Spitting Image: We’re Scared Of Bob

In the ’80s, there was no shortage of pop coverage to inspire conversation in the playground, whether it was Boy George’s first appearance on ‘Top Of The Pops’, Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video or Matt Bianco being verbally abused live on children’s TV. Of course it really helped that there were only four terrestrial channels to choose from, breeding a feeling of community and sense of occasion.

But one TV show absolutely guaranteed to get the creative juices flowing and rescue many a depressing Sunday evening was ‘Spitting Image’. Just a cursory look at a show from its mid-’80s peak leaves one stunned at the craftsmanship and production values on offer (especially as they only had a few days to write, build and shoot each episode), and quite honestly it shows up the state of television these days for the sad farce it is.

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There were some good musical spoofs too, composed by Philip Pope, fresh from UK comedy classic ‘Not The Nine O’Clock News’ and his parody band The Hee Bee Gee Bees, who even managed a few hits in the early ’80s. ‘Spitting Image’ also featured some memorable Phil Collins, ZZ Top and Madonna skits, and they even managed to rope Sting in to re-sing this.

But ‘We’re Scared Of Bob’ is full of surprises and surely the best spoof. Its sheer potency is still a shock to the system. You also suspect that Sir Gandalf was watching, so unmissable was the programme in the mid-’80s.

Why isn’t there anything like this around now? Oh, lack of money and talent, probably. A show like ‘Spitting Image’ also highlights the paucity of genuinely interesting musical (and public) figures these days.

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Five Great ’80s Madonna Moments

5. Late Night With David Letterman, 1st July 1988

Though her most famous Letterman appearance was probably 1994’s swearfest, here she comes off more like a naughty big sister than an established star. Madonna and Sandra Bernhard laugh off Dave’s temper tantrums and seem to have stepped out of a ’50s B-movie.

4. Live Aid

This footage from La Ciccone’s Philadelphia appearance on 13th July 1985 gives a great insight into the atmosphere on the day and the adrenalin(and other substances?)-fuelled panic of the artist soundchecks. Live Aid came just a week after Madonna’s pre-fame topless pictures were leaked to the press. Her response was to wear lots of layers and silence the cat-calls with style, humour and an irrepressible joie de vivre.

3. ‘Crazy For You’

Most of my favourite Madonna tracks are ballads (‘This Used To Be My Playground’, ‘Take A Bow’, ‘Something To Remember’, ‘Oh Father’, ‘Promise To Try’) but this is possibly the pick of the bunch. Beautifully arranged by Steely Dan/Ashford & Simpson man Rob Mounsey (though that snare is still too big…), it was transformed from just another song in a so-so movie into a UK number 2 and US number one in March 1985.

2. The 1984 MTV Awards

A totally shameless and over-the-top celebration of womanhood. Imagine the reactions of the Armani-suited execs in the stalls. Madonna and Joni Mitchell have both spoken publicly about the chauvinistic attitudes that prevailed in the music industry of the mid-’80s. This was a brave response. Love her or loathe her, you’ve gotta admire her…balls.

1. The ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ club scene

For many people, this was her only decent movie performance, and I wouldn’t argue with that (though I need to see Abel Ferrera’s ‘Snake Eyes’ again…). Polanski paid homage to this scene ten years later in ‘Bitter Moon’, starring Hugh Grant, to similarly comic effect.

Live Aid: 30 Years Ago Today

live aidWith barely a mention in the media or press, Live Aid is 30 years old today. I was a very excited 12-year-old pop fan on Saturday 13th July, 1985. The weather was hot and sunny and the whole nation seemed united. On the morning of Live Aid, my dad drove us up to the Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street where I bought cassettes of Level 42’s A Physical Presence and Scritti Politti’s Cupid And Psyche ’85 in preparation for the day. The streets were almost deserted. We got home around midday, turned the telly on and settled in the for afternoon.

That was then but this is now, as ABC sang. So how does the music from that day stand up in 2015?

Though many of New Pop’s architects/johnny come latelies got in on the act, it was the older artists who – for better or worse – made the biggest impact on the day (Queen, Tina Turner, Phil Collins, Status Quo, Dylan, Led Zep, Dire Straits, The Who, Bowie, Jagger). Apart from Led Zep and Dylan’s hilariously dodgy turns, Live Aid reminded people that the oldies were still hungry and could still cut it live, and the event arguably ushered in the mainstream success of Peter Gabriel, Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton and Robbie Robertson.

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Many of the youngsters fudged it: Spandau were shown up by their lack of musicianship and quality material, Adam Ant chose the wrong songs, Sade were dull, Style Council were shrill and under-rehearsed, Duran were hamstrung by LeBon’s famous vocal boo-boo, Paul Young and Alison Moyet cornily rehashed some very old soul-revue moves and The Thompson Twins sounded out of their depth despite backing from Madonna and Nile Rodgers. Perhaps surprisingly, U2, Madonna, Howard Jones, George Michael and Nik Kershaw might just have been the best Pure Pop ambassadors on the day with some engaging performances and solid musicianship. Post-punkers such as Sting, Elvis Costello and The Cars were merely functional. But maybe the biggest disappointment of the day was the lack of black superstars (Prince, Michael Jackson, Stevie, Miles?), female solo artists and Second British Invasion popsters (Culture Club, Eurythmics, Tears For Fears, Frankie Goes To Hollywood).

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Naysayers claim that most of the acts appeared simply to further their careers. Well, yes, surely that was a factor for the younger artists but it’s a crushingly cynical view. Anyway, did you buy ANY music as a direct result of seeing Live Aid on the box (Queen’s Greatest Hits doesn’t count)?

I just enjoyed it for what it was. Anyway, most of my favourite pop acts didn’t get anywhere near Live Aid (Scritti, Jacko, Propaganda, Level 42, Prefab) and never would. It’s hard to really complain when the event has raised over £150 million.

So three cheers to Bob Gandalf, as Joss Stone memorably called Geldof. Let me know how your Live Aid went.