Top Of The Pops, 24 May 1979 – Dressed to kill… and guess who’s dying?

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Having grown up as a music fan in the ’70s/’80s/’90s (at least to the extent that I can be said to have “grown up”), the weekly edition of Top Of The Pops was always a major event in my life, even up to the point where the BBC finally killed it off in 2006. Then in 2011 BBC Four brought it back and started showing archive episodes from 35 years previously. To everyone’s surprise, given the subsequent revelations about various erstwhile hosts, the repeat run is still going – we’re now in 1979 and riding the crest of New Wave. 7:30 on a Thursday evening is once again an immovable fixture in my weekly calendar, even more so now that Twitter is around and we can all rip it to shreds poke affectionate fun at it in real time as the chaos fun unfolds. Now that I’m doing a proper blog thing, I thought it would be fun to document each week’s dreck show and some of the comments it drew on Twitter. So let’s start with…

Top Of The Pops – 24th May 1979

Watch on iPlayer – while stocks last!

“Likeable Canadian” (© John Peel) Kid Jensen welcomes us to the show and promises us a star-studded line-up; for once, he’s not wrong. McFadden & Whitehead’s disco classic Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now guides us through the top 30, still using that photo of The Shadows in direct sunlight (photochromic lenses are the way forward, Hank) and that photo of Art Garfunkel in your mum’s kitchen.

THE SKIDS – Masquerade

The SkidsMuch love for guitarist and future Big Country stalwart Stuart Adamson on Twitter, not so much for Richard Jobson, who dances like an out of control windmill on a bouncy castle while the rest of the band just stoically get on with it. Unlike their previous hit Into The Valley, nobody seems to remember this one or even wants to have a bash at suggesting what the indecipherable lyrics might be. Probably for the best, as the subtitles reveal that they were in fact written by some kind of random lyrics generator:

Portray amid art,
Guernica is plaint,
Metal turning sham,
But victory is quaint.

Plaint“? Really? At least it’s reassuring to have the title confirmed as “Masquerade” and not “Masturbate”.

ROXY MUSIC – Dance Away

Roxy MusicLast time we saw Roxy Music on TOTP was in 1977; Virginia Plain was back in the chart and the original clip from 1972 still looked like it was from the future. Dance Away was their big comeback hit after Bryan Ferry had flirted with a solo career, only now they looked like they were performing cabaret in Whitley Bay. Brian Eno has gone, which instantly makes them look 75% less terrifying, and their spangly glam-rock-gone-slightly-wrong look has been replaced by an ultra-suave approach, all shiny suits and Brylcreem, marking this as the point where Roxy Music and Ferry’s solo act became indistinguishable. A shame really; as a solo Ferry release it would have been a really strong record, but the disco-lite tale of lost love just can’t escape the weight of Roxy’s previous art-rock status.

TUBEWAY ARMY – Are “Friends” Electric?

Tubeway ArmyIn a front room in Sheffield, Martyn Ware of the Human League has just kicked in the television set. While the League had spent two years studying Kraftwerk and perfecting their icy synthpop to little acclaim, Gary Numan came sneaking in the back door and got himself on TOTP even before he’d had a top forty hit. While not the first synth act to appear on the show, Tubeway Army were the first to perform something as icy and alien as this and the shock factor would propel them all the way to number 1, so we’ll be seeing them a few times over the next couple of months. With that in mind, here’s the first in an ongoing series I like to call “Cover Versions Of Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” – Britpop also-rans Republica covering the song for the 1997 Numan tribute album Random.

DONNA SUMMER – Hot Stuff

Legs & CoFollowing the patented Flick Colby Literal Choreography Method® to the letter, here’s Legs & Co interpreting Donna Summer in their usual peculiar way. Wearing very little – because it’s hot, obviously – the girls gyrate around some candles (which are also hot) and in front of their nan’s gas fire (which is on the highest setting and probably costing her a fortune, the poor dear) in some kind of bizarre homage to the opening titles of Tales Of The Unexpected – or in this case Tales Of The Crushingly Predictable. Let’s be charitable and assume the red outlines are not a limitation of the available technology but a nod to the Ready Brek adverts (also hot, lest we forget). If nothing else it’s a useful reminder of just how far we’ve come in the past 35 years; you wouldn’t get almost-naked ladies gyrating to a top pop hit of the day on television now, of course. (looks to camera, raises eyebrow)

LINER – You And Me

LinerMore early ’70s hitmakers hitting the comeback trail, this lot changed their name to Liner in an attempt to disguise their murky past as Blackfoot Sue, as whom they scored a top five hit in 1972 with the Slade-alike Standing In The Road. They’ve shaved and cut their hair (a bit) but this simpering sub-Bee Gees ballad is the kind of record you forget while it’s still playing – and coming on just after the futuristic Arctic blast of Tubeway Army hasn’t done them any favours either. It’s so obscure that it’s not even on Spotify, so it’s missing from the playlist at the top of the page – not that you’ll mind. The single went as high as number 44, shooting down the myth that “Top Of The Pops could only play what was in the top forty”. If only The Clash hadn’t been so belligerent about not doing TOTP we might have been spared this dishwater…

THE DAMNED – Love Song

The Damned…and to add insult to injury, Liner’s appearance on the 7:30 showing (annoyingly edited down to fit a half hour slot, because that’s important) came at the expense of this feast for the senses. Having been the first British punk band to release a single (1976’s New Rose came out just ahead of Anarchy In The UK), The Damned are still at it and still resolutely not taking anything seriously – lead singer Dave Vanian is the only person in Britain using more Brylcreem than Bryan Ferry and is already on the slippery slope towards the band’s mid-’80s goth phase, while guitarist Captain Sensible seems to be wearing a coat made out of Orville. Punk may be past its prime but the sheer energy of this two minute blast makes Liner’s descent into MOR seem like an even worse career move than it did before.

ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA – Shine A Little Love

ELOThe promo video, one presumes, which opens with a shot of some sunglasses, one of the lenses of which displays footage of hairiest man in rock Jeff Lynne wearing his trademark sunglasses, in the left lens of which you can see a tiny image of Jeff Lynne wearing sunglasses, in the lens of which… etc, etc. As the video progresses we are introduced to the other members of the band, whose varied facial hair resembles a catalogue for the aspiring beard grower who can’t decide on a style. My suggestion is the moustache whose ends descend down the sides of the mouth but fail to meet under the chin; the ladies love it. Shine A Little Love is standard ELO fare, not to suggest that ELO were in any way predictable but this became their fourth consecutive single to peak at number 6.

DOLLAR – Who Were You With In The Moonlight

DollarAlso excised from the 7:30 edit are Bucks Fizz Dollar, two former members of appalling cabaret vocal group Guys & Dolls who made a break for freedom and just about got away with it. Like their first hit Shooting Star it was written by David Courtney – who had also written many of Leo Sayer’s early hits – and reached number 14. They would go on to have bigger hits later in the year, but looking at them here, especially Thereza Bazar dressed like an Australian’s nightmare, they look like an act in desperate need of the guiding hand of Trevor Horn. Under his patronage they would go on to have massive hits with Mirror Mirror and Give Me Back My Heart; David Van Day joined a later line-up of Bucks Fizz and eventually claimed them as his own, to the chagrin of the group’s real members.

DAVID BOWIE – Boys Keep Swinging

David BowieAnother promo video, this one captures Bowie both in suave, suited mode (making Bryan Ferry look woefully inadequate) and as his own backing singers, three of them, all in full make-up and dresses, fully thirty-five years before it became fashionable thanks to Eurovision. To be fair, it looks more Kenny Everett than Conchita Wurst, especially the blonde one on the left who might actually be Annie Lennox. Boys Keep Swinging made number 7 but even before its release it had been covered by Scottish synthpop duo The Associates, who would go on to have hits with Party Fears Two and Club Country in 1982. The song would later “inspire” Blur’s 1997 track M.O.R. to such an extent that Bowie and Brian Eno received writing credits.

THE SHADOWS – Theme From “The Deer Hunter” (Cavatina)

The ShadowsNot so much “Deer Hunter” as “Dear God, make it stop”. The movie The Deer Hunter had been released in the UK three months earlier; controversial, sprawling and unfathomably violent, it seems hilarious that the film’s theme tune was a hit for one of the least offensive bands Britain has ever produced. The Shads apply their usual formula to the tune, which involves Hank Marvin, grinning like a man who’s never seen the film and never will, emoting the song’s melody on guitar (regardless of how inappropriate the melody may be for such treatment) while the rest of the band plod along in support. At least Bruce Welch has the decency to look uncomfortable. Having started out as Cliff Richard’s backing group, it seems they were still supporting Cliff in 1979 by making his solo output seem edgy and relevant, especially as he’s about to have his biggest hit of the ’70s in about three months’ time.

ELVIS COSTELLO & THE ATTRACTIONS – Accidents Will Happen

Elvis CostelloNext on the section of the show sponsored by Specsavers, the artist formerly known as Declan McManus – having survived the non-existent furore over the “n-word” in his previous hit Oliver’s Army – returns with a special treat for everyone who’s taken the plunge and bought a colour television set. Yes, there are a lot of suits on the show tonight, perhaps the highest concentration of suits in any single episode since punk arrived, but Elvis’s gaudy pink number steals the show. Oliver’s Army had been his biggest hit, reaching number 2, but this less radio-friendly number would only make number 28, even allowing for the suit. Legend has it that some of the picture sleeves for this single were assembled inside out because, well, accidents will happen.

BLONDIE – Sunday Girl

BlondieJust when you thought Elvis had won the award for best suit, along comes Debbie Harry to steal the title from right under his nose. Blondie were now entering their imperial phase, following up the enormohit Heart Of Glass with this number, something of a return to their rockier style after their brief foray into disco, but the second of their five number 1 hits in two years nonetheless. The 12″ version of the single includes a version of the song sung entirely in French; a verse from the French version was later incorporated into a hybrid mix for the band’s 1981 Best Of album which is pretty much the default mix you hear on the radio these days. Luckily TOTP were able to source this clip of the band performing the song on the show’s parallel universe equivalent “Top Pop”, or Legs & Co might have been forced to dance to it dressed as ice cream sundaes.

So that’s it for another week as Kid Jensen, seemingly drowning in a sea of audience members, wishes us a good week (but sadly not “Good love” as he used to do in his early days on the show) and we play out with I Want You To Want Me by the big-in-Japan “American Beatles” Cheap Trick. Same time next week? I think so.

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