TOTP 22 DEC 1983

IIIIIIIIT’S CHRIIIIISTMAAAASSSSS! No it really is – in BBC4’s world of TOTP repeats. Xmas 1983 to be precise. Do you remember it? Let’s see if you do….

Our hosts tonight are John Peel and David Jensen – as they never seemed to work with anyone other than each other and therefore are not subject to the dreaded “presenter issues” which have forced so many of these shows to not be broadcast, we have seen an awful lot of these two guys.

So who’s on first tonight, it’s Slade with “My Oh My”. Hang on no it’s not….IIIIIIIIT’S CHRIIIIISTMAAAASSSSS! Yes, Slade were back on the show but to perform their Xmas No 1 “Merry Christmas Everybody” from 10 years previous which had been re-released in the wake of the success of “My Oh My”. Such a re-release was an unusual event back then, not like today where due to streaming  it’s possible to manipulate the charts so any song can gatecrash the Top 40 ( do they even have a Top 40 nowadays?) so long as it is available digitally – no official release required. Not so in ’83 – this was quite unusual. Not that Slade seem to mind  – its a bonus for them as they ham their way through the song. At this time, the market wasn’t flooded with Xmas compilation albums let alone Spotify so you didn’t have access to Christmas songs, only whatever the radio stations played in that small window of opportunity in the weeks prior to the 25th Dec. So this really was quite an odd thing. 34 years on of course “Merry Christmas Everybody” is as essential an ingredient to Christmas as turkey and wrapping paper. Disappointingly, if you watch closely, Noddy mistimes his miming of the iconic IIIIIIIIT’S CHRIIIIISTMAAAASSSSS! line. Shame.

Also a shame is the way that Jensen pretty much gives the game away re: the identity of the Xmas No 1 when he let’s slip that two of the three biggest contenders haven’t made it. Firstly, he advises that Slade are also in the charts at No 2 with “My Oh My” and then introduces the video for the other hopeful Culture Club who are at No 3. No tension there then. To be fair I think the chart would have been announced on the Tuesday (so the 20th) before this broadcast on the Thursday (22nd) so we presumably all knew already. We have already seen and discussed the “Victims’ video so let’s move onto……

…Tears For Fears with “The Way You Are”. Again, we have already talked this song through previously. It really jars in a Christmas edition of TOTP with its mechanical, spare sound and even though  it’s one of the band’s poorer efforts, compared to some of the shite in the charts at this time it was almost ambrosia-esque.

A video next and it’s ….another bloody one we’ve already dissected! Do me a solid! For the record it’s Billy Joel with “Tell Her About It”. Trawling the internet for  something else to say about this song, I found that it was written about how, when Joel first met Christie Brinkley, she was the first person he could ever just talk to, and they would spent hours doing so.

“It’s simply about an a-ha moment for Joel when he realised that you could actually have a soul mate.”.

Aww what a nice sentiment …until the next sentence:

“Joel and Brinkley met in 1982, married in 1985 and divorced in 1994.”

Soul mate? Hmmm…

Finally! A song we haven’t seen before! And guess what? It’s a bloody awful novelty song! Funnily enough, this never comes up on any Xmas compilation albums or any of those Xmas clips programmes – it’s rather a forgotten thing. Maybe rightly so as well. This, of course, was a deliberate attempt to cash in on the huge popularity of the TV series “Minder” with Waterman and Cole playing their TV characters in the …err…song. To be fair, they’re pretty much word perfect in this performance but it’s no “I Could Be So Good for You” which is one of the great TV theme tunes (yes it is Jane Emson!). Of course, the year before, so popular and established in the nations’s psyche was the series, that it had inspired the Top 20 “Arthur Daley (E’s Alright!)” hit by The Firm so I guess it made sense to do their own “official” series tie-in song but really they shouldn’t have bothered.

OK  another “new” song….Paul McCartney with “Pipes Of Peace” and it’s a second consecutive video epic following on from the mini movie that was “Say Say Say”. As with the Pretenders’ “2000 miles” single in last week’s show, this song is now forever inextricably linked with Xmas although it’s lyrics are not overtly seasonal and are more about humanity, tolerance, peace and unity. The video though is what formed that unbreakable yuletide link,  depicting the famous 1914 Christmas truce between British and German troops. McCartney plays the roles of both a German and British soldier who meet during the truce, exchanging photos of their loved ones. A spontaneous game of football breaks out until a shell blast sends the troops running for cover back to their own trenches where both men realise that they still have each other’s pictures. It was a very affecting video at the time and its influence resurfaced in 2014 when Sainsburys based their Xmas advert on the same events and whose look sharply resembles that of McCartney’s video. Enough of all that though, we all know that story anyway – what did the 15 year old me think of it? Well, I wasn’t that impressed to be honest. I didn’t think there was that much to it  – it all seemed a little too simple and trite, not that I would have used that word at school :

School mate: “Have you heard the new McCartney song?”

Me: “Yeah but its a little too trite for my tastes”

In reality, I probably said “Yeah it’s OK” which indeed it is with its trademark McCartney melody and saccharine feel. If I remember correctly it would go onto be the first No 1 of the new year which took me by surprise a little. Nowadays of course, you can pretty much guarantee you will hear it played on the radio or in the shops every December.

Right, on with the show and its Howard Jones with “What Is Love?” which is making steady progress up the charts to be this week’s No 11. It would go onto be a No 2 hit for Howard and as well as being one of his seminal songs, it would also be his biggest ever hit. My good mate and super fan Rob was deep, deep into his Howard Jones world at this point, and I think this song probably was the one that sealed the deal on a fixation that would last another 3 or so years until he went to University and left Howard behind him.

We arrive at the Xmas Top 10 countdown, and after all the promotion, TV appearances and record plugging, the 1983 Xmas No 1 is by a group of actors doing an acapella version of a song that only just been a hit 12 months previously. Yep, the Flying Pickets managed to hold off all their rivals including the hugely tipped Slade and Culture Club to secure the coveted spot. The British public eh? You just can’t fathom them.

The play out music  is another novelty song “Rat Rapping” by Roland Rat who was the puppet that saved TV-am from being a ratings disaster. Thanks for that Roland.

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?


Slade Merry Christmas Everyone Not this ’83 re-release but we all have this on some Xmas CD or other don’t we?


Culture Club Victims No but it’ s probably on a Greatest Hits CD somewhere


Tears For Fears The Way You Are It’s in my box of singles but I think that it’s my wife’s copy


Billy Joel Tell Her About It No but it’ s probably on a Greatest Hits CD somewhere


Dennis Waterman and George Cole What Are We Gonna Get For Christmas For ‘Er Indoors? What do you think?!


Paul McCartney Pipes Of Peace No but it’s on my Wingspan CD for sure


Howard Jones What Is Love? No


Flying Pickets Only You Yes for my Dad for Xmas


Roland Rat Rat Rapping Yes, yes I did – NO OF COURSE NOT!

Some bed time reading?







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