Top Of The Pops: a magnificent musical jukebox that introduced me to glam rock, punk, Adam Ant and Kate Bush

I grew up in the glory days of Top Of The Pops, so it is a joy to dip into the BBC4 schedules weekly on a Friday to see what gems pop up. It’s television’s equivalent of dropping a coin into a jukebox, pressing ‘shuffle’ and waiting to see what happens.
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It should be compulsory viewing for the Spotify generation which will never fully experience the utter randomness of any line-up as we tuned in for the all important top 30 run down. Google or Alexa would never throw up Motorhead straight after Cliff Richard, for example - unless it suddenly malfunctions.

That glorious, bewildering, downright weird diversity - from the great to the naff and back again via the cheesiest of links from DJs with no discernible dress sense - was what made TOTP so great.

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Sure, it was never as cool as The Tube on Channel4 where Jools and Paula Yates were simply magnificent, but it spoke to us in a way that the Old Grey Whistle Test didn’t, mainly because it was on far too late and Santana would have sent us to sleep if Bob Harris’ whispered introductions already hadn’t.

Wizzard performing on Top of the Pops in 1973. (Pic: Jack Kay/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)Wizzard performing on Top of the Pops in 1973. (Pic: Jack Kay/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Wizzard performing on Top of the Pops in 1973. (Pic: Jack Kay/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

TOTP was the bridge which took us from kids’ TV shows such as Lift Off – whatever happened to its host, Ayesha? – and TRex and the Rollers’own series into a world of grown-up pop music. It was beyond essential viewing every Thursday for generations. The singles it showcased we bought in Woollies for 49p the next day; all of them on great labels such as RAK, Decca and Bell.

It also sparked those glorious conversations across the generations. We’d be electrified to hear The Jam or The Stranglers for the very first time, while parents would chorus “cannae make out a bloomin’ word they’re singing” thereby dismissing it as ‘proper’ music, which is exactly how it should be. Music should speak to, and for, a single generation. If it sparks a backlash it’s fulfilling its remit. I knows big gigs have become almost family affairs with mum and dad joined by the grandweans, but there is something magical about being in a room or stadium that excludes both. It’s our soundtrack – go create your own.

The BBC’s archives are a treasure trove of memories and rediscoveries. Of course, a lot of TOTP really hasn’t aged well, but it doesn’t matter when the music serves up so many forgotten gems to send you scurrying deep into your vinyl and CD collections once more. The show introduced me to the best of glam rock, punk and the new romantics. I can still recall the energy of Adam Ant’s debut, the gobsmacking arrival of Kate Bush, the backlash that came with Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s single Relax, and the sense of nervousness every single time a band insisted on playing live.

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TOTP at its very best was a melting pot of music, and while it may have no place in today’s streamlined, genre specific charts, these old shows still entertain and delight despite some dire miming and audiences who could barely shuffle let alone dance round a handbag.

And talking of dance, Pan’s People and Legs & Co’s interpretations of a random top 30 hit remain just as unfathomable to this day. Neither would have the judges on Strictly reaching for their ten scoring paddles.

But, those performances have rightly been preserved for eternity along with a generation of one hit wonders and novelty acts. Any show that can fuse, Lieutenant Pigeon battering out Mouldy Old Dough with the greatest rock bands is more than worth celebrating.