Top of the Pops – 1978 Christmas Special

TOTP Christmas 78 is somewhat running on reduced power. Due to strike action, Noel Edmonds is forced to link the show all on his lonesome from a fairly cheerless office (although the Christmas tree looks nice). With the music pre-recorded there’s not a great deal that’s festive about this one, but let’s press on anyway.

Darts open the show with The Boy From New York City. It’s jaunty retro fun. Equally jaunty is the next song, Rasputin (who was Russia’s greatest love machine, you know) sung by Boney M. This performance is, of course, all about Bobby Farrell, who flings himself about with wild abandon. He’s going to do himself a mischief if he carries on like that.

Legs & Co (and some male friends) dance to Summer Nights and then the tempo slows down a little with Wings and Mull Of Kintyre. Until Band Aid, it was the UK’s top selling single (the first to exceed two million). Like last year, we have the video rather than a studio performance (so expect to see once again an unconvincing grassy knoll, plenty of mist and the Campbeltown Pipe Band wandering through the shot at exactly the right time).

Next up are the Brotherhood of Man with Figaro. Looking very coordinated (gleaming white trousers and red jackets) the foursome give their all. Like most of the studio performers they don’t have an audience to bounce off (but given that TOTP‘s audience members could sometimes border on the apathetic, this isn’t too much of a problem). I can understand why some find this sort of middle-of-the-road fare unpalatable (when I mentioned on Twitter that I’d be covering TOTP Christmas 76 there were grumblings that the punk era was long overdue) but personally I love it. Well most of it ….

Father Abraham and the Smurfs with The Smurf Song is a step too far, even for me (but it does have a strange hypnotic quality after a while). Following the Smurfs, there’s Legs & Co in shorty nighties, dancing to Night Fever. Hang on, nighties = Night Fever? If the decision to deck out Legs & Co in nighties was due to a fairly poor play on words, then I for one won’t complain too much.

Cloth caps are to the fore as Brian and Michael give us their one and only hit (Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs). A number of songs featured in last year’s Christmas show (including the Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band with The Floral Dance) were given another airing in 1978. It’s another of those tracks which won’t earn me any street cred if I admit to liking it (but then I daresay my street cred days are long over).

We then briefly dip our toe into current musical trends with Kate Bush and Wuthering Heights (although this track does have a sort of novelty disc element which makes it fit in nicely with the rest of the show). After that, Showaddywaddy (a group who surfed the fifties nostalgia wave better than most) make an appearance, and they give way to Boney M with Rivers of Babylon. This song gives far less opportunity for Bobby to fling himself around like a madman, which is a mark against it.

Legs & Co go all classy next, with The Commodores’ Three Times A Lady. Then it’s ABBA on video with Take A Chance On Me. Noel Tidybeard, still marooned in his office, introduces the next song (Rose Royce – Love Don’t Live Here Anymore) with a sad sniff, telling the audience that no doubt its tragic tone caused an awful lot of problems this year. Not quite the vibe you want for a (hopefully) jolly Christmas afternoon.

Never mind, the tempo soon picks up as Legs & Co (working hard today) and their male chums give us another song from Grease – this time it’s You’re the One That I Want. By this point I’m reeling in a slightly punchdrunk fashion from all these festive treats, but let’s crack on as we’re nearly at the end.

Returning for a third(!) time are Boney M with Mary’s Boy Child. And that’s your lot, apart from James Galway who is heard but not seen as Annie’s Song plays out over the end credits. Studying these credits, it looks as if the recent BBC4 repeat has been jiggered about with a bit (replacing the clips from Grease with performances by Legs & Co) but apart from that everything seems to be intact.

As touched upon before, TOTP Xmas ’78 is going to disappoint those who find it difficult to stomach seventies LE, but I found it slipped by rather nicely. However, the winds of change were blowing and even TOTP eventually began to reflect that.  Next time, we’ll see those changes in TOTP Xmas ’79 ….

3 thoughts on “Top of the Pops – 1978 Christmas Special

  1. I enjoyed reading your review of Top of the Pops Christmas 1978. Interesting this one because it was nearly forty years later when I actually saw it.

    That year my family had moved house in early December that year and shortly after, our TV broke down so was with The Box to enjoy Christmas so spent Christmas Day wallpapering the house and decorating.

    I have to admit when I eventually saw ToTP Xmas ‘78, I was not at all impressed. The Producers serious? Noel Edmonds as popular as he was back then, deserved better, we deserved better. Stuck in an office. Pre-recorded performance and most of it middle of road acts. I seem to remember a different 1978. A 1978 of Marshall Hain, Grease, Travolta, Newton-John, New Wave, ELO, Joe Walsh, Blondie, Boomtown Rats, Bee Gees etc. ABBA were okay.

    The Show told me decades later than I missed nothing and I had the better deal of watching paint and wallpaper drying.

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  2. The best number one of 1978 was Rat Trap, but that wasn’t included in the Xmas edition (and there was only the one edition that year).

    As you mentioned there was a strike at the BBC during the week before Christmas. Noel Edmonds was badly affected because there was no Swap Shop on the two Saturdays before Christmas, and no BBC television at all for several of the weekdays. There was no Christmas Blue Peter that year.

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  3. I wouldn’t call Wuthering Heights a novelty record. Some pop acts are in a class of their own, Queen for example (although the got rather overblown in their later years). And Kate Bush.

    In my review of 25 Years of Rock I said that the programme on 1978 should have started with Wuthering Heights and finished with Rat Trap.

    I read a letter in a fanzine from a man who first hears Wuthering Heights on his car radio, and he pulled up into a lay-by so he could listen to it properly.

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