Soft Cell

“Time just rolls on and on” – Top of the Pops, 13 August 1981

Simon BatesAh, it’s Housewives’ Favourite (“Favourite what?” I hear you cry) Simon Bates, bringing a much needed air of decorum to proceedings in his sensible beige blazer, black slacks and salmon pink shirt which he probably thinks a bit daring. Looking at him now, he still looks like he could be my dad, yet I’m ten years older now than he was then. Glitch in the Matrix? Eddies in the space time continuum? Or is he just the embodiment of bloated, self-satisfied Radio 1 that prevailed for a remarkably long time before being swept away by Matthew Bannister in 1993? I think we all know the answer to that. Seemingly employed by Richard Skinner to make him look fashionable, Bates bids us “Welcome to the summer” in the middle of August – what’s been happening for the past six weeks then? – and with a cheeky tilt of the head, points us in the direction of Duran Duran.


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

DURAN DURAN – Girls on Film (#6)

Duran DuranHello sailor! The stripy shirt look with which the band had experimented on their previous TOTP appearance is still very much in evidence, at least as far as Simon and John are concerned. This is Duran’s first ever week in the top ten, so one can forgive Le Bon for an even more animated performance, leaping up and down on the spot and clapping along in those rare moments when he doesn’t have his hands in the air like he cares very, very much. Can’t forgive him for the awful headband though. Even Roger Taylor (not that one) seems to be having fun, hitting his muted drums so enthusiastically that one of the sound-deadening rubber circles slides clean off during his close up. Girls on Film would peak at number 5 next week but Duran would still have to grit their teeth for a less successful single later in the year before it all came good in 1982 once Nick Rhodes and Andy Taylor had swapped haircuts.

ROYAL PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA – Hooked on Classics (#2)

Not a member of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra“Now then, time to give Beethoven a gentle kick and drag him up to 1981!” A gentle kick, Simes, what are you on about? Thankfully Limbs Etc aren’t involved this week (they’re needed for other purposes later in the show) but we still can’t fit the entire RPO in the studio, so here’s a montage of black and white stock film cut together with little or no regard for the music it’s meant to accompany. There’s someone testing some newly-made bells by hitting them with a mallet, some 1960s people dancing, some Mexicans dancing around (and trampling on) a sombrero, some kind of ceremony which involves men in top hats and frock coats dancing in the street with women who look like the Queen Mother, some men playing polo on pogo sticks (polo sticks?), a dog dancing on top of a grand piano, a fat ballerina, another dog actually playing the piano, the Household Cavalry trooping the colour (in black and white), some frankly terrifying footage of people dancing in gas masks, some frankly terrifying footage of Morris dancers, some “hilarious” footage of Maoris performing a haka… you get the idea. Maybe Legs & Co weren’t so bad after all.

SOFT CELL – Tainted Love (#26)

Soft Cell“That is an amazing piece of film!” gushes Simes. Indeed it is, but not in a good way. “Over my shoulder, a couple of guys from Leeds, Marc and David who call themselves Soft Cell!” Yes, it’s a TOTP début for a bona fide ’80s classic and one of the most influential acts of the era. Marc Almond is a natural, working the camera right from the outset, while gum-chewing Dave Ball prods self-consciously at his keyboard, augmented by a row of four electronic drum pads which he occasionally remembers to slap. Tainted Love was first recorded by Gloria Jones in 1964 which makes the song more than half a century old, a terrifying concept to those of us who first encountered it in this version which still sounds like it might be from the future. If Dave can remember to hit the drums in time to the “bomp-bomp” hook it might just get all the way to number 1. Even Bates reckons “that is going to be a massive hit” and for once he’s not wrong.

Related:  Off The Chart: 12 August 1982

KIM WILDE – Water on Glass (#13)

Kim WildeTime to catch your breath from all this exciting new content as we repeat a couple of performances from two weeks ago, or last week if you’re watching on BBC Four. Still, Simes gamely attempts to keep your attention with a short quiz: “Now, who’s at number 13? I’ll tell you who after I’ve mentioned that it’s glass and water, and a combination that results in Kim Wilde!” Cue teenage boys all over the country suddenly offering to wash the windows in the hope that they can somehow conjure up Luscious, Pouting Kim Wilde™ out of thin air. It doesn’t work – trust me, I’ve tried. The effect on display here, whereby Kim magically appears behind a sheet of soggy plastic, must somehow be fake. More lies and deception from the BBC! Kim is quickly learning about the law of diminishing returns as her first six singles, despite being an impeccable run of new wave hits, all reached progressively lower chart positions. Water on Glass will peak at number 11 next week without even a mention for Boys, the track listed on the chart as a double A-side even though the record itself clearly labels it as the B-side.

BILL WYMAN – (Si Si) Je Suis un Rock Star (#22)

Bill WymanIf you’re a collector of convoluted links, you’re in for a treat here as Simes burbles enthusiastically about the next song. “There’s a record we’ve been going with for quite some time, by Bill Wyman, that we’ve been playing on Radio 1, and is wonderful – I wouldn’t gossip, but on the other hand I have an idea you might imagine that the lady who he’s singing about could just be Nicaraguan, who can tell?” The first line of the song is “Said she come from Rio” – more lies and deception, etc. Is Simes making a veiled reference to Mick Jagger’s Nicaraguan-born ex-wife Bianca? Or has he just started a sentence and let it run wild to see where it would finish? Either way, Je Suis un Rock Star is on a particularly leisurely promenade to number 14 next week, so here’s that old performance again, notable for Wyman’s still-awful powder blue suit and the unexpected appearance of David Bellamy on drums.

STARTRAX – Startrax Club Disco (#28) (or possibly #27, see below)

Legs & CoA very peculiar shot now, with Simes addressing the camera through one of the gaps in the hastily assembled lighting gantry which has been installed for the next song. “This, if you remember it, is a disco!” Like Bates has ever been in a disco. Anyway, the medley craze rumbles on as anyone with a British Hit Singles entry more than an inch high has their back catalogue plundered and assembled into bite sized chunks for those with a short attention span. This week’s lucky winners are the Bee Gees, their entire history distilled into a few short minutes by session singer Alan Carvell. He’s been on the show before, singing a version of Together We Are Beautiful under the pseudonym Steve Allan back in 1979 before Fern Kinney turned it in to a chart topper. Here’s not here tonight though, so… enter Limbs & Co! They’re here to illustrate the record by partying like it’s 1977, doing generic disco moves in oversized white shirts and very little else. Good job they all put on clean underwear this morning. In a way it’s also a medley of Legs & Co’s greatest hits as they reprise the sad clown routine from when Tragedy was at number 1 a couple of years ago, before an “unsuspecting” audience member in a terrible Hawaiian shirt is plucked out of the audience for How Deep Is Your Love and turns out to be a highly competent dancer himself, almost as if he’d been planted there. More lies and deception and so on.

Related:  "I feel my spirit's getting old" - Top of the Pops, 18 June 1981

ANEKA – Japanese Boy (#19)

AnekaOn with the chart then, including a curious situation whereby the number 28 position has been cancelled, with the aforementioned Startrax and their gods Star Sound sharing the number 27 slot. The Official Charts Website contradicts this, listing Startrax at 28 and Star Sound at 27, so maybe Star Sound won on penalties. Bates also cheerfully announces that Tenpole Tudor are “on their way down to number 21” when in fact their single Wunderbar has climbed fifteen places and the arrows on the slide confirm this. Pay attention, Simes! We pause the countup at number 19 for an authentic Japanese pop star, yes, you can tell from the kimono, hairdo and how she’s singing about her Japanese boy. Wait a minute! If she were Japanese, she wouldn’t need to specify that her boyfriend was Japanese too! (Whips off wig) Ha, I thought as much! Caught you red handed, Scottish folk singer Mary Sandeman! You’re no more Japanese than the Vapors! More lies, deception and what have you. Good job someone’s paying attention as the rest of the country was taken in and sent this all the way to number 1, but then people were still watching The Benny Hill Show, so… different times.

ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA – Hold On Tight (#9)

ELO“She’s about the tallest Japanese lady I’ve ever seen, she’s also got a Scottish accent!” See, even Simes has seen through your web of lies, Ms so-called “Aneka”. More charts next, including Bad Manners’ “former number one” Can Can which, of course, only got to number 3. Bates is in danger of having his pop licence revoked if he doesn’t pull his socks up. At number 9 we find ELO with another video made up of old monochrome footage, except it’s actually new monochrome footage including a desperately unconvincing shot of someone holding on to the hour hand of a massive clock face. “Hold on tight,” you see. Other than that, the video is full of baffling silent movie parodies including a woman being abducted by a gangster, a man on a motorbike crashing through a wall and landing on a table Adam Ant style, and an evil Fu Manchu figure who appears to have some kind of death ray. What all this has to do with the song is not apparent. Still, it’s better than having Limbs Etc hoofing around which is what normally happens when there’s an ELO record on the show. Would it kill you to come into the studio once in a while, Jeff?

SHAKIN’ STEVENS – Green Door (#1)

Shakin' StevensBack to the chart for the top eight countup which Simes manages to get through without incident, before a new performance of Shakin’ Stevens’ second number 1 hit, a performance strikingly similar to the previous one except that Legs & Co have been roped in and there’s a giant Simon Bates head leering down from the video screen in the background. In keeping with the title of the song, Limbs plc have swapped their oversized white shirts for oversized green shirts; whether or not they’ve changed their undies is not revealed. We play out with One in Ten by UB40 as Shaky waves goodbye to the crowd and legs it, as do half the audience on stage, leaving room for those desperate to get on television to wave at the camera in lieu of actually dancing to another grim UB40 song about unemployment and poverty. They certainly know how to party on Top of the Pops, don’t they?