Top Of The Pops, 31 May 1979 – There’s a word that I don’t understand.

Paul Burnett

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This week’s host is Paul Burnett. Who? That’s right. One of the less well remembered Radio 1 DJs of the time, he did the lunchtime show for five years in the late ’70s and early ’80s, so if you were around then you would have been listening to him announcing the brand new top 40 on a Tuesday; you might also remember his Fun At One slot in which he played a comedy record every day at 1pm. If you’ve been following the TOTP repeats since they started in 2011 you’ll also have seen him as one half of Laurie Lingo & The Dipsticks performing their hit Convoy GB, although as the other member was Dave Lee Travis you probably won’t see that again (and if you find the Hairy Cornflake objectionable these days for whatever reason, for God’s sake don’t click that link). Burnett seems to host TOTP roughly once a year, always provoking a flurry of “Who the hell is this?” tweets, so now you know who he is, but this seems to be his last appearance as host so it doesn’t really matter. The top 30 countdown (or countup if you want to be really pedantic about it) is accompanied by Anita Ward’s Ring My Bell, which is on its way up to number 1 so no doubt we’ll hear plenty more of it in the weeks to come.

QUANTUM JUMP – The Lone Ranger

Quantum JumpWell, this is… interesting? Recorded way back in 1974, The Lone Ranger had first been released in 1976 and almost instantly banned for its references to drug use and homophobic language (the obvious casual racism apparently not a problem then). The single quickly fell into obscurity until Kenny Everett stumbled upon it and started using it on his Thames TV Kenny Everett Video Show – not the whole song, but mainly the a capella introduction which involves singer Rupert Hine chanting the name of a hill in New Zealand: Taumata-whaka-tangi-hanga-kuayuwo-tamate-aturi-pukaku-piki-maunga-horonuku-pokaiawhen-uaka-tana-tahu-mataku-atanganu-akawa-miki-tora. This prompted a reissue of the single and a top five hit, the troublesome inclusion of the word “poofter” in the lyrics seemingly no longer a problem. It’s not on Spotify so it’s not in the playlist but if you really want to hear it again, here it is. Look out for the part from 2:13 onwards where the rest of the band walks off in disgust, Monty Python lumberjack style.

PEACHES & HERB – Reunited

Peaches & HerbWho’s your favourite member of Peaches and Herb? The Stranglers favour Peaches, while Bob Marley… Anyway, Francine “Peaches” Barker and Herbert “Herb” Feemster first recorded together in 1966 and scored a number of hits in the US until Herb decided to quit showbiz and become a policeman in 1970. In 1976 he decided he was getting the band back together, although this really amounted to recruiting a new partner, Linda Greene, to be Peaches. In this respect the whole record is a sham, because the original Peaches & Herb were not reunited in any way whatsoever. Nevertheless, the song made no.1 in the US and climbed to number 4 in the UK. Just please try not to sing Last Christmas over it, we don’t want to get sued here.

CHAS & DAVE – Gertcha

Chas & DaveNow we get to the real meat of the evening. This had been trailed back in January in the documentary that accompanies the TOTP repeats every year, Chas recalling how they were politely requested not to use the word “cowson” when performing the song as it offended the producer’s mother. They duly obliged, although Dave apparently forgot not to say it the first time around, but the story sparked a minor Twitter campaign to get “cowson” trending, a campaign which resurfaced this evening to little avail. Gertcha (meaning “get [out of it], you”) was the first of five top 40 hits for the duo, helped along by its use in a beer advertisement. Chas & Dave had been session musicians in the ’60s, supported Led Zeppelin at their last UK shows in 1979 and released their most recent album That’s What Happens in 2013.

McFADDEN & WHITEHEAD – Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now

Legs & CoGene McFadden and John Whitehead had toured with Otis Redding in the 1960s and written Backstabbers for the O’Jays before going solo… well, duo, and scoring this massive disco hit. Their legacy is not well served by Legs & Co who appear to have been called in at short notice with the vague instruction “wear something white.” Clearly Flick Colby’s original idea of having the girls dressed as lollipop ladies and casting aside their STOP signs to denote “ain’t no stoppin’ us now” didn’t come to fruition. They still manage to crowbar in the regulation finger-wagging gesture to illustrate “Don’t you let nothing stand in your way” and obligatory shrug to denote “I don’t know”, while the idea that “things are finally coming around” is bizarrely illustrated by two of the dancers shaking hands. How very British.

SPARKS – The Number One Song In Heaven

SparksFive years earlier Sparks were a glam rock outfit with an unsettling keyboard player. By 1979 they had reinvented themselves as a prototype synthpop duo with an unsettling keyboard player, setting the standard for Soft Cell, Pet Shop Boys, Erasure and every other synth duo who would follow in the ’80s. While Russell Mael bounds around the stage like a man whose shoes are on fire, brother Ron stands stock still and gets all the attention, displaying an uncanny knack for staring directly into the camera regardless of which direction he’s facing. Amazingly, forty years after their first hit, Ron and Russell are still making wonderfully odd records and still performing live like men a third of their age. Ron stares out from behind a pair of glasses these days but is still unsettling.

VOYAGER – Halfway Hotel

VoyagerWell since my baby left me… oh. Desperately clinging on to the arse end of prog rock and looking hopelessly outdated for doing so are Voyager, a band whose main claim to fame is that their drummer John Marter had been in Mr Big and would go on to play in a very early line-up of Marillion. You might also vaguely remember their 1980 single Sing Out – Love Is Easy which was used as the backing music for the top 40 rundown on Radio 1. None of this excuses the singer’s pudding bowl haircut or the guitarist’s half-arsed Brian May perm. They’ve clearly put a lot of effort into the song and it could conceivably have been a hit a couple of years earlier, but in such fast moving times that just doesn’t cut it any more. In fact, this may have been the exact point at which the phrase “It’s like punk never happened” was coined.

EARTH, WIND & FIRE with THE EMOTIONS – Boogie Wonderland

Earth, Wind & Fire with The EmotionsAnd so we reach the three-song section excised from the 30-minute 7:30 edit. Industrial relations were at an all time low in 1979 as the trade unions wielded their enormous power at the drop of a hat; TOTP itself would benefit from a three-month ITV strike later in the year. Even so, it seems blatantly obvious that Earth, Wind & Fire are overstaffed. I mean, look at them. It’s like having Madness, The Specials and UB40 on stage all at the same time and they still felt the need to bring in female vocal trio The Emotions to bolster their ranks even further. It doesn’t help matters that in the heat generated by the sheer number of people on stage, singer Maurice White’s impressive afro has come unstuck and slipped to the back of his head. Boogie Wonderland, a true classic of the late disco era, was sampled in 1996 by Stretch ‘n’ Vern for their top ten hit I’m Alive. Tch.

SQUEEZE – Up The Junction

Squeeze“They got really annoyed when Tony Blackburn made this his record of the week,” laughs Paul Burnett, but it’s probably true. Hot on the heels of their no.2 semi-novelty hit Cool For Cats, Squeeze return to TOTP with a more serious number which also fell just short of the no.1 spot. It’s another song that’s going to be on lots of times in the next couple of months, so let’s get these gripes out of the way: you don’t give birth in an incubator, and don’t complain about “no more nights by the telly” when you’ve already told us that you had to sell the telly. Those details aside, it’s nice to see the only person still presenting a music show on BBC television in the 21st century doing his original day job and blatantly smoking a cigar whilst doing it. Health and Safety be damned.


Edwin StarrIf there’s one thing radio stations love, it’s a song about radio, even an unflattering one like Elvis Costello’s Radio Radio from the previous year. H.A.P.P.Y. Radio was Edwin’s second top ten hit of the year and his last in his own right, although he would top the charts in 1987 as a member of charity collective Ferry Aid and appeared on a Utah Saints track in 2002. The video star(r)s Edwin as a DJ playing his own record – a shiny red vinyl 12″ copy, no less – on the eponymous radio station, wearing his headphones upside down under his chin so as not to disturb his mighty afro. It’s cheesy, but at least it’s not this awful ’80s cover version by TV’s Michaela Strachan.

FISCHER-Z – The Worker

Fischer-ZFormed in 1976 by university friends John Watts and Steve Skolnik, Fischer-Z married intelligent lyrics to arty post-punk pop sensibilities; their biggest hit reached number 12 in Australia and gained lots of radio airplay in the UK thanks to its catchy, upbeat hooks and irresistible singalong chorus. Unfortunately, this isn’t it. The Worker is an awkward lump of white suburban reggae about the drudgery of daily life. Singer John Watts, in spangly blue jacket and horrid grey slacks, seems to be struggling to stay upright while wrestling with his guitar and delivering a song desperately in need of a chorus. Annoying, then, that this got to number 53 while their aforementioned Australian hit The Perfect Day barely scraped into the top 100 here.

HOT CHOCOLATE – Mindless Boogie

Hot Chocolate“What was it that first attracted you to Hot Chocolate?” “I think it was the trousers.” Not to be confused with Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias’ scathing Status Quo parody Heads Down No Nonsense Mindless Boogie from the previous year, Mindless Boogie sounds like a parody of Hot Chocolate; the verses discuss nuclear annihilation and the Jonestown massacre while the chorus instructs us to “dance mindless boogie ’til we drop” – presumably they’re being ironic, although it’s not entirely clear. Either way, it’s pretty grim stuff that usually crops up on second division compilations like The Rest Of The Best Of Hot Chocolate. Luckily nobody was listening to the lyrics as we were all distracted by Errol Brown’s impossibly tight trousers, which leave so little to the imagination it’s a wonder this performance wasn’t cut from the 7:30 edit for reasons of decency. Won’t someone think of the children?

BLONDIE – Sunday Girl

BlondieA repeat of the clip from the parallel universe show “Top Pop” as seen last week, so Legs & Co’s ice cream sundae outfits remain firmly in the wardrobe. It’s a strangely lethargic performance from Debbie who seems barely able to keep her eyes open during the first verse and doesn’t even take her hand out of her pocket until halfway through the song, when the double espresso she had before the show suddenly kicks in and she regains the use of her arms, if not her legs. Nice to see Noel Gallagher depping for Clem Burke on the drums too. At no point during the song do we find out what a Sunday girl actually is, even the French version offers no translation for the phrase, so answers on a postcard please.

And so, as Paul Burnett’s TOTP career sinks slowly in the west, we play out with Linda Clifford and her unprovoked disco assault on Bridge Over Troubled Water, which if nothing else explains the top 30 countdown photo of Art Garfunkel with his fingers in his mouth; he’s attempting to shoot himself. Next week’s show is hosted by some old bloke with a lot of jewellery, so we won’t be seeing that one again… unless you know where to look.

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