Friday, 29 April 2011

TOTP 29/4/76: but Spaghetti Junction's nowhere near the M1!

A parish notice first, passed on by TV Cream - so you know there's no TOTP next week but that week's corresponding show will be broadcast on the 13th. However, when it returns, while the first showing will still be edited down to the half hour, the repeat later that night and on the Thursday will be full length. Should we review both? Remember we have a life to lead.

Tony Blackburn, his essential Tony Blackburn-ness shining through. Rather to rub it in, the Stylistics picture is now them on stage three weeks previously, bloke on stool and all.

Slik – Requiem
They'd had a number one in February with Forever And Ever, but Slik are almost entirely now a footnote as being Midge Ure's first band of note, prior to the Rich Kids, not being a Sex Pistol, Visage, Thin Lizzy for a bit, Ultravox, Dolce envy, Geldof lackey, that video with the pin screen, marrying Annabel Giles, his daughter being in girl-group-with-guitars The Faders, and whatever he does now. The start rips off Manuel & the Music Of The Mountains, which had only been a hit in March. That sort of uncertainty is apparent throughout, not least as half the band are in baseball gear. Slik were supposed to be a Bay City Rollers Juniors of sorts, but even that one that was on the other week wasn't quite this ponderous. At least Midge remembers to make a point of looking down the camera at all times. It gets cut off just as a guitar solo starts, but that's their own fault for putting it so late in the show. Tony is with a girl sporting a hat of quite remarkable dimensions, so much so most of it is off the top of the frame. A pity, as its design, mostly crepe paper by the looks of it, seems pretty involved, certainly more so than the bowler titfer still sported by...

Paul Nicholas – Reggae Like It Used To Be
Hooray! Tony calls it "fantastic" in introduction (and then gets the title wrong), and Paul's there in the studio actually wearing a shirt this time. A kid in the audience is quite right to be frantically waving his friends towards the stage. As with Harpo the live version does the recording no favours despite speeding up the tempo, although the song does nothing any favours at all. Although, those lyrics. We've covered reggaeing Beethoven, you may wonder what "reggae pneumonia" would be and how it might be fixed by just taking in more reggae, but can we also draw attention to "if it's good enough for Stevie, if it's good enough for Paul..." Presumably he means Macca in C-Moon terms, but Paul... you are a Paul. Don't go introducing another one in the conversation unbidden. "Don't remember reggae like that, do you?" vaguely chortles Tony, having changed his mind now he's seen the thing in action, even if he does then call it "a really good sound".

Andrea True Connection – More More More
As previously spoilered this was Pan's People's final week, though Tony doesn't say so at any stage and Noel hardly seems bothered with mentioning the end of an eight year stint the following week. The dress code is a memorable way to bow out, though, tube tops, imitation grass skirts, red stilletos and some sort of material tied around the waist, essayed within some sort of cube cage construction seemingly based on a POW prison like Pan's Tenko. "I take it Pan must have at some time been a member of the mafia" says Tony, making no sense at all.

Electric Light Orchestra – Nightrider
A "fantastic sound" now. Cello-heavy, certainly, but sounding much as you'd expect ELO to sound, unlike their best songs which sound little like you'd thought Jeff Lynne would ever pull off. Oh, for disco. Kelly Groucutt is sporting some magnificent mutton chops and is dressed as if part of Robin Hood's gang. This didn't chart, by the way.

Diana Ross – Love Hangover
Not in the studio, but a promo that makes her from-a-train-pensively Theme From Mahogany look like Hype Williams. It's just panned promo photos and old film of her dancing in various dresses. The bit where it stops and starts again as disco doesn't affect things any.

Laurie Lingo & The Dipsticks – Convoy GB
Oh god. DLT and Paul Burnett, of course, with a song that makes even less sense if you don't know CW McCall's original Convoy (and that doesn't make sense if you don't know CB radio language), and given that can't have been purposefully played on the radio for the best part of two and a half decades why would you. Being an attempt at a mid-70s comedy record by Radio 1 DJs there's dubious accents to go and a Jimmy Saville impersonation. Let's not dignify this with much more discussion, especially as nobody's yet uploaded it to YouTube so we can discuss the black studio performance, save to say the B-side was called Rock Is Dead. It's like punk happened.

Eric Carmen – All By Myself
Another one clearly not filmed in front of that week's audience, given away by how he's at the piano and then grasps a microphone in head and shoulders shot. The kaleidoscope lens gets a work-out, the lighting people work their magic, but it's not helping much.

The Bellamy Brothers – Let Your Love Flow
Two hairy men grinning and strumming like their lives depend on it in a pre-recorded promo. Drivetime rock is a very different beast in America, and it's not always likeable.

Brotherhood Of Man – Save Your Kisses For Me
"I think they're going to be there for life" Tony warns. Don't worry, it's the last week of the unilateral head wobbling and leg lifting. For the occasion it's a completely new performance of unknown source and with no audience, Martin Lee in a red sweater rather than his social club frilly shirt suit. You've never seen four women encircling a TOTP presenter looking as anxious as those at the end do. Ironically the last men standing in terms of TOTP play this week are the Stylistics, the kaleidoscope camera shooting, at last, aimlessly dancing audience members.

EDIT NEWS: For some reason most of Twitter thought Fox had been edited out. They weren't, they're on the next one, though it's just the first week's performance repeated. The editing does bear discussion here, because a) it's a quite brilliant edit, showing Tony's back-announcement of Eric Carmen then naturally linking into a brief voiceover at the start of the Bellamy Brothers clip, and b) in between those two three in a row have been removed. The running order this week does seem incredibly awkward, three studio performances out of the first four followed by promo, pre-filmed, pre-filmed, studio, promo, Pan's People, promo, repeat. Yet what's been removed is, in order, Gladys Knight and the Pips' Midnight Train To Georgia (though it's on again a couple more times), that Silver Convention cartoon promo for the second time and... Pan's People's last stand! Now, as we've said their exit was ignominious as it was and they were dancing to something that's already been played in the studio, the Four Seasons' Silver Star. This dancers on TOTP fan site archives it, where as you can tell Flick and the costumiers really went for it (no, they are wearing proper tops, you can see the straps at the back), but it seems to have been excised purely because of how it landed in the running order. Maybe the Bellamy Brothers or Diana Ross promos could have been carefully cut around, but it's possible it wasn't so easy to edit Tony's links, or they really wanted to keep the Bellamys in for Barclaycard reasons. Whatever, there they went, sashaying off into the sunset. Apart from the couple who stayed on for Ruby Flipper, of whom more in a fortnight.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

No-el idea

Right, so ignore all that in the last post but two, we now gather the TOTP shown on the 12th May will be that Edmonds-fronted 6/5/76 show after all. Maybe this is the way they're compressing the run around the missing shows coming in early autumn. Or maybe BBC4 are making it up as they go along. We just don't know.

Bet they still show JJ Barrie. Look up the record he went on to make with Brian Clough, both sides are unintentionally hilarious.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Alternative TOTP Canon #5: The Smiths - William It Was Really Nothing

We're classing this as alternative canon because proper Smiths TOTP canon is only anything involving flowers, and we'v included it partly for Morrissey's message, partly because he takes his shirt off entirely because Ian McCulloch had done the same a few weeks earlier and got in trouble for it so Moz wanted to see what happened (and note the audience's delayed reaction), partly for Andy Rourke's hair, and a good deal more because linking out of it Mike Smith... well, watch.

Don't go thinking you're innocent here, Skinner.

This, for full points, is from the same show as the Top Of The Pops Train wheeze, which is probably best explained at the time rather than in retrospect. It started like this. Norris McWhirter on the Pops!

And ended mid-Fizz like this.

Monday, 25 April 2011

A quick aside from TOTP business, because in the Sweeping The Nation guise I've curated We Make Our Own Mythologies, a compilation of twenty newish British artists available for £3 or more if you want, with all proceeds to Macmillan Cancer Support.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

The last Noel

Well, that's buggered the USP already. At the risk of getting more people going on about how the BBC's treatment of them is some sort of joke - at least they're showing them in the first place! They didn't have to! - just noticed from the advance schedules that there's no TOTP on 5th May. There's no explicable BBC4-related reason why - a Sky At Night repeat takes its place, there's a half hour gap on the Friday had they needed it, and it's back in the Thursday 7.30 slot on the 12th. One likely reason is that the show that equivalent week was hosted by Noel Edmonds, who refused to let any of his stints be shown when UK Gold ran a cherrypicked selection of TOTPs in the mid-90s and it's possible may not have known about this run and/or that this wasn't still the case until one of his shows was re-run back on the 8th.

As for what we're likely to be missing, and if you're that interested it's one of those shows repeated on Einsfestival in Germany and archived in full on YouTube, it was the week Save Your Kisses For Me was finally dethroned, and in the studio were Mud, Frankie Valli, Barry Manilow, Fox (a third and last outing for S-S-S-Single Bed, though just a repeat of the first appearance), Robin Sarstedt, Sutherland Brothers & Quiver, Tina Charles, Mac & Katie Kissoon, the piss-poor JJ Barrie and Cliff Richard, as well as Ruby Flipper's debut hoofing to the Stylistics. Ruby Flipper had no big introduction, by the way, Pan's People were just there one week and gone the next and Noel's links don't provide much background - in fact there was no drama, Flick Colby and the People's management just decided that after eight years the in-house dance troupe idea needed freshening up.

Anyway, if anyone does have a better or more accurate idea about why this one's being skipped, let us know.

Friday, 22 April 2011

TOTP 22/4/76: with the ring dang doo

Diddy David Hamilton's our man this week. Somewhat of a Radio 1 nostalgia B-teamer, yet he of everyone we've seen so far was the most typically Mike Smash-like and was on the primary Pops presenter list for it. At this time he was simulcasting on Radios 1 and 2 and earned the nickname 'the housewife's choice'. Fair to say that nobody on dashing hipy young Radio 1 should have been any sort of housewife's choice, which may have been the problem. Now he pretends to admire that Michael Jackson statue and the eclectic striker stylings of Bobby Zamora for money. Anyway, Diddy is wearing a jumper with 'THE BIG ONE' on the back and a Radio 1 247 logo on the front with the collar of a red and white striped shirt peeking out over the top. With his Partridge-like parting as well - and we know it's the height of obviousness to compare a DJ to Smashie & Nicey and Partridge, let alone both in the same paragraph, but the oleaginousness is none more pronounced - you have to wonder why the spoofery didn't occur to anyone sooner.

Laurie Lingo and the Dipsticks are in the top 20, which must have caused furrowed brows among the production team. Don't worry, they'll be on soon enough and we're preparing things to say about it already. Meanwhile a photo of Hank Mizell has been found, in which he's standing with his guitar in the middle of a woodland clearing.

Jimmy James & the Vagabonds – I’ll Go Where Your Music Takes Me
It might say that, but at first look it seems like no Vagabonds the soul revue second division outfit would have known. In fact the original Vagabonds had split in 1970 and James formed a new backing band in 1974 when based in England, and in their matching grey suits, red shirts, shaggy hairdos and sheer semi-distracted air of £7 an hour for hire no band can surely look more like they've been dragged up from the working men's club circuit. As we first see Jimmy he's indulging in light larks of a conversational gee-up hue with the guitarist, who isn't paying him the blindest bit of notice. Maybe he's trying not to acknowledge some nasal female backing vocals that have been mixed on the same level as James' own and the world's least effective vibes solo. Meanwhile, someone in the front row wears a morning suit top hat with what looks like a crepe paper rose on the front. Nobody's getting sweaty here.

John Miles – Music
No explanation why the whole of Miles' band are in his rundown picture. It's the same performance as three weeks ago, with Miles' ineffectual guitar soloing at the piano and the bit that sounds like the theme to Blake's Seven. Despite this extra time I still can't work out if he's wearing a biker's jacket, a T-shirt with epatulets or a tabard.

Harpo – Movie Star
"Our next star sings shoeless and with a bicycle bell on his walking stick". Funnily enough, Harpo failed to turn this into a hitmaking career that lasted for longer than one number 24 single. His extra affectations - tartan cap, neckerchief, David Soul cardigan, tremendous amounts of hair, pronounced accent when singing live - don't add up to the sort of thing that makes careers either. To compensate for his clothing box ransacking he developed a full range of interpretative hand signals, as can be seen on this clip from TOTP2 when Stuart Maconie was writing the captions and couldn't think of anything to say about his oeuvre either. Extreme close-up!

Anni-Frid is on backing vocals on the recording, which reminds someone...

ABBA – Fernando
Third appearance in four weeks! And it's not even ***SPOILER*** number one yet. It's the promo clip from week one, for the record. This is going to be a very drum-hearing late spring on BBC4.

Sheer Elegance – Life Is Too Short Girl
On two weeks ago as well! But the poor man's Temptations are back in the studio for a second go, still in that remarkable get-up of tartan waistcoats, yellow all-in-ones and paisley shirts with huge collars. You'd think they'd have at least made this "Sheer Elegance's infamous yellow all-in-one uniform" by now, but as they're wearing blue suits with ridiculously large black with white polka dot collars in their chart rundown picture this must be a uniform specific to this song. They're trying to get some swaying in unison going too, except one of them steadfastly refuses to play ball. No wonder people remember Lenny Henry and Marti Caine instead from the 1975 New Faces intake.

The Rubettes – You’re The Reason Why
As if to prove the real power of a uniform, the Rubettes had ditched the flat caps and matching pastel suits by this stage, turned into a wet boogie band and accordingly only had one more hit. Maybe what really turned things was what they went for here, with one member dressed as a sitcom bus conductor and Alan Williams revealed as looking like Alan Freeman. It takes mere seconds for the drummer to wink at the rostrum camera. Diddy David calls it "incredible".

Hank Mizell – Jungle Rock
"Once again we have some very good news for the fellas". Yeah, cheers. Another re-run, but some repeat performances are worthwhile so as the viewer can take in the level of attention to detail. The BBC props and costume departments have long been the envy of the television world.

Someone uploaded that just after the first showing so we can now gain more of an understanding on some of the big questions. For example, are those convincing outfits - alligators look just like that, of course - inhabited by ver People? Well, the 'gator seemingly has evident breasts but otherwise it's unclear. It's not the same people in the camel and elephant, we can say that almost for certain, as the camel is quite reticent about moving more than one leg at once whereas the pretend pachyderm is going for it with running man-like gusto. You could ask what sort of jungle houses a fox, rabbit, camel and kangaroo, but you'd have had to take that up with Mizell directly had he not died in 1992. One set of lyrics claims a "great big falcon" appears just after the alligator and what Flick interprets as a leg-shaking grizzly bear is in fact "all the fish stepped by", but both are indistinct and completely confuse jungle ecosystem matters. And then there's the issue of the girls themselves and what sort of faces they're pulling to camera when not asked merely to express neutral seduction for three minutes. We point for specific evidence to 1:34. Hope we all appreciated Cherry Gillespie's spirited waggling of her arse direct to camera in time for the lyric "I moved a little closer just to get a better view". Having seen Tony Blackburn make a joke about him out of the first showing, Hamilton obligingly makes a joke about Blackburn this time.

This was the last time this appeared on Pops, so here's the Fall's cover, which appears on a fascinating new album called Beyond The Fall of originals of songs Mark E taught us, and a note that Legs & Co redid Jungle Rock for the Christmas show, which is here. Despite the paucity of clothing, the ramping up of cliches, developed setting, Tony Blackburn cameo that takes far too long and leaves him with nothing to do for two minutes and frankly nightmare inducing new animal costumes just make it too crowded. Look at the end, there's so little room left that everyone all but gives up on proper dancing.

Gilbert O'Sullivan – Doing What I Know
Although the knot of kids behind him seem keen, the insistent electric piano sound didn't translate to chart business and he only bothered the top 40 once more, in 1980. One of the audience already seems to be copying Noosha Fox's haircut.

Brotherhood Of Man – Save Your Kisses For Me
"It's a hit all over the nations" David enthuses somewhat ungrammatically. Back to the studio performance, and we're pretty sure there is already nothing else that can be said about this. April 1976 was very much a studded denim jacket/wrongfooting last line sort of month. Hamilton claims four people are "going mad" around him, Andrea True Connection play us out, and we still wait for the great leap forward. Unbeknownst to most, the Wurzels are only three weeks away.

EDIT NEWS: The major discard this week is a Pan's People routine involving the girls in bra/crop tops. And it was their penultimate week on the show too. Have some respect, BBC4. The song is You Sexy Sugar Plum by funk-soul variable attraction Rodger Collins, the routine one of those where having got the girls dressed down Flick can't really think of much to do with them. There was also a video for the Sutherland Brothers' classic rock staple Arms Of Mary, presumably the same Bay City Rollers Love Me Like I Love You video as the first week and, perhaps left out because enough people on Twitter go on about the imminence of punk, Keith Emerson. Honky Tonk Train Blues is a cover of boogie-woogie trailblazer Meade Lux Lewis and is basically a man playing barrel roll piano at great speed. How Pops would have staged that one, and how the dancing kids would have reacted to it without starting to smoke from the heels slightly, will remain a mystery.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

The Alternative TOTP Canon #4: The Inspiral Carpets featuring Mark E Smith - I Want You

Ahead of tonight's rerun, let's officially induct this given that elsewhere we've been discussing little else. First thing to say is we were partly alerted to this being online by Pop Unlimited 1994, a blog running through the year's chart pop and uploading full Pops episodes on or around the anniversary to this Vimeo channel.

Somewhere online is an interview that we now can't find in which the Inspirals talk about how they were nearly kicked off the show when Mark, as expected, turned up pissed. That he seems to be inhabiting an entirely different song to the rampaging garage rolling thunder of I Want You is about par for his peculiar course, and also note that nobody - Simon Mayo, the producer, the caption writer - can think of anything to say about it all.

Followed on that show by Morrissey, too. But oh, the controversy it caused. As with so many things in life, it takes an animatronic disembodied cat called Ratz to offer the facts.

The Fall never appeared on TOTP themselves, perhaps wisely. However this is an equal opportunities blog, so here they are on The Roxy.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Alternative TOTP Canon #3: The Firm - Arthur Daley (E's Alright)

As I say, anything could get on TOTP if it charted. The Firm were John O'Connor, a session guitarist who went on to co-write the music for King Of The Hill, and Graham Lister, who knows doctors, dentists and architects. Sorry, I mean Grahame Lister, Australian-born country singer-songwriter. Anyway, they put this out themselves to catch the Minder zeitgeist and did rather well out of it. They had a few more shots and, if this is anything to go by, a brief attempt at becoming an Eighties Barron Knights, then came extraordinarily good with Star Trekkin' selling a million YES IT DID in 1987. Peel was on Pops duty this week but chooses merely the facts, bar a curious reference to Spurs in the FA Cup final - was Daley a known Spurs fan? - given there's enough bizarre and unusual stuff going on in the loose narrative of the song. Things to watch out for: the scrolling chorus lyrics on the screen (watch for the girl attempting to read them at point blank range at 2:09), the row of kids from 1:47 clapping along while seated with their back to the stage, some kid shouting "e's alright!" too early during the gap at 2:23, the visual comedy with the phone at 2:54 and, oh, all of it, idea, performance and fact that the BBC wiped loads of Z Cars and Doctor Who stories but this is still in the archive.

Lest we forget, George and Dennis made the trip to Elstree for some festive crosstalk the following Christmas. Yes, Waterman did write it.

Monday, 18 April 2011

The Alternative TOTP Canon #2: King Kurt - Destination Zululand

From what we think may have been Tony Blackburn's last regular TOTP hosting job, and given the way he slows down in a short intro it's not surprising, let alone that he gets the band name wrong. King Curtis indeed. This is here as part of proving the old adage those who want its return always state but wouldn't get if it was revived, that anything can get in if it charts well enough. Psychobilly was barely a popular genre even in October 1983, being exclusively for madmen with audible Bo Diddley obsessions, which even given the early 80s outbreaks of 50s revivalism seemed the sort of thing set for a rabid but limited following. King Kurt added African rhythms, cartoon imagery and idealistic haircuts. If you ask me, they go for the tarring and feathering a little too early.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Crowd scenes

To commemorate Danny Baker's return to the BBC London airwaves tomorrow, from his 1993 series of ten minute telly history vignettes TV Heroes, an examination of the art of the TOTP studio audience.

Friday, 15 April 2011

15/4/76: even though it's only number three

Ah, Dave Lee Travis. A man to whom history has not been kind, but then contemporaneousness wasn't particularly kind to him either. Pre-Cornflake, pre-snooker, pre-quacking quacking oopsing, his what would now be drivetime show laboured under the title 'It's DLT OK!' as if his desire to find an audience through innovation had hit a brick wall and he only had the power of his name to go on. Here he is indulging in one of his loves, aside from editoralising and laughing, in 1979, feeling proud about launching DJ race days and introduced by a film of last week's host when he looked slightly different. They hated each other, you know.

The dewey-eyed promo still of Tina Charles in the rundown gets us every time.

Fox – S-S-S-Single Bed
As if to predict what would have been the breakout viral success of repeat week one, even though it's only just entered the top 20 we get this for a kickoff. As an extra bonus, as the camera pans to Noosha's good side - and in this performance she really works the sideways looks - you can see DLT in the background poised as if still waiting for his cue. He is jigging on the spot. Amid such seductiveness the talkbox solo still sounds completely out of place, let alone that it's delivered by a man in a David Soul brown cardigan through a Peter Frampton-like plastic tube. Two women in matching brown Homburgs sway in time at the front. Maybe they're waiting for Pan's People to do Jungle Rock again.

The Stylistics – Can’t Help Falling In Love
A Philly soul cover of the Elvis standard shorn of quite a bit of its unison twirling style by the glaring fact one of them's sitting sideways on a stool, looking quite put out at the bits he'd otherwise be joining in with. Russell Thompkins Jr's almost constant thousand yard stare is a thing of... no, not beauty, the opposite. DLT calls it a "super new sound". He doesn't explain the seatedness. It's like a less spectacular version of the Tams fiasco.

Diana Ross – Theme From Mahogany
Not the age of the train promo clip from a fortnight past but Pan's People in outfits seemingly comprised of ruffs and silk twirling around big boxes and a tree with no leaves. They can handle the tempo, the meaning of the words less so. DLT's outro suggests he immediately wants to sodomise them all. Wonder if they reciprocated the notion.

Brass Construction – Movin'
The Funk in evidence, as are the requisite gold and otherwise reflective suits and about a million members. Only on film, which saves the BBC orchestra a job.

Sailor – Girls Girls Girls
Nickelodeon news! Since beholding the majesty of Richard O'Sullivanagram Georg Kajanus' specially made dual sided keyboard collection last time out, we find there's an entire page devoted to its construction and design developments, and they wrote a song about it (if you're like us you'll get an advert for Natalia Kills before the clip starts, and you may like to wonder if we've really come on that far as a species) By the way, they're still going, though in a unique twist with all the original members except the singer.

Isaac Hayes – Disco Connection
Pan's People, for all the opportunity to wear crop tops and short skirts, rarely looked at home with disco, where moves are led by the soul rather than a flailing Flick Colby. No Hayes vocals on this, bar some low growling, but some cracking Stax strings and only the merest hint of slap bass.

Smokie – Wild Wild Angels
"A consistently good sounding group" is the nearest Travis can get to all-out promotion all night, and he even has to spit that out. Their workaday northern club take on freeway rock is enlivened no end by a woman dressed for Little House On The Prairie, wide brimmed hat and all, dancing at the back of the stage with a book in her hand. Maybe she'd come to clean the studio from the evil spirits. The singer tries soul growling. He fails. This didn't chart, by the way.

Eric Carmen – All By Myself
"1976 is definitely the year of the big production numbers" Dave tells us, and the proprietors of a hip King's Road boutique snigger. You can tell there's been an edit in recording as the same big-brimmed lady is still strutting her careful stuff in the same place, though she's put her book down. Actually, unless they were recording two at a time and taking wild guesses with the chart placings Carmen has come back to deliver his local radio Smoochy Love Line Hour staple in the same clothes he wore when bothering Noel last week, right down to the openness of his blue working man's shirt. Like John Miles, it feels like it lasts for hours.

Brotherhood Of Man – Save Your Kisses For Me
For the fourth of six weeks at number one not the studio performance, or the Eurovision appearance, but some sort of video filmed in a very 70s slightly brown filter. All they actually do for the expense is wander through Holland Park, first in a line, then behind small fences pointing at things. The chorus gets a slow pan across some flowers and later a peacock in profile. It doesn't really reflect the song.

And we finish over some studio lights with Rodger Collins' You Sexy Sugar Plum, a funk pop jam in search of a dynamic chorus.

EDIT NEWS: As previously discussed this is the first of the 40 minute shows edited down - quite well, as it happens - to fit a neat half hour, so we lost Get Back - just the Apple roof footage you've probably seen in all its shambolic nature - The Three Degrees' undistinguishedly slow "brand new sound" (another one?) A Toast Of Love (though they're styled about twenty years ahead of their time), to which DLT gallantly suggests "they can singe my toast any time", and Silver Convention's Get Up And Boogie, disco trying far too hard to groove and accompanied by 1930s cartoons that fail to explain why in their chart still the three female singers are crouching down with their hands on their knees.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The first cuts are the deepest

Early warning - the BBC4 schedule lists tomorrow's repeat as being half an hour long. Now, according to our list there were twelve acts who performed or were shown in this episode, seven in the studio and two with Pan's People, and while a little judicious cutting wouldn't see them all have to miss out (we don't know for sure how long the original was, but if last week's was forty minutes...) the official blurb only names six. Clearly there should be plenty still in it for the discerning, but ironically for a show hosted by Dave Lee Travis it seems changes are being made here which go against their principles.

Monday, 11 April 2011

The Alternative TOTP Canon #1: Sparks - Get In The Swing

Whenever the subject comes up, the same few clips from the Pops archive get brought up - Bowie and Ronson, Morrissey's flowers, Cobain's baritone, Jocky Wilson Said, Peel and the Faces, Mud and the roadies, All About Eve, Pan's People wagging their fingers at dogs etc. Enough. If we're taking a wider view of the show's history, let's use the time between repeats to create an alternate list of great moments from its history (apart from 1976 because the blog'll get round to them). All suggestions are, as per, welcome.

(NB. We reserve the right to show other clips by some of these artists at some point should we run short of ideas. There's a couple of tremendous Smiths instance, for example.)

With that in mind, here's our first inductee. The Sparks TOTP moment for the ages is the first sight of Ron Mael's moustache and countenance when they did This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us - a USP the band clearly hadn't thought through before, by the way, if you ever see that song's video which is virtually all gauzily lit close-ups of Russell. Move on four singles, though, and we find Ron in white coat and sideways development, Russell marching in tiny shorts, a big brassy/piccolo-y outing for the BBC big band and a young audience who the more the song goes on the more keen they are to look away from the stage they flank. Look at them around the chorus at about 2:25, it can only be assumed a proto-Fathers 4 Justice type was climbing the lighting rig behind the camera run.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

8/4/76: Vince Pinner Meets Rockers Uptown

At this stage Noel Edmonds was Radio 1 breakfast show host and about to start on Multi-Coloured Swap Shop that autumn. That move seems to have knocked the RP out of his accent, which is often in evidence here and on later TOTP appearances in this run (look up the famous Can intro, for one). Marvellously Hank Mizell is up to number 7 and his countdown still is two of those back-of-the-shop costumes. Fox, incidentally, entered at 41, their appearance making more of an impression 35 years hence than at the time.

Hot Chocolate – Don’t Stop It Now
Unpromisingly, smooth soul man Errol Brown has taken the Rod Stewart approach to mike stand technique, giving it the full base in the air business while holding it with both hands. It has a stand, y'know, Errol. Johnny Pearson's orchestra, while well within Musician's Union rules, seem particularly syrupy this week, which may explain why Errol and the bass player have a chat during the instrumental break during which both seem to be trying to make the other laugh. "They'd go down a wow collecting for charity, all that keep on giving it to me. Outrageous!" Noel gallantly suggests afterwards, seated at an abandoned organ.

ABBA – Fernando
ABBA performances never stand up to being deconstructed as at least they knew stagecraft, though Benny's giving it a go on the close-ups.

Paul Nicholas – Reggae Like It Used To Be
There's a flying start to this one as Noel lists Paul's entire musical and film CV over the intro, then states "this is going to be very successful forrrrrrrr... this man!" Noel, after all that build-up, clearly forgets who's warming up behind him even though he must have had cue cards, a script, access to rehearsals, memory etc. It turns out that's the least of our problems.

The mid-70s has latterly been tagged as the Golden Age Of Reggae. It was the year of King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown, Police And Thieves and Super Ape. Burning Spear, Big Youth, Dillinger, Max Romeo and U-Roy were all active. Marley had his biggest Billboard chart hit. A year later came Heart Of The Congos, Two Sevens Clash and Don Letts playing dub plates to punks at the Roxy. And yet someone saw fit to hire the bloke from Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar, give him a bowler hat and a thick pinstriped jacket (with nothing underneath) and have him sing about how the only reggae for him is from the good old days despite seemingly having no more knowledge of the genre then he would about sheet metal turning. The BBC orchestra and backing vocalists aren't helping, true (here he is miming to the recording elsewhere for comparison), but then the song devolves into a sax solo and an increasingly obtuse manner that turns the titular word into a verb: "You can reggae Beethoven, reggae anything you see". How does one go about reggaeing Beethoven, Paul? We never find out.

What we can say for it, as we were tipped off about this by celebrated DJ about town and latter day Paul Weller associate Andy Lewis, is it had a properly great psychedelic B-side:

The Beatles – Paperback Writer
"The resurgence of interest in the Beatles is going on and on and on" says Noel, which makes me wonder how much of a recursive resugence there could technically have been six years after their split. Four in the top 30, two more between 31 and 50, and commemorated by Pan's People in fringed white jumpsuits reading paperbacks at various distances between spins. In the round too, showing audience members more bemused than fond reminiscence ever suggests. Where do you get that many full book carousels in a hurry anyway? One book on prominent display is about the Third Reich, so they're not picky.

10cc – I’m Mandy Fly Me
An adapted concert clip in which proper live footage has four-part vocal harmonies in a line and acoustic guitar battles edited in amid a new slow fade every second. Studio tape worn through with overdubs, as per.

Linda Lewis – Baby I’m Yours
The old favourite, a disco soul singer put out on her own with no real idea of what to do once there. The forever being revived vocal range scraper gives the uncertain swing a go. "How does she get her hair like that? She must do it with rollers..." Noel envisages, partly as link to the next performance but instead making many wonder about him.

Bay City Rollers – Love Me Like I Love You
Compared to what's been presented as show so far, the Rollers have taken up pop Nuremberg. They start atop a huge globe, spinning clockwise around Eric Faulkner amid showers of sparks in slow motion. Then there's a lengthy close-up of Eric on a swing. One of the band attempts to juggle some small silver spheres. The band are put through lightning quick directorial cuts. There's a lengthy close-up of someone's crotch. Now all five are swinging around for no reason. None of this goes in any way with the song, which is chirpy and upbeat in a forgettable way.

The Four Seasons – Silver Star
Noel uses the intro to plug the later appearance of Frankie Valli. Not entirely sporting when confronted with a band boasting an invisible flute intro and a singing drummer. Not only had they changed since their heyday, they seem to have changed style since the previous year's December 1963 (Oh, What a Night) into a speedy shuffle about Westerns. The drummer really goes at his kit between vocals too.

The Carpenters – There’s A Kind Of Hush
Pan's People are back and they're dancing on podiums next to a large globe ("all over the world", see). Flick very much making do in a rush.

Sheer Elegance – Life Is Too Short Girl
There's some confusion online as to whether these came from Opportunity Knocks or New Faces. They don't seem to have won either, maybe because the world wasn't ready for a poor man's The Real Thing. Mainly because The Real Thing hadn't had any hits yet, in truth. But with their mix of matching tartan waistcoats over yellow dungarees over paisley shirts with collars that stretched to the shoulderblades, who could resist?

Frankie Valli – Fallen Angel
Before Valli, though, Noel gets to talk to Eric Carmen. All By Myself was about to come out but Noel had made his album his record of the week. Carmen, resembling a ruffled Julian Cope and wearing a shirt open enough to reveal a tablespoon sized medallion, really isn't keen on being interviewed and even less so when he realises once that's finished he's got to stand behind Noel for the rest of the intro looking like a lemon. The cameraman then takes so long to zoom onto Valli that we see Carmen get bored and start wandering off, only for Noel to grab him and indulge in further chat. Carmen then has to grab someone else by the arm and get them to move out of the way of the marauding camera as it attempts to mow several more down, unfortunately going nowhere near the man in a huge red and white pillarbox hat with tassles off the back. The performed piano ballad much less interesting. No wonder they cut Valli off early with that competition.

Brotherhood Of Man – Save Your Kisses For Me
Between last week and this the 'hood have gone to The Hague and pissed Eurovision, helping it become the year's biggest selling single. Back over on STN we're going to do some Eurovision-related charts in the week leading up to this year's gathering so we'll save further detail for then, save for this example of what a foreign film crew can achieve with a budget stretching to four bobby's hats from a fancy dress shop. OK, we know Eurovision songs have to be sung live, so when they all gather in the same shot how do we clearly hear the girls' first "I love you"s?

And at the end, some Barry White and a multi-lens shot of that globe. Like the thing now straddled by British pop, eh?

1/4/76: Where is Beatles band?

NB. I'll be using original TX dates rather than BBC4 schedules for this. I have a list.

It's Tony Blackburn! In a roll neck! Tony Blackburn is remembered now, apart from being a key component of that tremendous Peel anecdote about the Radio 1 Fun Day Out at Mallory Park, as crassly enthusiastic and thus now ironic, a career bubbling that started in about 1997 on Five's Night Fever and continued to about a year after I'm A Celebrity, by which time, as Paul Whitehouse pointed out, he was doing all the stuff people ascribed to him for comedic purposes. In the last couple of years he's put away the spangly jackets he never wore first time round, having left well before the Radio 1 Roadshow, and reinvented himself as an elder statesman of it being all about the music, whereas Jimmy Saville, who actually was a music man in his heyday alongside the million foibles, has remanoevured so well he's now spent twenty years as the nation's favourite Uncle Disgusting. While he never seems to have been comfortable per se, maybe his spell on Junior Choice loosened him up for TOTP. Actually, here's the start of this very show, and note the Beatles pic at number 27 inventing Oasis' 00s style:

Sailor - Girls Girls Girls
How do you hit upon a setup like that? The adapted drum kit is one thing, but behold the majesty of the Nickelodeon, an entirely self-constructed riot of keyboards, glockenspiels and completely useless bass drum on the side. If Chase & Status used one of them face to face we'd have far more respect for them. Sailor were British, though the singer was Norwegian and they sound somehow Dutch. How thick is this veneer of irony they project?

Diana Ross - Theme from Mahogany
Do You Know Where You're Going To, as you may know it. Diana looks wistfully out of a window, and then it suddenly ends. Doesn't seem to be a modern edit, more the hamfisted nature of a lot of 1970s editing.

Tarmey & Spencer - I’m Your Man Rock ‘N’ Roll
Rock'n'roll isn't sentinent, you know. Actually the Tarney-Spencer Band, but that name is how everyone archived it which shows how big a hit it wasn't. An odd record too, unsure whether to be 12-bar electrified blues, bar band or staccato pop-funk so being none of the above. Alan Tarmey, who Tony is keen to tell us played everything but drums on the recording, went on to produce Cliff during his turn of the 80s renaissance, the first three A-Ha albums and the single version of Saint Etienne's You're In A Bad Way. Bob's work, doubtless.

ABBA - Fernando
It's the video around the campfire. Tony mentions Eurovision in his intro even though that was nearly two years back by then.

Laurie Andrew – I’ll Never Love Anyone Anymore
Or Lawrence Andrew, as Tone calls him twice. A bloke who looks like Kevin Godley and has a vocal bordering on Tracy Chapman-tone female plays a dull longing ballad with wistful synths while wearing a jacket meant to look like that of a child's cartoon pauper.

Hank Mizell - Jungle Rock
"Trouble is, nobody can find him" Tony says, which is plausible when you find out it was recorded in 1958, did nothing at the time but was rediscovered by influential DJs around 1971 after appearing on a Dutch bootleg. He was found eventually and would appear in a later week, while in 1997 Mark E Smith added it to his personal list of quixotically covered rockabilly. In the here and then it was given for Pan’s People to hoof in khaki shorts with bazookas accompanied by cutaways of the world's single cheapest animal costumes. Seriously, religious programming on specialist satellite stations would be ashamed. Tony makes a joke about David Hamilton.

John Miles - Music
"Music was my first hit and it will be my last" quoth Nick Hancock. Miles, see, never quite gets across the message that he loves music as much as he thinks it has wronged him and must pay. He's heard Live And Let Die and thought piano into rock section must be the key. Then he has a go at grandstanding orchestral, during a section where his band are concentrating hard. Then there's a key change right out of an appalling music and well above Miles' vocal range. My, the self-absorption.

Fox – S-S-S-Single Bed
And then a strange woman in a bedsheet comes on and this is the one that gets on Trending Topics. Noosha Fox did, at any rate, and so nearly did Alison Goldfrapp, the comparison made seemingly more on an individual comeliness rather than musical basis, though were Alison and Will ever to go slithery disco we'd be keen. Go on, Will, get your talkbox out. Then Ben Goldacre, kind of an Alan Maryon-Davis for the Tens, let slip that Susan Traynor, to give Noosha her proper name, is his mum and all merry heck broke loose. What else? This was their third and last (and not even biggest, despite being the one people know - not enough funk, that's the problem with those) top 20 single, and songwriter/Frampton-to-be Kenny Young penned Under The Boardwalk, worked in the Brill Building and most recently worked with Buena Vista Social Club. This is from a later show but it's the same performance, and it's great, so...

The Beatles - Hey Jude
"We go back to 1966" as Tony says both before and after. Seriously, did they not have researchers? Or books? There's no particular reason I can tell for there being loads of Beatles songs reissued - it was ten years after their last gig, but that was in October. The clip is a performance I've never seen before and even then badly stored and all sepia.

Brotherhood Of Man – Save Your Kisses For Me
There are crowd members giggling at the choreography. Should that not have been a hint? Mind you it's number one, like they should care. That last line is quite something. It's still number one next week so I'll mention that the Drifters' Hello Happiness is over the end credits with its ill-advised British Invasion guitar line and cover the Eurovision fall-out then.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Welcome along

You know what's great about BBC Four's reruns of Top Of The Pops as Robin Nash nature intended? The complete lack of contextualising. None of it is as people claim to remember it. There's not even opening titles, the CCS Whole Lotta Love instead playing out over stills of the top thirty, with a fish eye lens shot of an organ generally accompanying the yellow credits. The studio audience is small in number and little bothered about getting on telly. The acts are clearly of the pre-video age. And yet that's what makes it so much more fascinating than yet another trawl through well thumbed highlights. From 35 years' remove forgotten ideas of what the utmost pop was are far more fascinating than bloody Bowie and Ronson again. This isn't borrowed ironic nostalgia, I wasn't alive when these shows were being broadcast to a stagnant nation only just remembering that the working week had days four and five too. Divorced entirely from the tyranny of retrospective taste, Top Of The Pops stands as a fascinating memento to how odd populist musical taste was not that long ago.

With that in mind, this blog will take a detached eye on the staging and sounding of the TOTP repeats on a week by week basis until they give up and/or get the TOTP2 caption writer in. And you think it starts questionably; before the end of the year there'll be strike action, the controversial five month stint of Ruby Flipper (starting next month, in fact) and the Wurzels. In the outside world there'll be punk, but there's a reason the Sex Pistols' spat with Bill Grundy was last item with hastily and sloppily convened guests, and as first UK punk single New Rose only came out in late October (and failed to chart) it's not like it made much impact on sales or the whole ethos of a family-friendly chart music show produced by a variety veteran who did Pops between stints on Dixon Of Dock Green and Terry & June, despite what that documentary suggested. In any case Top Of The Pops, especially in this time capsule version, is its own pop microclimate.

WARNING: Yes It's Number One cannot support any campaign for the show's revival. Think about what the show was like in its dying days, then add both the thinnest veneer of irony and a post-X-Factor label stranglehold and then come back to me. This blog is merely a sounding post about the ways pop and television used to be done.