Top of the Pops 2 Jan 1986

Presented by Chris Arnsby. John Peel: “Our researchers have discovered that this is the first Top of the Pops of 1986.” Janice Long: “They earn their money. And it's live. We are live tonight. Aren't we?” John Peel: “This is right yes so come in for nudes, knees, and knockabout.” Janice Long: “And which one are you? Over here a band who've got two singles in the Top 40. A-Ha and The Sun Always Shines on the telly.

[27] A-ha: The Sun Always Shines On TV. The 2nd January seems too early for the first Top of the Pops of the year. 1986 has barely got underway and the charts are still full of the Christmas overspill. Own up, who drove We All Stand Together back into the Christmas 1985 charts? I know your aunt always gives you a £3 Boots voucher but that's no reason to get your revenge by giving her this single. Still, pity the residents of 1987 who will gaze at Gary Davis through the fug of a barely clearing hangover on New Years Day; between a repeat of The Russ Abbott Show* and Eastenders. 

Anyway, it's sayonara 1985 with your rubbish inventions like Pictionary, Hobnobs, and Albion Market. Here's to groovy, funky 1986 which will bring us futuristic consumer items like.... oh Wikipedia doesn't have a page for things invented in 1986. What am I supposed to do, rely on my memory? Fine, then here's to groovy, funky 1986 with it's fabulous inventions including the the Sony Walkman, those car stickers that read “don't follow me or you'll end up at my house”, and Babbage's Difference Engine.  Here also is A-ha. With one of their songs that fell between Take On Me and The Living Daylights. A chance to gaze once more on Morten Harket's cheek bones, and remember the days when it was cool to wind loads of cloth and leather straps round your wrists. 

[13] Paul McCartney: Spies Like Us. On film, I think. Money's no object for Paul.

[23] Level 42: Leaving Me Now. The audience are more interested in watching the cameras move than the band, and that's always a bad sign. It's a boring song. Even by the standards of Level 42. It's one of those songs where the singer is telling us about some deep heartfelt emotion they're experiencing but the lyrics and the tune just merge into mush. “Ooh I'm sad. It's really sad. I'm so sad. Blingly blongly bleep I'm so unhappy.” Adlib to fade. It's definitely unfair to compare Mark King to Morten Harket but I'd weigh the whole of Leaving Me Now against just that bit where Harket's voice goes up and then way down on the phrase “the sun always shines on TV,” and the scales wouldn't come down on Level 42's side.

Top 40 Countdown.

[11] Bronski Beat: Hit That Perfect Beat. Jimmy Somerville has regenerated into John Foster. Fair play for the band wanting to continue, they are after all called Bronski Beat not Somerville beat, but the loss of Jimmy Somerville's voice is felt keenly. It's a good song, but we've seen Bronski Beat with Jimmy Somerville and it could have been a great one.

Top 40 Breakers: [29] Jennifer Rush, Ring of Ice; [25] Sting, Russians. 

[14] Sophia George: Girlie Girlie. 1986 is off to a middling start; slightly lesser A-ha, a song which I'd swear was contractual obligation if it was anyone other than Paul McCartney, Level 42, and wrong Bronski Beat. And then along comes Sophia George. It's a song which perhaps stands out because it's so different to anything else on the programme -rather like Smiley Culture who kicked off 1985 with Police Officer.

Top 10: RIP the “Top 10 in video form”. It was just too long for the 30 minute format and with it ditched there's room for one more song. Top of the Pops instead uses the same format as the Top 40 Countdown.

[1] Shakin' Stevens: Merry Christmas Everyone. Something odd happens as Janice Long introduces Shakin' Stevens. The picture starts out on the caption slide for Whitney Houston ([2], Saving All My Love For You), and zooms away via Quantel, and transitions to a shot of Janice Long and John Peel standing in front of the Top of the Pop neon logo which zooms forwards, to full screen, before cutting to the start of Shaky's video. So far so bog standard, except the second shot is barely on screen for a second, and to judge by the wobbly framing it's a long shot from a hand held camera across the studio, and Janice Long doesn't seem to be speaking even as she's talking on the soundtrack.

So what's going on? Best guess; the Top 40 Countdown was always pre-recorded at the start of camera rehearsals (it's one of the reasons Steven Wright never does the chart rundown because that's when he's live on the radio and sadly not, as I hoped, because Michael Hurll hates him). Logically, if the Top 10 has changed to the same format as the Top 40 it makes sense for it all to be pre-recorded in one go.

So, Janice Long is not speaking when we see her because the soundtrack is playing pre-recorded audio, and what we see are John Peel and Janice Long lining up for the end of episode goodbyes; it looks like we get a quick glimpse of Janice Long dancing ironically to Shakin' Stevens while John Peel chuckles.

Presumably someone in the studio gallery pressed the wrong button. The picture was supposed to cut directly from Whitney Houston to Shakin' Stevens, and instead the camera shot was selected incorrectly. Vision Mixer Hilary West cuts away quickly, but given the nature of technology at the time it might not have been possible to cut away from the output of the Quantel box until it had zoomed a picture to full screen. Anyway, here's Shakin' Stevens on film in Sweden, with a frightening Father Christmas.

[19] Elton John: Wrap Her Up. “Next week's Top of the Pops will be introduced by a couple more retards holding their stomachs in,” says John Peel deftly demonstrating the different standards of 1986. He doesn't say it on the BBC4 edit.

Then it's audience dancing and roll credits.
Performance of the week: Sophia George: Girlie Girlie.
*Part of an evening when BBC1 largely seems to have given up. 17.25: The Circus World Championships; 18.25: The Russ Abbot Show. “What better way to start the year than with a second chance to see a special Russ Abbot Show?” asks The Radio Times optimistically; 19:00 Top of the Pops; 19:30 Eastenders, the merry festive fallout from the Angie/Den Christmas Day divorce; 20.00: Only Fools and Horses....: To Hull and Back, repeat.


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