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‘Top of the Pops’ falls off BBC’s charts

Venerable show throw back to days before 24-hour music channels
/ Source: NBC News

“That’s not music, its just noise!” “You can’t even hear the words!”

These are words every teenager has heard from his parents at some point in his life when listening to “his” music.

As of July 30, British households will bid goodbye to the cause of many of these arguments, the iconic BBC chart show “Top of the Pops.” The program has been running for 42 years.

“The time has come to bring the show to its natural conclusion,” BBC director of television, Jana Bennett said.  The BBC admitted in a statement that it cannot compete with 24-hour music channels that allow viewers to choose the style of music.

The BBC commissioned “Top of the Pops” in 1964 for six episodes that were broadcast from a converted church in Manchester.  The first show had live performances from classic groups such as The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and Dusty Springfield. 

The show proved so popular that it was commissioned for a regular Thursday night slot on BBC1, where it became appointment viewing for generations of music lovers over the next three decades. 

National institutionThe show’s presenters were DJs recruited from the BBC’s national pop and rock station, Radio 1. The show worked in tandem with Radio 1 by announcing the new singles chart on a Sunday evening. Thursday night, the artists would perform on the show.  The Thursday performance would almost guarantee an increase in sales and a higher chart placing for next week’s list.

At the height of its popularity in the 1970s, the show attracted 15 million viewers to its Thursday night slot, a large majority being families. A rite of passage for many was arguing with parents that what was being watched was really music.

Young girls would often learn dance routines together to perform in front of the TV set and family during the show.

Dancing, or a more professional variety, played a large part in the establishment of “Top of the Pops” as a British institution.  In the late 1960s and early ‘70s a resident group of dancers would “interpret” the tracks of bands that didn’t (or wouldn’t – more on that later) want to appear on stage in the studio. Known as Pan’s People, the dancers debuted in 1968 and quickly gained a following of dads and schoolboys across the nation. Many fans remain today despite their final appearance in 1976.

All musical shows have their fair share of controversy and wardrobe malfunctions. “Top of the Pops” is no exception to the rule. Equal parts musical rebellion and production mistakes further added to the show’s place in the nation’s collective conscience. 

Eighties Goth band All About Eve sat motionless in front of live cameras when their backing track failed to start on cue. Dexy’s Midnight Runners (of ‘Come on Eileen’ fame) performed in front of a picture of darts player Jocky Wilson for the track “Jackie Wilson Said.”  Nirvana performed ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and provoked a stage invasion. Band members of Oasis traded instruments to perform one track. Throughout these mishaps the debate continued over whether or not people should perform live on the show.

“Top of the Pops” was equally regarded with respect and contempt by musical artists. Appearing on the show was to some a sign that they had “arrived.” For others, like The Clash and more recently the Arctic Monkeys, it was part of the establishment to be rebelled against, and they refused to appear.

NostalgiaAt present, “Top of the Pops” is broadcast on a Sunday evening on BBC2 and attracts, on average, a million viewers. 

In recent months it has devoted entire specials to live concerts by Green Day and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, which were recorded on a stage in front of the BBC TV Center in an effort to reclaim to viewers.  

Since the announcement of the show’s demise earlier this week, people are posting their memories online. Most of those postings are coming from fans over the age of 30. The fact that this demographic is being the most vocal about the end of the show only underlines how it failed to keep up with the digital age. 

Younger generations have more readily embraced downloads, both to MP3 players and mobile phones, and aren’t tied to a Sunday evening for the unveiling of the new chart or a certain time to see a favorite band perform its latest track “live.”

The BBC says that it will continue with the “Top of the Pops” brand in various forms. “Top of the Pops 2,” a clip show re-broadcasting archive footage, will continue to be shown and the “Top of the Pops” magazine and Web site will still be published.

On July 30, generations of British TV viewers will bid a fond farewell to a friend they haven’t seen for years, happy to remember the good times and forever associating Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” with each week’s Top 10 Singles countdown.