Time to bring back Top of the Pops?

On The Guardian website Miranda Sawyer campaigns for a return of Top of the Pops. Unfortunately she spoils a good argument with the mistaken opinion that The Mercury Music Prize represents the sole valid alternative to Simon Cowell’s X-Factor, and they are the only two games in town.

I’m not sure if the Top of the Pops format will work today, but we desperately need something to reverse the situation in the past decade whereby the general music-buying population is more or less completely cut out of the loop in determining which records and artists become successful.

With records played to death on the radio before they’re even released, we’ve reached the point where everything mainstream audiences get to hear is decided in advance by a very small number of elite tastemakers from the record companies and the media. The Mercury Music prize gives every appearance of being run by this same clique.

What was great about TOTP was the way it used a strict formula based on chart position to decide who appeared on it – nobody got vetoed because a clique of cloth-eared idiots from BBC light entertainment thought they didn’t fit the show’s format. If enough fans went out and bought the record, they got on. So we had Mötorhead on prime-time TV playing “Ace of Spades”, something which would be unthinkable now.

What’s very notable is the way the BBC marginalises genres like metal, jazz, blues or folk, despite their popularity up and down the country, in favour of various flavours of ‘indie’, which is all they think exists as an alternative to X-Factor pop. Yes, they might do the odd BBC3 documentary, but they tend to be very nostalgia-orientated, and don’t feature up and coming acts. Look at their festival coverage. For example, there was an eclectic mix of artists at Glastonbury this year, but you’d never have known it from the bands shown on TV.

Maybe genres have become so fragmented in today’s net-connected multi channel world that a crossover hit like “Ace of Spades” simply isn’t possible any more. But surely the best music of all genres deserves better than being trapped in separate musical ghettos?

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9 Responses to Time to bring back Top of the Pops?

  1. Ian Redearn says:

    Later with Jools Holland provides a pretty wide ranging mixture of acts. Not as good as the stuff Old Grey Whistle Test used to do but it is probably the only thing on TV that provides a real view of music outside of X Factor and its clones.

  2. Tim Hall says:

    Not as eclectic as it’s apologists claim, though. Can you imagine the likes of Mostly Autumn, Opeth, IQ, The Reasoning or Porcupine Tree appearing?

  3. Tim Hall says:

    And even when Joe Bonamassa gets on the show he’s forced to duet with Jooz’s bloody boogie-woogie piano. Argh!

  4. Ian Redearn says:

    That is the only problem – it does still feel like the NME guide to non-mainstream music. Still better than X Clones but misses a huge part of the music scene. It is a real shame, I remember when Whistle Test etc. used to have bands on that had only sold about 1/2 a single and it gave them great exposure. Some classic early Marillion on Whistle Test. Imagine what the likes of Mostly Autumn and Reasoning could do with that sort of exposure !!

  5. Steve says:

    I think Top of The Pops died a natural death a number of years ago. I’m surprised it lasted as long as it did, as the programme had become a complete embarrassment. Media priorities completely changed when the video age started to gather momentum.

    1 We don’t care about the music anymore. We just want a quirky video!
    2 Image of the band
    3 The actual song itself

    This brainwashing clearly worked. Masses of the general population followed like sheep and bought into this so-called new paradigm. I’m glad to say that I was never one of them.

    With the New Romantics now dominating the charts, the Old Grey Whistle Test also changed direction. With a new bunch of “trendy” young presenters, only bands that fitted this new image appeared on the programme. I seem to remember that “Old Grey” was also dropped from the title of the programme. Not surprisingly, this show was soon taken off the air. It lost all direction, and has never returned. A perfectly good music programme ruined.

    As a teenager in the late 70s, I still remember Top Of The Tops when it used to be a good watch. The original Whistle Test too. I also remember a good concert series called “Sight And Sound In Concert” which regularly had proper bands on there. Although I never play it, I’ve got a DVD at home of Camel from 1977 when they were the featured band. I also recall that even ITV had the occasional good late night concert. Dr Feelgood and Snowy White are two that come to mind.

    Despite music of a number of different genres being forced underground for years, there’s no doubt that we are in a golden age of British music. The rock/blues scene is beginning to explode. The prog scene seems to be thriving too. The programme makers, and our “friends” at the BBC should see what is happening before their eyes. It may come as a bit of a shock to them, but music does exist beyond the Jool Holland show.

    The time is right to bring back The Whistle Test, and extend the programme to two hours. If they are reluctant to put it on BBC1, then put it on BBC2. And for the first time in nearly thirty years, it can be all about the music once again. An “In Concert” series which features some up and coming bands would be most welcome too.

  6. Steve says:

    I also remember Bonamassa being on the Jools show. I would guess he was invited on to the show only as the token rock/blues artist for the series. BBC diversity, of course. Also the fact that he had become a big international star very quickly. Good for Jools public profile that he is seen mixing it a big name.

  7. Iain Weetman says:

    Great article Tim & you said it all for me.
    I do seem to remember though that on that particular extended/full version of the Jools Holland show, JB played one track & all the other indie-hipsters got to play 2 or 3.

  8. Tim Hall says:

    Steve and Iain

    Yes, his appearance is clearly tokenism :(

  9. liddell says:

    I’m not a lover of Jools Holland as I find him a tad embarrasing. One track by PineTop Smith was all the boogie woogie I ever wanted to hear.

    Classic Rock and Prog doesnt appear to get a look in!