Friday, May 16, 2014


I loved Top of the Pops. On this side of the pond it was both the chart TV show and the only  music show for many of the population, sucking in massive audiences for it's heyday between the early sixties and late eighties, aka my childhood and young adulthood. Usually on thursdays, BBC1, for about half an hour, the format was broadly unchanged until it fizzled out in 2006. With a set designed to look like a naff nightclub, actually probably not, but that's how it was, gurning adolescents dancing badly, cheesy disc jockeys announcing each act in turn, with  a tacky dance troupe to cover no-shows, the occasional specially made film and, when they were invented, 1 or 2 videos. But the highlight was always the artist "performances", mimed or played with backing tracks, sometimes wildly dissimilar to the original, with no regard to anything other than who was in the top 30 at any one time. So novelty schlock songs would follow out and out rockers, bookended by crooners and whirling motown soulsters. Anything and everything fitted, highly appropriately, as it was truly a whole family entertainment show. I recall watching it with my sister and parents, my mother being the one to make the most caustic remarks about the shaggier representatives of my counter-culture. Who's that, she would say, and I would bite my tongue, for fear of being outed as either a fan or seeming to be. Of the wrong person. I lived in fear that she think I liked T.Rex, for instance.

Here's a good example of the style, conveniently being scottish punks the Rezillos, performing, on the programmed, their homonymous (and solitary) hit. Through the mists of time I am uncertain now whether their gaucheness was even ironic or just as they were. Hoping the former, I fear the latter.

Buy it!  (sadly the best I can offer is a 2nd hand single.........)

There were a number of other songs that referenced the show, commemorating it's place in the pantheon of british broadcasting iconography. Here's another, The Boomtown Rats, wherein "little Judy's tryin to watch Top of the Pops". And if you think Geldofs sax playing is, well, um, optimistic, later on, with the song newly number 1, he "played" the same break on a candelabra. Particularly in this era and later, there would be deliberate lampooning of the supposed "live presence", reaching it's nadir as the charts became taken over by dance music, where the musicians were, at best, faceless. Here's a good example, where the trick is even whether they were plugged in. (Answer: Not!) Ultimately this probably killed the show, a combination of anonymous dance music and the death of the singles market, ironically now on a wave back to viability. Of course there have been other shows, before and since, notably the magazine format Old Grey Whistle Test, beloved by chin stroking proggers, and Later, fronted and hosted by Jools Holland, invariably allowing him to join in at some stage, as various assorted acts play genuinely live and in the round. But TOTP, as it was acronymed, is always the one remembered with most reverie.

I wish it could come back, if only to ask my children, and theirs, what this claptrap thump thump thump is.....

STOP PRESS: So who were the Rezillos? Why, only Edinburghs most famous New Wave Beat Group. Sort of a lighter hearted Cramps. Centred around dual frontline singers, Fay Fife and Eugene Reynolds, they had an explosive sense of fun, in their all too brief first  incarnation, 1976-8, with, for me, extra delight in that the singing was all unapologetically with broad scottish accents. When Jo Callis, their dour faced guitarist left, to join the Human League, on synthesisers, clearly, going on to co-write most of their hits, including here on Top of the Pops, Fife and Reynolds re-grouped as the Revillos, on and off until the original name became revived in 2001. They still tour.

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