OK – I’ve pre-checked the running list for this show and thankfully we finally have a bunch of new songs to watch after some repeat views recently. That’s the good news; the bad news is that Mike Read is one of the presenters tonight so we will have to suffer his utterly deluded belief that he is one of the funniest men on the planet. He is joined by Peter “hello mate” Powell.
Who’s up first then? Brilliant! It’s only the return of ABC! This would have been a big deal for the 15 year old me. I’d really liked their “Lexicon Of Love” period and now they were back! Or were they? Is this really ABC? Where’s Martin’s gold lamé suit? Where’s his floppy fringe haircut? Why aren’t the other guys performing their played for laughs backing singers dance moves? And where the Hell has the drummer gone? Yes, this certainly didn’t look like the ABC I remembered and that’s before we have even mentioned what they sound like!
OK – obviously there’s a few things to discuss here. Let’s start with the missing drummer. It seems that sticks man David Palmer jumped ship after the “Lexicon Of Love” world tour to play with the Japanese electronic music outfit Yellow Magic Orchestra. I’ve no idea who the drummer is in this TOTP performance but he looks like someone they found playing in a dodgy covers band in a Sheffield pub. At least the rest of the classic line up are still there including Stephen Singleton who seems to be overcompensating for Martin Fry’s new hairstyle by growing his own floppy fringe so long that he can hardly see through it.
Enough of what they look like, what about the sound? Is this new song any good? It’s a much harder sound than previous with the lush “Lexicon” strings replaced by strident guitar power chords (the single’s cover is just an electric guitar being played) and then there’s that “A Day InThe Life” style ending. I remember that the 12″ version carried a warning “This record is exactly the same as the 7″ version. The choice is yours.” I don’t think that helped to endear the fans to this new version of the band.
Apparently this radical new sound was a conscious decision not to just do a sequel to “Lexicon Of Love”. The decision backfired as the accompanying album “Beauty Stab” performed poorly commercially and was not well received critically despite Peter Powell’s assertion that “every track on the album is an absolute winner”. As for me, I think I took a few listens to get into it but I grew to really like “That Was Then But This Is Now” and when follow up single “S.O.S” was released I was hooked and went out and bought the album. Its a great piece of work that I think is one of the great lost albums of the 80s. In contrast, one music journalist described it as “one of the great career-sabotage LPs in pop history”. Ah baloney – what do journalists know eh?
Some 33 years later, ABC (basically just Fry now) did release the sequel to “The Lexicon of Love” (the rather obviously titled “Lexicon Of Love II”). Had they gone with this idea back in 1983 maybe things would have worked out very differently for the band but I, for one, am glad they didn’t.
Phew! That’s a lot of words about ABC! Might need to skimp a bit on the rest of the acts tonight the first of which is Donna Summer with “Unconditional Love”. After setting the 70s alight with disco classics like “Love To Love You Baby”, “I Feel Love” and “Hot Stuff”, the 80s were a leaner time for Donna. This though was her 2nd hit of ’83 here in the UK and its a bit of a curiosity, featuring as it does Additional vocals by Musical Youth. OK – got that, definitely not Donna Summer and Musical Youth – this is a Donna Summer record with Musial Youth just doing a little bit in the background. I wonder if they had to make the tea in the studio for her as well? Quite why Musical Youth were there (in whatever capacity) I’m unsure. Apparently “Pass The Dutchie” had been a Top 10 Pop and R&B hit in the US earlier in the year so maybe there was a rather deliberate attempt to cash in on that. It didn’t really work. The song was a flop in the US although a Top 20 hit over here. It’s a jolly enough little number but it wasn’t something that I was really interested in as a 15 year old.
Mike Read then appears on our screens with his omnipresent shades muttering some gibberish about not letting Peter Powell change for every link and then babbling on about Elton John doing a fast lap time, being in a great position in the pit and having a hat on. It’s utter drivel and doesn’t make any sense on more than one level. Firstly, if Read is attempting some sort of Grand Prix / Formula 1 link, why would a driver of a car who had done a fast lap time be in the pits. He’d be in pole position on the grid surely. Secondly, Elton’s hat is not motor sport head gear but rather a polo helmet surely? Even Read seems to be having doubts about where he’s going with it as his introduction is full of “umms” and “errs”. The performance itself is padded out with lots of shots of accompanying dancers and some flash explosions as I guess Elton sat on his own at the piano wasn’t exciting enough for the TOTP producers.
Right who’s next? Oh good – I really liked this song back in the day. It’s The Police with “Synchronicity II”. This was the third single to be lifted from the “Synchronicity” album and I thought it was so much better than previous single “Wrapped Around Your Finger” which we didn’t get to see on the programme due to presenter issues. “Wrapped..” was a bit of a dirge I thought and an odd choice of follow up to the all conquering “Every Breath You Take”. “Synchronicity II” was much better in my eyes – it really whipped along with a riff laden drive and squalling guitars and I found the lyrics quite intriguing with its references to Scottish lakes and that line And every single meeting with his so-called superior is a humiliating kick in the crotch. According to Sting the song has Jungian influences and is about a man on the edge of paranoia and as his paranoia increases a monster takes shape in a Scottish lake, the monster being a symbol of the man’s anxiety. And that my friends apparently, is synchronicity – so now you know. And to think I always thought synchronicity was something to do with swimming. The video is quite dramatic and effective – with Sting in full on Dune mode and the whole thing has a Mad Max feel to it. Mad Max was a popular look around this time what with Gary Numan and then Duran Duran taking it to a whole other level with their “Wild Boys” mini film the following year. It’s also a quite underplayed Police song on the radio – always overlooked in favour of “Every Breath You Take” or “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” or the like which is a shame.
The word count for this post is rising rapidly (so much for skimping) – so I’m hoping the next act is someone I can dismiss with a few well chosen phrases. It’s…Status Quo with “A Mess Of Blues”. Easy…more 3 chord chugging simplicity from the denim wearing boogie men. What too glib? There really isn’t much more to say about it. It was originally a hit for Elvis but all I remember thinking at the time was that their previous single also had the word “blues’ in the title (“‘Ol Rag Blues”) and weren’t there some sort of chart rules to prevent this sort of thing from happening?
A quick chart run down follows spoilt of course by Read trying to be funny with his awful impression of John Lydon when announcing PIL at No 30. And then another video this time from Madness with “Sun And The Rain”. At the time, this seemed like a return to their well tested formula to me after the experiment with gospel choirs on previous hit “Wings Of A Dove”. Its a pretty good example of the formula too with all the usual elements in place, tinkling piano hooks, that nutty boy sound and the usual crazy video. What we didn’t know at the time was that it would be the last composition written solely by chief song writer Mike Barson for 26 years who would leave the band the following year. It would also be Madness’ last Top 10 single for 16 years (bar a reissue of “It Must Be Love” to promote the Divine Madness compilation in 1992). So quite a landmark song for the group really although it didn’t feel like it at the time.
OK – we have been dodging this moment for some time but it has finally caught up with us and we can evade it no longer. It’s the UK’s biggest-selling singles artist of the 80s, someone with 28 Top 40 hits…oh dear lord…it’s Shakin’ Stevens (cripes!). Dear old Shaky – the much maligned poor man’s Elvis. He had been pretty much ubiquitous up to this point of the decade with three No 1s behind him and a bunch of other hits. His appeal was a curious thing though – basically he was reviving songs from the 50s but they were pretty faithful reproductions of the originals whilst all the time wearing a double denim wardrobe. It doesn’t sound like a great recipe for success does it? And yet somehow it worked. This particular single – “Cry Just A Little Bit” – seemed to me at the time to be an attempt to update his sound slightly but in truth it’s a pretty weak effort. It limps along with very little purpose and even Shaky feels the need to crank up the interest by applying the gimmick of singing cry as cwy (if there is such a word). Somehow this would go all the way to No 3 and give some mid term impetus to his 80s chart career. And you know what that means…we are likely to see a lot more of Shaky in future broadcasts.
*bites on clenched knuckles*
Right, The good news is that there’s a new No 1 after 6 weeks of Culture Crud (yes!). The bad news is it’s Billy Joel with “Uptown Girl” (oh crap!). Yep, for some reason the UK record buying public couldn’t get enough of this piece of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons pastiche and it ended up being the UK’s 2nd biggest-selling single of the 1983 (behind “Karma Chameleon” obviously). It really is a turkey and the video, as we all know, featured his then girlfriend the super model Christie Brinkley. Talk about rubbing it in. And before her he dated Elle McPherson! How did he do it?
The play out music this week is “Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats.
Links and things
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 Mike Read proving that he is totally unfunny 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?|
|ABC||That Was Then But This Is Now||No but I bought the album “Beauty Stab” that it was taken from and you should too.|
|Donna Summer with additional vocals by Musical Youth||Unconditional Love||Nah|
|Elton John||Kiss The Bride||No but probably on a Greatest Hits CD somewhere in the house.|
|The Police||Synchronicity II||No but I have it on a CD somewhere I’m sure|
|Status Quo||A Mess Of Blues||Good Lord no!|
|Madness||Sun And The Rain||Not the 7” but its on Now Vol 1 so technically yes|
|Shakin’ Stevens||Cry Just A Little Bit||No – it would have been playground suicide. The shame!|
|Billy Joel||Uptown Girl||Not likely – but it’s probably on a Greatest Hits CD somewhere|
|Men Without Hats||Safety Dance||Not the 7” but its on Now Vol 1 so technically yes|
Some bed time reading?