Well we really have powered through these episodes of TOTP since I started blogging about them only a couple of months ago. Suddenly we find ourselves at 8th June 1983 and I have realised that at this point I would have transformed from being a moody 14 year old to being a moody 15 year old. I don’t remember anything changing very much at this major milestone in my life. I had still not had any sort of intelligible conversation with a girl let alone got a girl friend and my wardrobe was still nowhere near being fashionable. Never mind though, the Summer was here along with some scorching Top 40 tunes so let’s get to it!
Back in the presenting saddle this week are John Peel and ‘Kid” Jensen and just to hammer home the Summer theme they are wearing some vile Hawaiian shirts. There’s some joke (?) from Peel about Simon Bates knocking him off his bike the previous evening and then we’re into Twisted Sister with “The Kids Are Back”. Yes, that Twisted Sister proving in full technicolour that they were not a one hit wonder. It’s another dumb- rock-by- numbers number about “the kids” (of course) though it’s hard to believe any of the titular “kids” actually fell for this crap. There really is nothing very much to see here and Jensen even mispronounces their name as “Twisted Sinister” at the end ( or was that some sort of joke as well?). Both Peel and Jensen seem to be in a funny mood all night as we shall see.
On we go to some of your actual quality music. Its only David Bowie with the video of “China Girl”.
The thing about some of these iconic videos that we have seen over and over down the years is that you think you know all about them but if you take the time to watch them again you can pick up on things you might never have noticed previously. Bowie looks unbelievably and effortlessly cool of course (still with peroxide blonde hair at this point) but even in the first 8 seconds of re-watching things have started to jump out at me. The video starts with an image of an oriental woman hovering into view against a back drop of crashing waves. The style of it immediately put me in mind of the old TV programme “Monkey” of the late 70s and early 80s. Yes you do remember it…a sort of slapstick Water Margin…look…here…
Then the barbed wire graphics made me think the video director had been watching episodes of Tenko, the old WWII TV series chronicling the lives of women in a Japanese internment camp following the fall of Singapore. See?….
Supposedly in this video, Bowie was making a statement against racism by consciously parodying Asian female stereotypes. Not entirely sure that the Prince Philip style “slitty eyes” gesture was well conceived though. The clip where the “china girl” suddenly appears in traditional oriental costume surely inspired the film “Big Trouble in Little China”. As TOTP was broadcast pre- watershed , the naked romp in the crashing waves (obviously referencing “From Here To Eternity”) is edited out. I remember liking this enough at the time and I much prefer it to “Let’s Dance” now. Afterwards Peel advises us that its an old Iggy Pop song. I’m pretty sure I had no idea who Iggy Pop was at that time but it was nice of Peel to be so informative. Its probably one of Bowie’s most commercially successful songs I would wager and certainly gets plenty of airplay to this day.
Next up , after a little General Election inspired quip from Peel, are Ultravox with “We Came To Dance”, one of the most ludicrous songs of the 80s. Now I liked Ultravox – they had some great singles – but this really wasn’t one of them. It is a truly weak effort. What on earth is Midge singing about? These are some of the lyrics:
Waiting as the panic grips my hand
Hearing prose from high command
Like a million times before
No dignity or grace
It’s the price and not the race
And someone said:
We came to dance
Utter drivel. And is Midge wearing double denim in this performance?! Who did he think he was? Shaky? As the song finishes, Kid Jensen advises us to look out for a new single by Midge and Mick Karn coming out soon – this would be “After A Fashion” which was infinitely more interesting than “We Came To Dance”but only just reached the Top 40 so we probably won’t get to see that on a future TOTP.
We do get to see the song currently No1 in the US next though which is Irene Cara and “Flashdance…What A Feeling”. This was of course from the film of the same name which I didn’t go and see at the time but which I have tried to watch numerous times subsequently but have never made it through to the end on account of it being a complete stinker. The video, as expected, offers a montage of clips from the film and all of the trivia below are more interesting than the actual film:
- Jennifer Beals plays the main character Alex and most of her dancing in the film was performed by a body double. Indeed the breakdancing that she performs in the audition sequence at the end of the film was doubled by a male dancer.
- Said audition scene is copied for the video of Geri Halliwell’s “It’s Raining Men”.
- The scenes of Alex welding in the film are gloriously lampooned in the British film “The Full Monty” for having the “mix all wrong” when the would be strippers are watching Flashdance to learn some moves.
As for the song, I quite liked it at the time and it is certainly the best thing about the film but its no “Fame” is it?
Emboldened by his previous political funny, Peel (presumably a Labour supporter), then makes a proper political cutting comment after Irene Cara has finished by saying “filmed in one of those countries that still has a steel industry”. Take that Maggie!
Back in the studio we get another one of those new pop acts that 1983 was littered with. This time it’s H2O with “Dream To Sleep”. Breaking into the charts on the coat tails of Kajagoogoo, indeed they supported them on the UK tour, this lot were from Glasgow and looked likely to make it big when this single hit the Top 20. I always thought it was quite a classy sound with an accomplished production. However, this would be their commercial peak and they would be gone from the charts within the year. Shame really. The other thing I noticed watching this back was the saxophonist playing with a yo-yo whilst awaiting his bit in the song. Odd and possibly a first for TOTP.
Another first (for the 15 year old me anyway) would be my first glimpse of George Benson with his single “Lady Love Me”. Now I knew nothing of George Benson before this – certainly I had no idea that he had made his name as a jazz artist before this breakthrough single from the ‘pop’ album “In Your Eyes” – but I always quite liked his singles from this period and I would forever pair them with “Mornin” by Al Jarreau who was in the charts simultaneously. This was probably as “soul” as I would ever get.
Back in the studio, Jensen informs us that next up is a “mystery artist”. Peel enquires whether it’s Shaky. No John – Midge Ure was the Shaky imposter earlier. Didn’t you see him? This Imposter (and that really is the moniker he has given himself for this song), is actually Elvis Costello singing “Pills And Soap”. The song was an attack on Thatcherism and its release was timed to coincide with the run up to the General Election. Blimey! Was this the most politicized episode of TOTP ever? I remember liking this at the time tough I probably didn’t get the political overtones. Its again one of those songs that is forever linked to another in my mind – the other song here being “Shipbuilding” (also written by Costello but an unlikely chart hit for Robert Wyatt around the same time). Little did I know at the time that Elvis would loom large in my adult life as my wife is a big Costello fan. But for now, he was that bloke who’d sung “Oliver’s Army” and who Nick French at school looked like (on account of his glasses).
A genuinely odd bit of linking follows whereby we get a whole burst of the chorus of the next song which is “Dark Is The Night” by Shakatak and a clearly audible “go to town” from the lips of Peel before he then appears to do the actual band introduction to camera. Anyway, as for Shakatak, apart from maybe Level 42, has there ever been an act so universally panned for being bland and naff and basically everything that was wrong with the 80s? I attempted to listen to their back catalogue on Spotify at work the other day as an experiment to see how long I would last. I’ve had shits that lasted longer to be fair.
Moving on and we’re back with some proper music – “In A Big Country” by Big Country. Still a good song, this performance is spoilt by the over abundance of balloons and the daft antics of the TOTP dancers. At the song’s end, Peel delivers his most outrageous line of the night which is “That’s Big Country, the band that put the tree back into country”.
Finally the Top 10 countdown leads us into this week’s No 1 incumbent which is The Police and “Every Breath You Take”. The play out music is Rod Stewart with “Baby Jane” which I always hated.
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 see John Peel pushing the boundaries of TOTP etiquette and I can’t find the full programme on YouTube.
However for posterity’s sake I include the Top 40 run down below
|Order of appearance||Artist||Song||Did I buy it?|
|Twisted Sister||The Kids Are Back||Not to my 1983 pop tastes I’m afraid|
|David Bowie||China Girl||No – but I would not be able to resist buying the next single “Modern Love”|
|Ultravox||We Came To Dance||No but its on a Collection CD somewhere I’m sure|
|Irene Cara||Flashdance…What A Feeling||No|
|H2O||Dream To Sleep||No but I’m not sure why not|
|George Benson||Lady Love Me||Even this popified version of George was too “soul” for me I’m afraid|
|The Imposter||Pills And Soap||No but my wife has it on the Punch The Clock album of course|
|Shakatak||Dark Is The Night||Obviously not|
|Big Country||In a big country||Not on 7’ but I have it on a CD somewhere|
|The Police||Every Breath You Take||No but I have it on a Greatest Hits CD|
|Rod Stewart||Baby Jane||Turns out it’s on the 1st Now album so technically yes I did. Curses!|
Some bed time reading to go with this episode…