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The Story of 1979

1979 may be the most diverse year ever for acts on Top of the Pops, with disco at its peak and new wave, 2 Tone, reggae, rock, folk and electro records all making the top five.

1979 was a unique year for Top of the Pops, which saw the show record its highest audience of 19 million viewers and in which physical format singles sales hit an all-time high of 79 million. 1979 is maybe the most diverse year ever for acts on Top of the Pops with disco at its peak, new wave, 2 Tone, reggae, rock, folk and electro records all making the top five.

Original interviews with Gary Numan, Nile Rodgers, Woody from Madness, Jah Wobble, Chas and Dave, Janet Kay, Linda Nolan, Jim Dooley, Secret Affair, the Ruts, Legs and Co and many others tell the story of an exceptional year.

In the year that the 'winter of discontent' saw continuing strikes black out ITV and TOTP reduced during a technicians strike to a narrator introducing videos, the show also found itself the site of conflict backstage. TOTP's old guard of 70s MOR acts had their feathers continually ruffled by new wave bands, as the Skids spat at the Nolan Sisters backstage and Generation X urinated off the roof onto the Dooleys.

Elsewhere in the corridors of TV Centre, in preparation for playing their single Death Disco, Public Image Ltd demanded their teeth were blacked out in make-up to appear ugly, while Gary Numan remembers the overbearing union presence which prevented TOTP artists moving their own microphones without a union technician and the Musicians Union trying to ban him from the show for his use of synthesizers.

The most popular musical styles of 1979 were 2 Tone, reggae and disco. The latter saw Nile Rodgers, the man of the year, score four hits with Chic as well as writing and producing a further four hits with Sister Sledge, Sheila B Devotion and Sugarhill Gang, who appeared with what would prove to be the first ever rap hit.

Jamaican and UK reggae artists scored continual hits through the year and then watched as the Police notched up three hits with white reggae and the label 2 Tone revived the 60s reggae style known as ska. In November, in what is remembered as the 2 Tone edition, all three of the label's new acts - Madness, Specials and Selecter - appeared on one historic night and took the show by storm, with Madness capping off their performance of One Step Beyond by leading a 'nutty train' conga through the studio.

1 hour

Last on

Sat 1 Apr 2017 02:00

Music Played

Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes

  • M

    Pop Muzik

  • Sex Pistols

    Silly Thing

  • Sister Sledge

    We Are Family

  • Madness

    The Prince

  • Dennis Brown

    Money in my Pocket

  • Lena Martell

    One Day At A Time

  • UFO

    Doctor Doctor

  • Olivia Newton‚ÄźJohn

    A Little More Love

  • The Jam

    Strange Town

  • Gary Numan


  • John Dankworth Quintet

    Tomorrow's World Theme

  • Sparks

    The Number One Song In Heaven

  • Pink Floyd

    Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2

  • The Dooleys


  • Buggles

    Video Killed The Radio Star

  • Chic

    Le Freak

  • New York City

    I'm Doin' Fine Now

  • Nile Rodgers

    I'm Doin' Fine Now (Nile Rogers acappela)

  • Mike Reid

    The Ugly Duckling

  • Nile Rodgers

    The Ugly Duckling (Nile Rodgers acappela)

  • Sister Sledge

    He's The Greatest Dancer

  • Sheila & B. Devotion


  • Sheila & B. Devotion

    Singin' In The Rain

  • Ad Hoc Orchestra

    Hit And Miss (Juke Box Jury Theme Tune)

  • Adrian Munsey

    C'est Sheep

  • PIL

    Death Disco

  • The Ruts

    Babylon's Burning

  • Skids

    Into the Valley

  • The Nolans

    I'm In The Mood for Dancing

  • Skids

    Working for the Yankee Dollar

  • Generation X

    King Rocker

  • The Dooleys

    The Chosen Few

  • The Specials

    Friday Night, Saturday Morning

  • Herb Alpert


  • Tony Bennett

    For Once in my Life

  • Madness

    One Step Beyond

  • The Members

    Sound of the Suburbs

  • Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

    Onedin Line Theme Tune (Adagio of Sparticus)

  • Elvis Costello

    Accidents Will Happen

  • Elvis Costello

    Oliver's Army

  • Chas & Dave


  • Elvis Costello

    Watching the Detectives

  • Janet Brown

    The Iron Lady March

  • The Dooleys

    Honey (I'm Lost)

  • McFadden & Whitehead

    Ain't No Stopping Us Now

  • Bimbo Jet

    El Bimbo

  • The Jackson 5


  • Gary Numan

    Are Friends Electric?

    Performer: Tubeway Army.
  • Third World

    Cool Mediation

  • Janet Kay

    Silly Games

  • The Members

    Offshore Banking Business

  • The Police


  • Madness

    The Return of the Los Palmas 7

  • Gerry Rafferty

    Get it Right Next Time

  • Andy and Joey

    You're Wondering Now

  • The Selecter

    On My Radio

  • The Ruts

    Something That I Said

  • Elton John

    Song For Guy

  • Slade

    Coz I Love You

  • Hot Chocolate

    Mindless Boogie

  • Brotherhood of Man

    Bye Bye One Kiss Goodbye

  • Michael Jackson

    Off The Wall

  • The Police

    Walking on the Moon

  • Adam and the Ants

    Ant Music


Role Contributor
Producer Matt O'Casey
Director Matt O'Casey
Executive Producer Mark Cooper


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