Emma Forrest once argued that Top Of The Pops was a massive cultural force simply because it had no editorial policy. It was reportage; if a record was high enough in the charts, it was on TOTP. They were just presenting the facts. The general consensus is that TOTP’s failure to be objective over the last few years has led directly to it’s demise – and by failing to be objective, I mean their chasing of the youth demographic for the past 4 years was about as subtle as a brick in the face. And the thing is, theres one fundamental aspect of Top Of The Pops that is increasingly alien to that demographic, and indeed the rest of us: TOTP was the very definition of appointment television. Until a few years ago, I made sure that I was free to watch TOTP because, God help me, I actually cared about what was going on in the charts, and the state of pop music in general.
In the documentary ‘The Story of Top Of The Pops’, everything seemed to be going fine with TOTP until mid-90s producer Chris Cowey arrived. Now, theres nothing wrong with Cowey. Dude looks like the Aphex Twin, and he really does love pop music with all his heart. But the BBC gave him carte blanche to do what he wanted to TOTP, which could have been madness in the wrong hands. And after Cowey left, the BBC wanted someone who could steer TOTP towards the youth market that seemed to be drifting away from them. Enter Andi ‘Wrong Hands’ Peters. The documentary implied basically that the shows sharp and massive decline was all his fault, and given that he didn’t show up to present a defence, I can only assume it’s true. At the very least, I find him deeply annoying. And so began an era of exclusives, songs that weren’t in the charts yet, moves to Sunday nights, ‘archive’ clips, interviews in the artist bar etc. They tried to turn it into ‘Heat Magazine: The Musical!’, and predictably, it was shit. So very shit.
Watching the final ever TOTP on Sunday was gut-wrenchingly awful. Absolute unmitigated arse water, the lot of it. Instead of having some all-star blowout, they went down the clip-show route of budget TV. First, playing clips of old TOTPs robs them of their context, like watching a greatest hits of News At Ten, evocative but remote and arcane. Showing Nirvana’s performance of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ doesn’t make half as much sense as when you first saw it alongside the other 25 minutes of chart pop that week. Secondly, the hour-long parade of clips implied that the show had a rich and varied history, which only begs the question ‘How did you fuck this up?’. Popjustice succintly summed it up as ’60 minutes of us telling you how proud we are of something we don’t care about’. It really was like watching the ghost of a suicidee enthusing over how good the turnout was for his funeral. When they actually got around to the final ever top ten countdown, Shakira was no.1 with her frankly bizarre new single (sounds like outsider music. Really), and SHE WASN’T EVEN THERE TO PERFORM IT. ON THE LAST EVER TOTP. No fucking effort whatsoever. Post credits, Jimmy Savile did the symbolic thing and turned off the studio lights, dolefully shaking his head. As did I, thinking ‘Saville outlived Top Of The Pops. I miss John Peel so much.’ And thus ended the most pathetic piece of television I think I’ve ever witnessed.
Apologies to US readers, for whom this post must be completely incomprehensible, not to mention totally irrelevant. Sorry.
Despite the considerable distraction of standing next to a man in a Miami Vice t-shirt, the author of “Raw Talent” drops some science on Mort and WWOR viewers.