Dire Straits

“The sounds are too loud and there’s too much smoke” – Top of the Pops, 5 February 1981

Simon BatesFebruary already, so let’s pause and take stock of how 1981 is going so far. The charts are currently dominated by John Lennon (who remains dead) and Adam Ant (who is still very much alive), but the New Romantics are on the march and we’ve already welcomed and seen off two major one hit wonders in the first month of the year. Meanwhile Top of the Pops, which towards the end of 1980 was flabby and weighed down with unpopular new features, is now tighter than Errol Brown’s trousers, being stuffed so full of music there isn’t even time for an opening sequence. The useless guest hosts have been ditched and the presenter roster has settled down, at least for the time being; with strangely no sign of Steve Wright or Mike Read in recent months (although the latter will return in March), the current hosts are by turns authoritative (Skinner, Vance), enthusiastic (Powell, Travis) and Simon Bates.

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

STRAY CATS – Rock This Town (#35)

Stray CatsAnd here he is, the lad himself, Simon “I wear beige, me” Bates opening up the show without even so much as a “hello”. Straight away we’re into the Stray Cats’ second hit and if you’re not familiar with it, try replaying Runaway Boys in your head and you’re pretty much there. The Stray Cats were a strange case, an American band who moved to the UK to become part of the rock ‘n’ roll / rockabilly revival scene alongside Shakin’ Stevens, Matchbox et al. Eventually they became so unimaginably huge in the States that drummer Slim Jim Phantom got to marry Britt Ekland and Rock This Town was honoured in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the “500 Songs That Shaped Rock ‘n’ Roll” (seems a bit backwards, but what do I know?). Even stranger, their American success didn’t arrive until the middle of 1982, well over a year after their run of UK top forty hits was over; they did manage another UK top thirty entry in the summer of ’83, but given that it’s called (She’s) Sexy & 17 you can probably forget about seeing that clip again in the current climate.

BLONDIE – Rapture (#5)

BlondieFrom something old fashioned, via someone even more old fashioned in his “Fifty Shades of Brown” striped blazer, to something so cutting edge nobody’s quite sure what to do with it. Bates introduces it as “that beautiful song called Rapture” which suggests that he’s never once listened to it. Although it broke Blondie’s run of number one hits and couldn’t get higher than number five – and despite the banality of the rap section which, to her credit, Debbie Harry delivers without a hint of embarrassment even though it’s about a man from Mars who eats cars, bars and guitars – Rapture was the first real juxtaposition of rap with mainstream pop and played a huge role in shaping the way pop music would progress; certainly Adam Ant was paying attention, as we’ll see towards the end of the year. All things considered though, perhaps the most amazing thing about Rapture is that The Doors’ Riders on the Storm fits on top of it perfectly.

SPANDAU BALLET – The Freeze (#17)

Spandau BalletMore repetition now, and a straight cut from the end of the Blondie video to this clip from two weeks ago. We don’t see Simes in vision, which is always a blessing, but we do get to grimace at him strrrrreeeeeetchiiiiiing his woooooorrrrrds oooouuuuuut in a futile attempt to make his link last for the entire duration of the intro to The Freeze. Given that Spandau went on to release much better singles that didn’t do nearly as well as this one, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what propelled The Freeze into the top twenty. It certainly wasn’t the catchy chorus, because there isn’t one; To Cut a Long Story Short didn’t really have one either but at least each verse ended with a restating of the title. Spandau may still be the coolest of the New Romantics for now, but this “Who can dress the stupidest?” competition won’t cut the mustard in a few weeks’ time when Duran Duran arrive on the scene.

FRED WEDLOCK – The Oldest Swinger in Town (#19)

Fred Wedlock“Here’s a guy who’s come up from Bristol, been on the folk scene for a while and has himself a hit!” The delight in Bates’s voice is palpable as he introduces someone who looks even worse than himself. After releasing several albums’ worth of humorous folk songs over the past decade, former teacher Fred Wedlock found himself with an unexpected hit single when Elton John’s record label Rocket picked up on this track from his self-released 1979 album and issued it to a wider audience. Due to the evolution of language and attitudes over the intervening 35 years, The Oldest Swinger in Town is now somewhat morally dubious, not because of the reference to “swingers” which in this sense refers to one who enjoys clubbing and socialising rather than indulging in any of the “alternative” sexual practices the word has come to suggest, but because the suggestion of old men attempting to instigate sexual congress with young women raises its head, and we know that nowadays there are plenty of people waiting to shoot down TOTP for any suggestion that such proclivities may have taken place on the premises. No need to worry though as Fred’s lament that, at his advanced years, “it takes you all night to do what you used to do all night” should reassure everyone that no impropriety took place.

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RAINBOW – I Surrender (#12)

Rainbow“You speak for yourself!” splutters Simes, attempting to disassociate himself from the comments of the previous speaker by asserting his knowledge of Guitar Based Rock: “Rainbow have a new single out and it’s their first new single with their new line-up.” He’s not wrong, viewers, as since Rainbow were last on with All Night Long last Spring they’ve lost drummer Cozy Powell and singer Graham Bonnet. We’ll see Bonnet again in a few weeks with his first solo hit, but in the meantime Rainbow carry on undaunted, Bonnet’s replacement Joe Lynn Turner proving his worth on a song that would go on to become the band’s biggest hit. Apart from the replacement of two band members, it’s situation normal: Roger Glover still looks like the least rock ‘n’ roll bassist imaginable in his beard and beret, but new drummer Bobby Rondinelli is doing a reasonable impression of Brian May, so the balance is restored. As the clip ends the entire processing power of the caption machine is pressed into service to render the letters of the word “Rainbow” into a rainbow shape. We’re still a month away from the launch of the ZX81, let’s not forget.

DIRE STRAITS – Romeo & Juliet (#11)

Dire StraitsAnother out-of-vision link into Dire Straights Straits, and Simes reckons “since Sultans of Swing Dire Straits have been rather quiet as far as hits are concerned, but this is gonna be a massive one.” Almost inevitably, the single went down the chart the following week, but rallied after that to reach a peak position of number 8. It’s been brought to my attention that I was rather harsh on Mark Knopfler last time around, so for the avoidance of doubt let me state that despite Knopfler’s inability to lip synch convincingly, insistence on staring directly into the camera and barely suppressed smirk that keeps breaking out throughout the song, Romeo & Juliet is a terrific record. For sheer comedic value, though, the video is still better. This remains Dire Straits’ only appearance in the TOTP studio; thankfully their videos got better over the years as we’ll see quite a few of them in the next half decade.

XTC – Sgt Rock (Is Going to Help Me) (#28)

XTCCertainly Simes likes Romeo & Juliet. “What do you reckon?” he asks a girl in the crowd, who can barely utter more than “Greauh” in response, which seems vaguely positive. On with “one you might like,” another outing for XTC’s latest hit which looks for all the world like a repeat of the clip from two weeks ago but, bizarrely, it isn’t. Although clearly filmed on the same day, with everyone in the same clothes and the director calling the same shots, the takes are very slightly different, which raises all sorts of questions but mainly “Why?” Perhaps Andy Partridge’s gurning, knowing looks to camera and general lack of taking it seriously were considered inappropriate for their first appearance, but he behaved in a similar way then too, so why substitute one for the other and why show this version two weeks later? It’s a mystery, as is the reason why, in two weeks’ time when the song reaches its peak position of 16, it doesn’t get back on the show but a Toyah track from outside the top forty does.

CLIFF RICHARD – A Little in Love (#15)

Cliff Richard“XTC, and they’re in the charts and let’s see how those lower regions are doing this week.” If it’s all the same with you, Simes, I’d rather you just did a countup from 30 to 21. Those lower regions taken care of, we get the latest video by Cliff Richard, “out of the top twenty at number 15,” according to Bates. Time to sound the Alan Tarney klaxon again, as this is another Cliff hit written, arranged and produced by Tarney; he even designed the hole in the middle of the record. Cliff, meanwhile, appears to be under house arrest, making the video while wandering around his mansion, staring wistfully out of the window and warming his flared trousers by the roaring fire. Soon he gets bored with this and breaks out of the house, strolling through the enormous garden to get to a river by which he can make his escape. Unfortunately the garden is so big that he doesn’t reach the river until nighttime, by which time the search beacons have been lit. Will Cliff get across the river and make good his escape? Who cares?

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THE PASSIONS – I’m in Love with a German Film Star (#34)

The Passions“Behind me, a new band called The Passions, with a lady singer called Barbara!” Imagine. Not just a lady singer, but one called Barbara who isn’t Dickson or Streisand. Barbara Gogan – for it is she – and drummer Richard Williams were the only two constant members of The Passions throughout the band’s five-year career, which peaked here with their only hit single. Yes, more one hit wonders. Gogan exudes a strange, moody charm which seems to preclude her from opening her eyes much, or from looking up when she does so, as if she’s lost a contact lens somewhere in the dry ice. A New Wave classic with its evocative echoing guitar effects, it’s slightly jarring to realise that I’m in Love with a German Film Star has no keyboards on it, despite regularly cropping up on ’80s synthpop compilations. Like Rapture, however, it does fit seamlessly with the vocals from a classic rock hit, in this case the Steve Miller Band’s Rock ‘n Me.

JOE DOLCE – Shaddap You Face (#30)

Joe DolceOn with the middle section of the top thirty countup, and Bates has lost the piece of paper with all the song titles written on it so is forced just to read out the artists’ names off the slides which we can all see anyway. After that, Ultravox fans everywhere bristle and snarl slightly as Simes introduces a performer who “has been top of the pops in Australia for the last eight weeks” and proceeds to crack up as he makes his way through a convoluted link involving The Godfather. Yes, it’s Joe Dolce, or “Joe Dolce Music Theatre” as he was billed on the record, an American-born Australian pretending to be Italian. As Bates points out Shaddap You Face had already been a massive hit down under, so much so that an alternative version had been prepared for the UK, performed by a German-born Brit pretending to be Spanish, namely Andrew Sachs in character as Manuel from Fawlty Towers. Manuel’s version was released on Rocket Records, who were having a cracking month for novelty records; Elton must have been so proud. It was all in vain though as it was Dolce’s original that picked up most of the airplay and became a hit. Here he performs the song completely live with the lyrics on a blackboard to aid audience participation. If only Ultravox had thought of that.

JOHN LENNON – Woman (#1)

John Lennon“I think it’ll be a hit,” predicts Simes, and for once he’s not wrong. Top ten time, now without the TEN TOP TEN TOP TEN captions but with each song’s chart position spelt out in a caption scrolling rapidly from right to left as the clip plays. Before we get to the number one, though, we cut back to the studio for a final link from Bates and “a bit of a wave from this loony lot,” before playing out with the number 1. It’s that man again, Lennon’s new single Woman deposing old single Imagine from the top spot, the first time such an event had occurred since I Want To Hold Your Hand knocked She Loves You off number 1 back in December 1963. Thankfully someone has had a look at the video Yoko put together as seen on last week’s show and decided not to show it again this week, so instead we get a montage of older John & Yoko clips and some stills of John, much like the official video except there are no shots of Lennon lying dead in the morgue. That’s it for this week as the credits roll over the end of the video and nobody even mentioned the fact that Limbs & Co weren’t on the show. The beginning of the end for Flick and her Big Book of Literal Choreography? Well, possibly. They’re back next week but from now on they don’t appear on every show, so enjoy them while you can.

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