Thursday, 29 December 2011

A farewell to 1976, by Bob Stanley

After all last week's recapping exertions I've left the concluding words on the musical year 1976 to someone who can express its core ideals much clearer than I could - writer, Saint Etienne member and established font of pop knowledge Bob Stanley, whose own blog Croydon Municipal is highly recommended.

When the Top Of The Pops re-runs began last spring, a lot of people saw them as evidence that 1976 was pop's worst ever year. This could only be said by people who hadn't lived through the cheap thrills of the Glam era only to be left high and dry by the tame, tawdry charts of 1975. To put 1976 in context, let me explain the desperation of pop music a year earlier. Only twice in my life have I left the charts alone - for a few months in 1987 when I was an indie puritan, and in early 1975 when I simply lost interest. I bought and devoured Shoot! and football took up all my headspace. Only for a few months, but for pop to have fallen off the radar of the ten-year old me so completely that I didn't know who was number one, still shocks the adult me.

So there were gaps in my musical knowledge of 1975 (fully revealed when the first Guinness Book Of Hit Singles was published in '77) that I'd happily fill in years later - a no.3 hit by the intriguingly named Moments And Whatnauts turned out to be the priceless Girls, with its bright yellow string-machine chords and daffy sexist lyric. But much of it was a desert. My ignorance suggests the kids at school weren't paying much attention either. Clearly there was a pop deficit*. I'd occasionally hear something high in the charts and remain unimpressed - Bobby Goldsboro's lonely housewife murder ballad** Honey made it all the way to no.2 just seven years after it had oozed its way to the same position in 1968; Mud tied a lead weight around Buddy Holly's Oh Boy and somehow scored a number one.

Even the Bay City Rollers' simplistic mix of Spector and Glam, like a dessicated Wizzard, had seemed much more appealing, much brighter in '74 (Shang A Lang, Summerlove Sensation) than it did in 1975 (Bye Bye Baby, Give A Little Love) when they owned the chart as completely as the Beatles in '63 or Frankie in '84. Just a year before, Mud scored a streak of Glam classics - Tiger Feet, The Cat Crept In and (maybe best of the lot) Rocket. 1975 felt like pop's oxygen supply was low, for Mud*** and for everyone else.

Pop analyst Tony Jasper once posited that 1976 felt like a carefree, bubbly year for pop because most of us were blissfully unaware of the punk holocaust about to condemn the likes of Steve Harley, the Rollers and even dear old Mud to chart oblivion. Well, having lived through '75 and '76 I'll vouch for it being a breezy year, but maybe because something, anything would be an improvement on the year before.

So how did things improve?

There was one sparkling trend that stands out for me. Though it continues to split the jury clean down the middle, Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody - number one for nine weeks, straddling the end of '75 and the start of '76 - was unquestionably ambitious. It harked backed to a lost world when pop singles became complex structures, not just for kids, aiming to break the three minute barrier and smash the bluff blues base of R'n'R. Good Vibrations set the bar unfeasibly high in 1966. Richard Harris's Macarthur Park and Barry Ryan's Eloise stretched the blueprint thrillingly in '68, just as the new blues boom rendered this ornate style unfashionable.

10CC were first to revive it (Rubber Bullets, The Dean And I) but it was probably the influence of the Bo Rhap behemoth that made the extended, multipart single a feature of the 1976 charts. The Four Seasons had been brought in from the cold with a disco hit (Who Loves You) and a Northern Soul re-issue (The Night) in 1975; 1976 brought us their epic Silver Star (no.3 in May). A working man dreams, like Scott Walker's Humphrey Plugg, of being surrounded by beautiful women, "ecstasy on their faces". The bulk of the song is a galloping fantasy, but its middle section thumps out his "nine to five" job, seemingly sought out for him by a domineering wife. "Ain't living but I'm alive" he sobs.

Who else tried this lark? John Miles' Music (no.3) showed that, in the wrong hands, it could sound pompous, risible; David Essex's urban psychodrama City Lights (no.24) was so long it became one of the first 12" singles, and a startpoint for Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds; Simon May's Summer Of My Life (no.7) sounded like Terry Scott concocting a Home Counties version of Macarthur Park; Showaddywaddy's Trocadero (no.32) minced up a '58/'68/'76 pop lineage, though not quite so thrillingly as that may suggest. Away from the chart, David Gates' Suite: Clouds, Rain picked up Capital Radio airplay. If for no other reason, this odd trend nullifies the idea that 1976 was a pop nadir.

There were plenty of women on the chart, but girls were nowhere to be seen. Tina Charles, though short and busty and cute as a button, was way too mumsy to be a pre-teen dream; Dana's Fairytale (no.13) and Twiggy's Here I Go Again (no.17) provided late period hits for one-time teenage cuties, now definitely out of range from the realistic fantasies of sweaty 14-year olds. Kiki Dee, whose first single was in 1963, finally scored a brace of Top 20 hits. An odd strain was the 1976 girl group, with no members looking under the age of 25: the Chanter Sisters, the Surprise Sisters, Glamourpuss. Who were these acts aimed at? And how much thought went into their Top Of The Pops performances? The industry wasn't short of money, but very little of it was spent on a stylist for the poor Chanter Sisters whose excellent single Sideshow was sunk by a godawful TOTP must-see performance. None of them scored a Top 20 hit.

The 1976 charts behaved as if we had outgrown cute boy or girl-led pop. Stranger than the half-assed girl group revival was the lack of poster boys. David Essex and the Bay City Rollers had been the pin-ups of '75, but both had sharp drop-offs in '76 (Essex failed to reach the Top 20 at all). Flintlock scraped into the Top 30, just, with Dawn ("is breaking my heart"), even though they were on tv EVERY WEEK on You Must Be Joking and Pauline's Quirkes. The Wurzels? JJ Barrie? Maybe they just primed a nation's pre-pubescents for the pin-up star of '77, the decidedly not young David Soul, whose appeal (I'm wildly presuming here) was that he could be your best friend's handsome dad. Whatever, 1976 produced no new teen sensations. Agnetha was the only true pin-up, but she'd first wiggled her blue satin pants on TOTP in spring '74, and again she was closer to Legs & Co's territory than Mary Weiss or Clare Grogan.

Disco 1976-style was a very varied beast and none the worse for it. The BPM count varied from Isaac Hayes' hyper, whip-cracking Disco Connection (no.10) to Andrea True's slo-mo porn'n'cowbell classic More More More (no.5). Neither used the patented Philly hi-hat, soon to be ubiquitous. Wild Cherry's Play That Funky Music (no.7) trounced any funk-rock hybrid before or since, while UK acts the Average White Band (Pick Up The Pieces) and the Climax Blues Band (Couldn't Get It Right) created genuinely timeless club hits, the latter with a neatly sinister feel - just what was it that they couldn't get right?****.

The hot hot heat defined another sound of '76, with the blazing summer surely affecting chart positions. Wings' Let 'Em In (no.2) was an exhausted sprawl on a day bed; Steve Harley's Here Comes The Sun (no.10) flounced; Dr Hook's prolonged sexual antics on A Little Bit More (no.2) left them "flat out on the floor" in temperatures consistently in the eighties; David Dundas' Jeans On (no.3) was another lazy mooch in the shade; and Elton and Kiki's Don't Go Breaking My Heart was as summery and all-conquering (six weeks at the top) as 45s get.

The aforementioned Surprise Sisters turned in one of the worst singles of '76 with their trashing of Got To Get You Into My Life. What on earth were they doing? Without any context, their crazed supper-jazz with forties burps made no sense. But there was a pre-war swing revival in the air - Essex DJ Chris Hill would pepper his soul sets with blasts of Glenn Miller, and his set was influential enough to push Miller's In The Mood into the chart; the swing legend's Tuxedo Junction gave Manhattan Transfer their first hit (no.24) in March); Maureen McGovern recorded a new version of Ginger Rogers' The Continental (no.16) which, chirruping from an Alba transistor radio, sounded like it was from 1935; Winifred Shaw's lovely minor hit Lullaby Of Broadway WAS recorded in 1935. The Chi Lites' You Don't Have To Go (no.3) had one of the year's strangest productions, with a trippy echo-drenched chorus and unexpected female squeaks on its extended coda, but also made room for a silent screen-era brass section. Beyond Chris Hill's contribution, and possibly the influence of Bugsy Malone, I can offer no explanation to this trend. It peaked and died when Manhattan Transfer went mainstream (to the point of being used as a Terry And June punchline) a year later.

Amidst these short-lived fashions, there were a few TOTP clues on what was to come. Heavy Metal Kids were proto punk, and had no obvious connection to the Pub Rock scene that birthed Eddie & The Hot Rods. I remember seeing She's No Angel at the time and thinking it really stuck out like a sore thumb, quite scary (too scary to crack the Top 50, as it turned out). The backing group looked like a fat Strokes, and singer Gary Holton was some kind of Clockwork Orange/New York Dolls hybrid. Not altogether GOOD, but still they had something that almost everything else on the show lacked - here was a bit of bleedin’ energy at last. And how much did Thin Lizzy's performances jumped out of the screen? Everyone was actually dancing, not just doing that sad TOTP shuffle, to The Boys Are Back in Town (no.8). Likewise, Status Quo's propulsive Mystery Song (no.11) was a hard diamond in the midst of smug piano-led ballads by John Christie and Randy Edelman.

Of course "what was to come"***** was a bunch of low-level chart positions for a mixed bag of acts, some of whom (Graham Parker & The Rumour? The Tubes?) would barely be tagged New Wave these days, let alone Punk. But the Top 30 countdown would have at least one representative of the new order most weeks from April '77 onwards. 1976 was a very light year, in all senses of the word, and things were about to get considerably heavier.

* there were good records released in 1975, but most were albums: The Hissing Of Summer Lawns, Blood On The Tracks, Gene Clark's No Other, Neil Young's Zuma, Dion's Born To Be With You. Even then, these were hardly heralds of a musical future.

** the singer has killed her, hasn't he? Listen to it again and tell me how's she died of natural causes.

*** Mud managed the rare feat of scoring six hit singles in 1975, none of which were much cop. 1976's sleek Shake It Down was a great improvement, and is a clear forefather of the later Rob Davis-penned hit Groovejet.

**** the intro was possibly pinched for Pink Floyd's much less oblique Another Brick In The Wall.

***** Noel Edmonds predicted it would be slimy singer-songwriter John Christie, and Tony Palmer's All You Need Is Love documentary saw great things ahead for Black Oak Arkansas and Stomu Yamashta.

Friday, 23 December 2011

TOTP 26/12/76 (tx 22/12/11): farewell to all that

And as our BBC4 year began with Tony Blackburn, so it ends 33 retained shows later with Tony keeping Jimmy company. Jimmy is, of course, wearing a Santa suit, cigar in, pack of cards fascinatingly in hand. Less explicably, on the table is front of them is a Ludo game box and a large pink triangle with what seems to be a picture of a dog on. No mention at all in the intro of this being the second show. Given the Legs & Co quotient forthcoming, how late did they schedule back then?

Brotherhood Of Man – Save Your Kisses For Me
Of the many studio performances, this is the one with the Union Jack design above the stage, in which everyone seems to be providing live vocals. Surely they had the option otherwise, even if they needed the practice ahead of Eurovision.

Billy Ocean – Love Really Hurts Without You
Tony finds the sight at close quarters of Jimmy pretending to be surprised hilarious. "Right over there", this is Billy at his most conservative of dress sense, which is saying something given he's wearing an all-in-one linen outfit, the jacket part of which boasts massive lapels over a pink tanktop, and in which he seems to have shoved something a little extra for the ladies' imaginations down the front. Performing in front of a glittery curtain he comes across as soul's most self-confident, not to mention optimstic, working men's club performer. Two people right down the front have the same curiously designed hat on that they were exhibiting right in front of our openers, which means these clips come from the 25th March programme, the week before BBC4 picked up on them.

Sailor – Glass Of Champagne
We join Tony struggling to open a bottle of the titular. Well, thanks to less than snappy editing we join him as he's holding the bottle at right angles as he comes to the gradual realisation that he really should be seen to be giving it all he's go if this is going to look realistic at all. You may argue that any chance of realism left the studio when Jimmy arrived, but there you go. Jimmy revels in drinking his "BBC tea", though there doesn't seem to be anything in the cup. There being anything to genuinely drink doesn't seem to have affected Sailor, who started off this crazy BBC4 ride and now turn up in its first phase's death throes, who start off by toasting us with their appropriately half-filled glasses - there's *two* champers bottles on the band's trusty Nickelodeon - and then go on to look like that was but the televisual tip of the iceberg in their day of getting sloshed. Everyone's in bow tie and flannel, drummer Grant Serpell seems to be sporting a cape, Henry Marsh (who, incidentally, recently married Dee Dee out of Pan's People) is sporting a top hat, a cane (though he carries both off with much more gravity than Paul Nicholas ever could) and an inane grin (that less so). Georg Kajanus already has streamers around his shoulders and general being. Nothing untoward has happened to Phil Pickett's appearance. The big bass drum on the side of the Nickelodeon is proved to be there for more than decoration. The second time Marsh bends down to beat it and and Nickel-oppo Pickett crouch down and do something for the camera, which is unfortunate given the camera misses it. Towards the end the balloons are released, but all uupon Serpell, who in close-up looks not unreasonably suddenly both excited and confused. Literally, when the director cuts back to a full stage shot there doesn't appear to be another balloon drop point anywhere. Before long everyone but the professional and perhaps most sober Kajanus has abandoned their station to fight the balloons off. Jimmy, who appreciates a good sailor, seems to be transfixed.

Wings – Let 'Em In
The Real Thing are setting up on the Quantel-fied screen behind them, as if this were real time. Instead it's Legs & Co and that delayed attempt at one-upping their predecessors. Problem is, being as they're still bedding in there's little sense of fun, spontaneity or character about Legs yet, so presented with some doors in a circle all they can come up with to do is walk through them in dressing gowns, the full coverage presumably the leverage for being in their pants for the other three new routines. And yeah, sure, there's opening and closing of doors in sequence, but there's no sticking their head through and making an amusing face and/or wave. There's no gratuitious arse-waggling. Nobody claims to be Martin Luther. There's no way of getting round it, this routine is just walking. A little eavesdropping and waiting enters later on, but that's to fill out breaks as much as anything.

The Real Thing – You To Me Are Everything
Tony proffers a box of Terry's All Gold, which Jimmy doesn't give a second look. If Billy was holding back on the colour clashing, the Real Thing have gone all out on their return, the open-fronted mustard coloured fringed jacket still losing out to whichever Amoo brother it is in the time honoured silver dungarees off one shoulder/neckerchief/glittery hat combination, and just for emphasis both of outfit and place in the band he's on a raised stage-within-a-stage. There's a girl in the audience in a sailor's hat. Her luck was in earlier in the night right enough.

Dr Hook – A Little Bit More
The multi-layered beard and latent homoeroticism of the video. Jimmy in introduction chooses to hide behind a balloon. Fair comment.

ABBA – Fernando
Again. Jimmy uses "as it 'appens" twice in a sentence, as if he has a reputation to keep up or something. "I can't stop eating these nuts, Jim" is Tony's straightforward reponse. Even though there's a studio performance they could have shown it's fireside wistfulness of the video.

Rod Stewart – The Killing Of Georgie
Ah, Diddy's favourite. For the third song in a row it's the video, Rod perhaps unwisely given the subject matter flouncing about on a great big stage with only a microphone and big blouse for company. "I would like to tell you a horrific story about him (Tony)" Jimmy starts the link out of a song about homophobic murder.

Our Kid – You Just Might See Me Cry
After three videos, a repeat of the massive buttonhole flower-enhanced studio performance of "one of the youngest groups to make it this year", suggesting there were younger groups who've fooled us plebs but not the pros. Perhaps my favourite wrongheaded #totp tweet this year, even ahead of the weekly "why are BBC4 showing 1976 again?", is the person who moaned "was there a TOTP in 1976 Our Kid weren't on?" Yes, all but three of them, and one of those has been wiped and one was months later.

Johnny Mathis – When A Child Is Born
"Don't know if you know him or not", Jim? Haven't we all seen this enough by now? Three Pops-programming appearances in four days. TOTP2 captioned it as being from 1977, which shows how much departments observe what each other is doing.

The Four Seasons – December '63 (Oh What A Night)
At last, something new! Even if it is just Legs & Co, and a Legs without Patti at that. There is speculation that they recorded the other three dances for one show and then had to make up the numbers (or possibly they were set to fill in for an act that became available and had to make a late change) only for Patti to fall ill, which makes sense. Small bra and pants all round again, each in different colours and augmented with glittery headdresses and a bit of chiffon in the back so you can't ogle them from behind. The director's solution is to shoot all the close-ups from below to even less subtle result. The five are on stages around the audience in the middle, whose job is to wave strands of tinsel around to no discernible atmospheric effect.

Chicago – If You Leave Me Now
"One of my favourite records of the moment" says Tony ahead of another video. Me? I'd rather see Terry Kath's Mississippi dance again.

Showaddywaddy – Under The Moon Of Love
The problem with the 'waddy... well, more than one, but for the purpose it was that with the overmanning two members often seemed to have little to do. That's been solved by giving them miniature guitars of little potential resonance, so that's that sorted and them happy. Once again it's the black/white switcheroo, but this time mixed in is a perspective joke as drums and timpani subtly shift between the front and back of the stage, the consistently pissed off looking Romeo Challenger to the forefront in the black. Oddly Dave Bartram doesn't get to change at all, but there's a reason for that. When he gets down on his knees at the lip of the stage for the first "I wanna talk sweet talk..." bridge he grabs a young lady's hand - maybe the young lady at the front of the previous shot from the back of the stage seen holding a 7" record - and then, the old charmer, brings out a sprig of mistletoe, albeit very ragged and battered looking mistletoe. The expected is elected not to be carried out. Understandably, everyone makes a large gap at the front when he tries for the second time. A few streamers thrown around, back in the studio Jimmy puts out his cigar and then uses it to burst a balloon by Tony's head. "And it's goodbye from him!" And it's goodbye from 1976, as a time entity then and as a concept now.

Top Of The Pops will return in 1977, on 6th January 2012. The blog has one more post before the end of the year.

Whichever year you want to read that as.

Christmas listings guide

In case you wondered, this is what BBC1 screened alongside those two TOTPs at Christmas 1976:


8.40am Ragtime
The same episode screened a year earlier. BBC Christmas repeats!

8.55am Sing Noel!
"Pupils of Essex schools" carol their hearts out.

9.45am Hong Kong Phooey

10.10am Appeal
Angela Rippon on behalf of Televisions for the Deaf. Special televisions? Pre-Ceefax?

10.15am Christmas Morning Service from Coventry

11.15am Rod Hull and Emu
Guest starring Rolf Harris and 300 singing children.

11.45am Four Clowns
Clips of Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keason and Charlie Chase, whoever he was.

1.20pm Holiday on Ice
The forgotten lingua franca of Christmas telly as it used to be, ice skating extravaganzas.

2.10pm Top of the Pops

3.00pm The Queen

3.15pm Billy Smart's Christmas Circus

4.15pm Oliver!
The Ron Moody/Mark Lester/Jack Wild 1968 version.

6.35pm Evening News
Peter Woods pulling duty today.

6.45pm Bruce Forsyth and the Generation Game
Which became at that point the most watched single game show ever. Don't know who was on, mind.

7.45pm The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show
With Angela Rippon (yes, that one, and it seems she wasn't even billed in the listings to make sure it was a surprise), John Thaw and Dennis Waterman, Kate O'Mara, Elton John, the Nolans and the Singin' In The Rain routine. It's being repeated on BBC1 on Boxing Day at five to one.

8.45pm Airport
The film that launched a thousand disaster movies. Christmas night, though?

10.55pm News

11.00pm Parkinson's Magic Show
Parky gets his favourite three magicians to perform for him.

12.10am Weather

12.12am Closedown

ON OTHER CHANNELS... BBC2 take up three hours with a clip show, Forty Years, and another 50 minutes with the memories of one man marooned on the remote desert island South Georgia. ITV go with the 1968 Doctor Doolittle, the Please Sir! film, the New Faces Winners Show featuring nobody you've heard of, Christmas Sale of the Century, The John Curry Ice Spectacular and Rod Steiger vehicle Waterloo, but most interestingly at the directly competitive time of 2.15pm Christmas Supersonic from the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, where in the presence of Princess Margaret, Russell Harty and Joanna Lumley introduce Marc Bolan, Tina Charles, the newly unretired Gary Glitter, John Miles, Guys 'n' Dolls, Twiggy and Linda Lewis. I can't imagine TOTP shook. Here's the big finish.


9.25am Nai Zindagi Naya Jeevan
Sunday regular doesn't stop for the season.

9.55am Playboard

10.10am The Selfish Giant
Canadian animation based on an Oscar Wilde short story with heavy Jesus overtones.

10.35am The Little Mermaid
The original Richard Chamberlain-voiced version.

11.00am Sunday Worship
From Notting Hill Methodist Church.

11.45am Flash Gordon
Part eight of the original 1936 serial starring Buster Crabbe.

12.05pm Tarzan And The Huntress
Prime Weissmuller.

1.15pm News Headlines

1.20pm The Waltons
Again not stopping just because it's Christmas, this would have been the first run of series 4.

2.10pm Top of the Pops

3.00pm The Wizard of Oz

4.35pm It's A Christmas Knockout
Filmed at the Olympic Ice Rink in Italy, Leeds take on Belgian, Italian and Dutch teams.

5.35pm Little Lord Fauntleroy
The last of the acclaimed six part serial of the book.

6.05pm News

6.15pm Songs Of Praise Special
Families fill the Albert Hall.

7.25pm Dad's Army
The orange-based japery BBC2 are showing in prime time tomorrow.

7.55pm Love Story
Unseasonal prime-time film choices mean often having to say you're sorry.

9.30pm The Val Doonican Show
With Nana Mouskouri, James Galway, Tony Blackburn, Terry Wogan, Arthur Askey, Janet Brown, Henry Cooper and Cliff Michelmore.

10.20pm News

10.30pm A Man for All Seasons
Paul Scofield's masterwork.

12.25am Weather

ON OTHER CHANNELS... BBC2 put out a mid-afternoon review of the golfing year called Of Chips And Putts, which is an excellent title. Later on came a Royal Ballet version of the Tales Of Beatrix Potter, a seasonal Face The Music, The Barry Humphries Show and the autobiographical Summoned by Bells: Sir John Betjeman. ITV meanwhile bought in Bill Cosby-fronted The World of Music and a TV version of Peter Pan starring Mia Farrow and Danny Kaye before Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent's, groo, Rock Nativity, Stanley Baxter's Christmas Box, Kirk Douglas film Catch Me A Spy and, in a very BBC2-like move, Scottish Opera's The Merry Widow from the Theatre Royal, Glasgow.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

1976 returning

The last recap (but, please be aware, not last blog post) of the year is coming tomorrow; until then an amuse-bouche to the year's music. I put out an appeal on message boards and my other account to see if any DIY musicians fancied having a go at covering some of the songs that have been on the TOTP run, and... well, the response wasn't all that it could have been. Four useable covers were received, in fact. And here they are:


Body In The Thames - I Want More
Enigmatic Stockholm-based noisy electronic artist samples part of Can's disco-Kraut meisterwork and then works round the rest

Clownbomb - Devil Woman
Enigmatic DJ-cum-solo project inserts distortion into Cliff's being-got-from-behind morality play

MJ Hibbett - Combine Harvester
Urban agriculturalism from the venerable scion of the indiepop scene, who's about to release an album of his Edinburgh Festival hit sci-fi rock opera Dinosaur Planet

Vom Vorton - Howzat
Lo-fi sunshine power-pop cover of Sherbet's cricket as breakup extended metaphor by Derby singer-songwriter. Download his recent album for free

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

TOTP 25/12/76 (tx 20/12/11): literally, Christmas has come early

Well, it looks like we might have made it. Yes, it looks like we made it to the end. This retrospective year of Glamourpuss and Harpo. Of the sisters Chanter and Surprise. Of Dr Kiss Kiss and Shake It Down. Of Ben Goldacre's Noosha Fox revelation and Alexis Petridis' Guardian article. Of whether young people who've somehow stumbled across this would think Liverpool Express were one of the defining bands of the age. Of the rise and fall of Ruby Flipper, literally in the case of TVC15. Of trying to understand Noel's links, DLT's concepts and Diddy's parting. And, of course, that late run to infamy by John Christie. And now we only have a two part look back at 1976 to go.

Question for commenters to pad out your comments and additions to this show - what's your choice of outstanding moments of Top Of The Pops 1976? As some sort of memory jog, here's a Spotify playlist of a lot of what was featured.

DLT and Noel, a partnership that would produce something rather less suited to family viewing sixteen years later, are your hosts, and someone must have booked the studio as they're in front of a chromakeyed wall behind a full set table at the near side of which is an enormous turkey. There's two on its far side, you may say.

Slik – Forever And Ever
Getting in early, DLT's gag for this link is to pretend to have drifted off, unable to be roused. It doesn't show great commitment to what's ahead of us all when you're acting like that in the first link. This Bay City Rollers song at 33 1/3 - written by the same people who were responsible for the Rollers' original hits and had originally been recorded by the substantially less portentous Kenny - was a number one in February but we've seen Midge and co's baseball jacketed US culture fetishising outfits since. What we haven't seen before, because with hits comes dignity, is the keyboard player's matey grin and nod to camera mid-chorus. On the wall behind our hosts there's shots throughout of aftermath and crowd, so we get to see Slik wander nonchalantly off stage...

Elton John & Kiki Dee – Don’t Go Breaking My Heart our duo contrive some pundom based on Noel's "flower arranging art". You know this video by now, as even though it's not been on the show since 1st September it's ingrained on every single one of your neurons.

ABBA – Dancing Queen
A shaking with excitement Dave Lee Travis with a knife in his hand. Must we fling this filth at our pop kids and their families? Or indeed this filth, as Legs & Co's two performances are both costumed around bra, pants and accessories. In this case that means big white furry hats the shape, colour and consistency of marshmallows, possibly so they don't catch their deaths of cold, and some sort of arrangement around long necklace-like strands connected to the hats plus wristbands and strips tied to their pants of similarly consistency. It's like mink bondage. A director has the idea of shooting the intro chorus from below, which coupled with pointing and spinning suggests a very wrong Soviet Pennies From Heaven adaptation. Not unreasonably, there's a lot of women standing off to one side, arms firmly folded. A group of gentlemen at the back sway to the beat. One chap caught close up seems transfixed, not moving a muscle. Amid all this, with what must for once have been more than three days' notice Flick doesn't really seem to have got a handle on it.

JJ Barrie – No Charge
Noel makes a Light Brigade joke. If it's meant to provide levity linking into one of his studio appearances, it doesn't work. This is still, after all, No Charge.

Laurel & Hardy With The Avalon Boys feat. Chill Wills – The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine
Yeah, interesting, this. Not just because of its fact - partly Peel's fault, apparently - but also it was a number two at Christmas 1975 and yet is still counted, crossing over as it does into the first couple of weeks, as a 1976 hit. And they're right there in the stu... no, wait, it's the clip from Way Out West. Several more courses, a smaller turkey and a bottle of wine now bedeck the presentational table. Noel tells DLT to "use your loaf". So he does, with a loaf of bread cut in half and enacted by Travis as a talking mouth. It makes Noel and the offscreen crew corpse. That must have been a long shoot.

Tina Charles – I Love To Love (But My Baby Loves To Dance)
The big turkey is back. Behind it Noel elects not to make a joke having been put off by DLT combing down his shirt, claiming he's "trying to clear up my dandruff". It's plausible. Unlike what they've done to Charles, as despite the huge studio floor completely empty apart from three crew and a camera taking reverse angle long shots she's ended up being filmed in one shot on a fairly narrow gantry, her movements even more restricted by some scaffolding and a couple of boxes. She hasn't helped herself sartorially with a test card of a jumper design and big scarf. Was there a draft up there? She should have said something. No explanation of her predicament is forthcoming. Tight schedule? For the Christmas Pops?

The Wurzels – Combine Harvester
You can't imagine the Wurzels had a lot on as they've come back for a studio encore sitting with the audience in the round on a small tractor, as is their wont, without so much as a tuba in sight. Pink shirts, brown waistcoats and brown cords are the dress code this time along with the signature neckerchiefs. Despite the passage of time since this was an unknown song "she made oi laugh" gets an actual audience laugh. Despite some stout singing along things don't really get going until fake snow and balloons get dropped and much batting about of the latter commences, leading to a widespread failure to be really listening any more. One balloon manages to knock Pete Budd's live mike partly round, though just by shifting his posture he's able to continue. A man standing to the side of Budd is enjoying it rather more than a man of his more than mean audience average age should be, waving his arms about all over the place. Has to have been a plant.

Cliff Richard – Devil Woman
Pretty sure this hasn't been on before, as there's an audience in shot, some of them are still theateningly holding balloons (imagine that Cliff/Wurzels green room conversation), no backing band and Cliff is wearing trousers of an acceptable size. A fire is superimposed over him at various points, which is certainly a quick and cheap way of denoting the concept of devilment. Cliff's still largely playing to camera rather than the people, though you may argue his baring yards of hairy chest isn't a way to play to anyone. Congratulations to the audience member who turned up in a red wide brimmed hat, much as it must be blocking plenty of people's views.

ABBA – Mamma Mia
DLT claims it's a Liverpool song - "when the kids came home from school hungry they knocked on the door and said 'mam, I'm ere!'" DLT is from Derbyshire. Apart from Bjorn finding a gap between the girls' heads so he too can sing his inaudible backing vocals direct to camera it's the three session men, and they look the part, we really need to be watching given all ABBA routines are part of the national consciousness these days, standing out only by not being allowed to wear the same colour-coded electric blue outfits as the main four. The drummer looks bored and/or distracted beyond comprehension, not a good look if you're pushed to the front of the stage. This again seems to be a new in-studio version, raising the possibility they may have been watching their own song being loosely interpreted earlier on.

Hank Mizell – Jungle Rock
The bread face has been put at the front of the table with a banana in its mouth, and already it's more likeable than Noel. Legs & Co are back, and we get to compare and contrast now as on the very first show of the run Pan's People in their dying embers worked this to a hunting motif with cameos by whatever animal costumes they could find in the back of an old storage cupboard. With time and expense the whole jungle hunting side is explored further with the ladies doing a wardance in parrot feathered head-dresses and about as small Indian reservation fancy dress bras and pants as could be got away with in pre-Hot Gossip days. As if from a 1940s cartoon they're taking the cannibalistic option on jungle mores, doing a war dance round a large cooking pot, in which stands a bemused Tony Blackburn, who has clearly been given no clues on what to do so just has to stand there observing the madness for two and a half minutes. Before long a whole new menagerie joins in, and clearly the advance notice has paid off with some relatively more elaborate costumes with a hint of Victorian theatre about them, although some of the heads are more Cubist. With a tiny amount of studio space delinated by fake trees, six dancers basically circling the pot with progressively less energy plus extras in varying bear and crocodile outfits variously Susie Q-ing here and ring-dang-doo-ing there doesn't leave a lot of physical room for self-expression and it becomes lots of people trying not to overtly bump into each other, especially when the camel arrives. Still, the girls are visibly having fun, attempting to find partners for the close. An alligator has a balloon attached to its tail. Lulu exchanges pleasantries with a tiger (and if anyone can lipread her - it's right near the end - do tell) Tony Blackburn stands in his pot, unloved, forgotten and alone, watching the young people and not so young crew members have fun without him. Your heart bleeds. No it doesn't.

Pussycat – Mississippi
DLT produces a knockoff Emu in the wrong colours. "I had problems with a man called Hull" Noel comments in a textbook injoke as it attacks. (If anyone does know...) This is a repeat of the studio performance with the girls in black and mysterious wavy lighting effects overlaid. You've probably heard this enough recently.

Demis Roussos – Forever And Ever
"Here's something really big in Greece - BBC potatoes!" Noel and DLT work between them before both collapsing into laughter at their own joke. Not even technically a new joke either - when this was number one Noel introduced it as "the really big thing in Greece at the moment - no, not a BBC hamburger". Demis didn't come over for that single but he's over for the Christmas crowd in an alarming outfit, a red all in one with plunging neckline and an open full length coat. Like Cliff, despite being surrounded by transfixed kids he sings entirely to whichever camera is operational. Even when the Ladybirds take over he just looks straight down the lens at us in a statesmanlike stance for fully twenty seconds or more. He then gradually raises an arm in the air and watches the camera as it circles him for another twenty seconds.

Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
While DLT continues to attack Noel's hair by proxy, a girl in the audience shot behind them is making a note of something. Quick supermarket trip on the way home, maybe, but some things can wait for the bus journey. This is the video. All of it. This has a video, don't know if you're aware of that at all. Again, this is a 1975 hit that carried on over into the new year, making one wonder if it should technically count at all for 1976. Our hosts see us out with DLT having a health and safety existential crisis as he realises the big turkey of continuity turmoil is real before, bizarrely, Noel announces "we leave you with Legs & Company (always the full version of the name with Noel) and a bit of Wings". Instead, the show ends. How odd. There is a Legs & Co routine to a Wings song on the Boxing Day show, but that's one hell of a glaring editing cock-up. Did someone forget how long Bohemian Rhapsody is? Or just maybe was Noel making a joke about the turkey? Even for him that would be cryptic and unnecessary.

REMINDER: TOTP2 Christmas 2011 is Wednesday 7.30pm on BBC2, though you'll have to be wry about that yourselves; the Boxing Day 1976 special is Thursday at 8pm.

Monday, 19 December 2011

TOTP 23/12/76 (tx 19/12/11): the last Noel (except he does one of the Christmas shows)

As the first, and in fact only, of our pre-'76 Christmas surprises... Noel's Gas Disco II - This Time It's Warming Milk.

"Hellooo!" Noel jauntily begins, assuming a level of excitement unbecoming. He reminds us there's "just over a day to go", so BBC4 are keeping the timing in some sort of curious order. Steely Dan have crept into the top 30 with Haitian Divorce and are duly noted by a photo that makes them look exactly like the sort of studio workmen they are. We note from the Kursaal Flyers picture that the bloke in the Panama seemingly always wears it - and the guitarist's garland, actually, and the singer seems to have a very rectangular, short at the base and top head. Then David Soul appears at 11 and we spy 1977 hovering in the distance. Speaking of which, Anarchy In The UK was at 38. It didn't get any further as EMI dropped them in the first week of January and withdrew all stock.

Thin Lizzy - Don't Believe A Word
Ah, vintage Lizzy, that'll see us through with their Marshall stacks and the director's fades into green-tinged CSO effects. Phil's rocking the less vintage pink neckerchief/open shirt combination. It's a very studious performance bar Scott Gorham's long haired grinning charm, Brian Robertson refusing to make any sort of rock solo faces which might be why it passes without a single proper shot of his guitar. Couldn't they fit a camera in down that side? That's just bad set design if so. Noel can be seen nodding along on a piano-bedecked stage off to one side as if he understands and afterwards warms up his celebrated powers of prediction; "just been having a shocking argument with those guys cos I think that'll get to number one and they don't think it will. I reckon that'll be about the second number one in January of '77". It peaked at 12. Can you imagine, though, the entertainment of seeing Noel Edmonds having a row with Thin Lizzy? Not least because Noel really didn't want to be getting into a shocking argument with them given Brian Robertson had weeks before broken the leg and collarbone of different men before suffering artery and nerve damage to his hand and being knocked unconscious, both by bottles, in a backstage brawl with another band. So surely he couldn't play if he was that badly off? but clearly that performance was filmed in the same session as Noel's links... I don't know.

Barry Biggs - Sideshow
Not the same as the Chanter Sisters' Sideshow, let's say that first off, but a loping reggae cover of Blue Magic's US hit by Biggs, who for his big showcase has chosen an all pink version of the sort of ruffed outfit being exhibited over on ITV's The Comedians, albeit they'd have other reference points for all pink suits. Must be said, while the organ solo isn't exactly Ansell Collins the orchestra give reggae a better going than they gave Althea & Donna just over a year later, but Biggs without the record's production effects is just a large man with a receding afro and huge bow tie pacing back and forth singing in awkward falsetto. Halfway through, as it's Christmas, the director lets the cameraman plough right through the thick of the audience just like he used to, mowing at least six people down on his way. "Congratulations to Barry" Noel says afterwards for no good reason. It's his job to sing like that.

Status Quo - Wild Side Of Life
A video of very much standard three chord blues rock Quo, even if they don't get down to synchronised guitar neck action at any stage, although there is face to face playing-off and Alan Lancaster sporting the sort of shaggy perm that must have made him the envy of the nation's footballers. Huge, it is. Proper horsehair sofa atop.

John Christie - Here's To Love
Right at the end of the year Noel pulls out his greatest prediction yet. "If you get tipped for the stardom bit and you're called face of '77 or something, it can be a bit of a lumber, but I'm prepared to lumber this guy because he's come over from Australia, he's had a good '76 but '77 is going to be marvellous for John Christie." Now, I've been trying to work this out as he's not got a Wiki entry and as far as I can tell his most notable release is a 1974 album after he was discovered by Dave Clark (of the Five). He went on to sing and write for Clark's Time musical, and that's about the size of what Google throws up. As you can probably gather, this turned out to be his only UK chart hit, peaking at 24. All this folderol, however, is far from the story, as watching it might explain why he went no further, and give one in the eye to those who thought Elton's appearance a couple of shows back would see the end of chancers at the piano. Already comfortably in a Lidl Gilbert O'Sullivan groove, things start going wrong at the end of the first chorus when, in his white jacket over T-shirt and having already performed through a fixed grin, he sings the last line straight down the camera to his side before jerking his head back and pulling so self-satisfied a smirk, again directly at camera, that it becomes clear that he's not so much channelling Elton as Richard Stilgoe. Much more wobbling his head and entire upper body like his seat is covered in barbed wire and smirking at camera follows before from nowhere a chorus of Auld Lang Syne strikes up at the end of the bridge, which Christie starts miming along to and then gives up on. And just when he starts elongating his notes and you think it's finishing, a drum fill is followed by another round of Auld Lang Syne, an even creepier closed-mouth expression and... the entire audience wandering in in one line behind Christie in the crossed arm Hogmanay celebration singalong style, despite it being eight days ahead of proper time. Not many of them know how to do it or what they're doing. At this stage, especially when he breaks into falsetto over a ludicrously extended coda passage that merely suggests he couldn't think of how to climax the song without all the crashing cymbals, violins, falsetto notes and production weight he could find, you fear it may never end. Even then it fades out. God. Imagine being in the audience that week having to play along to this man's whims.

Stevie Wonder - I Wish
"What a strange thing over my left shoulder" says Noel, who's popped up among the throng only to be surprised by a light. He then manages to come up with another way of introducing Legs & Co without actually introducing Legs & Co. You know that whole thing about how some moments in pop mean as much in our current climate as they did then? "One of the most influential groups of individuals to come to this country. For the very first time, we present the men from the International Monetary Fund." No it isn't, it's Legs & Co in suits, another full covering after the Grandma's Party cameo which brings the mean average of body cover up after the Maid In Heaven skinfest. In which of Flick's fevered imaginings did she see old-school stereotypical City banker's suits - no umbrellas, mark you - as the best interpretation of prime Wonder, unless they were ordered in for a Money Money Money runthrough that was ditched when the video arrived? Actually, they begin with a Charlie Chaplin walk, which may have been the true intention, in which case it's even more inexplicable. Just to add a further layer of end of year madness, there's a screen behind them onto which is projected a seventh dancer, clearly masculine, strutting his own independent disco moves. He even gets a shadowy solo. What's that about? In fact... ladies and gentlemen, please welcome back to Top Of The Pops, albeit in reduced circumstances, your becostumed friend and mine Mr Floyd Pearce! You'll see him a few more times in 1977 and 1978 too.

Paul Nicholas - Grandma's Party
Noel seems to have got distracted by the title. "It'll be the usual thing, stale doughnuts and elderberry wine that tastes like cocoa". That famous Christmas foodstuff, doughnuts. Silver topper this time, plus cane and robe, but no extraneous dancers this time which makes him look a little lost. The cameraman runs over something/somebody before he's even started. That may explain his attempt to cover during the harmonica solo, which involves Nicholas walking out in front of his mike, turning 270 degrees anti-clockwise, then indulging in a few seconds of frantic running on the spot and leg waving before the time honoured pretending to have pulled a muscle gag. Noel suggests he rub himself down with a Radio Times, a classic old school BBC way of, um, quelling lustful thoughts. What does Edmonds think the song's about exactly? Oh, one other thing about this song. After referencing his previous hit - "the bells are ringing and the captain's here" - he suggests - "Mr Sax is swinging from the chandelier". Mr Sax? Would that be one of those who plays reggae like it used to be, and if so has Paul or anyone at the party checked he hasn't merely hung himself out of desperation at what Paul assumed his type to be?

Liverpool Express - Every Man Must Have A Dream
Again, so much airtime for a band nobody now remembers, even if Noel makes time to claim the song is "really growing on me so quickly it isn't true". At least they're costumed in the festive spirit with singer Billy Kinsley, seen at first in the middle of a kaleidoscopic image, in a huge woollen scarf and the pianist sporting a Santa outfit, suggesting he won the short straw draw backstage. Kinsley, it turns out, is wearing a baggy all-red outfit, which may well have been the best he could muster in a hurry. The guitarist is playing a twelve-string but only the top half. At the end out of nowhere arrives a crescendo drowning the thing in strings, timpani and a huge horn crescendo, which seems a little like the coward's way towards grandiosity when the rest of the song is built on so little. "Horribly overacted at the end but what a fabulous song" remarks Noel, which causes some background ruffling. Yeah, Noel, you show 'em!

Mike Oldfield - Portsmouth
No ribbons, gifts or parrot in the video. Instead some lithe young women do a Morris dance routine that's not that far from the meat of Legs & Co's, in Oldfield's huge studio as he sits impassively by playing bodhran. And acoustic guitar. And tambourine. And accordion. And kettle drums. Alright, Mike, you're a multi-instrumentalist, we get it. Look like you're having fun at least.

Johnny Mathis - When A Child Is Born
Deep in the heart of the plastic potted jungle Johnny, your Christmas number one hitmaker, gets out his director's chair, hums along with the music for what seems like minutes to start and eventually tells of how everyone will feel great upon the Second Coming. With meaning, too. The new number one is back luck for the girl at the end who's holding a Showaddywaddy album, who when we first see the final link is dancing with Noel to an undanceable song ("thank you for the dance" "That's OK!" No, of course she never seemed comfortable). The woman to Noel's other side holding a cracker is less lucky, but both of them fall victim to a hasty director when they start singing happy birthday to Noel, who would have been 28 (yes, really) the day before, and hence the day of recording. We don't even hear them get to the end of the first line. Instead it's Jethro Tull audio and a kaleidoscope pan shot of the lights, the old style credits sequence we've not seen for a while. Meanwhile John Christie is back in the dressing room imagining all the glory and wonders sure now to come his way in 1977.

1976 Christmas Day tomorrow!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

The disappeared: 16/12/76

Evidently the last missing show of the year, and with only four to come in 1977 we're slowly reaching a point of kept stock. As the show before the show before the big end of year roundup it's a mix of stuff we're seeing a lot and the odd underdog for filler, all barely capably helmed by DLT.

Smokie – Living Next Door To Alice
Even starts with a song that started the show two weeks earlier. Too many BBC repeats at Christmas!

Tina Charles – Dr Love
Mud – Lean On Me
See what I mean? As you may note, this has missed out on all three showings.

Jesse Green – Flip
Ah, our old friend of too many appearances for a single that peaked at 17. On this one he ditches the flautist and lets his funk rhythm guitar rip. We can but hope for synchronised stepping.

The Stylistics – You'll Never Get To Heaven
Sounds a bit like Walk On By, doesn't it? Actually released everywhere but the UK in 1973, this is Legs & Co's contribution, involving a lot of chiffon, I imagine.

10cc – The Things We Do For Love
They were having some time off the TOTP studio - they'd been in at the start of the year with Art For Art's Sake but wouldn't revisit until Dreadlock Holiday in 1978 - so this was the video, perhaps the same live clip source as when I'm Mandy Fly Me charted. That's not the video in the link, I doubt, but I like the way the secondary director misses all the important close-ups.

Johnny Mathis – When A Child Is Born (Soleado)
He's coming...

Chris Hill – Bionic Santa
Now then. This video I want to see, and also don't. Chris Hill was a popular soul DJ who at Christmas 1975 had a number ten hit with Renta Santa, in the style of the 1950s comedy records where a narrator conversed amusingly with clips of songs with apposite lyrics, kind of one step down from the Barron Knights. This was the follow-up and also reached number ten. Very much in our interests, too, as it features clips of Here I Go Again and Dr Kiss Kiss.

Showaddywaddy – Under The Moon Of Love
Once more with the quick change artistry. There was a new performance taped for the festive show, you may be relieved to know.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

TOTP 9/12/76 (tx 15/12/11): there's no-one quite like grandma

"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.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Eyes down, look in, everyone, here's how the next week and a half of Popsness pans out:

Top Of The Pops 1976 (9/12/76)
Thursday 15th, BBC4 7.30pm (repeats Thursday 11.55pm, Saturday 1.40am)

Top Of The Pops 2 Christmas 2010
Saturday 17th, BBC2 11.05pm

Top Of The Pops 2 Christmas 2009
Monday 19th, Watch 7pm

Top Of The Pops 1976 (23/12/76)
Monday 19th, BBC4 8pm (repeat 1.40am)

Super Troupers (documentary about dance troupes on TV, specifically the TOTP set and Hot Gossip)
Monday 19th, Radio 2 10pm

Top Of The Pops 1976 (Christmas Day)
Tuesday 20th, BBC4 8pm (repeats 3am, Christmas Day 10.50pm)

Top Of The Pops 2 Christmas 2010
Wednesday 21st, BBC2 7.30pm (repeat Christmas Eve 10.25pm)

Top Of The Pops 1976 (Boxing Day)
Thursday 22nd, BBC4 8pm (repeats 1.30am, Christmas Day 11.40pm)

Top Of The Pops
Christmas Day, BBC1 2pm

Sir Jimmy Savile at the BBC: How's About That Then?
Wednesday 28th, BBC2 7pm

Monday, 12 December 2011

The disappeared: 2/12/76

Missing post-April show seven of eight, and there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason why the wiped set were from the first three months and last two of the year. Ed Stewart's in charge, doing so well he won't be invited back for another nine months. Stewart will be part of your Christmas festive entertainment, taking charge of Junior Choice on its annual 9am Christmas Day revival on Radio 2.

Actually, before we start, that reminds me - next Monday, the 19th, at 10pm on Radio 2 is a documentary about TV dance troupes, fronted by Arlene Phillips but her Hot Gossip are the only non-TOTP team mentioned in the station's description. Yes, even ver Flipper get a look-in.

Smokie – Living Next Door To Alice
Yes, alright, there was this notorious cover, but that was itself a cover - apparently it was well known for a cafe in Nijmegen, Holland to play the track, fade it down at the end of the chorus and everyone present to shout that rejoiner back. A record company man visited the cafe one evening, saw this in action and got to work on a version, which Smokie and Chubby themselves reworked. Just to add a further layer of obfustication, the source material is also a cover, a Chinn-Chapman song originally recorded by Australian vocal trio New World. You will all being well see this performed on the show eventually anyway, on the first TOTP of 1977.

Mud – Lean On Me
Les glasses on or Les glasses off, do you reckon?

Tina Charles – Dr Love
As with Smokie this reappears at the start of the new year after falling victim to a good solid wiping. Let's face it, though, this was only ever going to be the second most notable disco Doctorate song of 1976.

Queen – Somebody To Love
Legs & Co continue their rock interpretation sideline with the car insurance shilling choral wonder supposedly intended as the new Bohemian Rhapsody.

Barry White – Don’t Make Me Wait Too Long
Don't know what the promised video version would have entailed, but as usual I see faint images of dry ice, shots from below into the lights and ungainly close-ups of a sweaty brow.

Johnny Mathis – When A Child Is Born (Soleado)
A warning shot across the bows of a future number one.

Yvonne Elliman – Love Me
Electric Light Orchestra – Livin’ Thing
These were both on the last wiped show, also in video form, and in this precise order too. Someone getting lazy at the end of the year? I know the Christmas show production is a big commitment, but...

Showaddywaddy – Under The Moon Of Love
A brand new number one! And they couldn't be bothered to return to the studio and record it all again. Maybe the changeover stuff took too much out of them last time.

Friday, 9 December 2011

The Alternative TOTP Christmas Canon: Slade - Merry Xmas Everybody

And so we reach the apex, the embodiment of Christmas hitmaking at a time when TOTP was at its height or thereabouts. Because it kept coming back Slade actually got to do this on two seperate Christmas shows, going walkabout the following year, but I've picked out the first because it demonstrates something about the show's technical limitations and those of its production ideas. There's a reason why you don't have a stage invasion at the start of a song, not least on television as the weight of numbers means we even manage to lose a tall man in a big mirrored hat in the crowd, and while the little cheer at 1:53 is a clue that something's happened by the time the director finds Noddy again something both savoury (if it's whipped cream) and unsavoury seems to have happened out of shot, which defeats its purpose. Still, worth missing Nod's big moment to admire the movement of that crane camera at length. Someone kisses Noddy at the end too despite having seen the state of him.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The Alternative TOTP Christmas Canon: Dennis Waterman & George Cole - What Are We Gonna Get 'Er Indoors?

Oh, pop culture. What are we going to do with you? 'Interpolating In The Bleak Midwinter', apparently, and going on the recorded version there seems to be some ad libbing and half-forgetting of lyrics going on. Stage fright?

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The Alternative TOTP Christmas Canon: The Specials - Do Nothing

Not the most festive number, but think of Christmas cliche - family get-togethers, too much turkey and bad jumpers. The latter must have been what whichever Special had in mind, because Jerry doesn't strike me as the type, when this performance was envisaged, proving the most effective gags are the subtlest, something the duo Simon Bates chats to before they come on would have done well to learn (though fair's fair, there's a couple of good lines in there, it's just a shame he feels the need to giggle after each one) Actually the show was broadcast on 18th December 1980, but when replayed on the first show of 1981 it must have taken on the required comedic poignancy.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The Alternative TOTP Christmas Canon: The Snowmen - Hokey Cokey

What is this? Well, it's a 1981 conceptual pop idea from the conceptual pop idealists at Stiff Records, some uncredited people doing one of the great party records in costumes not actually designed for knee bending or arm stretching. Rumour continues to this day that it's Ian Dury on vocals, but quite apart from that no definitive biography has ever linked him to the song it sounds like someone doing a bad impression of Dury. A more likely candidate is Jona Lewie, a Stiff artist fond of both Christmas hitmaking and novelty hits under a pseudonym (hello, Terry Dactyl & the Dinosaurs), not to mention that future hot shot video director Nigel Dick has claimed to be in one of the costumes and he was in Lewie's backing band. (Which of course means he made an appearance on a definite Lewie TOTP showing - he's on the tuba and claims alongside him is John Otway) The men in top hat and tails at the back had been participating in Godley & Creme's Wedding Bells earlier in the show; at the start is unlikely proof of Simon Bates' S&M tendencies.

Monday, 5 December 2011

The Alternative TOTP Christmas Canon: Band Aid - Do They Know It's Christmas?

Christmas songs, performances from Christmas shows and general festive cheer all this week, starting with the notorious 1984 Christmas show run-through of the song that may well have changed everything. Nearly everyone involved was on the show anyway but with playback miming in force and that crucial word 'nearly', see the incapacitated George Michael replaced by a Sting who clearly isn't concentrating, and at 1:22 that pretty conclusively isn't Bono. Not to mention Black Lace among others getting onto the end of the group chorus and that, even though Culture Club were on the show, Boy George clearly isn't ready to join in with the onstage frivolity along with everyone else. No wonder Bob looks bashful. Two questions arising near the end: who is that holding a bass as the credits start, and what do you suppose Odile Dicks-Mireaux did with their days?

(better but unembeddable quality here)

Thursday, 1 December 2011

TOTP 25/11/76 (tx 1/12/11): in which Jimmy Savile unites Glasgow

I made a mess of this in the comments box the other day so let's get this straight - now all the schedules are out, here's how BBC4's 1976 commitment comes to its thrilling conclusion, namely by still taking a Sky At Night week off and then having to compress the denouement into four days:

Thursday 15th, 7.30pm - 9/12/76
Monday 19th, 8pm - 23/12/76
Tuesday 20th, 8pm - 25/12/76
Thursday 22nd, 8pm - 26/12/76

Both the Christmas shows are in hour long slots, though originally they were 50 minutes long, and are being repeated back to back on Christmas Day from 10.40pm. Seems a bit odd to keep the Sky At Night slot next week when that means having to cram an extra show in out of time on a Monday, but there you go. And then last I heard The Story Of 1977 is being shown on New Year's Eve, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. (EDIT: the reason why there's nothing on Wednesday is that's when BBC2 are screening the annual TOTP2 Christmas special, at 7.30pm)

It's our first Jimmy Savile show since his passing, and immediately we get a taste of the man's work as he pretends he can't work out whether to talk into the mike or a stick of rock. A cheap gag, but the visual comedy of Jimmy's rapid double take just about keeps the idea afloat.

The Kursaal Flyers – Little Does She Know
There's something very Southend about the construction of the name in lights sign above them, and not just because it says 'KURSAALS'. The band, meanwhile, are all over the shop. Paul Shuttleworth is about an alarming a frontman as we've seen in 1976, sporting the kind of tousled, short at the sides cartoon Teddy Boy pompadour that wouldn't be seen again this side of the Stray Cats, a spiv's pencil moustache and the sort of teeth that explains all those jokes Americans make, particularly noticeable in his instance from his insistence on singing held notes through them as much as they'll meet in the middle. Whether his choice of shiny blue suit and matching cummerbund was meant to somehow offset all this isn't clear, but standing next to Richie Bull in a Hawaiian shirt with garland of what may be daffodils, crimped hair and what seems to be a developmental version of a Zapata/David Crosby tache it seems as if he couldn't quite go the full sartorial distance. As for the rest of the band there's a white suit jacket like their mentor Lee Brilleaux's, a Panama hat like Geoffrey Boycott's offset with second hand car dealer chic and a prominently placed drummer in shorts who plays entirely in double whacks and looks a bit bored of it by the last verse. Behind them a washing machine spews constant bubbles. What sort of image is this? It's like a workaday Camden Britpop band gone back to late period rationing. The song's laundrette love given the full Spector by Mike Batt, here with what seems to be castanets and cymbals at the front of the mix, is reflected in a mighty set of Shuttleworth body language gestures and full-throated singing, which just means more unflattering closeups. Jimmy calls them the Kursaals as well for some reason. Maybe he wasn't sure about the full name either. It was they that brought the stocks "as it happens, do you see", but all they get from him is a "that one is going to go up the charts". It'd be a different story had Noel been around.

Dr Hook – If Not You
Standard live clip, which allows us to talk about Jimmy's top, if the credits are to be believed the work of one L Rowland-Warne. Here, you'd better have a look at it yourselves.

Now, what's going on there? Rangers and Celtic did actually play the previous night and maybe Jimmy had the top lying around from a previous incident when he'd accidentally angered some Glaswegians with football/religious talk and took a broad approach to allaying their annoyance, but then he never really showed a wider interest in the game. He could have clumsily chosen it to reflect music and the show's broad church. This is all far more interesting than the song, in which someone to "patch my pants" and "kiss where it hurts" is requested before one of their million guitarists plays a smug solo.

Billy Ocean – Stop Me (If You've Heard It All Before)
Jimmy gets someone else, "a real life disc jockey" to introduce this one, someone wearing a T-shirt all of which we can read says 'Join Jim'. Self-promotion? And if so, by whom? As usual Billy has mixed and matched his attire and it's supper club night, which means the huge bow tie, grey waistcoat and tight matching trousers. You can see his religion, as they say, though Jimmy would know what trouble that can lead to. No wonder the director spends the first twenty seconds trying to tactically lose him out of the bottom of the shot and not too long later films him upwards from behind. More castanets show up. Did an extra percussionist turn up with the orchestra?

Be Bop Deluxe – Maid In Heaven
Jimmy namechecks the floor manager, and due to the lost shows here's our first naming of Legs & Co. This seems an auspicious choice of dancing material, presumably a late replacement for something else, and it's clear Flick and the girls aren't quite sure of the best movements to interpret Bill Nelson's art-prog outfit into. So it's lots of shaking, some meaningful arm movements and bobbing around, repeat. There's some brave experiments in synchronised arm circling towards the end that only succeeds in taking everyone out of tight choreography. The costume designer meanwhile must have had a bad experience in a children's art class as the Co are all wearing paper tassels attached variously around their person and to their underwear, the thinking of the lack of garments perhaps being... that they're Top Of The Pops dancers, yes, but also flashes of skin detract from whatever they're trying here. Come the end there's a tight shot of Sue heavily breathing, which I'm entirely sure was in no way meant in any other way than to suggest she got more exercise.

Cliff Richard – Hey Mr Dream Maker
Jimmy and sailors! Again! They all wanted in on those Savile and seamen (just don't) special links. Jimmy gets so animated he begins waving his arms about wildly. "We're in a hurry, you see" he explains, before linking to a ballad that seems to last years. Cliff, wearing a black T-shirt with white specks and a spider by way of HR Giger design that suggests less soulful pop long stayer and more patron of a goth clothing shop in Kilburn, is shot almost entirely in insert with some sort of meaningful film, bleached out and partly recoloured in pale red like someone wants a craft Bafta, in which a woman (it very briefly goes to normal colours at one point but not for long enough to identify her) wanders round some trees and looks around a bit, intercut with shots of branches and specks of light. It's not clear what it's supposed to represent, unless everyone who watches it will die horribly within seven days. After he's finished singing and once he's done with pointing, Cliff raises the mike cable above his head, not in victory but as if spent of life force. Maybe it got him too. Oh, no, wait, that can't be right.

ABBA – Money Money Money
"We aren't half in a hurry tonight!" Jimmy reasserts, which can't be right given how much time was taken up just then. Even with a gift of a title Jimmy's struggled with this one, asserting "many years ago everybody in the pop business was skint" but now we have a song "for all the new pop types". In the video Agnetha gets the white dress, Annifrid the black, both with glittery headbands in their colour and no sense of choreography as Agnethea struts and Annifrid... doesn't.

Elton John – Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word
Jimmy's found two girls in Union Flag waistcoats. Meanwhile Elton is liberated from the pretend vocal booth only to be placed in one of those studio settings where you're not quite sure whether the audience are watching him at the time, so dark is everything but man and piano in the lights. The soberness of Elton's suit is offset by the biggest tinted glasses he could find and the director reaching instinctively for his box of cascaded mirror image-based effects as seen most effectively with Joan Armatrading. Of course with Joan you had a good head shape and nothing else to get in the way, here you've got huge glasses and a great big piano so the effect is lost. By the end he gives up and points a camera at a monitor, the cheapest effect in his arsenal.

Chicago – If You Leave Me Now
Jimmy's getting brave with the setting now, absolutely surrounded by girls, one of whom chooses the very moment he starts talking to somehow lose her seating position, reacting with a jump and yelp as if she'd been electrocuted. Suspiciously, as she shifts wildly about and the camera pans ever closer to Jimmy's face we see she's holding flowers the same as our Kursaal friend was sporting and a stick of rock. So there's someone he's trying to get off with having promised them a moment on telly only for their reactions to taint it. Chicago, it transpires, is a three syllable word with every one enunciated. Just the video again. Gah. Wanted to see Terry dance to Mississippi again.

And one last note right at the end as producer turns out to be Johnnie Stewart, who created the whole enterprise but left in 1974 and must have been tempted back as a stopgap. For the occasion he's earned himself the man-on-chair-holding-jacket silhouette, which is grand of him.