"Sometimes you see a piece of footage and think, "Oh that's why pop music exploded then". A perfect example is the series of Top of the Pops shows from 1976 currently being shown on BBC4: they are collectively so nauseating – badly shot, terrible sexist middle-aged DJs, awful novelty records – you can immediately see why punk had to happen." - Jon Savage
I'm not sure directorial quality is what drove Rotten and McLaren to the barricades, but never mind. Pops never really changed once punk did happen, of course, it just had a lot of second tier punk bands on instead of earnest singer-songwriters. Anyway, we begin this compressed run of the last four shows of 1976 in eight days (five TOTPs in eight if you count the TOTP2 Christmas special) in the company of a flywinged David Hamilton.
The Kursaal Flyers – Little Does She Know
Hang on, what? I wonder how many turned off thinking it was a repeat of the last show when this came on. Someone has to have pulled out late as it's rare enough that the same song opens the show twice, never mind on consecutive eligible showings. To make it even more jarring, even though they're in the studio with Diddy the set is different and the band are differently arranged everyone still seems to be wearing the same clothes - same check suit, same garland, same Panama hat. Perhaps they did that knowingly. Even the laundrette theme is kept up, this time with oversized fake big box powders. Obviously there's a Brand X, but primarily stationed at the back is Sudso, a washing powder brand later brought to life in Harry Enfield's Norbert Smith: A Life. Coincidence? (Yes.) Someone's learnt their lesson with fewer full-face close-ups of Paul Shuttleworth and more precisely the much discussed teeth, but we do get to see in fuller motion his filling during the instrumental break, involving a lot of back and forth pacing and wanton arm swinging, even a pelvic thrust at one juncture. At least someone's pleased to be back there.
ABBA – Money Money Money
Diddy seems restrained tonight - few jokes or even attempts, no Tony Blackburn references. The one time he does get to show off he's manaically throwing fivers back over his shoulder to somehow illustrate the central tenet of this song. Let's hope nobody was severely injured in the rush. It's the proper video this time, featuring plenty of iconic use of the satin all-in-ones alongside closeups of small amounts of money, which maybe defeats the song's purpose, and Annifrid laughing in the back of an open topped car, with all four in formal evening dress suggesting they got the suits and dresses on hire but couldn't think of anything else to do within the budget.
Jethro Tull – Ring Out Solstice Bells
Lock up your impressionable kids. The Tull hadn't had a hit for five years and apart from an unlikely top 40 placing for a reissue of Living In The Past in 1993 wouldn't again, which means there was a whole swathe of kids unused to Ian Anderson's ways. And oh, those ways are out in force tonight - not just the manaical flute playing on on leg, or the staring down the camera lens like a man possessed by many daemons even when it's not pointing straight at him, but the full neckerchief inclusive country squire outfit, the kicking out in time with power chords, some threatening pointing, the twice mid-held note readjustment of the hat to a rakish angle before pulling the flute over his shoulder as if off to battle with it as his weapon, which in the circumstances may be the case. And then the first verse finishes. The director, perhaps the only man thinking this could do with some visual aid, chooses to montage some kaleidoscopic circular lights around him, but those are seen off as Anderson removes his hat for final push emphasis. Most people, with a hat in one hand and a flute in the other, might limit their gesticulations. Not Ian. At the end, as some actual tubular bells are played by a man in a similar hat and expression, the keyboard player emerges in his crimson jacket to take up the handclapping slack in nothing that resembles strict time and Anderson remembers he was supposed to be miming that flute part, he's not even half spent.
Mike Oldfield – Portsmouth
Well, there's only one way Legs & Co can approach Oldfield's sailor's hornpipe and that's full doublet and hose. Except with microskirts, obviously. And big hats with a feather in the top. And knee length boots that look like they're made out of cricket pads and carpet underlay. And then getting the whole audience to wave blue ribbons for some reason. Hang on, they're not supposed to represent the sea's waves, are they? Given there's a model palm tree at one end of the rectangular stage they must be. So why are the Middle Ages Legs doing their routine on a mock desert island? While Portsmouth is technically an island, there's nothing in Oldfield's score that suggests underlying Robinson Crusoe tendencies. There's some leapfrogging and Pauline jumping on someone's (commenters!) back who then hightails it back off to the wings before come collective can-can strides, another Patti solo before the routine takes on hat-twirling and jumping properties. And then... cue parrot! Not that it does anything other than sit there looking away from the action slightly bemusedly, but that's really pushing your concept routine to its cliche potential. The climax comes with all six throwing something small, plentiful, shiny and round into the willing if tired of arm by now audience. Possibly sweets, probably not money maybe secret memory wiping drugs. Who can say. Diddy makes sure to credit the parrot. Chalky, apparently. Bought off Jim Davidson, perhaps.
Tommy Hunt – One Fine Morning
As Legs & Co tidy up and remove hats in the background Diddy makes sure to mention Hunt's previous hit, which we didn't see. "He's right over there so let's meet him" he then suggests. We can't, Diddy, he's on television. We're at home. Against a backdrop of red light shells with some sort of dark gauze over the middle, lighting tips straight out of a bordello, Hunt's attire also seems to be inspired by the Middle Ages, this time a long brown smock with a single large attachment in the middle which seems to have been sewn on seperately to both sides, part-Robin Hood follower, part-medieval knight school play. Hunt, bubble permed and ready for action, keeps threatening to break into full body popping when he gets a couple of seconds, but when he gets a proper musical break that allows him to start really moving his extremities atop the wedding cake stage he looks less like the James Brown he is in his mind and more attempting to stamp out a small fire. If only his mike technique was as advanced, as he keeps pulling the mike away from himself mid-line.
Dana – Fairytale
Diddy has company, "some young people who've come over from Northern Ireland". They're from the Youth Peace Group, which Diddy doesn't touch on in favour of mentioning they're spending part of a week they won in London at the studio instead of shopping or furthering their cause or something useful. Having questioned them on what they make of it (kids: "brilliant!" Diddy: "terrific!") they get to wave at the camera as their compatriot is introduced. As followers of the comments will know, this was on a recent wiped show and went down well. Basically it's simple, classy 70s pop with a hint of Cliff and a video for which, after a light blue colour fill effect at the start and after the first chorus, required very little outlay, Dana and her neckerchief seemingly doing the whole thing in one or two takes with one or two cameras in an otherwise empty studio. She puts her all into the singing, credit her with that.
Paul Nicholas – Grandma’s Party
And from simple concept to this... thing. If, as the Rezillos would maintain two years later, TOTP is "a stock market for your hi-fi", here's our Eurozone. Instead of Diddy in vision we get a shot of a pastel Christmas card scene against a blank screen - did someone forget to record this link and he have to fill afterwards? - as he introduces "some very lively grandmas". And yes, it's that man and his bowler and cane again. Just in case we hadn't spotted, the first line is "I brush my bowler and I grab my cane". That's creating an image. No mention of why he's chosen a mid-length towelling robe instead of proper clothing as he's not getting ready for the party, he's on his way or actually there for most of the song. Behind him Legs & Co in hats, glasses, long coats and skirts are your partying grandmas. Who says Flick was too literal? Excellently, during a section of freeform gran dancing one of them - Lulu, it's reckoned - struts across the lip of the stage in front of Nicholas and to his evident double take surprise while he's singing. Got to take those standing out opportunities while you can.
Showaddywaddy – Under The Moon Of Love
New number one, sort of. Diddy concludes his description of the band with "from Leicester!" as if it's an actual selling point. It's the black/white suits routine from last time, even though they were man enough to come in and film a new setting for the Christmas show, of which more next week as you know.
Special bonus material
For probably the first time all re-run, possibly under the guidance of latest producer standin Stanley Appel (who'd permanently take the show over in 1991 and give it an ill-fated revamp) there's a proper outro this week rather than credits over the number one or shots of some lights. Remember the days when not everyone was expected to be into football and those who were weren't shy about mentioning it? Look how uncomfortable this girl is being propositioned by the man who is still Fulham's matchday announcer before a chance to... no, not 'see', more 'experience' the audience dancing on camera. Levels of comfort and proportion of people watching the monitors just in case seem to have remained constant throughout the years. Watch for the forearm-first style of the well fed kid in the big scarf and huge flares, the girl inventing Phil Oakey's hairdo about four years too early and those Northern Ireland peace corps really moving.