Sunday, 17 April 2011

Chris Watches another TotP

Don't worry, I'm not going to do another 1976 one, but here's an equivalent one from another year: 31st March 1994, as helpfully posted by Pop Unlimited 1994. This is evidently an off-air recording, rather than coming from the BBC archive, but it's a full episode so I thought it might make for an interesting comparison. No subtitles this time though.

0:00 - The Bee Gees (an act some might have thought past their peak in 1976) are standing in front of an oversized record in a frame, dressed in the typical rock-veteran uniform of the time: jeans and designer jackets. Robin Gibb says "Hi, we're the Bee Gees, join us in 20 minutes when we perform exclusively on Top Of The Pops." The (off-screen) crowd woop with implausible excitement.

0:05 - Very short title sequence, the version with the three-dimensional sculpture of the title and some people dancing in the background.

0:09 - Bruno Brookes greets us, still standing amid female audience members although this time he's on a stage and they're not so he seems to tower over them. He's wearing an expensive (purple) jacket and jeans too. "And here's Haddaway!"

0:15 - Haddaway 'Rock My Heart' (11) - Thanks to technological advances, a caption appears a few seconds into the track to illustrate the title, artist, chart position (where applicable) and a factoid: "1 MILLION ALBUMS SOLD IN EUROPE".
As a mid-90s Europop artist, Haddaway is of course wearing a baggy white suit with no shirt under it. He seems to be singing live too, although the woman next to him is probably miming the backing vocal (the three female dancers behind them obviously are, they don't have microphones). The singing's actually pretty good, and he also takes the opportunity to gee up the crowd, although they don't obviously need encouragement: as was the standard at the time, they're very loud in the mix so you can enjoy them cheering and clapping along.
3:00 - Yes, she's definitely miming, you couldn't do those electronic effects live I don't think.

3:26 - The camera seems to get bored of the Haddaway song (understandably) and pans 180 degrees to Bruno while they're still singing. He promises "Bruce Springsteen live in the USA, a Eurovision exclusive and a big surprise from the Bee Gees" as the next band start playing.

3:30 - James 'Say Something' (24) - Confusingly, the caption lists 'Jam J/Say Something' but they're performing the more radio-friendly side of the single tonight. It also tells us they have a "GOLD SELLING ALBUM". Tim Booth still has the curly hair that makes him look a bit like the Michael Stipe of ten years earlier. The violinist is sitting on the drum riser and doesn't stand up until the chorus arrives and he has to start playing - although he doesn't seem to be miked up which suggests the music's mimed. Booth may be singing live: he seems a bit self-conscious and rooted to the spot.
I remembered this song as being a bit ho-hum, and it still seems to be. But at least it makes a change to hear one that isn't 'Sit Down'.

6:31 - Back to Bruno and some male audience members have found their way into shot, although they are behind him.

6:39 - Madonna 'I'll Remember' (10) - Her 32nd TOP 10 HIT, and perhaps her least accurately titled. Nobody does seem to remember this ballad, and I for one don't remember the film With Honors that it apparently came from. The clips of it in this video don't look familiar either.
7:36 - The chart rundown begins in captions over the video, rather more thorough than the 1976 version with the song titles and symbols to indicate direction of progress. We get 40-11 at this point, and then Madonna is allowed to warble on a bit longer before a very of-its-time computer graphic scrunches her up and throws her at Bruno and his surrounding girls - anyone suspected of having a Y-chromosome is kept out of sight again.

9:32 - "I'm just getting a message in my ear that the Pet Shop Boys and Erasure are going to be on next week's show live. Meanwhile Culture Beat."
Call me a cynic, but I believe that as much as I believe that they were still compiling the chart as he started to read it out on Sundays. 

9:37 - Culture Beat 'World In Your Hands' (20) - They have a GOLD SELLING ALBUM too.
Somebody's had a brainwave and put a big spinning globe at the back of the stage, and surrounded it with a space backdrop. Unfortunately, the two dancers right at the back of stage are wearing black and thus almost invisible.
The song is a bit too slow for clapping and stomping (in fact, it seems to be about somebody threatening to commit suicide) so the crowd don't seem to know what to do except wave their arms around in a manner even I can tell has no connection to any recogniseable rhythm.

12:39 - Frances Ruffelle 'Lonely Symphony' - This actually starts while the camera is still on Culture Beat, and as we pan across the studio, an offscreen Bruno tells us that she used to be a cheerleader for Top Of The Pops (eh?), and as the caption then explains this is a EUROVISION EXCLUSIVE. As most people now know she's the mother of current pop sensation Eliza Doolittle and the resemblance is obvious. She doesn't sing in a mockney accent though.
14:09 - "Sometimes it makes me feel naked like a tree in Autumn." Er, OK. It's not a bad song, really, as these things go.
15:13 - Ruffelle turns her back to the audience and gyrates during the instrumental break. She lifts her dress to reveal Union Jack bloomers but intentionally or otherwise this part is only seen in longshot.
15:33 - We cut (nervously?) to the string section. The cellist looks a bit like Blythe Duff from Taggart. Ten seconds later the singer's safely back in front of the microphone and we're allowed to see her again.
15:53 - A side-on shot which entails pointing the camera directly at somebody who doesn't look like she's enjoying it at all (in fairness she may be a producer or floor manager rather than a member of the public). Anyway, we pan around and zoom out... and then suddenly cut to another camera that can rotate to where Bruno's standing, so we can go "Over to the US now, live by satellite."

16:12 - Bruce Springsteen 'Streets Of Philadelphia' (2) - We cut to black-and-white for his BIGGEST EVER HIT, performed in a room full of streetlights. A full-screen caption at 16:29 reminds us that this is:
I'm pretty sure Bruce is singing this live - it's certainly not the record though I suppose there's a tiny possibility that it's a specially-recorded track to mime to. He probably wouldn't do that though. It's a good version of one of his best songs but four people wearing black and standing still in a darkened room isn't exactly televisual. Interesting to see a live drummer playing what I always thought was a loop on the record though.
18:01 - We lapse into colour half-way through the middle eight...
18:13 - ...And back to monochrome again.

19:01 - Inappropriately jolly applause and when we cut back the studio it looks so overcoloured it hurts your eyes. Bruno tells us that the only other performance was at the Oscars. And now "New Wave Of New Wave hits The Pops."

19:08 - S*M*A*S*H 'Shame' - Not a chart single but celebrating a TOP 30 ALBUM CHART ENTRY, and one of the more unlikely acts to appear. Actually, Elastica had been on already but they seem to have been retrospectively claimed as a Britpop band, so we can claim this as NWONW's big moment. 
I'd never heard this before but the vocals aren't really good enough to be mimed. 
20:21 - "Your girlfriend was a bitch but you missed her" Were you allowed to say that on TotP?
20:26 - Cut to the fans in the audience headbanging.
21:06 - Bassist pulls a face into the camera during his close-up. Of course he does. 
21:31 - Bassist now appears to be swatting a fly with his instrument, thus proving that the backing track's mimed.
21:33 - "Shame on me, shame on you, shame on this government!" they squeeze in as the track ends and they're about to be cut off. Little bit of politics there. 

21:35 - "Great, just great." Bruno is now standing in front of the giant record: "With me are three members of the Bee Gees, Barry, Maurice and Robin." How many did he think there were?
"Celebrating 30 years in the business and 100 million records sales, please allow me to present to you on behalf of Top Of The Pops this megadisc from the land of the giants."
Considering they were posing in front of it 20 minutes ago, I don't think it can be that big a surprise to them. Bruno then hands the mic to Maurice who thanks the fans and Polydor while he looks impatient to get it back. When he does get it back, Barry is already walking out of shot, but it's OK because he's on his way to do:

22:03 - The Bee Gees 'How To Fall In Love Part 1' - Another massive EXCLUSIVE tag here, although it had been available on the album for months already. Three decades in the business or no, Robin Gibb doesn't seem to know what to do with himself during Barry's vocal; at least Maurice has a keyboard to keep him busy. 
23:36 - The saxophonist who kept getting caught in the longshots with nothing to do gets his moment. It's quite a long solo. 
25:08 - The song fades, which is the most interesting thing that's happened during it. Fun fact: there was never a part 2. 

25:12 - The Top 10. Artists and titles read out by Bruno with the videos playing silently in a corner of the screen. 

25:54 - Doop 'Doop' (1) - Third week at the top so this is obviously a performance from a previous show. 
A troupe of female dancers do the Charleston centre stage while we occasionally cut to two people pretending to play keyboards at the side. 
26:20 - Rolling caption: Top of the Pops predicts Top 40 entries on Sunday for Take That, Paul Weller, Prince, Little Angels, Des'Ree, Bitty McLean... And when they say "predicts" they mean "read the midweek figures from the chart compilers", which in those days weren't as easily available to the general public as they now are. Unsurprisingly, they're not wrong, although they seem to have missed out Tony Di Bart who enters higher than several of their tips - not least Des'ree who initially only just makes the Top 40 with a song that takes two re-releases to make the Top 10. 
27:40 - The vocals come in. I know all the words you know. 
28:17 - Bruno, right in the middle of the crowd, warns us that Meat Loaf will be presenting in two weeks's time, next week it's Andi Peters. Then he advises us to check out Sound City from Glasgow on 1FM and wraps up "Thanks for watching, you were fab, goodbye!".

28:29 - End credits, run over a montage of slowed-down-footage from the performances, however jarringly out of place they might look. Set to 'How Gee' by Black Machine, another of the next week's new entries. 

If we've learnt anything here, it's that this was a bit closer to the 1976 episodes than I expected. Also that it takes me a long time to write these posts. 

Meanwhile, anyone curious about the 1976 episodes is directed to Simon T's new blog Yes It's Number One, where he's looking at every show. And he's a proper writer and stuff. 

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