TOTP 29 MAR 1984

Ooh! Exciting! Apart from the No 1 (spoiler alert – its Lionel Richie again folks!), none of the songs on tonight’s show have been on before! Finally I don’t have to think of something else to say about Sade! My joy is slightly tempered by the fact that this week’s presenters are Andy Peebles ( a man so achingly nondescript I can’t think of anything at all to say about him) and Mike Read (a man so achingly unfunny yet believes himself to be the King of Comedy). A serious let down after last week’s love birds in the shape of Peter Powell and Janice Long.

Now, although 1985 is widely regarded as a watershed moment for 80s music what with Live Aid and pop music finding its political conscience and all that, we actually had a massive happening in 1984 when pop music and politics collided and no I don’t mean Live Aid’s forerunner Band Aid. For here are the mighty Special AKA with “Free Nelson Mandela”. To my shame, I’m not sure if I knew who Nelson Mandela was when this single was released in March 1984 but I would soon become aware of him, his plight and political significance.  The band were of course what rose from the ashes of The Specials when Terry Hall, Neville Staple and Lynval Golding defected to form Fun Boy Three. Main songwriter Jerry Dammers was still there though and it was he who penned this song that would become synonymous with the anti-apartheid movement. Given the subject matter, it’s a remarkably upbeat and jubilant sound yet retaining its political edge. In 2010, it was listed in New Statesman as one of the Top 20 political songs ever. Despite all of this, it didn’t stop one wag writing into Smash Hits complaining that he’d bought the new Special AKA single but was disgusted to find out when he got it home that it didn’t include his free Nelson Mandela. Some 1984 humour for you there. Thinking about it, it was probably Mike Read who wrote that letter…

Another artist closely associated with political activism next – it’s one time FBI surveillance target John Lennon with “Borrowed Time”. This was another track released posthumously from his “Milk and Honey” LP following “Nobody Told Me ” earlier in the year. The song is actually incomplete as Lennon had attempted to record it for his 1980 album “Double Fantasy” but wasn’t happy with the sound and discarded it. It does have a rather spare feel to it as if it’s a demo and it didn’t really chime with me in 1984 and my full on synth heavy production tastes. The video, like “Nobody Told Me” before it, is a montage affair featuring home footage of Lennon  combined with some Beatles clips which is always an interesting watch. Of course, the song’s title imbues it with a more portentous flavour taken in conjunction with Lennon’s death in 1980. It would get no further than No 32 in the charts and the “Milk and Honey” release project would peter out after this.

Now here’s a tune you don’t hear on the radio much, possibly because it is dwarfed by the artist’s Number 1 from a couple of years before this…here’s Captain Sensible with “Glad It’s All Over” and guess “Wot” (see what I did there?), it’s another political song. Yes it’s a protest about the Falklands War apparently. I suppose the lines about “submarines in the harbour”, “people who never never go to war” and the celebratory lyric “we’re glad it’s all over” kind of give it away. I think even the 15 year old me got that. I always quite liked it and its easily so much better than the dreaded “Happy Talk” of two years previously. The good captain pursued a political career later in life when he formed a new British political party known as the Blah! Party. Some of their policies included making John Prescott lose weight and “stopping the idolisation of airhead celebrities like the Beckhams, Paris Hilton and Jade Goody”. Seems sensible enough.

A great song up next and the second one in the charts at this time to name check Robert De Niro – it’s Simple Minds with “Up On The Catwalk”. I loved this and I think it was the clincher for me to buy the album it came from (“Sparkle In The Rain”). I was already very taken with the previous two singles “Waterfront” and “Speed Your Love To Me” but this song was the pick of the three for me. With its reverb-heavy keyboard hook running throughout it and obligatory crashing drums, it’s that classic stadium rock sound that the band were firmly placing themselves in at this time.

My favourite section of the song though is the outro where Jim Kerr starts reeling off famous names –  some historical and some contemporary. I have never worked out what the connection between them is. So we get the afore-mentioned Robert De Niro, Michaelangelo (or Michaelangeeelo as Jim sings it), Martin Luther and Nastassja Kinski (I love how Jim annunciates her name but we don’t get to hear it as the song is cut off before then in this performance). Quite why the TOTP producers had the band mime the song on the world’s smallest stage I’m not sure. Bizarrely the song itself is not one of their best remembered tunes – maybe because it only reached No 27 in the charts possibly also because it was omitted from their first Greatest Hits compilation -1992’s “Glittering Prize 81/92”.

Now I like to think I’m pretty good on 80s pop music (I do write a blog on the subject after all) but the next song I cannot recall at all. Does anyone else remember “Swimming Horses” by Siouxsie and the Banshees? In truth it’s a bit of a dirge but then the subject matter, I’ve just discovered, is horrifying. I don’t think this blog is the right forum for it so you’ll have to look it up yourself. I’ll just leave it here and move on…

…to Madonna! Here’s her Madge-sty with her second ever hit in the UK after the success (the first time around anyway) of “Holiday” which we didn’t get to see on TOTP as they skipped some broadcasts. I’d forgotten that this was actually a re-release  – it reached No 171 when originally released in 1983 (I didn’t know the charts went that low!) – and although it only peaked at No 14 second time around, it’s the video that is probably more important than the song in terms of establishing Madonna’s image. This is the point when the classic 80s persona was fully unleashed on the world. Witness the leggings, ankle boots, exposed midriff, black miniskirt, cut-off gloves and bangles. Then of course there is the crucifix. Despite saying that “…the crucifixes seem to go with my name.” this was of course a very deliberate ploy to create attention for herself. How many teenage UK girls would attempt to copy this look in the wake of watching this video?

At the time I thought the song was pretty pedestrian but I can now appreciate it for what it is – a quality dance tune. We won’t see Madonna again until the next seismic event in her career..”Like a Virgin” at which point it all went bonkers. But for now…

Now here’s a band at there absolute commercial peak – pray silence for the Thompson Twins with “You Take Me Up”. After two consecutive No 3 singles, this release would go one better finally settling at No 2 thus becoming their highest ever placing hit. It’s a bit more of an organic sound than on those previous two singles (“Hold Me Now” and “Doctor! Doctor!”)  – and yes I know that sounds a ridiculous thing to say about the Thompson Twins sound  – with a harmonica prevalent throughout (as emphasised by Mike Read’s puny attempt at humour in the intro). The sound and the lyrics always seemed to conjure up images of a chain gang prisoners singing and the silhouette figure in the backdrop to this performance kind of supports this. The other thing to comment on in this performance is Tom Bailey’s hair. He seems to be going through a Flock of Seagulls phase and when he twirls round half way through the song we get a full on close up of his pony tail. And a pony tail has never looked good on any man ever.

OK – its time to say Hello to Lionel Richie again. This week the video had been edited so we don’t get the talkie bits at the start and end of it (presumably Points of View was inundated with complaints on the grounds that they were just too awful to broadcast again). This week’s Hello fact is that the clay head from the video has its own FaceBook page. And what does the clay head post on its Facebook page? It posts “HELLO” a lot. Of course it does.

The play out music this week is “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” by Michael Jackson. This was the sixth and final single to be released in the UK from the “Thriller” album and it never did anything for me. It was pure Jacko – funk- workout- by-numbers in my eyes. Surely “Human Nature” was the song that should have been released if indeed you can actually make a case that any artist should ever release SIX singles from the same album. Staggeringly it still managed to get to No 11 in the our charts.


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 relive some seminal political pop songs as I can’t find the full programme on YouTube.

I make no claim to the rights of this show and all ownership and contents including logos and graphics belongs totally to the BBC.

Order of appearance Artist Song Did I Buy it?


Special AKA Free Nelson Mandela Don’t think I did actually


John Lennon Borrowed Time Nah


Captain Sensible Glad It’s All Over No – think the stink of “Happy Talk” was still on him so it would have been playground suicide


Simple Minds Up On The Catwalk No but this song convinced me to buy their album “Sparkle In The Rain”


Siouxsie and the Banshees


Swimming Horses Far too dark for me pop sensibilities


Madonna Lucky Star No but like most people I have it on the “Immaculate Collection” CD


Thompson Twins You Take Me Up No but I think it on an 80s compilation somewhere


Lionel Richie Hello Err hello….NO!


Michael Jackson PYT (Pretty Young Thing) I hadn’t bought any of his previous singles form the Thriller album and this one certainly wasn’t going to buck the trend

Some bed time reading?








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