1977 - the year of Evita, Keith Richards' drugs bust, Studio 54, Saturday Night Fever and punk breaking. Chris Martin, Kanye West, Ronan Keating, Shakira, Danger Mouse, Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance, Richard Archer of Hard-Fi and Claire from Steps were born. Elvis, Marc Bolan, Bing Crosby, Ronnie Van Zant and Maria Callas died. Also, not a single Top Of The Pops making it into the top 20 of the weekly TV ratings all year, something that didn't happen again until 1985. Truly the alpha and omega of an era, as we'll come to learn better together throughout 2012.
Oh god. This goes on all year.
No need to take too long discussing The Story Of 1977, except it's an odd form of marketing to preview a series which runs all year in prime time with an hour long trailer telling you nearly all of it is shit until punk arrives and changes everything (which obviously explains why Mull Of Kintyre, released in November, became the best selling single of the whole decade), making sure first to tell you you wasted your time over the previous eight months watching the previous year's output being rerun. Too much block revisionist history (1977 was a relatively calmed year in terms of inflation, unemployment and strikes, certainly nothing like the three day week of 1974 or the Winter Of Discontent of 1978) and plain deliberate ignorance of Pops' role - it's a family entertainment show based on the biggest selling records of the day (or in Story Of terms the old guard "clinging on"), not a rival to So It Goes - to discuss, but whoever got the reliably rotten Sue Perkins to claim the bulk of its guests "were all novelty acts" over a clip of Jonathan Richman needs taking far away from a place of pop culture influence.
Anyway. Here it is on iPlayer for the next week and another couple beyond that due to repeats, and if you don't mind spoilers here's Big Hits 1977.
So what had BBC4 got to offer the part-timers, those making a night of it who'll forget about the rest of the run and mildly irk those of who sat through Glamourpuss to get to this moment, godammit? Unusually we start with the rundown followed by the first surviving appearance of Kid Jensen - that's how he's referred to in the credits, so like Floyd/Floid that's only how this blog will refer to him - who remarks that there just wasn't a new chart published that week. Actually there was, and one of those you're about to see was on the way down. Boo, TOTP. BOO. Also, John Christie had entered the top 30. It happened, ladies and gentlemen, though he immediately started falling so the temptation to call him back in was averted. And it's with that inaccuracy ringing in our ears we embark upon the pint/quart activity of cramming eleven songs and a playout into 35 minutes.
Sheer Elegance – Dance The Night Away
And here's how to get a new year off to a flyer. This would be Sheer Elegance's last appearance, which is a shame as they've finally learnt the value of not colour clashing in alarming ways. Not that this getup isn't alarming by itself, as the red shirts with large white patch and ruffled plunging neckline are augmented by white trousers so tight Cliff Richard would wince. The hook this time is classically soulful but limited by only having one really able member the trio were never destined as anything other than a footnote, especially given the not inconsiderable US competition on the same show.
10cc – The Things We Do For Love
Without a link - no idea whether by cut or design - we're into a video shot in an overspotlit performance space of a band we last saw on the second BBC4 show of 1976. Some nice close-ups of some tambourines at one point. "Broken up but not down" Jensen points out, this being their first single without Godley or Creme.
Tina Charles – Dr Love
"A real disco delight" Kid calls it, which can only mean another singer held hostage by the orchestra's overemphasis. Actually despite the ever eager trombones they're getting the hang of the rhythm, largely through so much practice you'd imagine, and Charles is in full voice. She's also in full figure, not unreasonably given she was four months pregnant, but the cumulative effect of the lack of movement and the large kaftan means the audience are having to provide the movement visuals for her. Dr Love seems to be a similar type to Dr Kiss Kiss. Maybe they're related.
Smokie – Living Next Door To Alice
Stop that. "The pride of Bradford" - Kid's not entirely comfortable in his early Pops days, but he knows the value of a brief description - have invested in a lightbox with their name on. It finally adds something to their stage presence, though it's undeniable that Chris Norman's hair is lustrous, shiny and full of vitality more than ever. Definite extra Rod Stewart tinge to his vocals too.
Gladys Knight and the Pips – Nobody But You
Interesting staging here, as the orchestra, all in orange shirts, are visible behind Jensen during his introduction. For her own protection from the British winter Gladys is sporting a lurid green scarf over her red top. Three minutes later, an indication of why all British cod-soul should just give up on the spot, and with the Pips in matching grey jackets and light blue trousers the male groups could learn a lot too. The audience are unsure whether to look on in envy or jig about slightly to the gospel tune. "Didn't I tell you we had a special show?" Jensen appraises, though the appreciation is dimmed by the thought presenters say something like that every week.
Jethro Tull – Ring Out Solstice Bells
Very appropriate that the last of the Christmas songs would be shown on Twelfth Night. Jensen calls them "unpredictable", something immediately undercut by this being a repeat.
David Soul – Don’t Give Up On Us
"I think this next sound will be the next big number one" A correct prediction! A Top Of The Pops presenter got a chart prediction right! Stopped clock being right twice a day and all that, but see, it's the youth that really know the chart score. As big as this was there's some awkwardness around its presentation as Soul never came over to promote it, nor indeed any of his other 1977 hits. Legs & Co are thus pressed into service in their nighties for a routine based around a large circle, maybe based on Soul's assertion "it's written in the moonlight". Before long the early tactic of lying, standing and running about in a circle is abandoned in favour of the usual formation emoting for a couple of minutes until all six gather back in a circle to get down on their elbows and, through the faerie majick of CSO, admire a picture of Soul himself. Phh. Never gave Bill Nelson of Be Bop Deluxe that extra treatment.
The Drifters – You’re More Than A Number In My Little Red Book
On video and amid a misty studio setting, this week's Drifters do their supercharged cabaret suit routine.
Clodagh Rodgers – Save Me
"A sound that's got all the ingredients for success" is as maybe, but Rodgers has found an extra pitch in the shape of a dress with a spectacularly plunging neckline. Twenty-plus years ahead of her fashion time, maybe. And maybe it's to distract from the song, which sounds like Smokie on their fag break.
Boney M – Daddy Cool
Now then. Boney M becoming huge European stars is attributed to this late 1976 performance on Germany's Musikladen, where young people who'd never seen such wild movement and outfits went mad for the single release. So they get to Pops and are told they have to either re-record the song without Frank Farian or sing live over the orchestra's rendition. Ah.
First thing you'll notice is Bobby Farrell trying not to panic too much that people might discover it was Frank Farian rather than him providing the vocals on the recording. He sounds nothing like himself, essentially. In turn the girls' lack of harmony practice is also shown, someone definitely singing flat, and the die is cast. The dancing and synchronised movements can't be as energetic since they have to retain some energy for the singing, and they've been put on a tiny stage with people behind them as well as in front. Before the singing proper has started Farrell has already nearly fallen off the back, severely limiting his wild abandon potential. The sequence at 1:40, where Farrell either forgets the words or is embarking on an emergency self-regulation attempt. Checking the recording there doesn't appear to be a mariachi section in the equivalent moment at 2:26 (it's actually strings, big drums and one trumpet in the middle), but put that down to the arranging invention of Johnny Pearson. Just after that, presumably covering for the heavy breathing bit as there's kids watching, Farrell is required to fill for an English speaking audience requiring all the bi-linguality he knows. He doesn't do it very well. We don't see them right after finishing. They might well have run away. The woman next to Jensen (his evaluation: "something new and different". Yeah, you could say that) at the end is a visiting Donna Summer, whose interview requirements are to name her new single, thank Jensen for his happy new year welcome and introduce...
Johnny Mathis – When A Child Is Born
Mathis is still in his jungle hideaway for one more week. Money Money Money is the credits playout, Jensen's final words being "Goodbye and good love!" Um, if you like.