Sunday, 3 April 2011

Chris watches an old Top Of The Pops so you don't have to

As people with televisions may already have heard, the BBC have begun re-running old episodes of Top Of The Pops, starting at the not-exactly-vintage point of April 1976: apparently this is because this is as far back as they have a complete archive, so if you were hoping for classic shows from the Sixties, you're out of luck.

Meanwhile, those of us in the UK can watch it on iPlayer until Monday the 11th. Be warned that the show contains Tony Blackburn from the very start. To save you the trouble I thought I'd try to up my blogging output again by watching it for you in a sort of 35-year-old-liveblog.

00:00 - Tony Blackburn welcomes us. He's filmed from below and looks very smug.

00:03 - The top 30 countdown, which viewers in the 70s will recall is done by photos and names of the acts in the chart, but no song titles (which is awkward when, as here, the same act have three singles in the chart). Also, John Miles appears to be four people and Hank Mizell is a gorilla.
You can see the full chart here if it's not too much of a spoiler for you.

00:45 - Sailor 'Girls Girls Girls' (21) Less than a minute in, we already know what the Number One is and we launch into the first performance (unannounced as the budget didn't run to on-screen captioning of song titles back then). Two of them are actually dressed as sailors, the others have got the usual central casting outfits of quirky Seventies pop groups, street urchin and colonial playboy.
The song is lyrically apt for the name I suppose, a song about women from various parts of the world. "Moonlit oceans, girls full of emotions/ Stepping on that slowboat to China/ Next door in Japan they know how to please a man/ Dropping for tea with my Geisha". They don't write 'em like that any more, at least I hope not. The less said about "that certain moment when you draw back ze curtain" the better.

03:39 - Of course Tony Blackburn does the "Hullo Sailor" joke. "Little bit later on, incidentally, we're going to be seeing the fabulous Beatles!" Spoiler: they won't be there in person.
Then he introduces "a lady who's touring round the country with a most sensational show at the moment."

03:51 - Diana Ross 'Theme From Mahogany' (25) She's not there in person, we just get a filmed sequence of Ms Ross being taken on a bus tour around Rome. I presume the idea was suggested by the lyric "Do you know where you're going to?" and I suppose she would have been touring the rest of Europe.
Not a bad song, to be fair, but it's cut off after about 90 seconds.

05:21 - "Here's Tarney & Spencer and it's their very first record. See what you think of it - I think it's going to be a smash hit for them.
Tarney & Spencer 'I'm Your Man Rock N Roll'. As you might have noticed, it wasn't and indeed they never charted at all in the UK. I'd certainly never heard of them as a duo, although I correctly guessed that the former was Alan Tarney, then a member of The Shadows and also a successful producer and songwriter. Among other things, he wrote 'We Don't Talk Anymore', making him the second person on this episode to write a hit single for Cliff Richard after Georg Kajanus of Sailor. I don't think Diana Ross ever wrote one though.
The largely female audience don't seem to know it either. It's not awful but it's one of those songs about how great music is that always seem to appeal more to DJs than listeners. It's also a very obvious studio confection, with considerably more instrumentation than the two men on stage could possibly be producing. As Blackburn notes afterwards, Tarney plays all the instruments except the drums "and you can probably guess who plays those".

08:25 - It looks like Tony Blackburn is being consumed by the fires of hell, but he's actually just being crossfaded (or dissolved as I think the correct term is) into the video for the next track.

08:26 - ABBA 'Fernando' (14) Blackburn crashes the vocal while telling us it's the highest new entry; that's true in Top 40 terms although it had entered at 44 the previous week.
This is the familiar promo video we've all seen loads of times, so not a lot more to be said.

10:22 - Laurence Andrew 'I'll Never Love Anyone Any More' - First time on television, informs an off-screen Blackburn. And possibly the last too, as this is our second unknown act. It took me a good few minutes of Googling even to establish the spelling of his name - and I found out that the actual credit on the record was to Laurie Andrew & Zero. The backing group live up to their name here though: I can't tell whether they're the same Zero who did the theme tune to the medical soap Angels, but I did discover that this track was played on Radio Stoke in 2007.

13:22 - "Hank Mizell - we'd love to have him on the show... trouble is nobody can find him. But we have got Pan's People, who are deep in the heart of the jungle".

13:27 - Hank Mizell 'Jungle Rock' (18). A record that was already almost 20 years old by now - it seems a feature of the charts at this time that they were very backward-looking, stuffed with oldies and cover versions. Here the sound of the fifties is matched with the vision of the Seventies: in-house dance troupe Pan's People will need little introduction to most who would be interested in this post, though this would be one of their last appearances on the show. For those too young or not British for this to have been part of their cultural memory, it was considered perfectly normal in those days for a load of female dancers in often revealing costumes to represent charting acts who were unable to appear in person. Here they start out in safari costumes like the cover of an old easy listening LP and carrying blunderbusses.

14:29 - "I saw a chimp and a monkey yeah-ah doing the Suzie Q" - Cut to two dancers in simian costumes dancing what might indeed be the Suzie Q for all I know. These routines were known for their literalist choreography
14:33 - "A gator and a hippo was a-doing the bop" - these non-primate costumes are less suited to bipedal dancers. Especially the alligator, which consists of a head and a green jumpsuit.
14:38 - "While a great big frog was making me hop"  - I guess the BBC Costume Department was all out of frogs, because we cut back to the safari suits at this point.
15:15 - "The fox grabbed the rabbit and they did the bunny hug" - because these are exactly the animals you'd associate with the jungle. Possibly the worst costumes yet, not least because the rabbit is slightly taller than the fox.
15:22 - A lyric subtitled as "All the fish stepped by, cutting a rug" although the choreographer seems to have heard it as a grizzly bear and for once I agree with her. Not that a stepping fish wouldn't be interesting to see.
15:27 - "Well a camel was jitterbugging with a kangaroo" although these costumes seemingly aren't well enough stitched together to allow much actual movement. At least they do look like the right animals though.
15:30 - "And the elephant moved with a ring-dang-doo". You can probably guess this bit.
Incidentally, this is one of two tracks from this show I own a copy of, on the recent compilation album Before The Fall. As well as commenting on the remarkable biodiversity of this jungle, the notes claim that somebody did eventually find Mizell and get him onto a subsequent episode.

16:10 - "They borrowed the trousers from David Hamilton, incidentally, who has thousands of pairs like that." The female members of the audience clustered around Blackburn react to this witticism with understandable bemusement. 

16:20 - John Miles 'Music' (4) - Only the second example in this episode of what most would consider TotP's stock in trade, ie somebody actually miming their current hit in the studio. Pity I've always hated this song. 
16:40 - "Music of the future and music of the past". I used to wonder why he didn't seem so enthusiastic about music of the present, but having seen the preceding sixteen minutes I'm starting to understand. Miles is at the piano doing his serious face.
17:05 - ...But he also has a guitar around his neck on which he now pretends to play the solo. 
19:18 - The bass-player (wearing a cravat over an open shirt) smirks during his close-up. Miles is still doing the wow-I'm-really-expressing-myself bit.
20:25 - The song finally ends. It has even fewer lyrics than I remembered but boy do they make a meal of it. 

20:30 - Fox 'S-s-s-ingle Bed' A new release that very week, although unlike some tracks on this show it did ultimately become a hit, peaking at 4, and they had had hits before. I only know it from former repeats of this performance though.
Noosha Fox seems to be wearing a French waitress outfit and a pair of net curtains, and in close-ups faintly resembles Jennifer Saunders dressed up as Marie Du Santiago. The bassist looks positively disgusted when he lip-synchs the title phrase, although I presume he's acting. The guitarist upstages him with one of those talkbox things that were all the rage back then. The song itself is of course utter filth. 

24:12 - "The Beatles have got three in the charts at the moment. I tell you what we're gonna do, we're gonna hear the one that's at Number 22. We're gonna go back to 1966 for this one called..."

24:20 - The Beatles 'Hey Jude' (22) - This is, of course, from 1968. It's the original promo video which was shot in colour, but appears here in monochrome (and terrible sound quality) because it must have been copied from a 1968 episode of TotP. Paul McCartney sang a live lead vocal (though everything else, including his double-track, is mimed) making him the only person on this episode to do so. 

26:51 - Another sudden fade, before the "Nah-Nah-Nah" bit has even started. "There you go, one of their last live performances back in 1966." Well, apart from the fact that it's not really a live performance and it's not from 1966, you're pretty much on the money there Tony. 

27:02 - Blackburn fluffs the intro to the Number One single.

27:04 - Brotherhood Of Man 'Save Your Kisses For Me' (1) - Already its second week at the top, so it looks like a repeated performance from an earlier show. The best I can say for it is that it's not the worst Brotherhood Of Man record I've ever heard. 

29:18 - Blackburn mercifully cuts them off before they get to the punchline and hopes they'll win Eurovision the following Saturday. 

29:27 - End credits, set to 'Hello Happiness' by the Drifters, probably the second or third best song in the whole programme.

So, there we are then. I wasn't surprised not to be impressed by the show, but I was surprised about just how bad it was. I was surprised to see as many as three songs on there that weren't proven hits. People who eulogise Top Of The Pops in this era are clearly talking out of their hats, but I do applaud the Beeb for pulling them out of the vaults. Let's hope they're still doing it when we get to more musically satisfying times.

1 comment:

  1. It's probably a mercy that they haven'y got all the recordings back to the start! I think TOTP is like situation comedy, in that we are nostalgic about a supposed golden age because we remember the classics and conveniently forget the dross. One of the reasons I enjoy Sounds of the Sixties on Radio 2 is that it is pretty representative, and reminds you just how bad 60s music could be; it wasn't all Beatles, Kinks and classic Motown.

    Likewise TOTP. There wasn't much music on TV back in the 60s and 70s, only TOTP, Ready, Steady, Go and Juke Box Jury were dedicated music shows. You had to sit through dodgy 'variety' shows because someone you liked was on the bill. You don't see them on TV any more, but variety shows were for the whole family, in that there was something in them to irritate or offend every member of the family. Compared with that, TOTP was like a breath of fresh air, but it's all relative.

    Thanks for watching this, Chris, so that I don't have to. You made me laugh out loud, though.