Thursday, 29 March 2012

Top of the Pops: 24th March, 1977.

Dr Who assistant and red haired Scottish sexpot Karen Gillan signs an autograph while surrounded by HMV logos
Yet again I can't find a free-use image appropriate to
tonight's show. So here's a lovely picture of Dr Who
sexpot Karen Gillan signing an autograph.
Karen shares a surname with a well-known rock
vocalist and looks like Jim Kerr, thus has many valid
links with TOTP.
Photo by MangakaMaiden [CC-BY-2.0],
via Wikimedia Commons 
The past may be a different country but there's one land we need no passport to visit, one that has no visas and no secret police to fear.

It's the magical kingdom of Top of the Pops. But what tourist hotspots and ancient wonders will we encounter on our journey?

Only Dave Lee Travis can tell us, for it is he who's our guide into strange realms tonight.

And we launch straight into the mighty Brendon. I have at least learned how to spell his name in the fortnight since his previous appearance.

Not only that but his band're actually stood near him this week.

He's not exactly what you'd call a looker but he seems a lot happier to be here than he did last time out – and he's having a good old go at trying to get the audience moving.

Blow me down if he isn't succeeding - and it's not every act that can make that boast when it comes to the infamously zombie-esque TOTP audience.

One of his band seems to have stolen a hat from the Rubettes. I hope that doesn't lead to trouble.

Dave Lee Travis has a woman on his T-shirt but I can't make out who.

He's introducing us to, “A woman who's been singing for a long long time,” prompting the thought she must be getting tired by now.

But no, it's Elkie Brooks - and she's showing no signs of fatigue.

It's surely her best ever record; Pearl's A Singer. I believe Leiber and Stoller produced this.

There was clearly something in the water in 1977 because, the way they're dressed, she and her band could pass for Manhattan Transfer.

This has to have the least inspired bass line in the history of popular music but it's an appealing song, so who cares?

This song always brings to mind Roy North singing Earl's A Winger on Get It Together. This is the second week running I've mentioned Roy North on this blog. Whoever would've thought that'd happen, way back when I launched it?

Maybe I should launch a Roy North Appreciation Blog. I feel sure it'd be a smash hit and quite the internet sensation.

Actually, thinking about it, it's hard to know why this song's meant to be taken as a sad one. Pearl's life doesn't sound that bad to me.

Now it's The Brotherhood of Man with Oh Boy. They still haven't got round to ending all their song titles with the letter “O” yet, but're still fumbling instead with the concept of starting them with it.

I do wonder how the male members felt about having to sing lyrics clearly written for heterosexual women.

I am of course assuming the male singers were themselves heterosexual. A fact I have no evidence at all to support other than that they look like they want to be seen as such.

The girls're dressed like children's TV presenters. They're a bit Sarah Jane Smith, circa 1976.

In fairness, the girls have very good voices. They're no Agnetha and Anni-Frid but they're nice and clear nonetheless.

Graham Parker and the Rumour are back. He actually seems to have shrunk since last week. Are they sure he's not a native of Flores?

Now it's two people whose names I didn't catch.

I didn't catch the song's title either but there're two of them - a man and a woman - singing to each other while a strange contraption revolves bafflingly behind them.

“You don't have to be a star to be in my show,” they're singing.

But what is that thing revolving behind them? It looks like some new Dr Who monster. Why would they want a revolving Dr Who monster behind them as they sing?

Regardless of monsters, the singers seem very happy to be in each other's presence.

Suddenly we get women in Motoring Unit T-shirts.

Now we get the Dead End Kids. With a name like that, I can only conclude that, at last, punk has arrived.

Or possibly not.

Have I the Right? It's all very Bay City Rollers but that's no bad thing.

But you do wonder who decided 1977 was exactly the right time to try sounding like the Bay City Rollers.

It may be dated for those of us living at the cutting edge of 1977 but I can't deny I do have a soft spot for this kind of music.

Apathetic chime playing. That's something the Bay City Rollers never had.

Smokie. Somehow it wouldn't feel like TOTP without them. OK, all their records blur into one for me but I don't care. I will never get tired of listening to them.

Nice bass.

Now Legs and Co are dancing to Boney M's Sunny. While I wouldn't want to put Legs and Co out of work, I do feel cheated at not being able to see Bobby dancing around to it.

Good grief! It's T Rex! There's one from left field. Who expected to be seeing them on the show?

I didn't. And I'm an expert.

Mostly I'm an expert at not expecting things.

He's looking a bit Johnny Depp.

I've never heard this song before in my life but it seems quite nice.

The Captain and Tenille. I wouldn't trust him to steer a boat.

They've been together since 1971. I wonder if they're still together? I hope so. I'd like to think it's all ended more happily for them than it did for the Carpenters.

Manhattan Transfer are still at Number 1, and TOTP is still using that footage.

It takes me back to the Blitz, even though I wasn't there.

I don't care what anyone says, she's just the wrong shape to have nipples.

I have realised she's actually singing, “Chanson Da Moo.” This thought leads me nowhere.

Not for the first time, they're playing out with David Bowie and Sound and Vision.

But still no Ken Morse. How did the show survive so long without a rostrum camera?

And, for that matter, just what is a rostrum camera?

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Top of the Pops: 17th March, 1977.

pop star Billy Ocean sings on stage in New York, in a stripy jacket
Billy Ocean sings live, by Ronzoni (Own work)
[CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
Christmas may come just once a year but – bouts of Patrick Moore aside - Top of the Pops is with us every week.

And that's why Top of the Pops 1977 is 52 times better than Christmas.

So, what thrills, spills and ills will 1977 bring us?

Only Tony Blackburn can tell us; for it is he who's to guide us through tonight's Nephilim Fields of Nostalgia in which may lurk untold menace – and the Rubettes.

With no need for an introduction – which is a good thing because she didn't get one – it's Suzi Quatro with that not-altogether-classic song that I don't know the title of.

She's ditched the leather and changed her bass. She's giving us strange purple-y effects. I wonder what it's meant to signify?

Whatever it's meant to signify, it's failing to make the song seem any more exciting than it did last time.

“Don't talk to me about Louisiana Sue,” says Suzi. And, if I ever meet the bass-tastic Miss Q, I won't.

“Coz she can't do the things I can do.” For a start, she probably can't make everything go all purple-y. It's not a generally prized quality in a woman.

There's a man with a corked hat in the audience!

Up next it's Keith Flint's dad Berni. I seem to recall him winning Opportunity Knocks for eighty five million weeks running. In fact, for all I know he might be winning it every week still.

But what an engaging song I Don't Want To Put A Hold On You is. It's the sort of thing you could imagine David Soul doing but drowning it in treacle.

Berni doesn't make that mistake. As a seasoned Opp Knocks veteran, he keeps it as gloop-free as possible.

He seems an amiable cove. I wonder what happened to him? I hope he's still with us. I wouldn't want to think of bad things happening to Berni Flint.

ABBA are at Number 2.

It's Knowing Me Knowing You; A-ha. In which they claim to know about a 1980s' Norwegian pop trio that doesn't even exist yet.

This has to be the quintessential ABBA video; all freeze-framed hugging and meaningful looks. Though watching it does make you try to remember which one was married to which. I think all of them were married to all of them at one point. Even they probably lost track of who they were spliced to.

But this is why ABBA were better than the Brotherhood of Man; all that Nordic angst. The Brotherhood never got it. They aped the catchy tunes but forgot to include the misery.

Now it's Cliff and something called My Kind of Love. I don't know this one.

He's as wild and rebellious as ever.

He's reached the chorus and I suddenly realise I have it heard it before, though I don't know where.

Is that a Nashville guitar that man's playing? Despite being the world's greatest living guitarist, I couldn't claim to be an expert on such things.

As for the track, it's no We Don't Talk Any More and it's already starting to outstay its welcome.

Now there's two of him. Two Cliffs, like the ones Neptune pushed aside in Ray Harryhausen's Jason and the Argonauts.

From the British Elvis to the American original, as we get The Pelvis's Moody Blue danced to by Legs and Co. Those outfits are a bit revealing for this time of night; the strumpets. It's just a shame they have nothing much to reveal.

They're dressed like Princess Ardala in Buck Rogers.

I always preferred Princess Ardala to Wilma Deering. Wilma had the spray-on spacesuits but she was always a bit too wholesome for me to feel she could be entirely trusted. With Princess Ardala you always knew where you were – in trouble. Still, you could always win her round with a bit of impromptu disco dancing.

Now we get Barclay James Harvest.

I don't know much about them. My sister had one of their albums when I was younger. It wasn't what you'd call exciting. It featured a strange song made up entirely of lyrical phrases from old Beatles songs – and that was the highlight!

The world hasn't seen so much facial hair since Sasquatch lost his razor.

It's a bit like watching that bit in Spinal Tap when we see them before they became a heavy metal act.

You know you've landed in the 1970s when you see a double-barrelled guitar.

Maxine Nightingale. This is more like it, something a bit lively. And it's not the one you expect it to be - although it sounds noticeably like the one you'd expect it to be.

This is my favourite so far tonight.

No doubt she'll be eclipsed by Showaddywaddy later on.

And now, as promised, it is Showaddywaddy.

They've got different coloured jackets on from each other. Is it a sign of terrible splits in the camp or just a statement that they always wanted to be a packet of Opal Fruits?

The singer of Showaddywaddy always reminded me of Roy North.

When Will You Be Mine, it appears to be called.

As expected, with their slick ways, Showaddywaddy are proving to be the highlight of the show for me, so far. And who'd have thought, when we first watched this broadcast all those decades ago, we'd be saying that 35 years later? It's funny what does and doesn't stand the test of time.

Billy Ocean.

Red light.

He's looking cool and relaxed.

Like Debbie Harry, his head's disproportionately large for his body but I don't care. He's already eclipsing even the great Showaddywaddy in tonight's fame-packed firmament. Even the normally apathetic TOTP audience are moving to it – although in a way that suggests they can't hear it, so uncoordinated to the music are they.

At last it's number 1 time.

It's Manhattan Transfer and their nipples. It's the same nipples as last week.

I can't deny I may have been singing this in the last week. But that doesn't mean I actually wanted to hear it again.

Who're we playing out with? Tony Blackburn's not told us.

Hold on. Is this Boney M? For a moment I thought its intro sounded like Happy House by Siouxsie and the Banshees which didn't seem right for 1977.

Still no sign of Ken Morse. In the absence of Ken, my Top of the Pops experience feels, as always, incomplete.

I don't feel I learned much from this week's show. In fact I don't feel I learned anything.

But perhaps learning is overrated. Perhaps it's better by far to dwell in a cesspit of one's own ignorance. Perhaps, when it comes down to it, that's the lesson to be learned from this week's Top of the Pops. It's a lesson I decide I like.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Top of the Pops: 10th March, 1977.

Hollywood and Avengers star Scarlett Johansson in a black dress and pearls, flaunting her mammoth cleavage
I couldn't find a free-to-use image of any of tonight's
acts, so here's a photo of Scarlett Johansson instead
By Tony Shek (Scarlett Johansson_004)
[CC-BY-2.0 (]
via Wikimedia Commons
Once more must I plummet through time, into a world so very like my own and yet so very unlike my own. What all-time classics will BBC4 have cut out of this week's show to make room for the likes of Mary MacGregor?

If anyone can tell us, David “Kid” Jensen can, for it is he who's presenting.

I'm still refusing to watch the chart countdown at the beginning, in case it ruins all the surprises for me.

And this is a surprise. They've started with Graham Parker. Graham was one of my favourite artists of the late 1970s. How could you not love a man who gave us lines like, “I've got mercury poisoning. It's fatal and it don't get better”?

Having said that, such an angry man seems not totally suited to a song like Hold Back the Night.

I never realised he was so short.

Or is everyone else in his band unbelievably tall? It's like he's being filmed in forced perspective like they were in Land of the Giants. Any second now I expect a giant domestic cat to get on stage and try to swat him with its paw, forcing him to take refuge in a hole in the skirting board.

To be honest he's acting like a bit of a pranny.

“What a good week it's been for Liverpool,” says Kid. Argh! No! Please don't let this mean it's going to be Liverpool Express again!

It's not. It's the Real Thing.

I suppose it's better than Liverpool Express but it's still not the most thrilling of songs. For some reason, one of them's got his arm in his dungarees, like Napoleon on Dress-Down Thursday.

The Brotherhood of Man are on, doing Oh Boy. They haven't quite gone into full-on ABBA mode at this stage of their career but they're heading that way.

It's not what you could call a rivetingly choreographed routine.

Now Kid meets some Norwegians.

And we meet Smokie.

I do have a strange fondness for Smokie. They were hardly cutting-edge, but listening to a Smokie song is like sinking into a comfy sofa; which is appropriate as the bassist's hair looks like an exploding settee.

Speaking of looking like an exploding settee, Barbara Dickson's back. It's Kid Jensen's favourite song from Evita and I agree with him even though I've only ever heard three songs from Evita and two of them have the same tune as each other.

Oh my god, it's that terrible Rubettes record again. Has there been some decree that it has to be on every single week? How can Kid possibly think it's going to be a Number 1?

Big hats totally jettisoned now. The fools! Don't they know that ditching extravagant head-wear's the sure-fire route to obscurity? I take the view that the only reason I never made it onto TOTP was my insane decision to not wear a neon bucket on my head at all opportunities. With such a policy, how could I ever have hoped to stalk the stage Nik Kershaw once made his own?

Like a pitiful dog with no will left to go on, the Rubettes are put out of their misery and cut short to make way for ELO and Rockaria. I'm starting to feel like I'm watching a repeat of last week's show.

Still, I don't care. ELO'll put me in better spirits.

Supposedly the woman warbling on this is the same one who sang, “This is the age of the train,” in those Jimmy Savile adverts. Everything on TOTP always comes back to Jimmy in the end.

Dangerous jumping around from the cellist. Just remember that thing's got a big spike on the end of it, mate.

Legs and Co dancing to Mary MacGregor. Another atypically non-literal interpretation. That's a shame. I'd have loved to see Flick Colby trying to literally interpret the phrase, “Torn between two lovers.” Poor Cherry'd never walk right again.

Now it's someone called Brendan. I've never heard of either this person or this song before in my life. And there was me thinking I had an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things late-1970s' pop.

Brendan's a major sex god.

At least he seems to think so.

I'm not sure his band do. They appear to be trying to keep as much of the stage between themselves and him as possible.

He seems quite annoying.

And seems to have a high opinion of his own buttocks, judging by his determination to make sure everyone gets a good view of them.

Leo Sayer's not Number 1 any more. It's Manhattan Transfer; rat a tat a tat.


I don't expect a woman in Manhattan Transfer to have nipples. It'd be like finding out Penelope Keith has them. Nipples are reserved for Felicity Kendal, not the likes of Mrs Manhattan.

I wonder if there're still groups like Manhattan Transfer out there these days. I like to think there are. I mean, I wouldn't want to actually hear them, but it'd be reassuring to know there are. And also that there're acts like Hinge and Bracket still out there.

It's all over and they're playing-out with Elton John and Crazy Water. Was this a single? Was it a hit? It's not one of his best known songs. In fact I don't know it at all.

So, I learned a lot from this week's episode of Top of the Pops. I learned there was a man called Brendan who I'd never heard of before and that Elton John had a single out in 1977 that I'd never heard of before.

Still no sign of Ken Morse. With the most iconic figure in TOTP's history still not having put in an appearance, I'm starting to feel like it's a conspiracy.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Top of the Pops: 24th Feb, 1977.

Singer, writer and producer, Jeff Lynne of ELO, the Electric Light Orchestra, sat in the recording studio, in full beard and shades mode
By Abelcarreto (Entrevista a Jef Lynne)
[GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
It's that time of week again, pop-pickers - the time when all music fans must drop whatever it is they're doing and tune into the latest happening chart sounds. What magical musical memories will this week's show disinter from beyond the grave to light up a dark March night?

Its Noel Edmonds. That's what magical musical memories it'll disinter. You have to hand it to Noel, he's looking very well-turned-out in his three-piece suit.

There's no intro to the first act but my keen knowledge of the latest pop sensations tells me it's Heatwave, dressed in a style that can only be called Vintage Wally.

I really hated Heatwave at the time. Now, I don't really mind them. The constant smiling does grate with me as much as it ever did though.

Strange purple laser beams being fired downwards from the ceiling, acting as the bars of a cage designed to prevent Heatwave escaping into the general community. Given their outfits, I feel it's for the best.

One of the the vocalists seems to be trying to imply that he's singing the synthesizer solo but I quickly see through his cunning ruse.

That drummer just does not belong in that band. He seems to have blundered in from the local and just decided to help himself to the drum kit.

Now it's Racing Cars and They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Noel introduced it with a feeble joke about cobblers or something but even Noel can't disguise the magic of this track.

Could it be? Could 1977 have finally produced a song I like?

Although I'm familiar with the song, I've never seen Racing Cars before. In all honesty, it's starting to undermine my love of the track far more than Noel ever could.

This really should've been a hit for the Hollies, shouldn't it?

Actually I really am going off it now. Thirty five years I've loved this song and just one minute of one appearance on Top of the Pops has been enough to make me question my judgement.

That's the wonder of Top of the Pops. I'm starting to wish it was 1995 now. The lifelessness of it all's making me pine for Shirley Manson's various appearances.

Did I ever mention Shirley Manson was my favourite ever Top of the Pops performer? She, more than any other act, always seemed to have it sussed as to how to do the thing.

Speaking of things. It's the Real Thing and You'll Never Know What You're Missing.

Didn't the singer used to breed dogs and do adverts for Pedigree Chum?

Nice top hat. Not enough pop stars wear top hats. The only other top hat wearing singer I can think of is Noddy Holder who I sadly fear isn't going to be making any more TOTP appearances for a good few years yet.

The man stood on the end looks a bit depressed.

The two men stood next to him look like they can't believe they're there. They probably can't believe they're on the same stage Shirley Manson'll one day prowl with such distinction.

Torn Between Two Lovers, by a woman whose name I don't know how to spell.

I've always hated this one. Will my being exposed to it again after all these years do anything to change my mind?


I don't think it will.

You really would have to work hard to be this insipid.

This sounds like that Peter Skellern record; You're a Lady or whatever it was called.

But this is more like it. It's ELO and Rockaria.

I've turned up the TV in order to soak up the visceral pre-punk vibe of it all. Granted, some might say that, by the standards of rock, it's a little tame, but, by the standards of everything we've heard so far, it's practically musical anarchy personified.

Actually, I'm starting to get a bit bored with it too now. Just what is it about TOTP that has this deadening effect on all it touches?

Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber are being interviewed by Noel Edmonds. None of them seems very comfortable to be there.

Barbara Dickson always looks comfortable to be anywhere. I saw her doing that Gerry Rafferty tribute show the other night and she looks as into it all tonight as she did then. She's doing Another Suitcase, Another Hall.

I like this one. I don't care that it's by Webber and Rice and that no one likes them and they've just looked as uncomfortable as anyone's ever looked in the presence of Noel Edmonds. It's a nice song and beautifully sung - though it doesn't feel right to see Barbara Dickson on TV without her being first introduced by Ronnie Corbett.

I hereby declare Barbara Dickson a National Treasure, for no good reason other than I like the look in her eyes. There's a sharpness to them. She has a keen vision, that one.

Now Earth Wind and Fire are being danced to by Legs and Co. Isn't this the same dance they famously did for Disco Duck; only without the duck suits?

This is the second week running they haven't tried to literally interpret a song. Has Flick Colby finally learned her lesson, or has she merely sunk into a trough of despond that means she can't be bothered to make the effort any more?

Leo Sayer's still at number 1. It takes me back to the days when he had his own show on BBC2. I don't remember much about it but I bet Barbara Dickson and her sharp eyes were on it more than once.

But this is a song that makes you want to wave your lighter in the air.

He's making strangling hands!

Despite the odd strangling gestures, anyone who doesn't feel compelled to sing along with Leo has a heart of stone.

And now we come to the end, and it sounds like the strains of David Bowie about to do the outro. It's Sound and Vision. Is it wrong of me to admit I preferred Nick Lowe's I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass which sounded noticeably similar?

Is Ken Morse on rostrum camera?

He's not!

What kind of strange and miserable madness is this that denies us Ken Morse for two weeks running?


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