kick off proceedings with an attempt to inject some respectability into the genre. Having supposedly been banned from the show last year for not taking it seriously enough, frontman Jake Burns is taking things very seriously this time in his dinner jacket and bow tie, making him look like he’s just come from refereeing the snooker. The rest of the band haven’t put quite as much effort into their appearance but at least they’re trying, all except drummer Jim Reilly who has decided it would be appropriate to stand at the back of the stage playing a bodhrán in lieu of an actual drum kit as heard on the record. Don’t worry, he’ll be gone soon. Despite the earnestness of the performance, Just Fade Away peaked here at 47 and then did, er, just fade away.

DAVE STEWART & COLIN BLUNSTONE – What Becomes of the Broken Hearted (#17)

Dave Stewart & Colin Blunstone“There’s a song that’s gone into the top twenty at number 17, and it’s terrific.” Thanks, Simes. This is the second and final outing for this clip from Dave “Not that one” Stewart and Colin “Yes, that one” Blunstone. The single peaked at number 13 the following week but the duo wouldn’t record together again; Blunstone went back to being that bloke out of the Zombies (although a similarly styled attempt at Tracks of my Tears was a minor hit in 1982) while Stewart teamed up with Barbara Gaskin to cover It’s My Party later in the year with surprising results, ensuring he would hold the title of “Most famous person called Dave Stewart in a male/female pop duo” for at least a year until Eurythmics upped their game. “A lady singer named Barbara!” Simes would be amazed. And no, we don’t think Babs is either of the two unnamed backing keyboardists here, although you never can tell.

LIGHT OF THE WORLD – Time (#45)

Light of the WorldTime for tonight’s BritFunk Moment™ and after countless – well, three – showings of (Somebody) Help Me Out over the past few weeks, Beggar & Co have found a telephone box, changed out of their tramp outfits and back into their normal clothes and – gasp! – they’re Light of the World again! It must be a hell of a job concealing their secret identities, especially when there are so many people in the band; one day someone’s going to go onstage in the wrong costume and their cover will be blown. They’ve gotten away with it for now though, as Time (a double A-side with the far superior ballad I’m So Happy) went on to become the band’s biggest hit under the Light of the World name, reaching the dizzy heights of number 35. This would be the posh Beggar & Co’s last appearance on the show, but the ragged Light of the World still have some hits to come… or is it the other way round?

LIQUID GOLD – Don’t Panic (#44)

Liquid GoldNow then, we’ve already heard the UK’s 1981 Eurovision Song Contest entry twice on the show and history has gone on to prove that, for once, the public picked the right song. But what if our hopes had been pinned on a bunch of cabaret disco chancers who struck lucky with a number 2 hit a year ago and have been peddling variations on the same song ever since? A group with a “flamboyant” drummer known for wearing next to nothing and having a keyboard painted on his chest for the singer to play like a xylophone? A crew so motley that even Simon Bates thinks “they’re loonies”? Couldn’t happen, you say, but it nearly did because Don’t Panic came second in 1981’s A Song For Europe contest, finishing a mere 27 points behind Making Your Mind Up. Dodged a bullet there, then. Taking their own advice, Liquid Gold ploughed on, releasing it as a single anyway and pulling out all the usual shtick for their now customary TOTP slot, except that drummer Wally Rothe is actually wearing clothes. The astute Douglas Adams fans among you will have spotted the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference in the title and will celebrate the fact that the song peaked at number 42; everyone else will just celebrate the fact that this was Liquid Gold’s last appearance on the show.

Related:  "A reminder of a world that doesn't care" - Top of the Pops, 20 August 1981

STEVIE WONDER – Lately (#4)

Stevie Wonder“The lady’s name is Ellie, I don’t know who the drummer is, I’m not sure I do want to know!” Come on Simes, you’ve had over a year to do a bit of basic research. Mind you, in Bates’ world his next statement “Every now and then they say that Stevie Wonder’s finished” constitutes research. Lately makes it two top five hits from Stevie’s latest album Hotter Than July and to celebrate we’re spared the spectacle of Limbs & Co’s bizarre half-arsed Doctor Who routine from two weeks ago. Instead we’re treated to the song’s video, which isn’t much better: it’s a symphony in orangey-brown as Stevie sings earnestly at a grand piano in front of an unflattering backdrop, pouring cold water on the “Stevie Wonder isn’t really blind” theory because if he could see the state of this video, this would be the time for him to say “Enough’s enough.” Clearly he hasn’t “been staring in the mirror” hard enough.

THE JACKSONS – Can You Feel It? (#23)

Legs & CoWith Michael’s Off The Wall finally mined out for singles, he’s back with his brothers for a new album. In fact Can You Feel It? was the third single from the Jacksons’ TriumphLovely One had been a minor top thirty hit and the unwisely named Heartbreak Hotel – not that one – hadn’t even reached the top forty. Can You Feel It? was making glacial progress up the chart, having entered the listings five weeks earlier, but it was now the album’s biggest hit to date so a TOTP appearance seems in order. But can we tempt the Jacksons over for an appearance on the UK’s biggest pop music TV show? No, of course not, so… enter Limbs & Co! Surprisingly Limbs haven’t been given a variety of objects to “feel” but have somehow become involved in a routine which isn’t just contemporary, it actually seems to predict the future: the girls’ dandified floppy shirts and knee-high boots combine with the chessboard floor to echo the closing scenes of Adam and the AntsPrince Charming video – before it’s even been made. Turns out Flick Colby really did have groundbreaking choreography ideas and had just been trolling us all these years.

CHILDREN OF TANSLEY SCHOOL – My Mum is One in a Million (#27)

Children of Tansley SchoolNow over to our reporter Simon Bates for a convoluted explanation (in full Our Tune mode) of the next song. “Last Sunday was Mothering Sunday, as you know, and a lot of kids, I guess, went out and bought a record for their mum, and this is the record that it looks as though they’ve bought, because suddenly it appeared in the charts.” Thanks, Simes. All you really need to know is that this is a shameless attempt by someone from a school in a village in the Peak District to ride the coattails of the St Winifred’s School Choir. Awkwardly, My Mum is One in a Million lacks any of the charm that There’s No-one Quite Like Grandma may have had; it’s a lumpen plod of a song in which mothers are celebrated for “washing the dishes and doing the chores, cleaning and ironing and scrubbing the floors.” There isn’t even a cute lead singer with a lisp for broody parents to coo over. They’re not even in school uniform, for Christ’s sake! Needless to say, unlike St Winifred’s, no-one has come forward in adulthood to admit to being one of the Children of Tansley School, especially the little brat who whines “Oh go on, mum, pleeeeeeease!” to which the only correct response is a firm “No!” and a clip round the ear. Now stay behind and write out fifty times, “I must not attempt to appropriate the success of another school choir for my own personal gain.”

SUGAR MINOTT – Good Thing Going (We’ve Got a Good Thing Going) (#31)

Sugar MinottThere’s been a lot of seemingly overstaffed bands on the show lately, from Dexys Midnight Runners to UB40, but an overstaffed solo artist is a particularly unusual phenomenon. Here’s Sugar Minott and his crew of at least seven other musicians, none of whom get a credit. Even the song title is overstaffed; originally recorded by Michael Jackson as We’ve Got a Good Thing Going (on his horrifically-sleeved 1972 album Ben), Sugar Minott’s desire to shorten the title was hampered by the legal requirement to include the full title in brackets afterwards, rendering the whole idea completely pointless. Nevertheless, Minott and his posse, in a variety of headgear which makes them look like a Jamaican version of Madness, seem to be having a good time and Good Thing Going (We’ve Got a Good Thing Going) would be a top ten hit in less time than it takes to read out the pointlessly long-winded title.

Related:  Off The Chart: 15 October 1980

LENA ZAVARONI – Roses and Rainbows

Lena ZavaroniSo, remember the theory that TOTP stopped being a light entertainment show after the Musicians Union strike last summer? How’s that working out for you? The standard defence that “Top of the Pops can only show what’s in the chart” falls flat again as Lena Zavaroni – who had two hit singles, both of them in 1974 – gets to plug her forthcoming BBC1 series by plugging her latest single. Written by US songwriting giants Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager, it doesn’t make you want to scoop your brain out through your ears with a teaspoon like Jump Down Jimmy did last year but it’s still horrible, perhaps suited to a cabaret evening at Cambuslang Miners Welfare Club but completely, jarringly out of place on an edition of TOTP, even one with the Chidren of Tansley School on it. Even a cover of Bayer Sager’s You’re Moving Out Today would have been preferable to this. Unsurprisingly Roses and Rainbows never caught a sniff of the singles chart – I wish I could say this was finally the end of TOTP’s light entertainment phase, but wait until you see who’s on in December.

SPANDAU BALLET – Musclebound (#53)

Spandau BalletBest crack on with the top thirty countup then, Bates still persisting with his infuriating habit of only reading out the act names and not the song titles, pausing only to introduce the fifth song tonight that isn’t in the top forty. Bates reckons it’s “a surefire hit” though, and for once he’s right. Musclebound was another of those pesky double A-sides, although the jangle-funk of Glow was widely overlooked in favour of this staccato plodder. Still unsure of their visual direction, tonight Spandau are wearing a jumble sale, wrapped in whatever blankets or offcuts of cloth they can lay their hands on to protect their delicate skin against the worst effects of the dry ice drifting across the stage. How the nation’s dads must have laughed at the idea of these Nancy Boys doing any kind of manual labour. It’s on its way to giving them another top ten hit though, so don’t laugh too hard.

BUCKS FIZZ – Making Your Mind Up (#5)

Bucks Fizz“I’ll lay you 6/4 that’s in the top twenty… well… top thirty next week.” It was number 29 the following week, so pay up. Another game of “guess the song titles” in the next part of the chart countup, before we laugh and point at Liquid Gold a bit more with another outing for our real Eurovision entry. Just think, if Liquid Gold had seen this skirt-removing performance before they’d planned their own routine, Wally Rothe would probably have volunteered to have his trousers ripped off just after the middle eight to reveal… well, who knows what. Thankfully this never happened and instead we get a repeat of the Fizz’s performance from two weeks ago as we squeeze in a third airing for the song before the contest itself on Saturday. “Cross your fingers for Bucks Fizz,” Simes advises us, “they’ve gotta win! So cross your toes as well.”

SHAKIN’ STEVENS – This Ole House (#1)

Shakin' Stevens“What’s number one? I’ll tell you what’s number one!” Please do, Simes, that’s your job. It’s still the same as last week but Shaky has been coaxed back into the studio for a new performance of the song, in the same double denim as before but with an entirely different gang of audience members prepared to clap along in the hope of getting on telly. If only the ones in front of the stage could decide which way to sway so they didn’t keep banging into each other on every other off beat, that would be great. We play out with “a touch of the Nolans” (you can get ointment for that nowadays), some oik in a shirt, tie and red jumper dancing like nobody’s watching (they are) and Simes pretending to recognise someone at the back of the crowd (“Oh, there you are! C’mere!”) as an excuse to disappear and avoid having to dance on national television.

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