A Look Back At Top of the Pops: 1978

BBC Top of the Pops Annual 1978 cover
That’s criminal!
Freddie Mercury shows off a ludicrous pair of shorts…

As I was growing up, something of a ritual established itself on Thursday nights at 7.30pm. After tea had been consumed, typically consisting of a home made beef lasagne lovingly cooked by mum and the washing up duties squabbled over and completed, the family settled down together to watch TV. Ours was a particularly fine television set, featuring the ability to find all three channels available, and to display their shows in a very attractive shade of black and white.

As colour TV had only just been invented a mere twelve years earlier we were the envy of all our neighbours, most of whom had mistakenly gone out and bought colour TV sets, thus missing out on the narrower spectrum that black and white was so good at displaying.

Every Thursday night at 7.30pm our set was switched on so we could watch Top of the Pops (well, twenty past seven – to give it time to warm up…). TOTP was the only show on TV where you could see pop stars play their latest hits for half an hour solid.

Strangely, a similar ritual has, for the last year or so, re-established itself across the UK. Tea is consumed, typically a microwaved horse lasagne, the dishwasher is filled after a short discussion over whose turn it is, and families across the nation sit before their flat screen widescreen HD TVs, and despite having the choice of several thousand channels of shows (most of which appear to be following the police around – either on a reality show or on the news) people are choosing to tune in to a vintage show that they watched at the same time and day they first saw it 35 years previously. It’s a funny old world. But given that, just like in 1978, the alternative is watching Emmerdale, perhaps not entirely unexplainable.

Blackburn tells Savile to keep his hands where he can see them...
Blackburn tells Savile to keep his hands where he can see them…

For Top of The Pops is being re-broadcast every week, in order, from 1977 onwards on BBC3. We are currently into 1978, or “The Saville Years” as much of the seventies may become known. (Episodes featuring the disgraced former presenter are not being broadcast).

A Twitter community has also sprung up, because many of the acts now look simply appalling / hilarious, and for half the show we viewers turn into our own parents from 35 years ago, laughing at the performers and criticising their appearance. For the other half, there is nothing but dewy-eyed nostalgia for the likes of The Undertones, Blondie and other chart-toppers of the day.

I was eight years old in 1978, so remember Boney M more than I do punk rock. Mull of Kintyre rather than Teenage Kicks. So it is great for me to look back at this time and see the mix of good, bad and just plain ugly acts that featured on the nation’s best loved music show. And to read the occasional sarcastic (and often informative) tweet whilst I watch.

All of which preamble brings me on to my latest record fair find:

The Top of the Pops Annual 1978!

The cover features Freddie Mercury who is in the shadow somewhat of DJ Noel Edmonds, surely the only time Edmonds has ever appeared bigger than the person next to him. Below Edmonds the cover is somewhat sullied by (Operation Yewtree klaxon) Jimmy Saville. Next to Saville is the face of (currently under police investigation) Dave Lee Travis.

Oh, and unluckily for him, there’s a photo also of Tony Blackburn, whose only association with a criminal record is his music collection and inability to pronounce “Duran Duran” on the radio.

Leo Sayer. Will be as big as Elton John one day. If he stands on a chair.
Leo Sayer. Will be as big as Elton John one day. If he stands on a chair.

Featured inside are the artists considered the heart throbs of the day, Demis Roussos and Leo Sayer, who for reasons of the book’s shelf life would have been the heart throbs of 1977.

Sayer, who started as a busker, tells us about his ambition to be “as big as Elton John” (we assume in terms of success rather than weight – otherwise he’s being slightly rude to the svelte-ish Mr John) and “to be around for a very long time”. Nothing about appearing on a reality TV show in order to achieve that aim though.

Dave, you should have finished the job right there....
Dave, you should have finished the job right there….

We ought to briefly mention Jimmy Saville who has the following quotes in the book:

“It’s one show I will never give up” he says of TOTP, regrettably. “I still regard this programme as the cornerstone of my career”. (Yup – that’s what you’ll be remembered for, Jimmy). “What’s more it’s fun. And I like having fun in my life, folks” (*shudder* yes – a bit too much of the wrong sort though, eh, Jimmy?).

Speaking of never giving up, you know a book is old when an article on Status Quo begins with the line “A lot has happened to Status Quo during their 14 years together”. Just 14!

Status Quo TOTP
A fledgling Status Quo after just 14 years and two pairs of jeans into their career.

Also featured are Guy ‘n’ Dolls who feature David Van Day and are clearly grizzled rockers, having had “a spell in variety at the London Palladium and (operation Yew Tree klaxon) “a tour with comedian Freddie Starr” to become that most coveted of niche market leaders, “Britain’s new No 1 clean-cut glamour group”.

Sailor: Could have been the next Beatles.
Sailor: Could have been the next Beatles. Until the one on the far left decided to join Eddie Large in a double act…

Sailor, on the other hand had to shake off comparisons with Roxy Music, which seems fanciful to look at them. The guy on the left looks more like Sid Little than Brian Eno. That they were tagged as “intellectuals” speaks volumes about the state of the education system in the seventies.

Moving up the quality ladder, Steve Harley is next, described in these pages as The Muhammad Ali of the Pop World on account of his propensity to declare he was a musical genius. He certainly wasn’t a fashion genius if this book is anything to go by. I never saw Ali wearing quite such an unpleasant red flared trouser suit as the one photographed here.

Harley.  Trousers.  No.

Finally is ELO, who are described as “different” and “original”. I like this especially wonderful passage about the band in the book that might have been written by somebody’s disapproving grandad: “Unlike many other English rock groups who feel they have to be violent in order to be noticed, the ELO boys do not go around smashing up hotel rooms, throwing TV sets out of windows, or causing a public nuisance. All this is totally unnecessary and uncivilised.”

An appropriate lesson on morality from the employers of Jimmy Saville…

We also discover how ELO’s first album was named. According to the Top of the Pops annual, a US record company executive told his secretary to call the band’s manager, Don Arden, to ask the title. She couldn’t get through and left a note to say she had phoned – no answer! ELO’s first album was therefore called “No Answer” in the USA much to the bemusement of the band…

They're different! ELO in 1978
They’re different!
ELO in 1978

Coming soon: Further revelations from Top Of The Pops Annual 1978: 5000 Volts, Slik and Be Bop Deluxe. No, me neither.

Record #214: Steve Harley – (Come Up and See Me) Make Me Smile

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Rock On! Definitely Not Sexist!


5 responses to “A Look Back At Top of the Pops: 1978”

  1. Walter Avatar

    Very nice review to this year. Reading this makes me starting The day easier.


  2. chrisflinterman Avatar

    What a shame we can’t receive BBC3 in the Netherlands! Watching those “stars” seems like fun to me! Luckily we have this review to make the day!


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