One of the frustrating things about doing this blog is trying to remember exactly what I would have been up to at the time of the original TOTP broadcasts. I can just about glimpse a hazy sensation of how the period felt but pinning down specific events and dates is nigh on impossible. I didn’t keep a diary (thank God! What horrors would that have revealed!) and the internet can help with certain things but there is no Wikipedia page that is devoted to my life aged 15 that I can find.
OK – so 8th Dec 1983. Football wise my beloved Chelsea are riding high in the old 2nd Division having just won 6-1 two days before this programme aired. Two days after the show went out, I would travel to Maidstone in Kent to watch my other football team (my hometown club Worcester City) in the F.A.Cup 2nd round. They lost 2-3 and my dream of them drawing Chelsea in the next round disappeared.
And my social life? Well, I was still yet to break my duck of having a conversation with a girl, let alone having a girlfriend. And school? I had my mock “O” Levels to look forward to straight after Xmas…
So we have established I was living a pretty sad life at this point and no doubt would have been looking to TOTP to brighten it up a bit. Don’t let me down TOTP…Oh great – it’s Mike “shades” Read and Tommy Vance doing some pathetic link about the night’s first act The Thompson Twins by referencing the detective duo from The Adventures of Tin Tin. Just awful.
Not awful at all in my book though was the song they were introducing – “Hold Me Now” – which I really liked. By this point it was up to No 4 in the charts but that would be its peak and any thoughts they may have had of the Xmas No 1 would remain dashed just like my dreams of a Worcester City v Chelsea FA cup tie. I always quite liked the almost cartoonish element that Alannah Currie brought to the band’s TOTP performances with her oversized peaked headgear, extreme hair do and wayward dancing. She looked like fun but also way too scary.
For what seems like weeks now I have been lambasting Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” (and quite right too) but here comes his follow up single already. This despite the fact that said stinker is still at No 3 in the charts at this point. However I always thought “Tell Her About It” was a vastly superior song. Again its a pastiche – this time of Motown as opposed to doo wop – but it’s a good little pop song in its own right. The video is a take off of “The Ed Sullivan Show” – the programme that gave The Beatles mass exposure to American audiences and pretty much started the first British invasion of pop music- with Joel being introduced onto the stage as “B.J. and the Affordables”. The video’s intention seems to be to ape that landmark historical moment when Beatlemania broke by showing numerous vignettes playing out with (ahem) B.J. showing on a TV screen in the background thereby demonstrating the reach of the artist. It kind of works but the dancing bear punchline at the end of the video is pretty lame.
Back in the studio we get Paul Young with “Love Of The Common People” and it seems to just be a repeat of his performance a couple of weeks back judging by his outfit. By this point, the single had reached No 2 and would hold that position for 3 weeks without ever making the top spot but he couldn’t have got much closer to it.
Another video now but again it’s a song that we have only just seen in a recent TOTP repeat broadcast – Tina Turner with “Let’s Stay Together”. The video is cut short presumably due to time constraints and at the song’s end, Tommy Vance remarks that Tina is 45 which must have sounded sooooo ancient to the 15 year old me in 1983. Typing this in 2017 I realise she was 4 years younger than I am now. Gulp.
Finally! A song we haven’t seen before (if you get what I mean) as here come Tears For Fears with “The Way You Are”. Now this is an oddity of a song. It was unashamedly recorded and released as a stop gap measure to keep the band in the public eye between albums. Their debut “The Hurting” was released in 1983 but it’s follow up and monster hit “Songs From The Big Chair ” would not come out until two whole years later. Not wanting to lose their momentum, this was pushed out into the market place some seven months after their last hit “Pale Shelter”. Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith have disowned the song as the worst thing they have ever done and it didn’t appear on their first Greatest Hits compilation in 1992. And watching it back now it’s hard not to agree with them. Writing to order doesn’t seem to be the best thing for creativity and this song certainly lacks ….something. I mean, it’s not terrible but it’s very repetitive and doesn’t really go anywhere. And the lyrics are dreadful. Witness…
“These fingers aren’t my fingers
These hands are not my hands”
Curt then sings about “rhyme and reason” and “out of time and season”. Really lazy stuff. What I also noticed about this performance is the first appearance of Roland’s terrible hairstyle that he adopted – that brushed back fanning peacock look. He had perfectly acceptable indie kid hair before. Why did he do that to himself? I remember somebody writing into Smash Hits to ask how they could get their hair to do the same. Thankfully, it wasn’t me. And while we’re at it, when did Hank Marvin join Tears For Fears on keyboards?
Next we have Mike Read introducing a chart run down in a very peculiar way…
“And now here are the charts…the songs, airs and melodies that make them between 30 and 21”
What? Are you trying to make yourself sound interesting Read because you’re not. Anyway, someone who was very interesting (especially to my mate Rob) is Howard Jones and here he is with his new single “What Is Love?”! This is a great song and would help establish Howard’s place within the decade’s list of mainstream pop stars. Although I don’t think it held my attention as immediately as his debut single “New Song”, it really grew on me quickly and is one of his best songs in my opinion. The first thing that strikes me about this performance is the lack of mime artist Jed (hurray!!!) and I don’t recall him ever being seen again. I wonder how Howard’s manager broached that conversation?
Manager: “Alright Jed. Yeah the next single is going to be What Is Love? but here’s the thing – we think we can lose you on this one.”
Manager: “Its just that Howard wants to try something new, go in a different direction. You know how it is. That and the fact that you look ridiculous on stage and its embarrassing Howard.”
Alright, I’m sure everyone connected with Howard and indeed Howard himself was / is far too nice to let anything like that have happened.
The other thing I have picked up on is that Howard’s bonce is approaching A Flock Of Seagulls territory. How my mate Rob must have agonised about how he could:
a) get his own hair to imitate Howard’s
b) get away with such a hair style at school
Another video now and again, as with Billy Joel, it’s by an act I have been giving down the banks to for weeks about their last No 1 hit single but whose new single is actually very good. It’s Culture Club with “Victims”. With the abomination that “Karma Chameleon” is still in the charts, Boy George and pals are riding the crest of their popularity in December 1983 and the release of this epic ballad was a calculated but sensible decision in an attempt to secure the Xmas No 1 spot. This, in my opinion, is by far their best song. It’s a beautiful, haunting song which George does a great vocal on. The video is interesting in that it’s obvious by this point that Boy George is the absolute focal point of the band. He’s almost a solo star so universal is his appeal and pull. The other three guys are hardly featured at all. In fact, honorary member and backing vocalist Helen Terry gets more camera time than they do. Fast forward 12 months and the band will have reached their creative nadir with the unspeakable “War Song”. Enjoy them at their best, right here and right now.
Now then, a new No.1 and one of the most recognisable songs of the decade not just because it had already been a hit the previous year but because of the treatment it gets in this version. It is, of course, The Flying Pickets with “Only You”. They were a bunch of actors from a fringe theatre organisation who had sung acapella in one of their productions and had the brainwave of applying this principal to pop music. They struck gold with their choice of recording Yazoo’s No. 2 hit from 1982 and their version became the first ever acapella No 1. The group’s name was chosen as band members had taken part in the miners strikes of ’72 and ’74 and their rise to fame coincided with the 1984 miners strike which they publicly supported. Here are some other things that I recently found out about the Flying Pickets that I never knew before:
- Young Ones actor Christopher Ryan (Mike “The Cool Person”) was originally in the band but left before they were famous
- They are still going today but without any of the 1983 incarnation in their ranks after 27 line up changes
- Much to the band’s bemusement, their version of “Only You” was Margaret Thatcher’s favourite record (supposedly). What is it with Conservative Prime Minister not understanding pop music. Think David Cameron liking The Jam’s “Eton Rifles” These people really are thick.
Anyway, did the 15 year old me like it? Well, it seems to be in my 7″ singles box but I am sure that’s because I bought it for my Dad for Xmas. Yeah that must be it.
The play out music this week is Wham with “Club Fantastic Mega Mix” which is another one of those songs with an interesting back story. This was a mash up (well that’s what it would be called today, certainly not in 1983) of three tracks from the band’s “Fantastic” album and was released by their label against George and Andrew’s wishes as they were at that point in negotiations to leave them. They actively and publicly disowned the release and pleaded with fans not to buy it but it still went all the way to No 15 in the charts. One track on it (“Ray Of Sunshine”) is actually brilliant and would have made great single in its own right but that’s a story for a parallel universe.
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 see Mike Read and his ubiquitous shades 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?|
|Thompson Twins||Hold Me Now||No but I must have it digitally surely|
|Billy Joel||Tell Her About It||No but it’ s probably on a Greatest Hits CD somewhere|
|Paul Young||Love Of The Common People||Yep|
|Tina Turner||Let’s Stay Together||Not the 7” but its on Now Vol 1 so technically yes|
|Tears For Fears||The Way You Are||It’s in my 7” box but I’m sure it’s my wife’s copy|
|Howard Jones||What Is Love?||No but I have it on a Greatest Hits CD|
|Culture Club||Victims||Not the 7” but its on Now Vol 1 so technically yes|
|Flying Pickets||Only You||Yes but for my Dad! Honest!|
|Wham!||Club Fantastic Megamix||Nope|
Some bed time reading?