Coast To Coast

“Wriggle like a snake, waddle like a duck” – Top of the Pops, 12 February 1981

Richard Skinner“You’re right, it’s Top of the Pops!” confirms knowledgeable Richard Skinner before anyone’s even had a chance to ask the question. This week it appears that Skinner is being remodeled, in an attempt to cast off his stuffy image and reposition him as a hip young music enthusiast in the Peter Powell mould. Physically the transformation seems to be going via Simon Bates first, as the all-grey ensemble Richard modeled on his first solo TOTP gig is gradually giving way to various shades of brown, although the grey stripe down the middle of his jumper suggests his inner newsreader is still trying to escape. Meanwhile, Michael Hurll is back from having January off and has stuck Skinner in amongst a gaggle of excitable audience members, waving at the camera and jumping up and down with such ferocity that the former Newsbeat stalwart is forced to start bouncing up and down with them. Such undignified behaviour.

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

PRETENDERS – Message of Love (#28)

PretendersBefore the baying throng can drag Richard to the ground and strip him naked, the camera respectfully moves off to capture the Pretenders performing their latest. We’ve reached peak early Pretenders here with the band oozing proper rock star confidence, Martin Chambers casually spinning his drumsticks and Pete Farndon easily winning the “best quiff in rock” competition as the Stray Cats look on dejectedly. The whole caboodle looks so effortlessly cool that the dolt in charge of the Quantel machine can’t resist messing it up, colouring the whole screen in with shades of blue, yellow and red the like of which no-one had seen since the psychedelic heyday of the late ’60s, mainly because everyone had stopped taking LSD by then. This is all we’ll see of Message of Love on TOTP as it soared to number 11 next week and then fell away. Typical of the Beeb to use the psychedelic effect where it’s not needed, when it would have livened up some of tonight’s later, less exciting performances no end. As would LSD.

ULTRAVOX – Vienna (#2)

Ultravox“That really is a modern classic,” enthuses Skinner, having hastily put his clothes back on and made a dash for the safety of an audience-free area. Time for Ultravox again, enjoying the biggest hit of their career as Vienna reaches number 2. For variety we get to see the video this week, the Russell Mulcahy-directed epic which, while it clearly wasn’t the first pop video, may have been the first pop video that looked like it wasn’t made for £3.49 in a booth. Along with, ironically enough, Fade to Grey from a few weeks back, Vienna is one of the first videos that was unmistakably a product of the ’80s, even if the opening monochrome faux-widescreen shots looked decidedly strange within a 4:3 frame on widescreen TVs. But then, in a strange nod to The Wizard of Oz, everything turns full screen and full colour as the band wander aimlessly around the Ambassador’s party, looking in vain for some Ferrero Rocher. With a promo clip like this behind it, Vienna has to get to number 1, doesn’t it? …Doesn’t it?

BARBARA JONES – Just When I Needed You Most (#31)

Barbara Jones“Now here’s a lady who’s new to these shores,” and indeed a lady singer called Barbara which would no doubt have delighted Tommy Vance had he been presenting this week. Regular viewers of the BBC Four TOTP reruns may remember Just When I Needed You Most from its original version some eighteen months ago when it was a top ten hit for the spectacularly named Randy Vanwarmer. That was back in the 1970s though, and as Sheila Hylton established two weeks ago a song can’t be considered an ’80s classic until it’s been a hit as a reggae cover version. To that end, here’s Barbara and everyone who Googled Randy after seeing Limbs & Co hoofing to the track back in 2014 and fell in love with his Napoleon Dynamite look will be delighted to discover that she’s equally hilariously four-eyed. While Randy’s version reached the top ten, this unnecessary version by the Deirdre Barlow of reggae failed to climb any higher than number 31.

COAST TO COAST – (Do) The Hucklebuck (#39)

Coast To Coast“Now then, time for all of us to have a good old dance,” instructs Richard, standing amongst a group of girls all holding 7″ records for reasons which are never addressed. “Here come Coast To Coast and their invitation is, do you wanna Do the Hucklebuck? Me, for one, certainly.” Even Richard has no idea what he’s talking about, failing to stifle an embarrassed laugh towards the end of his link. The last song was eighteen months old but this one was written a full thirty-two years ago, a cover of a 1949 song about a dance craze, which is a bit like someone in 2016 having a hit with a re-recording of Agadoo or even this. The awkwardness is not helped by the appearance of Coast To Coast, a band of musicians all in red jackets and bow ties – including the drummer, who at least tries to modernise his appearance with the addition of Madness-style sunglasses and fez – except for lead singer Sandy Fontaine whose unfortunate resemblance to Charlie Higson leaves the whole thing looking like a Fast Show Channel 9 spoof. They’ll be back in a couple of weeks when I’ll reveal Sandy Fontaine’s secret identity. Ooooh.

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GILLAN – Mutually Assured Destruction (#32)

GillanOf course this is the 1980s so it can’t all be lightweight reggae covers and dance craze frivolity, there’s the ever present threat of nuclear armageddon to worry about. “Wait for this!” advises Skinner with remarkable enthusiasm for what is, in all honesty, an unremarkable record. As a comment on the stupidity of countries pointing nuclear missiles at each other “just in case”, it’s heartfelt enough with lyrics like “From where I stand I can see the mushrooms in the sky / From where I stand I can watch the bleeding children cry”, but the song’s sincerity is undermined by the fact that Gillan look and sound like a prototype Guns n’ Roses and, as we now know, neither Ronald Reagan nor Leonid Brezhnev took policy advice from a long haired man in a bandana. Mutually Assured Destruction entered the chart at number 32 this week and, despite Skinner’s inevitable prediction that it was “gonna be a big hit”, spectacularly failed to go any higher and achieved little other than ruining the party atmosphere.

GEORGE BENSON – What’s On Your Mind (#50)

Legs & Co“Now then, here’s a record that I think is gonna be a big one.” Anyone see a pattern forming here? It’s becoming increasingly difficult to fill forty minutes of prime time television with actual hit singles, so we go all the way down to number 50 for the latest from soul legend and guitar virtuoso George Benson. It may not have been as big a hit as previous singles Love x Love and Give Me The Night, but George had never yet made it to the TOTP studio and he wasn’t about to start now, so… enter Limbs & Co! This week, rather than dressing as psychiatrists as the song title might suggest, the girls are all in matching blue plastic dresses, proving the importance of recycling your Domestos bottles after you’ve finished with them. Despite Richard’s good feelings about the record, What’s On Your Mind peaked next week at number 45, making it the least successful song to receive the Limbs & Co treatment for many years. Maybe it’s time for them to move on.

FREEEZ – Southern Freeez (#34)

Freeez“Now as you know, the charts are a pretty integral part of this programme; without it, where would be Top of the Pops?” Very profound, Richard, better get on with the first part of the countup, after which it’s time for The BritFunk Moment. The confusingly spelt Freeez (it’s still confusing people to this day, hence the reason “Freez” was briefly trending on Twitter while this edition was on BBC Four) had originally included Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick, late of Light of the World, among its lineup but he left to form Incognito shortly after Freeez’s first hit Keep in Touch. Recorded with guest vocalist Ingrid Mansfield-Allman, Southern Freeez was the band’s second hit and the first to reach the top forty. Mansfield-Allman seemingly could not be less thrilled about this achievement as she stands aimlessly delivering her lines into thin air, an early victim of Michael Hurll’s “everyone knows they’re miming so why do we need to give them microphones?” policy. More BritFunk to come in a bit, but still no microphones.

SLADE – We’ll Bring the House Down (#17)

SladeFrom “The” Freeez to “The” Slade, to whom Skinner refers rather patronisingly as “an old-time group who are doing well for themselves.” At least he knows Slade doesn’t have a “The” in front of it, unlike Tommy Vance who really ought to know better. This is another outing for the performance from that show two weeks ago and while the guitars may have been turned up in the mix and the clothing become very slightly more sensible, apart from that nothing much has changed in the world of Slade; Noddy still sings like he’s trying to pass a kidney stone and everyone’s having a good time without having to worry too much about the complexity of the lyrics. We’ll Bring the House Down was on its way to number ten, giving Slade their first top ten hit since Thanks for the Memory in 1975 and opening the floodgates for Merry Xmas Everybody to re-enter the chart every bleeding year. Time for a Cup-a-Soup.

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BEGGAR & CO – (Somebody) Help Me Out (#53)

Beggar & CoOn with the chart countup, Skinner having a momentary confused pause on reaching Spandau’s The Freeze at 18 – weren’t The Freeez down at number 34? – but he recovers manfully, although what was clumsily chopped out of the next link to reduce it to just “It’s Beggar & Company and (Somebody) Help Me Out!” we’ll probably never know. (Feel free to speculate in the comments section.) Anyway, it’s time for another BritFunk Moment as we’re introduced to Beggar & Co, but hang on, haven’t we already met? Well, sort of. Beggar & Co were a splinter group from Light of the World who snuck into the top forty with I Shot the Sheriff a month ago. The idea was for both bands to co-exist, in the manner of Parliament and Funkadelic, but before long the splinter group became much more successful than the parent act. Here we can see why: unlike Light of the World, Beggar & Co had a gimmick, in that they dressed up as beggars in overcoats, hats, scarves and, er, expensive musical instruments. This was enough to propel (Somebody) Help Me Out into the top twenty, then Spandau Ballet came calling and Light of the World was effectively extinguished.

KELLY MARIE – Hot Love (#54)

Kelly MarieStill at the arse end of the top sixty, one place further down than Beggar & Co we find Kelly Marie with what Skinner defines as “some Scottish disco.” This provoked numerous astounded Tweets along the lines of “My God, she had a second hit?” from those lucky enough not to realise that it was actually her third; she had performed Loving Just For Fun, the follow-up to Feels Like I’m in Love, on an edition of TOTP last October but BBC Four viewers were spared that. No such luck here. Although the winning formula hadn’t provided a second top twenty hit last year, Kelly and her management are still persevering with it; she’s still flanked by two backing dancers, only now they’re in tartan waistcoats, so anyone who did drop acid at the start of the show is now having the most awful flashbacks to the Bay City Rollers. As if that’s not bad enough, the electronic drum gimmick that got Feels Like I’m in Love to the top has been replaced by what can only be described as disco bagpipes, and when Kelly and her dancers break into some kind of pseudo Highland Fling it’s all over. Amazingly Hot Love did get into the top thirty, presumably selling to people who heard it here and wanted to be sure the single version really was that bad. Whether it’s better or worse than the remixed version on Spotify is a moot point.

JOHN LENNON – Woman (#1)

John LennonConfusion and consternation as Skinner says goodnight before the top ten countup has even started! What madness is this? We still haven’t settled on a way of identifying the chart positions of each song in the top ten; perhaps we never will. Richard picks out Debbie Harry as “the most beautiful girl in the top ten this week,” but given that her only opposition for that title is Yoko Ono, it’s not that much of a compliment. His idea of the most beautiful boy in a top ten that includes Phil Collins, Joe Dolce and Fred Wedlock is not disclosed. Lennon’s still number one, of course, but this is of some historical importance as it’s his last ever week at the top of the UK singles chart. So far, anyway. It’s the same hastily assembled montage of clips put together last week to replace Yoko’s hastily assembled montage of clips from the week before, so we get the Lennons driving in a Rolls Royce in the snow, the Lennons in bed (but not in a dirty way) and the Lennons dressed entirely in black robes launching a hot air balloon like they’re the ruddy KLF or something. It all goes a bit weird at the top of the chart for the next few weeks before the official mourning period resumes in mid March, but we won’t hear John again on the show until New Year’s Eve.

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