It’s early September 1984 and the 16 year old me is waving goodbye to the long hot Summer of relaxation after the stress of ‘O’ levels and am about to assume my place at that rarified table of scholarly learning – yes I was going to be a 6th former! Let’s have it straight, it wasn’t because I was committed to a pursuit of knowledge and the study of books, I just didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do with my life and the world of work looked a bit scary so I stayed on at school.
The status of 6th former did have one thing going for it though – the 6th form common room. Yes! A space available only for those senior members of the school and out of bounds to anyone in years 1-5. And not only that, it had a stereo cassette player that you could use to play the latest and greatest sounds around! The reality was a bit different though – there was a definite pecking order established pretty early on about who got to play their cassettes and me not being one of the cool kids, I hardly got a look in. And if it wasn’t the cool kids hogging the stereo then it was the 6th form prefects. You had to be a star of one of the various school sports teams to get into that elite club – they even had their own prefects annex off the common room that us err…commoners weren’t allowed to breach. Now I loved football but no sports teacher had ever recognised my prowess at the game in my previous 5 years at the school so I wasn’t a prefect.
Ah sod ’em. I knew more about music than all of them (or so I thought). What I actually knew about was the charts and not much else so let’s see what was in the charts and on TOTP at this time……
The DJ pairing this week is John Peel and Janice Long. Peel had recently lost his rhythm pal David Jensen to Capital Radio so he needed another foil for his sardonic wit. Enter Janice Long, the likeable scouse early evening Radio 1 DJ. It was a clever choice by the TOTP producers to put these two together and they would form an entertaining partnership to rival the Peel/Jensen axis. From Peel’s introduction of the first act of the night Bucks Fizz, it’s clear there is some back story following on from the previous week’s show (which has not been repeated due to presenter issues). Want to know what happened? Fortunately YouTube has the answer….
Yes – 2.03 minutes into their performance the screen cuts to footage of a train with a very over-excited voice over from Simon Bates. What was this all about? If you recall the last post from the 23 Aug show, Mike Read and Tommy Vance gave us the low down. It was some ill conceived tie -in with British Rail who had unveiled their new Inter City high speed train and called it Top Of The Pops. Not only that but said train was going for the speed record between London and Bristol live on the next TOTP show. And so it came to pass that Bucks Fizz were the unlucky act that had their performance curtailed so that TOTP could show a train arriving in a station! WTF?! Now I don’t want to give train spotters a bad name but I’m guessing that there are more pop fans in the world than trainspotters so why the BBC let the only pop music show on TV be hijacked by this nonsense I have not a clue! I have to say I don’t recall watching this incident unfold live but then I’m not and never have been a trainspotter. I may have been a chart geek at this time but a trainspotter? No.
Anyway, to make up for the truncating of their performance, TOTP invited Bucks Fizz back the next week hence the odd intro from Peel. And what of the song? Well, it was originally a worldwide hit for US new wavers The Romantics not even 12 months previous but crucially not in the UK thereby allowing Bucks Fizz to shamelessly pinch it and have their own hit with it. This was kind of a relaunch for the band whose last two singles had bombed. It was a much harder sound than we were used to and check out the lads with their guitars! Don’t think we had ever seen this side of them before. I thought it was all a bit lame at the time and its certainly not one of their most memorable efforts.
Talking of Bucks Fizz memories, what do we think of when we think of this lot? Eurovision? Velcro skits? Yes of course but the band’s story also includes a traumatic coach crash, splits and years of legal battles over the rights to their name. Three of the original band have just relaunched as The Fizz with a new album. And what of the other member? Well if you have the time then watch this documentary for one of the most hilarious tales of band acrimony ever. I love how they are so precious over their roles as the keeper of the flame of the band’s name Its hardly The Beatles’ legacy we are talking about here….
OK – that’s quite enough Bucks Fizz for one post. Who’s next? Ooh it’s the video for “I’ll Fly For You” by Spandau Ballet. You’ll recall I really liked this one and here is the band in New Orleans doing their first ever epic mini-film of a promotional video. The band were always a bit behind the game when it came to videos and trailed in the wake of rivals Duran Duran and their exotic location shoots so this was their attempt to even the score up a bit.
It’s all a bit of a mess really. There’s Tony Hadley mooning about in the Louisiana swamps, a flashback scene with him and his girl at the Mardi Gras carnival, a suggestion that she has two-timed him with Martin Kemp and then some ludicrous courtroom scene where she is on trial for some unknown crime. This bit of the video seems totally misjudged as there are lots of lingering shots of the actress playing the lead role, the judge, the prosecution and various other court attendants. What it doesn’t do is promote the band who by this point had gone totally mainstream and were playing the game of trying to be one of the world’s biggest pop bands. Eventually the guys spring her from a police car and reunite her with Hadley and it all ends with them killing themselves in a lovers pact by driving into an oncoming truck. You don’t get to see that last bit on TOTP though. Might have sparked a storm of protest letters to Barry Took on Points Of View I suppose. A feature on the video in No1 magazine quotes Gary Kemp as saying that it is a “conflict between a desire for freedom and escape and the slavery and rough justice of the Deep South”. Yeah right Gary.
A song from the 70s in the charts in 1984 next – it’s the re-released “Lost In Music” by Sister Sledge. How so? Well, they had been in the charts earlier in the year with “Thinking of You” and on the back of that their back catalogue was raided and remixed by Nile Rodgers. Now of course these days Nile is an acclaimed musical genius and regular performer at Glastonbury but back then I think I knew him as that bloke who had remixed Duran Duran’s “The Reflex” single. He worked his magic again on this Sister Sledge classic which went all the way to No 4. Incidentally it included DD’s Simon Le Bon and Andy Taylor on additional backing vocals apparently. If you listen carefully to the intro from Peel to this one, I’m sure some TOTP floor manager shouts at the audience to “Get involved down there” thus pre-empting the adopting of the phrase “get involved” into the English vernacular by some 30 plus years or so.
Before the next act there is a brief chart run down and if I’m not mistaken that’s a new version of “Yellow Pearl” by Phil Lynott that we had not heard before. Not sure of the reasoning behind it but I don’t like it.
The chart run down leads into a new entry at No 26 and its the return of Level 42 with “Hot Water”. This was one of their best tunes in my opinion (and John Peel’s apparently). It really chugs along at a pace with Mark King’s slap bass style inevitably to the fore. I love the little hooks that they chucked in like the vocoderised Whaaat? reply when King sings Tell you something and it does include the extraordinary rhyming couplet that is:
I don’t need confirmation
For my boyhood extrapolation
I remember that they followed this up with a single entitled “The Chant Has Begun” and bizarrely it was released at the same time as a single by The Alarm called “The Chant Has Just Begun”. What were the chances of that? Despite my liking both singles, both were flops. “Hot Water” though would be a No 18 hit for the band and within 18 months they would be massive.
Its Alphaville next still riding high in the charts with “Big In Japan”. Peel, presumably tongue in cheek, says that the song is a “tribute to the legendary Liverpool band Big In Japan”. Janice chips in with a knowing “Where are they now?”. Now the 16 year old me may well have understood the intended humour here as one of the nuggets of trivia to surface as part of the well documented Frankie Goes To Hollywood story was that Holly Johnson used to be in a punk band called Big In Japan. What I didn’t understand but which I discovered when researching Alphaville was that there was some truth in Peel’s assertion. According to front man Marian Gold, he had been in Berlin in 1977 hoping to meet David Bowie and whilst there had bought an album from a British guy who sold stuff by independent bands from the US and UK. That album was by Big In Japan and Gold pinched the name for the song which is about to lovers trying to get off heroin – hands up who knew that?! I certainly didn’t at the time but I presumably noticed the keyboard player on the right’s magnificent mullet hairdo and longed for my own version.
Its a new No 1! Desist with your excitement though as it’s Stevie Wonder with ” I Just Called To Say I Love You”. Yes, after the horror that was “Hello” by Lionel Richie being at No 1 for weeks just a few short months prior to this, the UK record buying public added insult to injury by making this outrage not only a No 1 record but the best selling Motown single in the UK ever! (thanks to @TOTPFacts for that info).
It’s a nausea inducing piece of crap that I still cannot reconcile to having been written by Stevie Wonder. I wasn’t that familiar with his back catalogue at the time and this was certainly no credible introduction to his work. My wife is a fan (of Stevie’s not this song) and she has introduced me to some of the great music he has made but this…?!
I was always going to include this clip from the Hi-Fidelty film but @TOTPFacts beat me to it but I’m going to post it anyway. I think Barry speaks for millions of us here….
The play out music this week is “Passengers” by Elton John. I have nothing to say about that but I do love the intro when Radio 1 DJ Bruno Brookes appears as a “new face” for presenting TOTP. In an obviously staged introduction Janice Long says “Who’s This” to which Peel bluntly replies “Don’t ask me pal” and you can almost believe he doesn’t actually know nor care. Marvellous.
|Order of appearance||Artist||Song||Did I Buy it?|
|Bucks Fizz||Talking In Your Sleep||Some playground credibility suicide with that single sir? No thanks.|
|Spandau Ballet||I’ll Fly For You||No but I had the “Parade” LP it came from|
|Sister Sledge||Lost In Music||Disco classic it may be but it wasn’t for me in 1984|
|Level 42||Hot Water||No but I really did like it|
|Alphaville||Big In Japan||No but it was damned catchy|
|Stevie Wonder||I Just Called To Say I Love You||AARRRGGHHH!|
OK – here’s the thing – the TOTP episodes are only available on iPlayer for a limited amount of time so the link to the programme below only works for about another month so you’ll have to work fast if you want to relive Peel’s put down of Bruno Brookes as I can’t find the full programme on YouTube.
I make no claim to the rights of this show and all ownership and contents including logos and graphics belongs totally to the BBC.
Some bed time reading?