“Who made the zombies all tap their feet?” – Top of the Pops, 8 January 1981

Richard SkinnerHere we go then with the first proper Top of the Pops of 1981, and after last week’s review of the dregs of 1980 that didn’t make it onto the Christmas Day show, BBC Four’s usual Story of 1981 documentary and Big Hits 1981 compilation have pumped us up for a show full of exciting new music, all New Romantics in funny costumes and not a guitar in sight. Of course it doesn’t work like that, because it’s still only the first week of the year in chart terms so most of the top thirty is depressingly familiar; the Christmas songs are still hanging around and one of them has even gone up since the last chart before Christmas, but more of that later. One thing that has changed – again – is the presentation of the show; we’ve dispensed with the rambling intro and “coming up later” section, so Richard Skinner barely has time to say hello and make a weak joke about the name of the first act before we’re off and running with the exciting new sound of 1981.

Watch on iPlayer (UK only, available until 14 February 2016)
See the full top 75 for this week on the Official Charts Website.

RACEY – Runaround Sue (#29)

RaceyBut wait, what’s this? Opening up the first proper show of 1981, the last gasp of these late ’70s chancers with a song that was first a hit for Dion back in 1961. Runaround Sue is a cautionary tale about a girl who – shock, horror – “goes out with other guys”. Well, if you will date someone called “Runaround Sue” and not, say, “Stay At Home Philippa” you don’t really have much cause for complaint. This was Racey’s first hit for well over a year and the band look unprepared for such belated success, the lack of recent royalties meaning that they’ve had to turn up in the same powder blue suits they wore for their biggest hit Some Girls almost two years earlier. Good thing they still fit. Produced by Mickie Most and released on his Rak label, which may go some way towards explaining why their dance routine is so reminiscent of Mud in their early ’70s pomp, this would be Racey’s last hit as Rak had just signed Kim Wilde, instantly rendering them irrelevant – not that they had much relevance in the first place, as this screen capture clearly shows.

ADAM AND THE ANTS – “Antmusic” (#4)

Adam and the AntsMore exciting brand new 1981 production techniques mean that we cut from the end of Racey straight into Adam and the Ants, with a floating disembodied Richard Skinner head superimposed over them to do his introduction. The Ants are gearing up to become the biggest band of 1981: previous single Dog Eat Dog is on the way back up the chart as new fans spend their Christmas Record Tokens, their album Kings of the Wild Frontier is back in the top ten this week (albeit behind the first Not The 9 O’Clock News album and 20 Golden Greats of Ken Dodd) and after only two hits the band’s former label Decca – who signed them for one single in 1978 and immediately dropped them again – have just reissued that one single Young Parisians and seen it enter the top forty this week, even though it sounds like nothing Adam has done before or since. Despite their impending hugeness we won’t see much of them in the studio this year, as their videos were so great; even this is a repeat from before Christmas, complete with the prototype karaoke machine and the unnecessary apostrophe in “its”.

THE LOOK – I Am The Beat (#30)

The LookJanuary in the ’80s was always a lean time for new releases and it wasn’t uncommon for singles that had been out for ages to suddenly experience a surge in popularity as the smoke from the big guns’ pre-Christmas releases began to clear. So it was with this lot who Skinner takes great pleasure in informing us have “had a record out since October!” They are The Look, despite singer Johnny Whetstone’s insistence that he is “the beat”. He’s not The Beat, they’re on later. The Look don’t look like the future of music, what with Johnny’s leather waistcoat, bassist Gus Goad’s white jacket / red shirt combination and – gasp – guitars, but I Am The Beat is a cracking power pop single with a twist: much was made of the fact that the single ended with a locked groove, so the chant of “Beat! Beat! Beat!” went on forever, or at least as long as it took you to realise it wasn’t going to stop and you needed to lift the arm off the record yourself. But who does Johnny Whetstone remind you of? All sorts of suggestions came up on Twitter, from Paul McCartney to Andrew Collins. If you can come up with the definitive answer, please let us know.

BARRY MANILOW – Lonely Together (#21)

Legs & Co“And talking of The Beat, we’ll be hearing and seeing them later on the programme!” That’s my joke, Skinner, watch it. No time for frivolity though, because the show has been tightened up over the Christmas break with the removal of the Tedious News Section™ and the Bring Someone On To Talk About Their New Record But Not Actually Perform It section, which means we have lots more time for music. This is a good thing, right? Well… not always, because as well as Antmania Britain was also in the grip of Manilow Mania. Old Bazza had enjoyed a few hits in the UK, stretching right back to Mandy in 1975, but a heavily TV-advertised mail-order only best-of album had kickstarted his career over here and by January 1981 he had two albums in the top ten. Obviously that makes him far too important to come over here and do TOTP, so… enter Limbs & Co! Unfortunately Barry has chosen to have a hit with a dreary ballad (including the line “You lost your baby, me the same” which conjures up all sorts of unpleasant images) so there’s little for Limbs to do but stand around in their underthings swaying a bit. Situation normal, then.

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THE BEAT – Too Nice To Talk To (#20)

The Beat“It’s good to see mini skirts are back in fashion,” observers Skinner, although his assertion is somewhat flawed due to being based on the assumption that Limbs & Co were ever fashionable. Chart countup time, during which we ask ourselves who the hell was still buying the Barron Knights’ Never Mind the Presents in the first week of January, pausing at number 20 for all sorts of previously hinted at confusion. “I am the Beat!” “No, I am the Beat!” “I am the Beat and so is my wife!” This is a repeat of the Beat’s performance of I Am The Look Too Nice To Talk To from before Christmas when they swapped bass players with the Specials, and luckily both singles are still on the way up so we get to see the corresponding Specials performance later on. This was the last big hit for the Beat before they went off to crack America (as the English Beat, because the States already had a Beat – always poor planning when you’re thinking of a band name), although given the state of US-Soviet relations in the early ’80s, Dave Wakeling’s Cossack outfit was probably left at home.

SAD CAFE – I’m In Love Again (#59)

Sad CaféIn the bad old days of the tail end of 1980 we would have had some Tedious Music News™ here, or possibly an interview with a minor member of Dire Straits who had a new single out this week. Not any more though because it’s non-stop music on the new look TOTP, one of the best decisions of the Michael Hurll era, which is odd because Hurll’s on holiday this week and his predecessor Robin Nash has returned to hold the fort for a bit. Also returning even though you thought you’d seen the last of them are Sad Café, with an unremarkable single which blunders into the trap of rhyming “tonight” with “alright” within the first thirty seconds. Singer Paul Young (not that one) looks like the least menacing figure ever to team leather jacket with leather trousers, and his continuing insistence on sporting a curly mullet means that Twitter is once again alive with comparisons to Chris Morris, although this just serves to distract everyone from the Barry Gibb lookalike on saxophone. I’m In Love Again climbed to number 40 next week but would be their last top 75 hit; Paul Young went off to join Mike + The Mechanics, teaming up with Twitter favourite B.A. Robertson for 1988’s monster hit The Living Years, and died of a heart attack in 2000 aged just 53.

MATCHBOX – Over the Rainbow / You Belong to Me (#18)

MatchboxFloating disembodied head Skinner returns to inform us that Sad Café’s “European tour brings them to the UK in late spring”, by which time they’ll be “former hitmakers Sad Café”. Also in their last flush of success are Matchbox, with another repeat from before Christmas of their finger-on-the-pulse welding of the 1939 song Over the Rainbow (written for the film version of The Wizard of Oz) to a verse of You Belong to Me, best known in the UK as a 1952 hit for Jo Stafford which was only the second ever number 1 in the UK singles chart and the first by a female artist. None of this has any bearing on the rock ‘n’ roll era to which Matchbox have aligned themselves, but people are buying it anyway. Paul Young (not that one) can rest easy knowing that he was not the least threatening person ever to appear on TOTP in a leather jacket as lead vocalist Graham Fenton has turned up as a Stars In Their Eyes Alvin Stardust to perform a track that the real Alvin wouldn’t have touched with a bargepole. Matchbox do have one further TOTP appearance in them but it’s on a DLT edition so BBC Four viewers will likely be spared that.

CHAS & DAVE – Rabbit (#11)

Chas & Dave“There certainly is some variety in the charts at the moment,” understates Skinner as we link into another bit of chart countup, followed by the return of Messrs Hodges and Peacock. This isn’t a repeat, probably due to their previous performance having a ruddy great Christmas tree stuck in the middle of the floor, but the terrifying rabbit heads have been distributed amongst the audience again making it look like a shambolic early Flaming Lips performance. Rabbit was on its way to becoming Chas & Dave’s first top ten hit and with BBC Four now committing to showing two editions a week we may get to their finest moment Ain’t No Pleasing You quicker than expected. Or not at all, such are the vagaries of the BBC Four reruns that they still feel incredibly flimsy and liable to be cancelled at any moment almost five years after they began. Despite their widely perceived novelty status at the time, Chas & Dave have now become something approaching a national treasure, their 1982 Christmas Knees-Up show becoming a regular festive fixture on Channel 5, although why Five don’t shell out for the rights to the duo’s 1983 series, which included a baffling array of guests including Mike Berry, Captain Sensible and Clarence “Frogman” Henry, remains a mystery.

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THE SPECIALS – Do Nothing (#15)

The SpecialsAnother performance from last December now, the band’s awful Christmas jumpers apparently not a bar to the clip being repeated in January. Between this clip’s last BBC Four outing in December 2015 and this one in January 2016 we lost many notable figures from this era of music; most attention was focused on the deaths of Lemmy and Bowie but Specials drummer John Bradbury also passed away just after Christmas. Bradbury was a stalwart member of the band, staying behind to participate in the Special AKA after the original Specials split in the summer of 1981. He also performed with the Special Beat in the early ’90s, a strange hybrid of the Beat and the Specials as presaged here by the job swap between Horace Panter and David Steele. It’s a performance of contrasts, with Neville Staple indulging in some remarkable uncoordinated limb flailing while Terry Hall prefers to concentrate on a particularly stubborn Werther’s Original in lieu of miming. Nevertheless, despite its unusually slow climb up the chart, Do Nothing would continue the band’s run of top ten hits the following week.

THE NOLANS – Who’s Gonna Rock You? (#24)

The NolansAnother repeat from the same show as the previous clip, although I suppose you can forgive the Nolans for wanting a night off given that they were in the studio eight times last year. Although, like a lot of records in the chart this week, it’s taking its sweet time to climb to its peak position, Who’s Gonna Rock You? would become the fourth in a run of seven consecutive top twenty hits for the sisters. Fair play to Richard Skinner for not drawing attention to the fact that it’s another pre-Christmas clip, but the effect is somewhat spoiled by the fact that the Nolans’ drummer is dressed as Santa Claus, which is a lot harder to explain in mid-January than in December. Mind you, he’s playing in a band with a keyboardist wearing fingerless gloves (a peculiarly ’80s phenomenon for people with cold hands but warm fingers) and a guitarist who decides to help out by bashing a toy rabbit on the keyboards. There’s obviously a lot more going on in the Nolans’ universe than we truly understand.

BAD MANNERS – Lorraine (#33)

Bad Manners“Those girls can rock me any time!” Oh, don’t start that again, Skinner. No time for that though as we crack on with the latest hit from Bad Manners, fronted by the ever-corpulent Buster Bloodvessel who, for once, isn’t wearing a set of plain white overalls because that’s all he could fit into. Instead, for reasons which will probably never become clear, Buster is tonight dressed as Henry VIII. Lorraine may be one of the least romantic love songs ever written, with its simplistic but unsettling chorus “When I find her I’m gonna kill her / When I find her I’m gonna kill her / Lorraine, Lorraine, Lorraine, Lorraine, Lorraine, Lorraine, Lorraine, Lorraine, Lorraine, Lorraine” which at least solves the problem of “What rhymes with ‘Lorraine’?”. Presumably the threats of violence are okay though, as the part of Lorraine is played by a blow-up doll in a yellow T-shirt with “Lorraine” crudely scrawled on it in marker pen, and because we discover in the last verse that “Lorraine punched me on the nose, so I slapped her ’round the head.” There we go, it was all in self defence. Everything’s fine, nothing to see here officer.

JOHN LENNON – Imagine (#1)

John Lennon“And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for,” promises Richard as we count up the top ten, still with the old TEN TOP TEN TOP TEN captions because we can’t change everything in one go, can we? Finally John Lennon gets his revenge on the St Winifred’s School Choir for denying him the Christmas number 1 spot as There’s No-one Quite Like Grandma drops to number 6 while Lennon has three singles in the top five: (Just Like) Starting Over at 5, Happy Xmas (War Is Over) at 2 and Imagine at number 1. It’s painfully easy to draw comparisons between the time of this show’s original broadcast, when we were still mourning Lennon, and its BBC Four rerun in the week David Bowie died; the advent of downloading meant that all sorts of Bowie tracks returned to the chart, or even entered for the first time including Changes which had never been a hit before and Ziggy Stardust which Bowie never actually released as a single. In contrast Lennon’s mourners were restricted to buying whatever was available in the record shops, which focused most of their attention on Imagine, its 1975 release making it the most recent Lennon single before Starting Over (a tribute showing on TOTP the week after John’s death didn’t do it any harm either). Thankfully this is the familiar “At Home With John & Yoko” video rather than the live clip from last time. Before Skinner gets forever associated with showing us different versions of Imagine he bids us goodnight and we play out with Queen, disappointingly accompanied by a dull picture-in-picture effect of some flashing lights rather than footage of the audience trying and failing to dance to Flash. We can blame the returning Robin Nash for that decision, and anyone who says “Nash, Nash, I love you but we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth” can jog on.

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