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Top of the Pops admits defeat

I feel the fluttering of the wings of history in this decision. Cultural history, anyway.

Top of the Pops is being relegated to BBC2 after 40 years as BBC1’s bastion of chart music, the broadcaster announced yesterday.

Once required viewing for generations of teenagers, a slump in viewing figures has pushed the pop music chart programme on to the second channel. In the 1970s the show had audiences of 14 million but last week it pulled in just 3.1 million viewers.

The first episode, broadcast on Jan 1, 1964, was presented by Jimmy Savile and the first act to perform were the Rolling Stones with I Wanna Be Your Man.

Since then, the theme music and presenters have changed but the formula remained the same, with artists considering an appearance on the show a sign that they had officially “made it” in the British pop world.

Although a relaunched edition was watched by 5.5 million viewers last November, nearly three million had deserted the show by the summer.

Now the BBC hopes that it can win back audiences with a new version which is to go out next spring on Sunday evenings.

Historic? Yes, I do truly think so. For I think what this is a symptom of is the end of the Age of Pop Music. Internet downloads, computer games, and the fact that half the tunes were composed when your granny was in her teens mean that Youth, as it has been for some time now, is wandering off into different directions altogether, of a nature that I, and the kind of people who run Top of the Pops, cannot possibly divine. Taste is fragmenting, and what is now Number One is no longer a matter for the BBC to decide on behalf of the Youth of the Nation. We each decide for ourselves. It no longer matters to each of us what anyone else likes.

Personally, I have just lately been listening to a terrific little country and western tune called “Tell Me About It”, with great c&w guitar and drums backing by who knows what instrumental combination of musicians, and in which the vocals are shared by the glorious Tanya Tucker and one Delbert McClinton, of whom I had not previously heard. It is track number 13 on The Very Best of Tanya Tucker (“Another European compilation – I don’t think there’s anything unusual here” – Amazon.com). This is my current favourite pop tune, but you will not hear it any time soon on Top of the Pops, because none of us any longer need Top of the Pops to find out about our current favourites.

28 comments to Top of the Pops admits defeat

  • Anonymous Coward

    To be honest, I never understood the idea of a government office deciding who is cool and who isn’t.

  • James Dixon

    Well, except for the minor fact that “Tell Me About It” sucks, pretty much dead on. Now, if you want some good Tanya Tucker, listen to “What’s Your Mama’s Name”, “The Man That Turned My Momma On”, “San Antonio Stroll”, “Lizze and the Rainman”, or “Texas (When I Die)”; just to pick a few from her discography at http://www.tanyatucker.com/music.html. But, as you pointed out, that’s the whole point now, isn’t it?

  • Richard

    The show has been awful, or rather, the actual quality of the music in the top 40 is pretty awful. Maybe this is just a sign of getting old, but I can actually remember sitting down to watch it with my cool parents in the 80s. Even though they were then in their late 30s the music then was ok and listenable. Can’t really say the same now. I watched it last year and felt really old, being just 28.

  • rob walsh

    TOTPs demise could be something to do with the fact that it ended up full of interviews with rubbish and unfunny pop stars and others, and other interactive rubbish, rather than just playing music, i presume on the basis of “this is what young people want”, when in fact they dont. also the rise of music tv on sky etc could have something to do with it.
    ps i just got laid. (sorry, i just want to brag a bit, woooo.)

  • Neil

    There’s also a point about market involvement here. Back when it was launched, and for a good proportion of its history (I think, although I’m open to challenge on that), TOTP had a virtual (if not actual) monopoly on the chart line-up. It had access to the only chart in the country. But now there’s any number of chart shows kicking around, with at least 3 competing for attention on Sunday evening. So TOTP no longer has any claim to announce the top of THE pops, only the top of one of the pops. Kids can pick and choose which chart to listen to.

    Hence the move to Sunday evenings. Now we just sit back and watch the market play it out.

  • I take Neil’s point about the Radio 1/TOTP chart always having been seen as the official one however, here comes the challenge, TOTP was actually beaten to the airwaves by Associated Rediffusion’s “Ready Steady Go” which began on 9th August 1963.

    I don’t suppose the two programmes where in direct confrontation because they would have probably been on on different days of the week.

    Hey, if anyone wants to be certain that pop music really has gone down the pan and it’s not just that you’re getting old – this site A HALF CENTURY OF BRITISH NUMBER ONES is good fun. My girlfriend and I spent a good few hours in the parlour gathered about the old upright laptop having a sing-song because of it. Look, there is barely a crap number one in the 70s. No The Who of course, and Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields was kept of the top spot by Englebert Humperdinck’s Please Release Me!

  • Robert

    Hasn’t Iron Maiden been on Top of the Pops?

    Can it really be so bad?

    Clearly the solution is more metal.

  • Iron Maiden, the gods of music for sure.

    I can’t find any decent metal venues at all where I live, I’m buggering off to Berlin soon to find some there…

  • Andrew Duffin

    And to think that BBC2 was once the intelligent channel.

  • Iron Maiden have played TOTP, their most memorable appearance was for the song ‘Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter’. I understand that they demanded to play live instead of miming and promptly blew the studio’s speaker system.

    Moving it to BBC2 is cruel. They should just kill it off and let it die gracefully. A commenter on Blogcritiics suggested it should have been killed off at least 10 years ago.

    Toryboy, I think you might find Oslo more useful for your metal needs or even Gothenburg.

  • Tony H

    Never mind the Heavy Metal poseurs, I’m sure Hendrix appeared on TOTP… A useful corrective re-watching those old tapes, reminds us that the ’60s weren’t all long hair and flares, which were sported by only a small minority, those of us who went to rock fests etc. There’s Hendrix on the TOTP stage (unless it was some other prog) wailing guitar, perhaps he sets fire to it (can’t remember), then the camera pans round to show audience. The guys have short haircuts, National Health specs…
    I wanted to be a BBC cameraman, ‘cos they clearly got away with murder for a while ’til somebody Higher Up brought them to heel: vividly remember a TOTP show when the camera zoomed in on one especially appealing girl in miniskirt plus tight sweater – then zoomed in for a tight CU of her delightfully mobile breasts…
    Haven’t watched the show for probably a couple of decades. No comment on its move to BBC2, hardly ever watch TV except for ER and gangster/sci-fi movies.

  • dalmaster

    They should move it to BBC4. The channel might actually breach the non-zero peak-time rating.

  • Heavy metal poseurs? Hendrix is an icon (and did a lot for rock music) but that great a musician? Nah…you wanna talk posing…playing a guitar with your teeth and lighting it on fire, that is serious posing.

  • Tony H

    Hendrix is an icon (and did a lot for rock music) but that great a musician? Nah…you wanna talk posing…playing a guitar with your teeth and lighting it on fire, that is serious posing.

    But he did it better than anyone else… And he really was a gifted guitarist, so I take issue very strongly with your remarks. I suggest blazing Fenders at dawn…

  • Kat

    The problem with TOTP is not that pop music is less good than decades ago (although this is likely the case), but that the producers recently incorrectly assumed that the only reliable audience are pre-pubescent girls, thus gearing the show their way. As all the good acts started seeing the decline, they had to fill it up with interviews and the like. Also, the presenters are sycophants, so the viewer feels horribly patronised. No one needs to watch T.V to be told what music they should be liking, especially when it is boy-band drivel. There are some good acts around today, just rarely on TOTP.

  • Karl

    Dunno about “Tell Me About It,” but Delbert McClinton is pretty darn good. More R&B than C&W, though Del McCoury recently covered McClinton’s “Same Kind of Crazy.”

  • Richard Garner

    There are possible explainations for the demise of TOTP. One that is being floated is that it was broadcast at a bad time: It was a chart program on five or six days after everybody knew what the charts were. In other words, being on on a friday was a bad idea. this is plausible, but it reveals one things – that the BBC cannot co-ordinate its activities probably, since it is the BBC itself that broadcasts the charts on Sundays.

    On the other hand, I think that Friday night broadcasts do make sense, because people can watch dancing and pop music before going out and starting the weekend partying. So I’m not convinced that the “Fridays is a bad idea” line is plausible.

    I think that TOTP simply couldn’t compete against private alternatives. MTV 1 and 2 and Kerrang! do them out of viewers.

    I personally couldn’t care less, since I have never liked “chart music,” preffring alternative rock, punk and Metal. Oh, and Iron Maiden, in 1981 were the first band to play live on TOTP since the Who in 1973, and hated it so much they refused to go on again. “Bring Your Daughter…” was not preformed live on the program, but was recorded for TOTP at a show. Maiden recently played TOTP with a reissue of “Run to the Hills,” though, but that was strictly to promote the single since it was released entirely for charity. Jimi Hendrix did play on TOTP, but he refused to play the single he was supposed to be promoting, preferring to play a Cream song, “Sunshine of Your Love.”

  • The Hendrix performance Richard Garner is talking about was actually on the Lulu Show. Cream had split up that very day which is what prompted the change of song. Lulu talks about it in this interview with Danny Baker.

  • Jimmy Page is a far better guitarist than Hendrix ever was…to name one comtemporary. Hendrix is a guitar version of Elvis…profound effect on music and culture, but not necessarily that talented.

  • zmollusc

    ….but the chart is based on sales, and the acts playing on TOTP are the ones selling most units. Surely then TOTP is driven by this wonderful ‘free market’ I keep hearing about? How, then can it possibly have gone wrong?

  • Julian Taylor

    The reason is quite simply that there is far more competition now to ToTP. It has absolutely nothing at all to do with format or music genres, although I hope that even the BBC would baulk at showing Country & Western. CDUK runs a very successful show for ITV at the right time (kids Saturday times, before the sport begins) using exactly the same format as ToTP. Atit Productions’ PopWorld and a number of other cable channels also run similar programmes. Andi Peters and Jess Eldridge have, as I understand it, done a pretty impressive job just holding onto 3.1m viewers against this competition, given that that particular BBC1 timeslot is now regarded as the Children/Adult crossover deadzone and that ToTP then gets repeated at some godforsaken hour late into Sunday night. Changing the show onto BBC2 will most likely be its final kiss of death, unless ToTP goes through a complete revision and re-emerges as some form of 21st Century Old Grey Whistle Test.

    As for the chart system it is NOT selected by the BBC. The UK chart is based upon actual reported music sales by stores and not, as in most other countries in the world, upon CD stock shifted by distributors onto retailers – regardless of whether it is sold or not. Daily figures of music sales are released by EMAP (Kiss FM, The Box, Kerrang! etc.) and emailed as a spreadsheet to everyone in the music industry.

  • I haven’t watched TOTP since I was about 12 because I grew out of the dull pap that makes up about 90% of the show. Boy bands, girl bands, boy&girl bands, none with a shred of talent between them miming to the latest piece of MOR generic bollocks. They practically never play music I like (rock + metal.)

    The last time I remember Iron Maiden being on TOTP was last September playing Wildest Dreams. Not their greatest song but it certainly injected some energy into the proceedings. In January, they are re-releasing the Number of the Beast single as a kind of 25th anniversary thing so we may see them on there again!

  • The sad thing is that I will probably buy it, despite the fact I have all their albums. Seeing as its Iron Maiden I am betting on at least one “bonus” track on the single.

  • Oooohhhh Delbert… an excellent singer, I saw him live in Austin TX once. His music is actually quite hard to classify (makes life hell for Virgin et al., but screw ‘em), but it is, at different times, country, r&b, country rock, Southern rock — sometimes within only two songs.

    Best of all, Delbert was around before the Nashville Stranglehold times (aka the death of country music), and his stuff is always good at a party if you want to engender questions like “Who IS that guy? He’s GOOD!”

  • Yikes, Andrew.

    Brain Eno called Hendrix “the first proper electronic composer”. He was right about that, and it’s a tip to just how important Hendrix was. He just about terrified all the Britbrats back in the day when he landed on The Oulde Sod.

    There was a hell of a lot more to him than picking with his teeth and pyromania. He did that stuff because he had everything else wired up. I’ve never thought that Page was that much more bitchin’ than Jimi when he died in ’71. I didn’t then, and I don’t now.

    Here’s a trivia ricochet: can anybody think of a rock song in 3/4 time before “Manic Depression”?

  • Kim: Delbert ran with us on many Headhunters shows. Grammy winners standing around in the wings lappin’ it up while he was throwing down. A swell time had by all. They hauled me around on crutches after I broke my hip in a bike crash: New Year’s Eve 1991, Louisville, at table with Delbert on my right, before the show.

    Delbert’s aces.

  • Sorry, not convinced, probably never will be.

  • 4everneveramen

    lets face it top of the pops is no longer the music show most people stay in to wacth anymore
    its heyday was back in the 1960s and 70’s..since that era it has rapidly gonedown hill..i think its worse phase was in the 1980’s when it tried to get in tune with the acid house thing with naff presenters introducing the lame acts.
    the biggest mistake the bbc made was when they decided to wipe most of the 1960’s achieve material,leaving little or nothing left for the kids of the generation that bopped on top of the pops in the 60’s to wacth.
    now all we get is the usual dave clark five and hollies when they first appeared in 1964, which after a while gets very boring and very predictable.
    i would love to be able to wacth all the shows from 1964 to 1969 and see all the bands that played(or mimed) and the presenters.
    the 1986 edition hosted by the great jimmy saville and dave cash was unforgetable when dave cash is so nervous introducing amen corner you can hear his voice shaking!! poor man!!
    but jimmy was always cool and relaxed and always looked at ease with the audience around him.
    the bbc should not have wiped the 1960’s editions of top of the pops even for the sake of allowing those of us born in the summer of love to be able to wacth them.
    and to use the excuse that noone would want to wacth them now is totally untrue.
    why do they save old films of the war? cause people always want to look back and see how things were in those days.
    i think the bbc should be held to account and punished for what they did.