You would be hard pressed to find someone in the UK who hasn’t, at some pivotal point in their lives, avidly watched Top Of The Pops. It’s become part of our national heritage despite the fact that in many cases the songs are mimed and the selected acts appear courtesy of their record sales regardless of any artistic talent. The hotchpotch of musical styles that follow one another during a particular show has always made it an argumentative programme, where an act is either lauded or condemned depending on whether you’re watching as a child or a parent: and it’s always seemed to me to be a family show – in some senses akin to a traditional variety show – where the main meeting of minds only comes with cringing at acts such as the Goombay Dance Band. TOTP has never set out to shock.
Considering there are over 10,000 performances in the archives to choose from then the compilers of the 40 songs listed here (one taken from each year) have had a difficult task. The result is a series of clips that attempt to be representative of the period they come from, whilst also appealing to the masses (the BBC obviously want to sell this product and be as user-friendly as possible). Because of this, inevitably, the DVD is a mixed bag and, whilst it’s deserving of the five rating for presentation, evaluating the musical contents is difficult because each viewer will bring their own teenage years to their appreciation of the product.
As a flavour: the DVD kicks off sedately with Little Children by Billy J. Kramer And The Dakotas from the first preserved TOTP performance, winds its way through the 1960s via Procol Harum, slides into the 1970s with The Three Degrees and Slade, feels as though it tarries too long in the 1980s with UB40 and Wham, and races through the 1990s until the present day with the Manic Street Preachers, Blur, Oasis, and The Darkness; finishing with Gary Jules’ Mad World.
The most avant-garde performance features Sandie Shaw singing Long Live Love in an empty studio with bizarre camera angles of absent audiences (although the commentary doesn’t specify why the rehearsal version is on the DVD, or whether in fact this was the broadcast version). Close on her heels The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown’s Fire comes complete with the singer wearing a halo of fire. I also found it more interesting when the selected song wasn’t the clichéd choice from a particular act (such as Queen performing Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy).
One of my personal annoyances is the avoidance of punk, with 1978 and 1979 represented by The Jam and Ian Dury who, despite their pedigree, are a safe bet for the BBC. One of my surprises was the vibrant lipstick of Human League’s Phil Oakey. It makes the outrage that accompanied Boy George’s appearance the following year all the more puzzling.
The extras include a brief compilation of Pan’s People and other sundry dance groups, and an unenlightening tour of the studios, but sadly it lacks a section on the DJs. Ultimately this DVD is bound to create a few reminisces, but it isn’t intended to be a cultural document, just an extended version of TOTP 2 which you’d probably be better videoing and editing from the television rather than buying this collection and skipping through the Spice Girls.