Although BBC4 are continuing to plug away with their archive TOTP repeats (we’ll shortly be hitting 1983) sadly there will continue to be considerable gaps. It’s understandable why any that feature Jimmy Savile get chopped, although DLT’s continuing blacklisting is a little harder to comprehend.
The recent news that the late Mike Smith elected not to authorise repeats of any shows in which he featured (a decision supported by his widow, Sarah Greene) is another blow. The reason for this isn’t clear, although it’s possible that Smith felt tainted by association with the likes of Savile.
Still, at least many of these “banned” shows are in circulation, although complete editions tend to get pulled quite quickly from YouTube (other video sharing sites tend to retain them a little longer). But one that has remained on YouTube for a number of years is the 1981 Christmas Special, which I’ve recently been revisiting.
It opens with the Teardrop Explodes and Reward. It’s still fairly early in Michael Hurll’s reign, so there’s not an excessive party atmosphere – Julian and the boys share the stage with a few depressed-looking tinsel Christmas trees and some balloons – but hey, with a song as strong as this you don’t really need much in the way of set dressing.
Up next are Ultravox with Vienna, which was held off the top spot by Joe Dolce (surely one of those facts that just about everybody knows). The rest of the band decided to dress quite normally, but Midge went for the full biker look. It means nothing to me (sorry). We do get a ballerina though, which is nice.
The lovely Kim Wilde sings Kids in America. Sigh …..
I’ve always liked the Human League, which means that this edition of TOTP is on a bit of a roll at present. The League perform Love Action (“this is Phil talking”) and it’s back in the day when Philip had plenty of hair whilst Susan and Joanne haven’t really gone down the glam route (but look most attractive, nonetheless).
The good stuff keeps coming, with Godley & Crème and Under Your Thumb. It’s not exactly a cheery party song, but the audience jig about a bit from side to side – which shows they’re attempting to get into the spirt of things. Perhaps wisely the camera tends to focus on Kevin and Lol, especially Kevin who’s in full emoting mode at the end.
There’s a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears he’s Elvis saw Kirsty MacColl labelled as something of a novelty artist, but in the years to come she’d more than prove her quality as a singer/songwriter (and there’s nothing wrong with this song anyway). Thanks to Fairytale of New York she’s always present at Christmas, but MacColl shouldn’t just be for Christmas, she’s good enough to be enjoyed all year round. Make it your New Year’s resolution to check out her back catalogue, you won’t regret it.
Awkward interviews were a feature of TOTP during this era and Simon Bates draws the short straw when he encounters Adam Ant. Colin Blunstone and Dave Stewart are up next with their cover of What Becomes of the Broken Hearted. If you don’t already have it, then a copy of Odessey and Oracle by The Zombies should be a last minute Christmas present to yourself. The Zombies, with the core partnership of Blunstone and Rod Argent, are still going strong today – gigging and recording albums – and they’re well worth checking out.
Zoo dance to the Jacksons’ Can You Feel It. Linx have got into the Christmas spirit (their keyboard player is dressed as Santa!). Intuition is one of those songs that I haven’t heard for years, but it still sounds pretty good and fits perfectly into the Christmassy atmosphere.
Too Nice to Talk To is one of The Beat’s lesser-known hits, but it jigs along nicely. Spandau Ballet are next, and the good news is that they haven’t yet turned into slick balladeers. But the music (Chant No 1) wasn’t uppermost in my mind – where’s your shirt Martin Kemp? You’ll catch your death of cold in that drafty studio ….
Nothing screams early eighties like Toyah does. Why? It’s a Mystery (sorry again).
Laurie Anderson’s O Superman defies description and it’s wonderful that a fairly short-lived (Peter Powell mentions that they never featured it on the regular TOTPs as it exited the charts shortly after entering) and decidedly left-field hit made the Christmas edition.
Clare Grogan’s covered in streamers as Altered Images perform Happy Birthday. It’s another track that fits in perfectly with the happy, party vibe and it’s an undeniably slick slice of pop.
At this point in their career, Depeche Mode (with I Just Can’t Get Enough) look impossibly young and fresh-faced. Sensible clothes (especially jumpers) are well to the fore. Also well-turned out are OMD. As they perform Souvenir some of the dancers do a bit of smoochy dancing (watch where you’re putting those hands!) whilst members of the audience, in time-honoured TOTP fashion, turn around to gawp at the camera.
We end with a big old singalong as the groups and the DJs join forces to warble through All You Need is Love. Other familiar faces, like Justin Hayward, also pop up (was he just passing?) and it brings to an end an almost faultless edition of the show. Pop perfection pretty much from beginning to end.
5 thoughts on “Christmas Top of the Pops 1981”
‘O Superman’ might have been a short-lived hit, but it could scarcely be called a minor one – http://www.officialcharts.com/charts/singles-chart/19811018/7501/
Good point, well made! Made a slight tweak to that para …
I saw the Christmas Eve 1981 edition of Top of the Pops when BBC4 showed it. Christmas Eve was on a Thursday that year, but on its original broadcast I only saw a bit of it on the tv set in the Chinese takeaway. (I missed the previous week’s edition because I was in the school carol concert, and I missed the review of the year on New Year’s Eve because I was away with the Venture Unit.)
Was the Christmas Eve edition live? The programme ended with the audience dancing to Yellow Pearl, the Top of the Pops theme tune introduced earlier that year, and they really threw themselves into it.
LikeLiked by 1 person
TOTP did undergo a big revamp in 1981. Out went the hopelessly dated theme tune from 1971 and the audience standing about staring at groups, and the show developed more of a party atmosphere with balloons and streamers and partying audience members, which probably reflected the change from the sober post punk era to the hedonistic New Romantic period. Mind you including the distinctly undanceable O Superman was a brave move, but it did reach number 2 in the autumn of 1981 and was the surprise hit of the year
Also while some shows from 1981 have been Yewtreed, the year was the last year Jimmy Savile was a regular presenter, thank goodness.Even decades before the revelations about him, I always found him creepy and unworldly and seemed to think TOTP was more about him than the music.
Some people knocked the fake party atmosphere of the eighties Top of the Pops, but the audience of the Christmas Eve 1981 edition really threw themselves into it, and I don’t think you can fake that.
LikeLiked by 1 person