Top of the Pops – 1975 Christmas Special

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Noel Edmonds (dressed as Fred Astaire) and Tony Blackburn (dressed as Buttons) are our genial hosts today. Could be worse I suppose ….

First up are Pilot with January. It’s all quite bouncy and rather agreeable – live (or re-recorded) vocals and massive guitars are firmly to the fore. A good start.

Johnny Nash gives us Tears On My Pillow. There’s not a great deal to say about this performance, but luckily the next turn – Don Estelle and Windsor Davies with Whispering Grass – contains plenty of talking points.  Davies’ outrageous mugging to camera (well I guess he had to do something, since Estelle was handling most of the singing) still raises a smile today, whilst you have to tip your hat to Don Estelle – he was a very good vocalist.

Pan People’s are wearing candelabras on their heads. That was unexpected.

Ralph McTell with Streets of London is up next. Given the sentiment of the song, it fits well into the Christmas show. As expected, it’s a no-frills performance, but none the worse for that.

The Tymes, Ms Grace. I love everything about this performance – the red suits, the coordinated dancing, the off-screen parping of the TOTP orchestra.  Tammy Wynette, plonked next to half a dozen or so tinselly Christmas trees, belts out Stand By Your Man whilst the TOTP orchestra once again scrapes away as best they can.

The Bay City Rollers with Bye, Bye Baby would no doubt have whipped the teenage audience into a frenzy – but like last year, all the turns have to perform to an empty studio.  That’s a little odd, as it means that the party atmosphere seems even more stilted than usual. Mud then pop up for the second year running with Lonely This Christmas. This time Les is standing up, rather than pouring out his tale of woe at the piano.

Guys and Dolls, A Whole Lot of Loving. Consisting of three pairs of guys and (well) dolls, this is quite the performance. The chest hair (from the men you’ll be glad to hear), their stack heels, their impossibly tight trousers. Crickey. The dolls can’t compete with that sort of competition.

Telly Savalas, sporting the widest shirt collars I’ve ever seen, appears on film to intone If.  It’s quite remarkable. It’s not good, but it’s quite remarkable.

More Pan’s People, this time they’re dressed as Christmas parcels.

10cc, with I’m Not In Love, arrive in the nick of time with a quality pop song. That just leaves diddy David Essex, in maximum Cockney mode, with Hold Me Close.  Live vocals, the worst jacket seen in the programme and plenty of chest hair. That’s the way to bring the show to a memorable conclusion.

Top of the Pops – 1974 Christmas Special

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Following on from the Glam-tastic treats of Christmas 1973, the 1974 TOTP Special does feel a little pale in comparison. Still, let’s press on ….

Tony Blackburn and Jimmy Savile are on presenting duties (which of course means that the chances of this one ever receiving another television airing are slim to zero).

Ignoring as best we can the spectre of Savile, first up are Mud with Lonely This Christmas.  Sincerity oozes out of Les’ every pore as he recounts this sad, sad tale. Not quite the jolly start to the programme you might have expected, and this early feeling of mild gloom is only enhanced by the fact that Mud are performing to an empty studio.

Tony chats to the Rubettes (well he asks them one question) before introducing the Osmonds on VT. Then it’s Sweet Sensation and Sad Sweet Dreamer which is quite jolly – and those purple suits are very impressive.  Still no sign of the studio audience, so maybe this was one of those strike-bound years where things had to be done in a rush.

Pan’s People dance to You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me by The New Seekers. PP always favoured very literal song interpretations, so it probably won’t surprise you to learn that they’re all sporting red noses like very sad clowns. The whole sequence has to be seen to be believed – dignity at all times, girls ….

Thing are looking up, both on the Christmas and also on the music front.  Cheeky little David Essex, surrounded by tinsely Christmas trees, treats us to Gonna Make You A Star. This gets the thumbs up from me.

Paper Lace with Billy Don’t Be A Hero shuffle on next. This tragic story (war is hell and it’s best to never volunteer for anything) has always been one of those seventies novelty songs that I’ve never been able to forget (whether this is good or bad I’m not sure).  Possibly there were live vocals on this performance or maybe they were miming to a re-record.  Either way it helps to make it a little more interesting.

The Three Degrees, performing on a set with plenty of tinsel, give us When Will I See You Again? Like the rest of the show it’s far from cutting edge, but perfectly pleasant and undemanding – ideal Christmas afternoon fare in fact.

Throughout the show, Messrs Blackburn and Savile hobnob with the musical acts, asking them inane questions or (as with David Essex) forcing them to read Christmas cracker jokes. This does manage to raise a titter from the crew though – I guess it’s the way you tell them.

Everything I Own by Ken Boothe is another somewhat soporific hit, but the pace picks up about 75% with Waterloo by ABBA. It’s early days so their clothes don’t look ridiculous, but the song remains a cracking one.

After that bouncy interlude, we once again slow down the pace to a crawl with Charles Aznavour and She. Plonked in front of the same artificial Christmas trees as David Essex, Mr Charles certainly gives the song his all. A great favourite of grannies everywhere no doubt.

A double dose of Pan’s People today. They’re back to jig about to a Barry White song, You’re the First, the Last, My Everything. It’s a classy little dance, they keep their clothes on and everything.

We close with Slade and Merry Christmas Everybody. Like everyone else, Noddy and the boys don’t have an audience to perform to, but at least they amble off the stage towards the end of the song and join all the other acts who are still hanging about the studio. This does mean that a little bit of atmosphere is generated.

Not a classic Christmas year then, but not totally devoid of interest. I wonder what gifts 1975 will bring?

Top of the Pops – 1973 Christmas Special

For obvious reasons, many Christmas editions of TOTP are unlikely to ever surface again on British television (instead they’ll live out the twilight of their lives on YouTube and other streaming services). But it’s lucky that one which is still available for rescreening – 1973 – is something of a corker …

Presented by Tony Blackburn (nice tanktop, sir) and Noel Edmonds, it’s a glamtastic forty minute treat. Well, maybe that’s overselling it – let’s say that the glam quotient accounts for a good half of the running time whilst the other half is more of a mixed bag.

Many people (including one positioned right behind Tony and Noel) are wearing impressive hats. That can only mean that Slade are in the building. They kick off proceedings with Cum On Feel the Noize, a piledriver of a song which gave them their fourth UK Number One single. Forty five years on it’s still ridiculously entertaining – as is Dave Hill’s remarkable clothing (I’m sure someone else has already observed that he appears to have come dressed as a Kraag, so I won’t crack that gag).

Donny Osmond (on film) brings the mood down with Young Love (not my cup of tea) but no matter, things soon get back on track with Suzi Quatro and Can The Can. Suzi, a vision in black leather, is very compelling (I believe there were other people on the stage with her, but I can’t remember what they looked like).

Her first UK number one (surprisingly it only stayed at the top spot for a week) Can The Can was another gem from the Chinn/Chapman writing team. 1973 was a pretty decent year for them, as they also penned several classic Mud tracks (including Dyna-Mite) as well as the Sweet standards Blockbuster and The Ballroom Blitz. Indeed, it’s a pity that there’s no Sweet action in this special, as that would have been the icing on the cake.

Another change of mood as Tony introduces one of the surprise hits of 1973 – the Simon Park Orchestra and Eye Level. The theme to Van Der Valk, it’s always been a favourite of mine. It was composed by Jan Stoeckart. who worked under various pseudonyms – one of the better known being Jack Trombey. As Trombey, he composed a fair few library tracks, several of which were used as the themes for series such as Callan and Never The Twain.

Oh god, it’s little Jimmy Osmond and Long Haired Lover From Liverpool. Press the fast forward button quick ….

Up next is Tony Orlando and Dawn – Tie A Yellow Ribbon. Singing live, Tony certainly puts his all into this tale of a convict, his sweetheart, a tree, a bus-driver and a yellow ribbon. It’s cheesy stuff, but I love it.

Pan’s People interpret Gilbert O’Sullivan’s Get Down in their typically literal way (they spend their time wagging their fingers at some dogs and flouncing about – the girls that is, not the dogs). Inded, the dogs fascinate me as they’re so incredibly well behaved, none of them move a muscle (well, apart from one who made an early exit).

After a spot of film (David Cassidy – Daydreamer) we’re back in glam mode with 10cc and Rubber Bullets. Well, it’s a glamish sound (albeit riffing classic-era Beach Boys) but the boys haven’t really come dressed for the occasion. Another favourite, it’s slightly amazing that the lyrical content didn’t earn the song a ban in the UK (maybe the jaunty music helped to divert people’s attention).

Peters and Lee perform their debut single, and by far their biggest hit, Welcome Home. There’s something very warm and very seventies about it. A track that’s aged well I think.

If the boys in 10cc didn’t make much of an effort clothes-wise, then you can always rely on Roy Wood and Wizzard. Teddy boys, an angel on roller skates, gorillas and Roy himself all make for an intoxicating mix. Oh, and the song’s pretty good too (See My Baby Jive).

Slade play us out with Merry Christmas Everybody. Sadly we miss the moment where Noddy Holder gets a pie in the face (but then some of the camerawork does seem a little off during this song) but no matter, it’s the perfect way to conclude a show that always brightens up my Christmas.

Christmas Top of the Pops 1981

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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 Too 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.