Sunday, July 30, 2006

today : burnt out, fading away

My first Top of the Pops memory was probably a false one. I recall seeing Stevie Wonder performing I Wish and Bob Marley perfoming Jammin' on an episode when I was about 10 or 11. Both seemed as if they came from another galaxy, which they kind of did. And that was the beauty of the Pops. It was essentially crap because it reflected the popular taste of the day and in the seventies at least was not prejudiced against novelty slush. But this created juxtapositions that you simply could not make up. Peter Skellern accompanied by a brass band followed immediately by some gushingly moronic centre-parted DJs and then Pan's People trying to interpret Donna Summer's I Feel Love. Donna's song was number one for nine weeks and she never bothered to get on a plane and appear. Neither was there even a rudimentary video. You could almost sense the frustration amongst the TOTP honchos. Week after week they relied on Pan's People (who were everything you could wish for in a dance troupe APART from sexy) and some rudimentary video feedback effects to interpret the futuristic sounds of Moroder's bouncing and stuttering synths. They needn't have been frustrated because somewhere in the North of England there was a teenage lad who was struggling to understand this fantastic sound that was beamed from the tinny speaker in our TV directly from outer space. It wasn't even music really. Not as I understood it.

Niche marketing killed top of the pops. MTV base, Smash Hits TV, The Kerrang Channel, MTV and the general strive for archness and edginess amongst the explosion of competing pop shows that grew up in the past 10 years. It's no longer acceptable to jam Brian and Michael alongside Gloria Gaynor, followed by Lindisfarne and the Undertones. This worked for decades because Totp was the only music show that you could see on normal telly (The Whistle Test was tucked away at 11pm on BBC2). It was the place where music met popular culture. An iconic Totp performance guaranteed a place in history, at least until Friday night. It was where you got your fix of both the music and the genuine otherworldly idols who made it

But gradually pop music ate pop culture and now it is everywhere - to the point of saturation, which renders the function of TOTP obsolete. These days you can watch music for 24 hours a day on TV and listen to music for 24 hours a day without making any effort at all. There's so much music around that you don't even have to turn on the radio or put a record on to hear it. It pours out of the TV, out of other peoples' cars. It bleeds from strangers' headphones. It accompanies you in the chemists shop, the supermarket and, I found out recently, in the Accident and Emergency waiting room. Your favourite pop star is no longer aloof and unreachable. They probably have their own reality show and you can even talk to them on myspace. Who needs a half-hour window on a Thursday night?

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