Thursday, 26 January 2012

TOTP 20/1/77 (tx 26/1/12): records of the weak

"No, don't worry, you don't have to telephone me" reassures a luxuriantly follicled Noel. Bit late in his Pops career to be making Swap Shop references, he'd done plenty of TOTPs even in the three months since the show had been launched.

Slade – Gypsy Roadhog
First time we've seen them, too. With glam but a fading memory already, even Slade are having to dress down. All things are relative, of course, Noddy, shot for the entire first verse in unflattering close-up, sporting a Homburg hat bearing a massive set of peacock feathers, while Dave Hill has gone the fringed cowboy jacket route. Which are fine, but they're no mirrored stovepipe and metal nun, are they? As far as songs about the idiomatic realism of drug abuse go, a hard riffing song in which every second line starts "powdered my nose" isn't entirely subtle. Still, Dave's enjoying himself, all round the place.

Donna Summer – Winter Melody
Having judged the chart "interesting", possibly in the Chinese proverb sense, it's the latest in a long line of anodyne Noel Records Of The Week. In this case it's a live clip with one of those audiences that burst into mass spontaneous applause after the first line, interspersed with a dramatic presentation wherein Donna sits about bored, drinks from a silver goblet and looks at an open hearth fire before, in a nod to the fact it's been stealthily climbing since before Christmas, unhooks and regards at length a massive silver bauble before looking out of a window at some falling snow. The melody goes to prove she can't fully command a country ballad melody, so the soul backing singers and strings are fed in eventually. The next time Summer appeared in both show and charts, it'd be for I Feel Love.

10cc – The Things We Do For Love
It doesn't get an intro link again. Band insistence? The video again, but through the magic of CSO there's a couple of cuts to it allegedly being shown on a big screen while the entire audience ungainly shuffles about, not sure whether you can actually dance to it but willing to give it a damn good try.

Jesse Green – Flip
Appearing from behind the screen, a pan held for the entire first verse which means people keep distractedly walking across the shot, Green hasn't brought his flautist and uncomfortable band this time. What he has brought is his sense of rhythm, which keeps threatening to break out - a little shuffle here, a Bruce Forsyth-style running on the spot there. What he actually does during the break is a triumph of stage minimalism, as some soft shoe shuffling Sammy Davis Jnr style turns into the running man and then just knee and elbow lifting on the spot before some sort of attempt to put one foot in front of the other in sequence as if walking a tightrope. It's the fact you can't see the feet that just about saves whatever shred of dignity he retained.

Elvis Presley – Suspicion
See, Clash, some Elvis in 1977. But not for much longer, and this song was fifteen years old anyway. This, it's fair to say, is one from the bottom of Flick's ideas chart, the girls starting in big white hats and overcoats doing standard moves against a cityscape backdrop, occasionally with a lamppost to lean against, and we pretend (although Noel had pre-empted it in fairness) that some sort of small outfit is underneath and will be revealed in the fulness of time. 45 seconds, that takes, the reveal being red outfits that lie somewhere between Playboy Club corset and swimming costume.

Leo Sayer – When I Need You
There shouldn't be an edit here but there seems to be, Noel on the same emptied set starting "now here's something that makes quite an impression" over badly faded out applause. This is a Noel record of the week too, Sayer reflecting the showbiz glamour of having the breakfast show's priority tune by turning up in his dad-goes-golfing outfit of bright yello jumper, big collar and grey slacks. They put him in the kaleidoscopic rotating lenses when appropriate, but it doesn't help.

Thin Lizzy – Don’t Believe A Word
"Especially for Flynn's new girlfriend Lizzy, this is Flynn Lizzy" What? WHAT? NOEL, WHAT ARE YOU DRIVELLING ON ABOUT? The performance from just before Christmas repeated. Noel doesn't mention their number one bet, nor that you can still see him from that show in the background.

Silver Convention – Everybody's Talkin' 'Bout Love
We've only come across these from that chart picture of three women with their hands on their knees; now it merely transpires they're a poor man's Three Degrees going disco. If the purse lipped spoken word to open is meant to invoke the Shangri-Las, the spangly blue bikini tops and matching trousers with ruffles on the bottom scream 'suburban nightspot'.

David Soul – Don’t Give Up On Us
"Strikes me that everybody's talking about this gentleman..." The video, as you know because he didn't come over once in 1977. This is going to be a long few weeks filling this bit. Boney M play us out with the minimum of fuss. Recorded version. Obviously.

EDIT NEWS: Gary Glitter. Well, obviously Gary Glitter, who was not just some distance past a point where he could have been any influence on pop when he made It Takes All Night Long but had just come back from a retirement to get over not selling any more, being on drugs and having to pay tax. No idea at time of writing whether it'll be reinstated for the unedited repeats (EDIT: yes, it did), but given Jonathan King got an apology off the BBC for cutting out It Only Takes A Minute it's possible, even though the Mirror kicked up a stink-ette in the week only really notable because they assumed the song shown would be Leader Of The Gang. Also hopefully it means people on message boards will stop going "will they show gary glitter lol", as they have been doing ever since the rerun was first announced (EDIT: no, they haven't) A clean edit point means the show can also lose the clip straight after it (EDIT: except it isn't, the episode guide I work off had it wrong, it was after Legs & Co which explains that awkward edit), the Drifters video shown the programme before last.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

TOTP 13/1/77 (tx 19/1/12): it gets better

And we're properly off as we mean to... no, not go on, David Hamilton's presenting presence isn't indicative of a go-ahead attitude in and of itself. The first new chart of the new year reveals a whole host of new photos, including Donna Summer in a furry hood, all of Status Quo except the drummer looking off to the left of camera, a snapshot of a Cortina going through a suburban car wash for Rose Royce - that may not even have been a file photo - and most notably John Christie, because a) it means enough people liked Here's To Love to send it chartwards and b) he's wearing a T-shirt with a golliwog on. We've seen a golly before on the reruns, there was one on Marmalade's bass drum skin, but even given the unfortunate associations since those days it's a curious thing for an earnest singer-songwriter to be donning in his big promo shot.

Gallagher & Lyle – Every Little Teardrop
As with Sheer Elegance last week, this would be the last we'd see of the duo of MOR punchiness, new brooms and all that. They weren't to know, which was why they splashed out on a two man brass section, one a saxophonist in a big hat and Hawaiian shirt of low advisedness who seems to be miming along to a trumpet part. The presence of an organ as well as Lyle (or Gallagher)'s electric keyboard means they can spread out right across the front of the stage, but all the bopping on the spot in the world can't make it sound like someone heard a Steely Dan record I can't quite place right now, probably one from 1977's future for all I know, and decided to recreate it in a toned down fashion. Diddy reckons it'll be "a big one for '77". It reached number 32.

Barry Biggs – Sideshow
Performing under a spotlit spider, Biggs has left the pink ruffled shirt at home this time in favour of a soberly coloured suit but he's still wandering awkwardly up and down a very small area of a big stage. At the end a big pan out crane shot gives us a glimpse, sequestered away in a corner behind some loosely held in place boards, of Johnny Pearson and a couple of his orchestra, for the first time in this whole repeat series. Union demand?

Rose Royce – Car Wash
"And the splendid chassis you see belong to Legs & Company!" So put Diddy down as one who uses the full name. We start with Sue and Lulu Gill in Smith & Jones head to head fashion, albeit they never wore caps, stuck their tongues out at each other (ad lib?) or were generally female. The pan out reveals they've blown the month's design budget on an illuminated 'CAR WASH' sign, some arrows on the floor and four rotating brushes, while the girls are outfitted in small fringed ponchos, leotards and knee socks-cum-woollen legwarmers. Give or take a tiny skirt or six, this is pretty much what you imagine Legs & Co wore every week if you didn't have direct documentary evidence. The ensemble is, helpfully for people like me who get confused, topped off by a hat with each dancer's forename on. It's a quick way of garnering individual personality, I suppose. The routine is the kind of ensemble piece Flick always did for disco, involving a lot of work in parallel lines, wandering in and out of the middle and general jumping back and forth before a spot of synchronised movement from the elbow upwards. "A bunch of cheeky girls" adds Diddy, both referring to the amount of gluteus maximus on display and accidentally opening a mind portal to a very different future form of female pop interjection. If only he'd known.

David Parton – Isn't She Lovely
"There's a very controversial record out at the moment - I don't know who started the controversy" says a man who must have somehow been aware that Anarchy In The UK had only the previous week been withdrawn by EMI and so on balance someone rush-covering Isn't She Lovely because Stevie Wonder wouldn't put it out as a single. Then again, we are talking about a middle aged man with a chicken in a basket cabaret circuit type walrus tache and largely pink striped jacket with clashing half-open shirt underneath whose facial expression as he sings suggests he's also in the middle of a bad bout of constipation, eyes closed and everything, though in this context that looks a trifle mocking. And he's not so much singing as shouting to a tune, not entirely capturing the subtlety and swing of Stevie's vocal style. Like Paul Nicholas, his idea of filling the break is to run round in a circle. He then blows a kiss to the audience, absolutely fails to get them to clap along with him and then picks out two unfortunate girls to kiss the hand of. At this stage he resembles a politician trying too hard to look populist at an overlit rally. By the end he's pointing at the camera.

Status Quo – Wild Side Of Life
Or "Wild Wild Side" as Diddy calls it. Same video clip as last time, Quo obviously being far too big for the show at this time. Unlike the 80s, when they became really successful and would pop in at the drop of a key change.

Liverpool Express – Every Man Must Have A Dream
Billy Kinsley, here bedecked in one of Slik's castoff US college jackets, was wearing the band's own T-shirt in their rundown shot. "There are quite a few new entries in the chart this week" commends Diddy, introducing a song we've already seen. Different performance, because all the festive touches wouldn't have made sense this far into January. The drumkit doesn't seem to have moved since Gallagher & Lyle set it up. Still, kit sharing makes it easier for visiting bands. Somehow the massive ending seems even more jolting against the rest of the tune this time.

Pussycat – Smile
Oh, they're back alright, for one last curtain call. It's much like the big hit, except less so. Everyone looks slightly more scary, we get better shots of the frontwoman's gap in the front teeth and there's lots of fringing on yellow dresses going on. Nowhere, however, is a gun used as a slide, and that's where their studio work falls down.

David Soul – Don’t Give Up On Us
Soul had a big 1977 and didn't come over for single promotion once. It's as if he had a big hit TV show to film or something. Lots of baleful looks to camera and overlaid shot fades going on, as well as a still photo of a man on a horse halfway through for no reason at all. Back in the studio the audience has formed a gangway in front of their beloved leader Diddy for the final link, although they're not so respectful that he doesn't have to admonish someone for pulling on his trouser leg. After he's made a very strange high pitched "woo!" noise waving us goodbye, I Wish under the credits gives Stevie a PRS double.

EDIT NEWS: Ah, an old friend. The video to Julie Covington's Don't Cry For Me Argentina was all that we lost, strange when there was a video we've already had on the show kept in the edit. We should see it again anyway, at Christmas if we don't contemporaneously.

(By the way, 1977 is the year on Pick Of The Pops this Saturday)

Saturday, 7 January 2012

TOTP 6/1/77 (tx 6/1/12): ring in the new

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.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

On This Top Of The Pops Day

Happy new year! 1977 won't start until Friday (viewing)/Saturday (posting), but every day of this year the formerly Twitter-bound On This TOTP Day concept will be recorded in a permanent archive at