For as long as BBC4 carry on repeating old editions of Top Of The Pops in their entirety, and I have the stamina to do so, I'll write a commentary about each show. To write about old television is always to engage in a struggle between identifying the representative and identifying the exceptional. In as far as I can deduce, the first week of April 1976 seemed to be a fairly typical Top Of The Pops programme, but, as usual, brought forth some extraordinary sights and sounds.
Presenter: Tony Blackburn
- is in fairly subdued form, only making a joke about fellow DJ chum Dave Diddy Hamilton once. Blackburn is dressed tonight in a long brown dimpled jacket.
Sailor - Girls Girls Girls
A great start! I can remember the first time that I heard Sailor's greatest hit, 'Glass of Champagne'. I was watching Julian Temple's Sex Pistols documentary The Filth & The Fury, and a brief extract of Sailor appeared to demonstrate the cultural wasteland that was supposedly 1976 pop. A problem with this thesis is that the moog-heavy 'Glass of Champagne' is unremittingly ace, full of hooks and playfulness, while 'Anarchy in the UK' usually comes over as a rockist plod to my ears these days.
The initial impression that 'Glass of Champagne' makes on the listener is that a lot of hack songwriters and session musicians have heard Sparks and Roxy Music and have thought that they could emulate them in a more overly populist fashion. But once you learn that they were Dutch the element of translation makes something else become apparent in their songs, an aspect of trying on clothes and styles for the pure fun of it.
So 'Girls Girls Girls' is trying to hark back forty years to Busby Berkley, struck dumb by the agreeable idea of the world overflowing with lovely ladies to be charmed by. It achieves this through a rinkydink piano rhythm that rotates around and round, always sounding like its about to spin away.
The dressing up element of the music is fully embraced by the band, kitted out in a range of costumes; tugboat captain, farmer, a singularly geeky Monte Carlo gadabout. All four of them look a lot more like musicians than popstars, but full marks for pop spirit.
The reaction from the audience is mixed. Two girls in the front row have developed synchronised arm movements, while another stands stock still next to them, arms folded.
Diana Ross - Do You Know Where You're Going To? (promo)
I always find this vulnerable song quite painful to listen to, chiefly because of the series of repeated questions in the chorus that I always feel duty bound to answer;
Do you know where you're going to?
(No. Does anyone?)
Do you like the things that life is showing you?
Where are you going to?
(Look, I told you -)
Do you know?
A no-expense-spent promo film from Motown here, La Ross looking out of a car window in Rome. It serves the song well.
Do you get what you're hoping for?
(No. I haven't yet.)
Tarney & Spencer - I'm Your Man Rock & Roll
"I think this is going to be a smash hit" predicts Blackburn, inaccurately.
Now, this is how you only really gain a representative sense of Top of the Pops through entire shows being repeated. A 'new release', and a wholly forgotten non-hit. The arrangement is really good, a radio-friendly, sparklingly produced version of the Bo Diddley beat, sadly let down by a big unmemorable nothing of a song about rock 'n' roll being great.
For added cruel irony, Tarney and Spencer perform on the Top of the Pops studio set that places then in the middle of a huge star.
ABBA - Fernando (promo)
Epic have put a bit more effort into their promo film than Motown did, booking some film studio time for the great men and women, putting them behind a campfire and in front of an artificial starscape of light bulbs.
How to annoy your colleagues through deep understanding of song # 1:
In 1998, a year or so after I’d graduated, I started my grand career as a library assistant for the council. Soon, I was working all week in a small district library with just one colleague most of the time, my manager Sylvia, who was about 50, divorced, voluble and opinionated, easily riled and East End. We made for a kind of chalk and cheese pairing. She listened to Capital Gold a lot. Generally, I was quite taciturn in her company, because I knew that I’d have to explain whatever I said, as it would generally be misunderstood.
One day, Fernando is playing.
Sylvia: This always makes me think of my dad, ’cause he was in the Spanish Civil War.
Billy: I think that it’s about the Mexican War of Independence though, because they’re singing about crossing the Rio Grande.
Sylvia was cross, and I reflected that my pop knowledge was not always welcome.
Lawrence Andrew - I'll Never Love Anyone Anymore.
Another non-hit new release, rather giving the lie to the much-repeated claims about Top of the Pops being the most democratic show on television, as the performers appearances was reliant upon their being in the charts.
A highly generic wet ballad, where Andrew indeed keeps on telling us that he'll never love anyone any more. The visuals are a lot more interesting than the song, with the entire performance captured in one movement by a single camera, presenting the viewer with a long shot that encompasses the singer's view of the audience, swings round to a close up of Andrew making his mawkish promise to never love anyone anymore to camera, and then tracking backwards to take leave of the whole sorry spectacle, audience, singer, star stage and all.
The audience are lit through a baby blue filter. Lawrence Andrew is dressed in a patchwork jacket with wide lapels in burgundy velvet.
"That's lovely, isn't it?" asks Tony Blackburn.
Hank Mizell - Jungle Rock (Pan's People)
Now this is ace! Mizell's record was already 20 years old in 1976, but is strikingly abrasive and unmelodic rockabilly, closer to The Fall than Shakin' Stevens.
This tale of rockin' fauna in the wild is given a classical literal interpretation by Pan's People, dressed in identical trench coats and wielding outsize blunderbusses while leaping out from behind the green plastic ribbons of studio jungle flora, while appearing in cuaways as boppin' versions of the creatures that they are hunting. And what an impressive menagerie the BBC Costume Department managed to come up with; a chimp, monkey, alligator, fox, rabbit, elephant, curiously bipedal hippo, camel and kangaroo! Though they do draw something of a blank in trying to realise the ring-dang-doo, whatever that is supposed to be. In some ways I think that Pan's People were sexier when they were being silly than when they were being overtly sexy - they look as though they're having fun and entering into a spirit of knowing ridiculousness.
One inaccuracy, though: "The camel was a jitterbugging with the kangaroo!" That wasn't a jungle you were rocking in, Hank, it was a zoo.
John Miles - Music
I can't say that I've ever been fond of this. Very high male voices - Demis Roussos, Jon Anderson, Jim Diamond - are one of my least favourite things in pop, having a fingers scraping on blackboard aversion effect on me. 'Music' is certainly an impressive example of no-expense-spared seventies production though, especially in the lavish orchestral section. Its unfortunate that you have to listen to a lot of throatache emoting and widdlywiddly guitar to get up to that point. The song fails to hold the attention of two girls in the front row of the studio audience who are seen chatting to each other behind John Miles' shoulder.
The visual aspects of this performance, lit through a magenta filter, are of greater interest to me; the art deco scenery is very in keeping with the thirties revival that was going on at this time, but I'm especially fascinated by Miles' jacket, a white satin affair with navy and lime piping and no collar whatsoever, which looks to me like the sort of garment worn by a Lego racing driver.
"That's terrific, isn't it?" asks Tony Blackburn.
Fox - S-S-S-Single Bed
Ooooh Noosha Fox! Highlight of this week. The odd, choppy, presciently postpunk, rhythms of 'S-S-S-Single Bed'! The handclaps! The "Do-de-oh-do!" distorted response - visualised here through the guitarist singing through a plastic tube! The way that Noosha's sidekicks are continually responding to the song!
And above all, the figure of Noosha Fox herself, this week in black satin shorts and wearing what looks like a bedsheet as a cape. This performance combines the dressing-up box made-up sense of sailor with the Pan's People dichotomy between silly and sexy.
"It's great, isn't it?" asks Tony Blackburn. See, he wasn't always wrong!
The Beatles - Hey Jude (promo)
Not this sodding thing again... bloody rock heritage! In fairness, this was only a mere eight years old at the time of transmission, despite a confused Blackburn twice telling us that it was from 1966. In the 1976 context of a brief and smeary monochrome extract it just sounds plodding and quaint, unlike the already ancient 'Jungle Rock', beamed in from another ultra-vivid world.
The Brotherhood Of Man - Save All Your Kisses For Me
I’ve just been listening to the Kenicke version, to try to find out if there’s a song worth redeeming underneath the horrible arrangement, presentation, and dismal ‘twist’ revelation at the end of the Brotherhood of Man performance. Guess what – there really isn’t. It’s only a residual affection for the sound of Kenicke’s own songs that stops me from switching off. The surprise at the end of the song is so atrocious that, understandably, the best way that Kenicke can deliver it is with a cackle of derision.
Of greater interest than the song is the awkward way that performance fits, or fails to fit, onto Top of the Pops. The staging is entirely pitched as variety, rather than pop/rock, and acts as a dress rehearsal for their forthcoming Eurovision performance on a much bigger stage in a concert hall. So the sightline of the audience is problematic in this performance, with the group entirely working to the cameras and with no interaction with the milling crowd next to them.
They do share the best scenery of the episode with Fox, a large triangle of multicoloured lights.