Top of the Pops 27 August 1981

Top of the Pops 1981 currently on BBC4. Watched by Chris Arnsby

Richard Skinner: [After a slightly awkward pause in which Richard Skinner pulls a face while waiting for his cue] "Yes it's the programme that brings you the cream of the crop of British pop and we're going to start off with a bit of Startrax Club Disco. Just like this."

Startrax: Startrax Club Disco [18]. Who will rid me of these terrible song medleys? This is the crap Bee Gees one; for those of you who might be getting Startrax Club Disco mixed up with the crap Abba one; or the crap Beach Boys one; or the crap sixties one; or the crap one by Enigma called I Love Music (then why do that to it?) which hasn't appeared in the BBC4 run because it keeps falling on shows presented by the forbidden DJs. Pop Quiz: who's the least charismatic member of Startrax? Answer: the curly haired bass player. Observe how he half heartedly shuffles on the spot, and absent mindedly plunks at his guitar strings, and mumbles as if he's not sure how to mime a falsetto. The red shirted singer is clearly the best. Although he has terrible bags under his eyes. My diagnosis, lack of sleep due to remorse for his crimes against music.

Cliff Richard: Wired For Sound [27]. Cliff Richard roller skates around the Milton Keynes shopping centre. Give Cliff credit. He's not just being pushed into shot and doing a couple of wobbly half turns. He's committed to the concept of the video and has clearly been practising at home. But, what's written on the back of his jacket? It's "patch" something. Curse this low 625 line resolution.

Soft Cell: Tainted Love [2]. This week Soft Cell have been stuck in a tiny stage which looks like a polythene tent. Heather Gilder is on Vision Mixing duties and she repeats a video effect used previously by Chris Gage the last time Soft Cell were on Top of the Pops; dividing the picture into quarters. It's odd to see the effect repeated on two consecutive performances of the same song, but not used anywhere else. At the end of the song there's an unusually clumsy edit. A cut from the standard end of song wide studio shot, to a slightly different one of the stage with a reverse angle on Richard Skinner. That the two shots are not continuous is given away by Mark Almond's abrupt change in posture (it's less easy to notice if you look at the keyboard player given that he's only slightly more mobile than Chris Lowe from the Pet Shop Boys). Top of the Pops does not favour the audience with gratuitous bum shots -well not of the host, anyway- so presumably this was an insert to cover a break in recording, or a technical problem. We may never know. The second shot does give us a chance to see someone -presumably Floor Manager Anne Ogden- with their arm above their head about to cue Richard Skinner.
Marc Almond- He's had enough of Richard Skinner as well.
The Nolans: Chemistry [26]. "It's a mystery/like ancient history," sing the Nolans, forgetting the title of their own song. To keep things accurate and on topic I'd suggest substituting "It's a mystery/like atomic spectroscopy."

The Rolling Stones: Start Me Up [28]. On video. Footage of Mick Jagger continuing to develop his chicken impression.

ELO: Hold On Tight [5]. Clever lighting gives a bog standard Legs & Co dance routine an unexpected jolt of life. Two main camera angles are used. One from the front of the stage which looks like the previously mentioned bog standard dance routine. The other, from the back of the stage is shot with a hand-held camera and the contrast is turned up to oversaturate the lighting. This makes the hand-held footage look rougher, more realistic (for want of a better word), like backstage footage shot at a disco or fashion show. Cutting between the two looks really good and adds an unexpected visual twist to a part of the show which is normally more boring. 

Ultravox: The Thin Wall [19]. Midge Ure wears a hat that doesn't really suit him. More successful is another video effect. An out of focus camera is pointed at a rotating light source -possibly a disco ball or maybe one of those fibre optic lamps- and this image is fed through the Quantel box and the comet trail effect is added. The resulting particle effect looks really good overlaid on the studio footage, and I'm surprised didn't get used on Doctor Who.

Genesis: Abacab [12]. Not ACAB.

Number One: Aneka, Japanese Boy. Aneka is back in the Top of the Pops studio and she's joined by Legs & Co who have been given -oh god- black geisha wigs and paper parasols. Meanwhile the audience have been given paper lanterns, and fish, on sticks. The whole studio is a heaving mass of Japanese iconography. On one hand it's the logical extension of the Top of the Pops studio-as-a-party philosophy themed round the title of the song, on the other it's giving my Unacceptability Detector hiccups.

Closing Titles: Modern Romance, Everybody Salsa [29]. Following Japanese Boy with Everybody Salsa is a stoke of genius. The Japanese themed conga line which develops is a wonderfully ludicrous cultural crash. Bonus points to Aneka and Legs & Co for joining in, but Richard Skinner has vanished; the spoilsport.

Performance of the week: Soft Cell: Tainted Love.

The Best of This Way Up Volume One includes features and reviews on The Ghosts of Motley Hall, Watch with Mother, The Feathered Serpent, Sky, Tom Grattan’s War, Richard Carpenter, Strange, Firefly, Out of this World, Handmade Films, Jaws, Nigel Kneale,  Second Coming, Phillip Saville, The Comic Strip Presents, Adverts, War Horse, Pluto, The end of record shops and much much more! Available now from Amazon in print or Kindle ebook format. Buy This Way Up Volume One

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