The news that the curtain is to come down at last on Top of the Pops after forty-two years fills An Spailpín Fánach with a strangely wistful feeling. Like the rest of the former viewership, An Spailpín hasn’t watched Top of the Pops in quite some time, but I still continued to watch TOTP long after I stopped listening to pop music radio, and after I had begun to realise that pop music, as we currently understand it, is as dead as dead gets.
The reason that Top of the Pops was essential viewing for so long was because TOTP was where genius would take its bow. The great appeal in watching TOTP, and the reason viewers kept going back week after week and sitting through twenty-five minutes of rubbish was the three minutes of magic that would make all the preceding worthwhile. It worked in two ways for fans – you could discover bands you never heard of when they made a triumphant Top of the Pops debut, or you could cheer a band you had followed for years when they finally went big-time between seven and half-past on a Thursday night.
All An Spailpín’s warmest Top of the Pops memories are of the ‘eighties, naturally enough, as that is An Spailpín’s vintage, when your faithful correspondent was that age when pop music seemed like the most important thing in the world. Wendy James snarling into a microphone that she did not want our money, she wanted our love, thus making her an exception in that famously venal and grasping decade. Enya singing Orinoco Flow playing a black piano bestrewn with roses. Kate Bush with the biggest hair in a big hair decade singing about making a deal with God – she always aimed high, Katie. And saddest and most magical of all, The Pogues featuring the wonderful Kirsty McColl, may God be good to her, all crowded onto a stage that was too small for them, just failing to have a Christmas Number One with The Fairytale of New York, and the bells ringing out for Christmas Day.
I remember Kirsty and Shane years later, back on Top of the Pops, or the new TOTP the BBC introduced in the 1990s to try and keep the thing going on a ventilator, dueting the Fairytale – Shane was wasted, and Kirsty sang the edited version of the “you scumbag, you maggot” line. It was very sad, and it was clear then that TOTP’s, and pop music itself’s, number was up. With the odd exception, like the Spice Girls, the magnificent Britney before she married Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel, and the gorgeous Rachel Stevens singing “Some Girls,” An Spailpín’s favourite pop song of the past three years at least, everything else in the popular music pantheon is, almost without exception, muck. Nick Cave has lost his muse, McCartney’s sixty-four, the Rolling Stones are a joke. You can take your Artic Monkeys, your Coldplay and whatever you’re having yourself, put them all into a sack and throw in a six-pack of stout for luck, and I still wouldn’t give you a fiver for the lot of them.
Nobody bought Rachel Stevens’ Some Girls. Sounded like Bananarama anyway. An Spailpín only ever listens to Raidió na Gaeltachta or Lyric FM anymore. And what I wonder now is: is pop music cat now, or was it always? Is my current distaste just a function of great age, or are people listening to someone now the way I listened to Lloyd Cole then?
Personally, I doubt it, and here’s why (hats off to The Community at Large for the link). This is Pitchfork Media’s list of the 100 Best Music Videos of all time. Most of them have not come within An Spailpín’s ken, and many of those that did have been ignored because they’re M-U-C-K, but there are some incandescent classics on there that you can’t help grinning like a fool with joy and delight as you watch them. Adam and the Ants, Madonna, Kate Bush of course, ZZ Top. Transvision Vamp are a loss, but I don’t suppose they ever did that well in the States. No excuse for no Blondie, though. Funnily enough, a lot of the videos I associate with MT-USA and fab Vinnie Hanley, God have mercy on him, rather than Top of the Pops - ZZ Top, Van Halen and Pat Benetar, God help us. The interesting question is: is this genuinely good stuff, or is it just An Spailpín relieving his youth in front of the telly? “We are YOUNG, doo doo doo, doodoo…” Noël Coward once quipped that there’s nothing quite so potent as cheap music – looks like he had a point.
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