TOP OF THE POPS?

Dancing In The Dark '85 videoAnd now for the final installment on Big Daddy’s “Adventures in England”…

Just as we were preparing to head back to the US from our first tour of the UK in February of 1985, Our record label there (Making Waves) hinted that we might need to return very shortly to appear on “Top of the Pops.”

For those of you not familiar with this BBC-TV show, “Top of the Pops” was THE music show in the UK. Starting in 1964, with the explosive British Invasion on the worldwide music scene, this show had the power to make or break a musical act with a single appearance. Everyone from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Bee Gees, Stevie Wonder and countless other acts were on “Top of the Pops.” We knew that if we were invited to appear, it could easily make our then top 20 hit into a top 10 smash.

The decision about the featured musical acts – and they was always to perform live – was made just a day or so in advance of the show, which meant we would need to be back in the UK.  Confident in our inside track to that golden TV opportunity, and also sought by Making Waves for an MTV-type promotional video shoot in London (for “Dancing In The Dark”), after a week back home in sunny Southern California, we were off again “across the pond.”

We flew back in an early March that offered no snow on the ground, and were welcomed, once again, three to a room, in our same old Hampstead flat.  With the many friends made in our previous trip and our favorite neighborhood hang between shows and interviews, the restaurant “Farquaharsens,” we felt quite at home.

Then, the sky fell with crushing disappointment.  Right on the excited heals of being selected to perform on “Top of the Pops,” just like that, we were bumped in favor of another band.  A major bummer to say the least! However, we re-focused our efforts in preparing for the promotional video of “Dancing In The Dark,” which included several planning meetings with the crew.

It was one very long day in Harlesden, a community of London.  Filming took place in and around the nightclub “The Mean Fiddler,” starting around 5 or 6 am with make-up and wardrobe.  The producers had hired a cast of snooty actresses (see photo from the shoot in upper left) dressed up in 1950’s garb and a fleet of iconic American 50’s cars.  That same evening, we were back to perform at the “The Mean Fiddler,” as we had in our first tour, to end the shoot with the filming of our live show – to a sold-out audience.

Many of us, myself included, were very apprehensive about the video (as is customary, video budgets are an advance to be repaid out of royalties from record sales).  Our suspicions were based on many factors, including the background and experience of the video team, which consisted mainly of producing educational films, not music videos.  The project’s story line was also very cumbersome, trying somehow to integrate detailed visual elements with the lyrics of the Bruce Springsteen penned song.

After the full day’s shoot, there we were, dog-tired, trying to muster up energy for the evening’s show. Fortunately, as often happens, the rush of the set up and sound check grabbed us, and we were off!  As with all of our live shows in the UK, the evening was christened with the royal arrival of the “King,” Dave Taylor, yelling at his girlfriend: “Tina hurry up already…over here!”  As usual, she was pushing his acoustic piano through the nightclub and lifting it up on the stage — all by herself!!  Dave would then take half a bottle of baby powder and sprinkle it over the piano keys so he could execute his amazing Jerry Lee Lewis sweeps just right.

The show went well and we were on our third encore when the film crew’s director yelled out: “We need a few more pick-ups on “Dancing In The Dark.”  With the excitement of the audience already peaked, we were required to perform the song’s ending sequence over and over again for the video, thereby, succeeding in killing most of the audience’s excitement by the time we left the stage.

We continued to do radio and print interviews and then about three days later we saw the fruits of our labors, a rough cut of the video…and it was HORRIBLE!  The look, the story, the staging everything was just awful.  It was a bitter double pill to swallow after being bumped from “Top of the Pops.”

A few weeks later our fears about the “Dancing In The Dark” video were confirmed when it was critiqued on BBC-TV by Kevin Godley and Lol Creme from the band 10cc.  They were also very well respected video producers who had directed projects with The Police and Peter Gabriel.  Their critique on our video was short and not so sweet, with a summation that “the video looks like it was directed by Stevie Wonder.”…Well, enough said.

-So there you have it, the three-part story on the Big Daddy tours of the UK in 1985.  Lest you think it ended on a sour note, in retrospect, we will always have the great moments, memories and a top 20 national hit.  Looking back, I’ll take that anytime!   …Lightnin’ Bob

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