TOTP 15 DEC 1983

There’s only 10 days until Xmas! In TOTP repeat land where it’s 1983 that is and where the big day is not far away now. Yes, we are very nearly close to knowing what the Xmas No 1 will be. Acts are jostling for position and the timing of that final push is crucial. The exposure from TOTP this close to the final chart before Xmas cannot be underestimated. Leading us through tonights numbers are Simon Bates and Janice Long.

First up are a band who have been there and done it all before – it’s Status Quo with “Marguerita Time”. The Quo have been regular on TOTP since the end of the Summer with a rash of releases and this is the latest. And its an odd one for sure. I recall thinking at the time that this isn’t what Status Quo sound like. I wasn’t alone in my thinking as bassist Alan Lancaster hated this song with a passion and vociferously opposed it’s release as a single. Of course I didn’t know this at the time but watching this back in 2017 with that knowledge, I’m observing the bass player very carefully during this performance. And sure enough he doesn’t look happy. There ‘s some lackadaisical bass playing and he keeps his distance from Rossi and Parfitt who are grinning and laughing their way through it. He manages a solitary smile towards the song’s end (presumably because it’s nearly over) but that’s it. Apparently he was already pissed at the rest of the band and their management for releasing a version of their recent single “Ol’ Rag Blues” – a song Lancaster had written-  with Rossi’s vocals rather than his own on it. His anger would not dissipate and he left the band in 1985 after the Live Aid gig. Confirming my point about TOTP exposure being critical, this appearance saw the single leap from 25 to 5 but ultimately they would fall just short of the Xmas No 1.

As for me, yes it’s a bit cringeworthy in its jollity and it’s nursery rhyme childishness but I always quite liked it. Also, it always reminds me of travelling back from Shrewsbury in my mate Tim’s Dad’s car after attending my very first live Chelsea game on Boxing Day 1983. Rather generously, Tim’s Dad had Radio 1 on the car stereo and this song was played. No doubt I would have heard loads of other songs on that journey but this one sticks out for some reason. The memory is an odd thing isn’t it?

A video next and it’s another band who have been on TOTP incessantly since the Summer  – it’s UB40 with “Many Rivers To Cross”. Like Quo, this is their third hit single on the bounce and as with the other two it’s a cover version  (the original being by Jimmy Cliff in 1969). This is another song that always conjures up Xmas ’83 in my mind. Not that it was a massive favourite and I didn’t buy it but it just does. Of course I didn’t know the Cliff original in 1983 so I had nothing to compare it to but I always quite liked this. I know – sacrilege. For the record the Cliff version (now that I know it) is brilliant. The video features Muscial Youth in the congregation. I’d forgotten this and had to do a double take to make sure it was them but sure enough there they are. It’s an odd cameo as they seem rather underused but after the Donna Summer collaboration maybe it was another calculated attempt to establish links with anyone who was enjoying success at this time. And they were both from Birmingham of course.

Here comes another band who have seen it all before and quite literally in the Xmas No 1 stakes – it’s only Slade with “My Oh My”. As Simes informs us with his little pop history lesson in the intro, Slade were at No 1 ten years prior to this with the Xmas standard “Merry Christmas Everybody”. Now they were back with a song written so deliberately to be another Xmas No 1 they may as well have called it “The Xmas No 1”. It’s a massive ballad  which builds slowly to a rousing sing-a-long swing-a-long chorus. There’s even a false ending thrown in before the drums kick in again. In fact, both this and the other song strongly tipped to be the Xmas No 1  – “Victims” by Culture Club – both featured false endings and then a drum fill. It was the height of fashion in Dec ’83. For this TOTP performance the band (or their management) supplied the studio audience with Slade banners to bump up the sing-a-long effect. They seem to be made of the cheapest, nastiest looking material known to man but they pre-date the practice of football clubs leaving flags on every seat or massive games by about 30 years. Did it do the trick and propel Slade to No 1? The next post will reveal all….

*Spoiler alert* No it didn’t

OK – next up is….Barry Manilow? Yep – its that bloke with the girly-curly hair and the massive nose. And he’s doing a huge ballad (another one) which is no surprise as it was written by Jim Steinman for Meatloaf originally. What can you say about Manilow? Well although he seems to have been around  for eternity and must be as old as time itself, Bazza has only had a handful of Top 40 hits in the UK and of those only one ever went Top 10. And yet we all know the songs…”Mandy”, Bermuda Triangle” and of course the majestic “Copacabana”. You know what, I think I have a soft spot for him. This (ahem) weepy ballad made the Top 20 and yet again is one of those songs that I associate with a particular event – this time it’s Christmas Day morning as this song was on the radio in my parents’ room as I was getting up. Good old Barry. The video is a crock of shit, mind.

OK – here comes a stone cold Xmas classic next- The Pretenders with “2000 miles”. What’s interesting about these repeats is that we get to see these songs at the point they were launched and before they had become enshrined in the public consciousness as is the case with “2000 miles”. Because of course it wasn’t a Xmas classic at this point – it was just the new song by The Pretenders and it was the lead single off their new album “Learning To Crawl” not a Xmas single as such. Yes it does use the words Christmas and snow in the lyrics but it’s a lament for their former guitar player who died the year before. What’s a shame in retrospect is that future generations (and indeed the present one) may just know the song and not the band. I always liked it (and the subsequent singles off the album are good too)  and my Mum loved it and I ended up buying it for her for Xmas. In this performance Chrissie Hynde goes all Noddy Holder with her choice of headgear. Funny that.

Right – two country legends next. It’s Dolly and Kenny with “Islands In The Stream”. This is another song that is ingrained in our psyche and its not altogether welcome. We all know now that it was actually penned by the Bee Gees but I’m not sure I realised that at the time. It’s so middle of the road that they should have called it “Islands In The Mainstream”. What is interesting about the video though is that we get a reminder of what Dolly Parton looked like before all her plastic surgery. But if you thought that transformation was astonishing, check the internet for what Kenny Rogers looks like now – ouch!

And so we arrive at the No 1 which is the Flying Pickets for the 2nd week running. This performance is the one with the snowman outfits where they “melt” at the sing’s finale. Genius.

The play out music this week is “Straight Ahead” by Kool and the Gang. When I worked for Our Price in the 90s, one of the Manchester shops was closed down whilst I was working there. In the build up to the final day of trading, there was some discussion about what the last song to be played over the shop’s speakers should be. There were some classic songs proposed but as the moment arrived, we all forgot about it and there was some random 70s disco album playing. The final song we played was “Ladies Night” by Kool and the Gang. I’m pretty sure nobody wanted that.

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 get excited all over again about the race for the 1983 Xmas No 1 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?


Status Quo Marguerita Time Nope


UB40 Many Rivers To Cross No but it’ s probably on a Greatest Hits CD somewhere


Slade My Oh My Nah


Barry Manilow Read ’em and Weep Hell no! Can you imagine being caught by your mates buying that down Woolworths?


The Pretenders 2000 miles Yes for my Mum for Xmas


Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton Islands in the Stream See Barry Manilow above


Flying Pickets Only You Yes for my Dad for Xmas


Kool and the Gang Straight Ahead No

Some bed time reading?







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