Sunday, July 30, 2006

Bottom Of The Despised(s)

Well, I knew it wasn't gonna be pretty, but I've just witnessed the shambles that passed for the last ever Top Of The Pops and it was one of those occasions where you honestly didn't know how to laugh or cry.
Initially, especially for someone of my advanced years, the reaction to seeing the terminal patient that used to be 'Britain's Number 1' having its plug pulled is to offer sigh of relief. For too long now has this 'institution' been obviously completely irrelevant to every single music-loving person in the UK. But, hold on...wasn't it always thus? Anyone who can remember what it was like as your whole family gathered around to witness the travesties of chartdom paraded, unconvincingly miming, before your eyes (and that's a lot of people) will know that TOTP was ALWAYS naff. Obviously. But by the end of this hour of 10 second clips and ill-chosen 'highlights' from the last 42 years I got all nostalgic. Because yes, it was always terrible. Just as Radio 1 was always terrible because it was a political move to lure teenagers away from the license-dodging pirates; the Pops was born of a desperate attempt to capture a teenage market already won over by Jack Good's ITV-based Oh Boy (his earlier 6.5 Special which was on BBC was fatally marred by the beeb insisting on putting educational material in the mix. They also tried to ban tennagers from the audience) and Elkan Allen's Ready Steady Go.
Yet it was a central part of my childhood. Like everyone else, I had my middle-English value system worn down by a series of eye-popping delights over the years. And these made me the mensch I am today. Keith Moon's leer; Freddie Mercury's overbite; Pan's Peoples legs; Noddy Holder's top hat; Alice Cooper's rapier; Arthur Brown's flaming headdress; blah blah etc etc. And so much more. Every week you knew 90% was going to be taken up with Englebert Humperdinck, Boney M or even, God forbid, Ken Dodd's new atrocity, or the like. But still, there was the chance to glimpse (and this is where I lose my younger readers) something cool. Maybe.
There was virtually (unless you were allowed up to watch the Old Grey Whistle Test, and this was even before stuff like the Tube, Revolver or even - gulp- Rock Goes To College) NO pop music on TV.
So even though the DJs were all super-annuated creeps (except for the mighty Blackburn, and the strange period where Peel and Jensen got all subversive), the fact remained that it was kinda mandatory watching. Thus, to see this awful smorgasbord of sublime and utterly awful tonight broke my heart. I found myself shouting at the screen when (in, I guess, an attempt to explain to an audience of under 25s who wouldn't even understand WHY this was a poignant moment) they wheeled on several no-mark contemporary Radio 1 jocks and some modern clips that, frankly, served to underline how pop music used to be good, but isn't really any more. Beyonce flouncing around doesn't really stand up to Bowie and Ronson camping it up to Starman. It just looked like a sexy black girl shouting at the TOTP crowd 'are you with me?' a lot. Charmless.
And who let Edith bleedin' Bowman read out the final top ten countdown? Even next to DLT she looked and sounded about as charismatic as a Glasgow docker.
In fact there was a dearth of the legendary names we used to love to hate in them days. Where were Bates, Powell, Freeman, Jensen, Edmonds, Brooks and even Diddy David Hamilton? This could have been SO much fun...
The new DJs represent a generation that doesn't give a flying fuck about such programming. And neither should they. Andi Peters isn't evil (well, much) because he failed to rescue the show and turned it into a pale shadow of its former glory. No, it was dead in the water years before. Anyone in their teens now has choice up the kazoo and a zillion ways to get the stuff. Why WOULD they care about it? We watched this crap for years so they didn't have to. As such any attempt to represent anything from the last ten years was a waste of air time. We didn't need to see Gnarls Barkley (despite it being, actually one of the more creative uses of the TOTP stage in recent times). It was only ubiquitously on the radio about five minutes ago.
So shame on you BBC. Not only did you bury the show without honour or care, you managed to remind us all how empty and sad most of modern life is, too. Cheers...


Peter said...

well i didnae see it, but your recollections of 70s totp stirred a few of my own...i do remember my grandad peering at the sweet and wondering aloud as to what gender they might be; and my own sense of wonder as i watched medicine head navigate the rhythmic complexities of 'one and one is one'. ahem.

watching my daughters' reactions to the prog was interesting too...while i droned on in the background about how x or y was an untalented, factory made fop or that z's song was stuffed full of samples from this that or the other, they would be glued to the set but somehow slightly disengaged from it (or so i felt). their cynicism kind of equalled mine but was more selective (usually reserved for the manic street preachers, which does show admirable taste). the only time i saw them provoked or upset by it was when john otway came on and sang his comeback single. a middle-aged man with his shirt off playing the theremin was enough to upset them. bless.

Anonymous said...

well... you've failed to mention the marvellous phenomenon that was david sylvian's eye make up and hair when japan performed ghosts on TOTP. i was sat 2 inches away from the screen at the age of i guess, 14, and was unfortunately overheard by my father to say, "ooh i'm going to melt in my seat", a comment that, for many years has been brought up to humiliate me whenever he sees fit. damn you TOTP, damn you david sylvian for your foppish new romatic good looks and damn you dad for well, being a dad!