Top of the Pops 1978: 18/05/78

As watched on BBC4 by Chris Arnsby

Originally broadcast 18/5/78

Peter Powell, “Hi! Good evening it's Top of the Pops and we're going to make you feel like dancing! Here's Rose Royce and the chart run down!”
Chart music: Rose Royce, It Makes You Feel Like Dancin' [16]

Smokie: Oh Carol [69]. This performance starts with a really well composed shot; a close up of the lead singer mixed with another close up of a guitar. It's held for nearly 20 seconds, an eternity in Top of the Pops editing, and once the guitar is faded out the camera pulls back to reveal a darkened studio with the audience largely silhouetted against the singer. The lights are not fully raised until the chorus, so we don't see the band until they join in with the song. It's a great example of the way the programme always tries to make sure the visuals are as important as the songs. The second verse has an unfortunately refrain, “she said I'm not sixteen if you know what I mean/so we sat and we talked for a while/and when we finally kissed you know she didn't resist/and I must say she did it with style.” It was the seventies. The past is a foreign country, etc, etc.

The Stranglers carry on while technicians in the background check for radiation

Darts: The Boy From New York City [3]. A repeat from the BBC4 edition shown two weeks ago (we've missed a week because the BBC can't work out how to schedule The Sky at Night and Top of the Pops in the same week, and the BBC has skipped the 11/5/78 edition because it was presented by D*v* L** Tr*v*s). I'm still finding Den Hegarty's antics a little irritating but to give him credit you are not watching anyone else when he's on screen.
John Paul Young: Love Is In The Air [8].  Legs & Co indulge in some prototype Riverdance during this routine; occasionally dancing with hands awkwardly clasped behind their backs'. This is one of the cheapest looking performances we've seen. The set is black drapes with white streamers hanging from the lighting scaffold, and Legs & Co are also dressed in white. Maybe this is a wedding motif? I wonder if this routine is a last minute replacement for another song which unexpectedly flatlined in the charts? The routine is lit, and shot, to suggest Legs & Co are in a separate studio (which has been done before for more elaborate routines and sets) but as the camera pans round there are a few audience members just visible in the darkness. Just visible in the darkness on the other side of the stage is a ladder propped against the wall; so much for BBC standards!

Plastic Bertrand: Ça Plane Pour Moi [33]. This year we've already seen punk filtered through an Irish perspective (The Boomtown Rats), and now it's the turn of Belgium.  Plastic Bertrand flings himself around the stage and the audience bounce along enthusiastically. And why not? I've always liked this song, Plastic Bertrand got 89p from me last year when I downloaded the single. Also earning their money is the vision mixer who frantically cuts between shots to keep the visuals moving at the same speed as the song. This is a masterclass in making an impact in under three minutes, probably justifying Plastic's, “I am the King of the divan,” claim.

Ruby Winters: Come To Me [15]. A repeat for the film of Ruby wandering round a garden and singing at a fountain.

Hi-Tension: Hi Tension [22]. And now a repeat for Hi-Tension. In the background the oriental set for Manhattan Transfer's On A Little Street In Singapore gives away that this comes from the May 4th Kid Jensen edition. Rewatching these shows now I'm surprised I never picked up on the amount of repeated material, it seems so obvious.

Guy Marks: Loving You Has Made Me Bananas [45]. And then there's this. A spoof of the sort of 1930's big band jazz Manhattan Transfer was making a living from. The reason why this is in the 1978 charts is lost to time and the result is a genuinely surreal moment. The genre mashing Elvis-Costello-next-to-the-St-Winifred's-School-Choir nature of Top of the Pops is often mentioned but you may never see a better example than the tonal gear change from Hi-Tension to Guy Marks to Raydio. There's no faulting Guy Marks' sterling comedy performance here but the funniest moment is when the camera pulls back to reveal the Top of the Pops audience dutifully dancing along. They came here tonight to dance to chart hits and dammit that's what they are going to do!

Raydio: Jack And Jill [11]. Raydio are dressed incredibly flamboyantly in this promo video. There's feathers, lace, and ruffles galore. The lead singer combines all three and still has space for what look like doilies stuck along the seams of his trousers.

Brotherhood Of Man: Beautiful Lover [NEW]. The British Abba, in the same way Wimpy was the British McDonalds. There's some awkward fist pumping during the chorus on the “yeah yeah yeah,” and the audience never quite get the hang of it.

The Stranglers: Nice N Sleazy [18]. Possibly the hardest band to appear on Top of the Pops. No other group ever matched the studied indifference with which The Stranglers treat the Top of the Pops audience. There's a frankly alarming synthesiser solo halfway through this song which sounds like a Malcolm Clarke Doctor Who score, and momentarily gives the impression a Sea Devil is about to attack. Not that The Stranglers would care. They're so hard they'd punch a Sea Devil right on the gills.

Elkie Brooks: Only Love Can Break Your Heart [NEW]. Elkie is singing her heart out but all her effort can't rescue this bland and unremarkable song.

X-Ray Spex: The Day The World Turned Dayglo [23]. A second massive tonal gear change from Elkie to Poly (Styrene). A long shot of the audience reveals three lads in the front row really getting into the song, the majority politely dancing along, and the rest looking bored. Clearly audience opinion is all over the place. For myself, I can only pick up one word in five of what Polly is singing about. If only she'd stop shouting I'm sure she'd have a lovely singing voice.

Number 1: Boney M, Rivers Of Babylon. Taken from Nightflight To Venus the first of Boney M's two definitive albums (the other being Oceans Of Fantasy, the one with the band surfing on a massive wave). I love Boney M. Forget punk. In 1978 if you were seven then Boney M was where it was at. Several editions of Top of the Pops ended with me being sent to bed for nearly knocking over some treasured family ornament after attempting to dance like Bobby Farrell by flailing my arms and spinning around. Bobby's performance is disappointingly restrained here, he never really gets a chance to cut loose.

Closing titles: Rafaella Carra, Do It Do It Again [12].

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