Top Of the Pops and the nostalgia business
It was 1976 all over again last weekend as BBC4 began repeating Top of the Pops from that year. The Beeb plan to repeat the seminal music show in chronological order, starting with April 1976 (the date from which the …
It was 1976 all over again last weekend as BBC4 began repeating Top of the Pops from that year. The Beeb plan to repeat the seminal music show in chronological order, starting with April 1976 (the date from which the station has an archive of every TOTP episode) and continuing until they run out of steam or people run out of interest. If the repeats are true to the form of the original TV show, this will happen when they get to some stage in the late 1990s. The show may have continued until 2006, but it had lost its mojo long before then.
Yet for people of a certain generation – and they were the ones squealing and shrieking like teenyboppers on Twitter last weekend as the show screened – these reruns are TV gold. First and foremost, the shows remind them of their youth, a time when they were really interested in music and had yet to become sniffy about new pop tunes (a sniffiness which has a lot to do with laziness, inertia and fear, to be honest).
The rereuns also allow them to claim incorrectly once again that pop music was way better back then, another indication that they’ve seen that dreaded stop sign and have obeyed its command. The stop sign is a point which many reach in their late twenties when they lose that passion for new music which used to be their most fervent badge of identity due to the demands of work or home. One of the symptoms of taking heed of the stop sign is a belief that there will never be bands or acts better than the bands or acts you liked when they you really into music. I have friends who will sadly insist to this very day that no-one has bettered The Wonder Stuff, The Wedding Present, Neds Atomic Dustbin and Carter USM. You can forgive your friends a lot, can’t you?
There will, no doubt, be calls for the Beeb to revive TOTP on the back of the current good vibes for screening 35 year old episodes of the show. The record labels are always banging on about bringing TOTP back because they know that a weekly TV show can only help to increase acts’ profile. The current wave of nostalgia over the repeats will put a gloss on the fact that people lost interest in TOTP when they lost interest in the music which TOTP was covering. That’s what happens when you have a show where the content is decided by the music which people are buying and when many in the prospective audience have stopped buying (or caring about) new music.
In truth, those who were putting the acts onto TOTP were probably not even watching the show by the the 1990s. Back then, the huge success of dance music in the charts ensured you’d lots of unshowy DJs making the Top 10 which never made for a great TV experience. Inbetween the DJs and “live” electronic acts, you had desperate boy bands and girl bands who’d been unsubtly cobbled together by pudgy, sweaty, egotistical, would-be svengalis in bad designer suits (I encountered many of these beasts in my murky past) in the hope of emulating Take That or the Spice Girls. On one level, it was fantastic entertainment but, for those now getting high on the supply of TOTP repeats, it was more proof that popular music had gone to hell in a handcart. Bring back Pan’s People, they would cry. The saddos.
Then, there’s the fact that we don’t really go to our TVs to experience music any more. Why would we need to sit around and watch a TV show at a certain time when you have YouTube, digital music channels and the interwebs to entertain you? As we can see from how the schedulers have dealt with shows like Later With Jools Holland, Other Voices and Ceol Ar An Imeall, music shows are for the graveyard shift. A music show is no longer a prime-time concern unless you have Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh bitching and mincing respectively for the cameras.
The success of TOTP was that it was screened bang slap in the middle of the evening. It was a show which was as much about family entertainment as the machinations of the music business. Its demise set in when it became a showcase for the marketing departments of various record labels to show their prowess in getting tunes straight into the Top 10. These days, music-based family fare is provided by the family sitting on their sofas, voting with their mobile phones for assorted gobshites on The X Factor. Perhaps they could also come to love TOTP again, but I doubt it.