Dead Or Alive

“I can’t go on singing the same theme” – Top of the Pops, 25 December 1985

Janice Long & John PeelAs a bit of a diversion from the relentless chronological trudge through the early ’80s editions of TOTP, and because it’s nearly Christmas, here’s a quick distraction with the Christmas Day edition from 1985, courtesy of a seemingly apropos-of-nothing repeat on Channel Five back in 2010. Remember the days when it wasn’t on BBC Four twice a week? Anyway, we’re in a curious limbo here as the flying coloured discs era, now familiar from the 1981 and ’82 editions, has been reimagined into a swirling tunnel of coloured light, with the 1981 opening sequence playing on a CRT TV screen which twists and twirls as if desperately trying to escape the future’s irresistible pull. Or something. Although this is new to us in this context, it’s about be replaced in 1986 by an entirely new sequence set to Paul Hardcastle’s The Wizard, so make the most of it while you can. Being Christmas Day we’re looking back at the hits of the year that listeners to Absolute ’80s voted the best of the decade. Watch as we prove them wrong.


KING – Love and Pride

KingA bit of festive frivolity to kick us off: it’s TV’s top comedy double act Janice Long and John Peel, the former resplendent in her best party frock, the latter looking crotchety as ever despite the festive tinsel dangled around his neck. “My husband and I…” begins Long before Peelie stops her: “Wrong show, love!” Yes, we’re in our usual Christmas Day 2pm slot, an hour too early for the Queen, so instead we start off with King and a hit from the very beginning of 1985. After a false start the previous year when the song stumbled to number 84, a timely reissue just after Christmas gave King the biggest hit of their career, kicking off a run of success which spanned the whole of 1985 and then curiously fizzled out in January 1986. If you’re invited to an ’80s fancy dress party this festive season, I strongly urge you to consider going as Paul King; all you’ll need is a ridiculous mullet, a pair of Doc Martens and a brightly coloured suit. You’ll have to cut about six inches off the trouser legs though, so make sure the person you borrow the suit from isn’t fussy. Paul King’s curious Alexei Sayle-inspired look didn’t last long beyond the band’s dissolution – after a brief attempt at a solo career he went off to become a VJ on MTV and later VH1.

Gary DaviesSo it’s been a funny old year with lots of number 1 hits, many of them by artists who are too famous, or lazy, to come to the studio and run through them one more time. What to do? Simple. Get the videos, chop them up into bitesize chunks and scatter them throughout the show, like sixpences in a Christmas pudding for you to choke on. Over to Gary Davies (in full “young, free and single” mode in front of a bevy of young ladies, as usual) to introduce the first two chunks. First up is Frankie by Sister Sledge which, barring reissues and remixes, was their first top forty hit since 1980 and their last to date, its unexpected success seemingly due to a large number of over excitable Frankie Goes To Hollywood fans desperate for anything even vaguely related to their heroes while they buggered off into tax exile following their triumphant 1984. Obviously the song isn’t about Holly, Paul and The Lads, but the video would have us believe that all four Sledge sisters are infatuated with a portly middle-aged postman, so feel free to believe whatever you like. After a minute of this we also get a minute of Madonna’s Into the Groove, a song that wasn’t even a single in the US but gave Madge her first number one in the UK, hence the hastily cobbled together montage of clips from the movie Desperately Seeking Susan which passes for a video.

COLONEL ABRAMS – Trapped

Colonel AbramsBack to the studio now with the lesser-spotted Dixie Peach, purveyor of American rock and funk on Radio 1’s Saturday evening show between 1984 and 1987. “’85 has been a brilliant year for dance music,” he enthuses, which may be true (the runaway success of MOR and AOR from the likes of Dire Straits, Bruce Springsteen et al notwithstanding) but 2016 has been a bloody awful one, and here’s one of its casualties. Colonel Abrams (real name: Colonel Abrams) passed away in November but here he is in his pomp, rocking the vaguely militaristic jacket look despite never actually having been in the army. Produced not by some hip name DJ or house music legend but in fact former Landscape frontman Richard James Burgess, Trapped was arguably the first house track to become a huge hit in the UK, reaching number 3 in October and pre-empting more recognised house pioneers like Farley “Jackmaster” Funk by a full year. Despite his protestations, Abrams is clearly not trapped; he’s slipped his handcuffs and stashed his microphone somewhere nobody would ever think of looking, leaving his hands free for more important purposes such as playing air keyboards.

Steve Wright“You ought to hear him on slow songs, viewers, wonderful,” deadpans Peelie as he links into another two number 1 hits of the year. First is Move Closer (“If you dare,” snorts Peel) by Phyllis Nelson, a proper one-hit wonder who took thirteen weeks to climb to the top of the chart, spent a solitary week there, and never troubled the top 75 again except for a reissue of the same song in 1994. Clearly she hasn’t even made a video so we get a proper TOTP clip instead. Enough of that now, on with Midge Ure who surfed the wave of post-Band Aid and Live Aid support to score a number one with his solo single If I Was. “Dishing up love for a hungry world” indeed. The stark video is mainly Ure in a white shirt emoting in front of a black background, mixed with creepy pin board images of faces and hands, but at least he’s shaved off the Vienna-era moustache we’re all used to seeing in the 1981 and ’82 editions. Anyway, Midge, surely it’s “If I were.”

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ALISON MOYET – That Ole Devil Called Love

Alison MoyetTalking of creepy faces, here’s Steve Wright in full Santa outfit to introduce Alison Moyet via some unnecessarily frantic hand waving. Moyet’s only single of 1985, her cover of Billie Holiday’s That Ole Devil Called Love became her biggest solo hit when it reached number 2 in March, despite being aimed squarely at the Radio 2 market (an entirely different demographic to today’s Radio 2 market, of course). Naturally Alison’s voice shines against the authentic jazz treatment with real instruments – Vince Clarke has just changed channel, or possibly nipped out to the pub for a swift one, and with good reason because this anti-synth backlash is a prime example of why 1985 was nowhere near the best year of the decade. The war on pop music starts here, kids.

John P-P-PeelMore number 1 snippets next with Eurythmics, another band in the process of ditching synths in favour of “real instruments”, who managed their only week at number 1 in the singles chart back in July with the clumsily titled There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart) featuring strings arranged by Michael Kamen and a harmonica solo by Stevie Wonder, not to mention a lavish video full of angels, cherubs and David A. Stewart as Louis XIV. After this, something decidedly less heavenly: stock footage of US soldiers having their heads shaved and leaving to be blown up in South East Asia. Yes, it’s Paul Hardcastle’s 19 which spent five weeks at number one in May and June, helped along by a seemingly endless supply of different mixes using different snatches of dialogue from the American TV documentary Vietnam Requiem. The mix in use here is the one that takes the devastatingly bleak line “None of them received a hero’s welcome” and repeatedly batters you over the head with it, removing any trace of subtlety and rendering the phrase virtually meaningless. Still, catchy. The narrator sampled on the record, Peter Thomas, was another victim of 2016’s barbarous tenure: he passed away in April at the age of n-n-ninety-one.

DEAD OR ALIVE – You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)

Dead Or Alive“I’d just like to thank John Peel for the Christmas present he’s just given me,” confides Janice Long, “it’s a book all about the inland waterways of Belgium – illustrated, of course.” Dead Or Alive next with a song that not only became their biggest hit, but gave the production team of Stock, Aitken & Waterman its first ever number one single. It was a slow process, mind, as the single entered the chart in November 1984 and didn’t reach the top until March 1985, some fifteen weeks later. Pete Burns is in his element here, looking the best he ever did before his well documented plastic surgery escapades as he twirls, gyrates and flails among the tinsel and Christmas trees, delivering the song while gazing threateningly at some unspecified unfortunate in the middle distance. This wasn’t even Dead Or Alive’s best song, but of course as their biggest hit it would go on to define Burns’s career, returning to the top five in 2006 after his tenure on Celebrity Big Brother and prompting plenty of unimaginative “You Spin Me Round Man Dies” headlines following his sudden passing in October 2016.

David Bowie & Mick JaggerBack to Gary Davies now, who tells us very earnestly that “two new duos were formed this year from four very successful solo artists.” This might be stretching things a little, and certainly neither of the duos was intended to be any more than a one-off, but here they are anyway. Earth, Wind & Fire’s Philip Bailey had almost managed to sneak out Easy Lover as a solo single, with just the phrase “(Duet with Phil Collins)” in very small print on the label, but it was so obviously a Collins single that it had to be shipped out in a sleeve with PHILIP BAILEY & PHIL COLLINS plastered all over it. The video is a curious behind-the-scenes piece and takes us right through the process of making a pop video, including extremely rare footage of Phil Collins having a haircut. No such fripperies for shaggy-haired Mick Jagger, whose duet with David Bowie on Dancing In The Street was supposed to be exclusive to Live Aid, but of course that was never going to happen and it stormed to number one on its eventual single release “due to public demand.” A glorious piece of mid-’80s lunacy whose importance in the history of pop music is belied by the overriding impression that the entire video shoot – including location scouting, costume choice and choreography – was done in about half an hour.

BALTIMORA – Tarzan Boy

BaltimoraMore meaningless platitudes from Wrighty now: “Okay, forget the turkey, forget the stuffing, here comes one of the all-time hits from this year!” So while we get a minute or so of two genuine rock legends on video, the quality of the studio guests is somewhat less ambitious. To wit: Italian one-hit wonders Baltimora, whose frontman Jimmy McShane may not be Lord of the Jungle but he certainly looks like he’s arrived from an entirely different civilisation, possibly early 1990s Manchester thanks to his oversized khaki shellsuit. Although Baltimora was an Italian group, McShane actually hailed from Northern Ireland, which fails to explain why he seems to sing with a marked Italian accent. Tarzan Boy reached number 3 in the UK in September and was a top ten hit across Europe, even making the US top twenty, but apart from a few minor Italian hits they couldn’t follow it up and the band split in 1987; McShane died of an AIDS-related illness in 1995.

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Dixie PeachNext, more grimacing from Peelie as Janice uses a convenient bunch of mistletoe as an excuse to give him a peck on the cheek – “Untrammelled lust, consumers,” he winces – before introducing clips of three multi-artist charity conglomorations of varying quality who all topped the chart in 1985. First up is The Crowd, whose attempt to raise money for the victims of the fire at Bradford City’s football ground in May was somewhat hampered by the fact that the appeal had closed by the time the money was collected. Raising cash for the city’s burns research unit instead were such diverse figures as The Nolans, Bruce Forsyth, Phil Lynott, Peter Cook and TOTP’s very own redacted Dave Lee Travis amongst a hastily assembled throng taking on You’ll Never Walk Alone. From this well-meaning shambles to the super slick USA For Africa, the US version of Band Aid organised by Harry Belafonte. Written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, We Are The World boasted a slightly more star-studded line-up including Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen and – naturally – Bob Geldof. Speaking of whom, the show wouldn’t be complete without a clip of Do They Know It’s Christmas?, last year’s festive chart topper which had stayed there well into January and was back in the top five again by the end of 1985.

BILLY OCEAN – Suddenly

Billy Ocean“They’ll be playing that record at Christmas time for decades to come,” predicts Dixie Peach, making him one of the few TOTP presenters to accurately predict the future success of a song on the show. As if to highlight the gaping chasm between the calibre of acts featured briefly on video and those who’ve made the effort to come to the studio, next up is Billy Ocean whose yawnsome Suddenly reached number 4 in June, becoming his biggest hit since 1977. Poor Billy, he does his best, he’s put his good suit on and he’s gamely trying to keep a serious look on his face despite his obvious delight at no longer being simply “’70s hitmaker Billy Ocean”. Nevertheless, you can hear the alarms start ringing at the National Grid as the nation’s kids all plug their Spectrums and Commodore 64s back in and dad nips to the kitchen for a cup of tea and a mince pie, or possibly something a bit stronger. Sorry, Billy.

UB40 & Chrissie HyndeThings fail to improve as Gary Davies brings us another two forgettable chart toppers of the year, starting with Foreigner who reached number one for the only time in January with I Want To Know What Love Is; cue more fist-clenching emotion as Lou Gramm lip-synchs his heart out amid baffling imagery such as a woman working in a laundry, a Health and Safety defying workman carrying a girder along the edge of a building’s roof, and a gratuitous nude lady in the shower. No such passion in the next video though, as UB40 and their old mate Chrissie Hynde run through a quick karaoke version of I Got You Babe as a soundcheck in an empty stadium. Imagine their surprise when it went to number one! Still, it’s nice to see everyone in the band getting along, especially at this time of year. There’ll be no egg nog and Trivial Pursuit in the Campbell household this Christmas, that’s for sure.

FEARGAL SHARKEY – A Good Heart

Feargal SharkeyDespite having been championed by John Peel since the release of the Undertones’ début single Teenage Kicks in 1978, Peelie is nowhere to be seen for this link and it’s left to Janice to introduce the band’s erstwhile lead singer. It’s perhaps not surprising as Sharkey has ditched the youthul primal energy that made Teenage Kicks Peel’s favourite single of all time, in favour of a slickly produced mid-Atlantic sound which earned him a number 1 single in November. A Good Heart was written by Maria McKee about her then squeeze Benmont Tench (of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers) and slick, mid-80s Feargal delivers it with aplomb, utilsing two drummers in his backing band like a female Adam and the Ants. In his designer suit and flipping his lustrous mane of hair like a belligerent Bryan Ferry, Sharkey is barely recognisable as the petulant youth in chunky knitwear who sulked his way through My Perfect Cousin just half a decade earlier. In a spectacular display of conceptual continuity, Sharkey’s follow-up single You Little Thief was written by Tench about the demise of his relationship with McKee; Feargal had been seen on BBC1 earlier today supposedly performing it live from an aeroplane in flight. It didn’t go well.

Jonathan KingUp next, another redacted host, although his appearance on Channel Five’s broadcast of the show seems to have gone unremarked upon compared to the furore that would accompany a BBC showing. Yes, here’s Jonathan King with another of those tiresome US chart rundowns that used to interrupt the flow of TOTP on a semi-regular basis in this era. King brings us more video clips, this time showcasing the year’s biggest selling singles in the States. First up, Madonna’s Crazy For You whose video is, again, little more than clips from a film – this time Vision Quest, a movie far less famous than the song it contains. The second best selling single in the US this year was Everybody Wants To Rule The World by Tears For Fears, so we get a clip of that video as they drive around in classic cars and chunky knitwear that Feargal Sharkey sent to the charity shop ages ago. Confusingly, the biggest US hit of 1985 is a song forever linked with the summer of 1984 in the UK: Careless Whisper, credited to “Wham! featuring George Michael” in the States so as to cover all bases, and so we’re treated to clips of George surrounded by symbolic chains and titting around on a yacht.

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PAUL YOUNG – Everytime You Go Away

Paul YoungIt’s been a very good year for British acts in the States, as King delights in telling us; four of the five best selling singles this year were by British artists (if you’re counting Foreigner as British) and here’s the third most successful of those. Paul Young’s 1985 wasn’t as successful as his 1984 or 1983; this Hall and Oates castoff was the only top ten hit he released this year (although previous single Everything Must Change managed an impressive five consecutive weeks at number 9 over Xmas 1984 and well into January). His suit is very shiny and he seems fairly happy to be here but it’s a perfect example of why 1985 wasn’t a great year – everything is very slick, perfectly constructed and entirely under control; it’s obvious from the outset that nothing more exciting than Paul twirling on the spot is going to happen. There’s no chance of a party breaking out here.

Jennifer Rush“Well, ’85 has certainly been the year for sloppy records,” admits Gary Davies as if to prove my point. Here we go with another batch of clips featuring two of the year’s number ones, both of them mushier than the sprouts on your Christmas dinner plate that have been boiling away since half past ten. Horrifyingly, they turn out to have been the year’s two biggest sellers. Nestling into second place are Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson, doing their best to besmirch the good names of Björn and Benny from ABBA with the meandering horror of I Know Him So Well from the musical Chess (which also brought us the glorious One Night in Bangkok, let’s not forget). Still, this pales beside the all-conquering The Power of Love – no, not the Frankie one or even the Huey Lewis one, but the Jennifer Rush one which, despite her surname, entered the chart back in June and slid glacially up the chart for sixteen long weeks, finally coming to rest at number one in October. Sadly we don’t even get the video (the highlight of which is a single shot of Jennifer ascending slowly in a lift for the entire duration of the first chorus, a metaphor for the single’s chart success) but some generic TV performance from another show. This sold more copies than any other single in 1985. Think on that for a moment.

WHAM! – I’m Your Man

Wham!Hedging their bets as we stumble zombie-like towards the end of the show, Peelie and Janice introduce “some of the more recent number ones from 1985,” which is secret code for “this was recorded weeks ago and we’ve no idea what might have made it to the top of the charts by the time this goes out.” Finally we get a few minutes of something vaguely resembling a party atmosphere, albeit shot in artistic black and white, with the video for Wham!’s penultimate single which spent a couple of weeks at the top in late November and early December. Indeed, here’s your problem: all the great pop acts who made 1983 and 1984 so exciting – Wham!, Duran, Frankie, Spandau, Culture Club – either took the year off or had to spend time consolidating their success in other countries, allowing all sorts of tedious ballads and “serious” artists to storm the charts in their absence. I’m Your Man isn’t even a great Wham! song – it was a last minute replacement for The Edge of Heaven when George realised the band had run its course and Heaven would make a far stronger farewell single next summer – but it’s a serviceable Motown-esque stomp and they do somehow manage to smuggle the word “SEX” into the film leader effects that pepper the video. Dirty boys.

WHITNEY HOUSTON – Saving All My Love For You

Whitney HoustonWith no fanfare, or indeed introduction, we wipe straight into the last song, Whitney Houston’s first UK hit and the record that looked for all the world as if it was going to take the Christmas number one slot until Shakin’ Stevens’ Merry Christmas Everyone snatched it away from her in the chart announced on Christmas Eve. It was all so last minute that we have the remarkable occurrence of a Christmas Top of the Pops that doesn’t include the Christmas number one. A couple of minutes of this video, then, based around the time honoured paradox of Whitney in the recording studio being filmed apparently making the very record the video has been made to promote. All very Doctor Who. Back to the assembled Radio 1 personnel for some final Christmas wishes before we play out with the audience dancing to leftovers from 1984, the single edit of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Welcome to the Pleasure Dome. Best year of the eighties? Don’t make me laugh.