Sunday, July 30, 2006

THE LAST TOP OF THE POPS: The hip don't cry

Curious, then, we're now in a world where Smash Hits is no longer available on the newsstand, but does have an afterlife on the television, while Top of the Pops has ceased to transmit, but continues as a magazine of the same name.

The last show wasn't quite star-packed - which might be considered quite nice, as in a way Janice Long and Rufus Hound felt more true to ver Pops than the glitzier Anthea Turner type presenters. But even so having Pat Sharp on was just bemusing - surely he did more links tonight than in his Pops career to date?

Jimmy Saville swanned up with the air of a man who believed it was all about him, although he doesn't seem to be in the best of health any more. Perhaps it was all about him - had the BBC swung the axe to enable Saville to turn up to close down the show he'd opened?

No, probably not - a corporation so sentimental would never have been able to quite kill off such a long-serving retainer.

In a cross-channel spot of kindness, the now-defunct ITV channel let Fearne Cotton do the opening "it's still number one" from Fiji, where she's currently heading Celebrity Love Island. We don't know if the Guiness Book of Records has a category for most appearances on unwanted programmes in an evening, but if they do, Cotton's surely a shoo-in.

Thanks to the BBC's habit of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and then pouring scalding bleach down the drain to make sure there are no survivors, before enclosing the whole of the sewage system in six-metre thick concrete, the first programme from January 1964 was represented by, erm, The Rolling Stones doing The Last Time from 1965.

Bill Wyman looked like a man too old for any girlfriend he would have even back then.

Pat Sharp tries a link between the Stones and the next act by trilling that "a few years later on, a bunch of girls came along. They would be the female Rolling Stones..." Yes, it's The Spice Girls. Spot-on, Pat, apart from it being thirty-one years later rather than "a few" and them not being, in any way, "the female Rolling Stones."

Victoria Beckham looked like a woman more interested in planning celebrity parties than singing pop songs even back then.

After a 1960s montage, which probably featured every bit of that decade's programmes which hadn't been wiped to free up tape space for a Mike Yarwood programme, Tony Blackburn clarified his reputation for making bad jokes: they weren't so bad they were good, they were so bad several shades of colour faded from the spectrum, never to be seen again, whenever he made one.

The Jackson Five roll by doing Rockin' Robin in 1972. Fittingly for a bunch of children, they had the air of being dressed by distant aunts gone wild with their mail-order credit facility.

Michael Jackson looked like a person who shouldn't be in the company of young people even back then.

A presenter montage offers the first pisspoor Jimmy Saville impression of the evening, but even that is preferable to what comes next: one of apparently more than 100 TOTP appearances by Robbie Williams. These include, of course, the ones he made when he was made bearable by being in Take That, but the one chosen for this evening is him doing Let Me Entertain You in 1998. He's in front of a giant 'Robbiewood' sign, which we bet was a lot smaller than it seemed on TV.

Robbie Williams looked like a man who wasn't gay even back then.

The highlight of the 1970s montage would have been Yoko Ono in the studio with a blindfold on - just a newspaper showing today's date away from a Patty Hearst tribute act - and, of course, the John Peel playing mandolin bit. Showing a restraint which the programme is hardly known for, the viewer is left to spot this for themselves rather than having it pointed out with a fading of the rest of the screen and a giant flashing caption.

Starman from 1972 offers the sight of David Bowie and Mick Ronson doing some of that we-know-they-might-but-are-they bigymnastics which we're currently getting in tribute form from Pete and Richard on Big Brother.

David Bowie looked like a man who knew you couldn't rely on getting anything interesting on channel two even back then.

You wouldn't get through this without a montage of the dance troupes, although we're pretty certain they didn't spend too much time looking for something by Zoo in the archives. Babs from Pan's People was allowed to wave from the scaffolding balcony, but not to speak, like some sort of terpischorian Japanese royal family.

Back to the music, and 2003's Crazy In Love performance from Beyonce. Halfway through she gives up on the whole trying to keep to the song bit and lets everyone else carry it.

Beyonce looked like a woman who didn't really need Jay-Z hanging about even back then.

We were surprised - if we can return to Big Brother again, even though that's a little like using Diana's state funeral to promote some sort of visitor attraction at a country house - when Richard insisted the other evening that The Only Way Is Up by Yazz was a "gay anthem". It actually made us wonder if he's actually gay (after all, men who talk about how much they fancy women without actually making a move on them usually turn out to be queer as rhubarb; could Richard's low-level verbal pawing at Spiral and Mikey be the same thing in reverse?). Or maybe they just apply different standards for divahood in Canada. Whatever, Yazz was part of the 1980s montage, as were Bros and Duran.

1965's over-played Sonny and Cher appearance came next; god, did these two have divorce court written all over them? When Cher "put[s her] little hand in [his]", it looks less a romantic gesture; more like a bloke in a carlot sealing a deal for a cut-and-shunt Vauxhall Astra shaking the hand of an especially nervous sociophobe with bad excema.

Cher looked like a partner who couldn't quite bear to hold Sonny Bono's gaze even back then.

The audience montage was half-arsed, and even the children and animals montage seemed to be more of an afterthought (in what way is Our Kid like the Tweenies?) They could have pulled some more stuff out the boxes for this - wouldn't a 'don't give up the day job' bit of, say, Keegan, Wogan and even DLT's Convy UK might have shown the sheer lottery-esque variety thrown up by the programme's format than all the blokes in woolly suits.

The airline pilot take of Gnarls Barkley and Crazy comes from the downward spiral years.

Gnarls Barkley looked like an act who were going to kill off the show by making it seem like national service even back then.

Even five years ago, you'd have expected a programme like this to have included Nirvana doing Teen Spirit in full, but it seems that not only has grunge's moment passed, but its position in recent musical history has now started to be downgraded too - Kurt's no more a god, but just a flick in the 1990s montage. Still, at least grunge does better than Madchester/Baggy: despite that night The Stone Roses and, erm, the other two were on the same edition being one of the episodes that everyone of that generation talks about, not one of the bands from that scene get a look-in.

Nor, come to think of it, does the supposedly epochian Bis appearance.

What the hell did George Michael have done his trousers for 1984's Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go appearance? It's understandable for a man to want to increase the appearance of his groin, but at least use something vaguely penis-shaped instead of what appears to be some sort of wrench.

And "you make the sun shine brighter than Doris Day"? In 1984? How do people think he didn't come out until that cruising incident?

George Michael looked like a man who was holding his own personal pride parade even back then.

A sad note of loss next: Madonna in a pink wig doing Like A Virgin from 1984. Where did it all go wrong? A brilliant song, she looks genuinely like she's enjoying herself being a bit silly rather than a woman attempting to micromanage an international brand, and boy, she couldn't have danced if she was having bullets shot at feet by angry gay cowboys.

Madonna looked like a woman who, even so, was planning to spoil everything even back then.

Curiously for a man who has been best-known this last decade for being the subject of a slightly disconnected stalker, Mike Read chooses to make a joke about being stalked by Madonna. Presumably it's not scary if everyone has seen pictures of your stalker naked, then.

Make a note: Travis can be stopped singing by squirting silly string into them. This we learn from the 2000 montage. We also learn that putting Bono outside TV Centre in the pissing rain and surrounding him with about seventy billion watts of electrical equipment won't shut him up.

We're wrenched back to the present for the last ever top ten run down ("Luke Skywalker may have had a lightsabre, but Kasabian have a whole empire at nine" - what?) and the news that Shakira is number one with Hips Don't Lie. Somewhat awkwardly, this means the programme's last ever full number is a pop video rather than a studio performance. Which might tell some sort of tale about how the Pops' importance has diminished in recent years, or just show that the BBC wasn't prepared to pull some strings to get one last number one in the studio.

For no good reason, a closing montage is played out with Kool and The Gang's Celebration over the top. Why? Good lord, couldn't someone have dug out Everybodys On Top of the Pops, or even Rat Trap, or maybe one of the classic Pops themes?

After the credits, the final act: Sir Jimmy backstage throws a switch and plunges the studio into darkness, walking away shaking his head. Like it's all a bit of a shame rather than a major tragedy.


dickvandyke said...

The last programme was a tram smash.

celtiagirl said...

The real highlights of ToTP were those things you discussed in the playground the next day.
Such as Sparks - why was one of them Hitler, and was the other one a bird or bloke? Or Morrissey and The Smiths during their novideosforusthanks phase.
Or even Lee Marvin performing Wandrin' Star..

flaaart said...

A sad but also sort of fitting end inasmuch as it made abundantly clear just how little of a clue the BBC had about what to do with it. Normally I'd have no doubt that it would be back just like Come Dancing or Dr Who or any other lapsed brand the BBC possesses just as soon as someone could figure out what to do with the format. But I was watching the revamped version of the documentary about TOTP shown later on BBC2. Aside from marvelling at how good Sue Menhenick still looked six years ago when the original documentary was made, it was sobering watching this again as epitaph rather than celebration. TOTP was only a tv show - but its end highlights the deep malaise affecting pop today, and it struck me not merely how bleak the prospects for pure pop seem at this precise moment but how maybe it's not inevitable that it will rise again from the ashes.

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