top of the pops logo top of the popsI have been watching for a few years repeats of top of the pops on BBC4 and iplayer. (Top of the pops was the definitive music show for the 1970’s and 1980’s). In the days before the internet, there were only two ways to listen to music for free. Listen to the radio or watch top of the pops. Otherwise you had to buy the record or tape.

The exposure it gave artists is hard to underestimate.

For 30-40 minutes every week, your TV was a window into a different world.

Now I find watching repeats of top of the pops both banal and stilted and a fascinating glimpse into another time and another culture at the same time,

Some episodes are shortened and links between performances have been removed. Probably for a couple of reasons.
1. The presenters is now a convicted pedophile or
2. They are helping the police with their enquiries in connection with 1. above.

Noel edmonds top of the pops

I am pretty sure we are still allowed to talk about Noel Edmonds. Imagine this though. Going to a party hosted by the headteacher…

But here are a few things I noticed and there is a conclusion which will affect your business. So let’s get cracking.

1. The comparison with modern day reality TV shows, in which the winner or the finalists are only revealed after much hype, advert breaks and general nonsense.

The result of who has been voted off strictly come dancing is stretched into a 30-40 minute show with special music guests, sports style analysis and general hype.

On top of the pops (admittedly the format did vary), the actually tell you who was number one in the first few minutes.

The punchline was revealed.

The tension was broken.

You had no further reason to watch.

This was in the case of longer attention spans – plus as I already said – your only other choice was listening to the radio.

2. The audience.

The word on the street was that it was actually quite hard to get tickets to see top of the pops being recorded.

You had to apply months in advance with no indication of who you might see.

The reality was that the sets were cleverly shot with just a few dozen guests in a manufactured party atmosphere, herded around between acts. If you look closely, you will see that some of them look really bored.

Cure camera angles made a rainy Tuesday morning look like the ultimate hip and happening nightclub. (Or discotheque in 1970’s speak).

Nearer the front of the audience were obvious professional dancers, quite pedestrian by 21st century standards but they were the ones who primarily conveyed the “fun.”

3. Technology

This was in the days when you had to write in and send a cheque if you wanted a T-shirt.

Nowadays, we expect to be tweeting in real time with reality shows, football matches and vote by text or online.

The graphics at the end (and sometimes during) the performance were space age at the time but they look pretty dull and windows 95 style now.

4. Costuming

Remember this was the only time you could see your heroes on live TV. From their point of view, it made sense to portray the right image.

Adam Ant painted his face with a white stripe and dressed his band as red Indians an pirates to achieve success. The music was essentially the same as when he was an also ran. (Legend has it that Adam Ant paid Malcolm McClaren 100 guineas for the consultation on this image change).

adam and the ants top of the pops

Adam and the Ants. In 1981, THIS was exciting and if you could only see it once a week – you would…

Punk group The Stranglers wanted to portray a rough and ready image. When asked if they were going to change into stage clothes, they replied bluntly “No.”
the stranglers top of the pops

The image centric nature of the world has increased several million percent since them. Do you give thought to what you wear and how people perceive it?

Thought not.

Overall thoughts on top of the pops.

Top of the pops was a real mixed bag. You never knew what you were going to get.

Heavy rock, disco, electronic music or novelty records could all be shown back to back.

In today’s marketing speak, we call this a lack of niche. It’s relatively easy to see WHY the one-hit wonders of the day were just that. Hindsight is seldom wrong.

In the 1970’s, if you wanted heavy rock, you had to listen to Tommy Vance. If you wanted Indie and new wave, you had to listen to John Peel.

If you were a novelty record, well there was no hope for you.

What do you remember of top of the pops? Do you watch the repeats? What do you think?

About the Author

Jonathan Senior. Management consultant. Swimmer, cyclist, runner, triathlete since 1996. Running coach, blogger since 2005. Likes punk rock, rap & rugby league. Straight talker. Suffers no fools...