Times of Our Lives: 2006 – Alas Poor Top of the Pops, I Knew It Well

A momentous year in pop is the fitting epitaph for 2006. Today’s playlist is at the bottom of this post.

Had it happened twenty years earlier, the decision to end Top of the Pops would have been a “You killed me scooter!” moment. As it was, what had been an institution – a part of the fabric of life – slid gently into the television graveyard. A sign of the increasing irrelevance of the charts in an electronic age.

If the mention of Top of the Pops brings a moment’s reverie, the choice of theme tune as an accompaniment betrays your age. CCS’ version of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ is mine; yes, I’m that old. Sorry, Phil, I never cared for ‘Yellow Pearl’ and the exploding tv sets with coloured discs flying everywhere.

Everyone thinks they watched the ‘golden age’ of TOTP. Those who saw the likes of The Who, Rolling Stones, Beatles, etc., in their heyday will tell you theirs was the best time; I’ll tell you it begins in around 1972 lasts for a decade or so. Maybe to 1984 when the faux party atmosphere really grated.

Growing up, it was one of half-a-dozen programmes which was unmissable: TOTP, Match of the Day, The Big Match, Football Focus, The Professionals, The Sweeney, Starsky and Hutch. Others were fashionable, coming and going as the mood of the day took them. Oh, and Dangermouse.

The staccato sound of the playground chatter on the day of the programme was dominated by the previous night’s football, turning quickly to who was on Top of the Pops that evening. 7pm on Thursday nights meant for thirty minutes, the sound of the nation was punctuated by parental barks of “What racket is this?”

That racket was the central focus of young voices the following morning. Who was the best act or what was the best song – not necessarily the same thing – the night before, had to be decided before answering your name for the register.

We never pondered why The Dooleys were always on; we just agreed they were crap or why anyone thought ‘Shaddup Your Face’ was so good that they bought it in such high quantities that ‘Vienna’ never made it to Number One.

Yes, you thought this…

…was better than this.

The taste of the record-buying public was never more dubious. OK, putting nine Ed Sheeran songs into the top ten was worse but there you go.

In the 1970s, U.S. soul singers often appeared in clips from ‘Soul Train’, which seemed to be essentially the same format but with a crowd enjoying themselves (see The Damned below for what I mean). And a bit cooler given it was from the U.S.A; a studio in west London wasn’t quite so appealing.

Yet many of us wanted to be in the audience. It’s only in later years when you read about the way producers treated them like cattle that some of that mystique shatters. Living out in the sticks, you’re stuck with the practicalities of getting there and back. It never worked out and is probably just as well. Some of the mystique would have been lost.

The power of Top of the Pops at its’ peak can’t be under-estimated. In his autobiography, Johnny Marr found appearing on the show after This Charming Man charted, to be an “underwhelming experience”.

That night The Smiths reaped benefits at a Hacienda gig. On returning to Manchester, Marr relates Mike Pickering telling them the Factory venue was packed to the rafters. “There’s 2,300 people in there, and the place only holds 1,800,” Pickering said, before dropping the bombshell, “plus there’s a thousand people outside on the street who can’t get in.”

It didn’t always work out that way as New Order were to prove…

Some of my memorable moments:

the first ‘racket’ i  remember…

The very young latched onto this one simply because of the title.

a genuine ‘wtf’ moment: The sex pistols ‘pretty vacant’

Apathy in the crowd for the damned and ‘love song’…

Paul Weller in an apron

The Clash ‘Bankrobber’ by Legs & Co

New Order play Blue Monday live

A rarity at the time when lip-synching – or miming as we called it back it the day – was the norm.

Despite falling a dozen places as a result of this performance, Blue Monday went on to become the biggest-selling 12″ record of all-time.

Happy Mondays and Stone Roses on the same show

It wasn’t perfect but never claimed to be. But for millions each week, it was a huge part of our youth.

So to the day’s playlist:

2006 – The Epitaph

Title Band
Cuckoo Archie Bronson Outfit
That Man Will Not Hang Mclusky
So This Is Great Britain? The Holloways
Gold Lion Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Lipstick Licking Milburn
Wild Blue Yonder Paul Weller
I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor Arctic Monkeys
Country Girl Primal Scream
Blackened Blue Eyes The Charlatans
Funky Fire The Aggrolites
Another Sunny Day Belle & Sebastian
“Get A Shot Of The Refrigerator” Stereolab
Young Folks Peter Bjorn and John
Tonight Sibylle Baier
Tears Dry On Their Own Amy Winehouse
International Echo Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint
Blake’s Jerusalem Billy Bragg
Structures Of Stone Beggar
We’re From Barcelona I’m From Barcelona
Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken Camera Obscura
Naive The Kooks
Chelsea Dagger The Fratellis
Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death From Above CSS
Yellow Sun The Raconteurs
When The Sun Goes Down Arctic Monkeys
Left Right And Centre Lord Large
Mandy Goes to Med School The Dresden Dolls
From Auschwitz To Ipswich Jarvis Cocker
Soldier Jane Beck
Fidelity Regina Spektor
Stereo John Legend
House Party At Boothy’s Little Man Tate
Have Mercy on Me The Black Keys
Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World The Divine Comedy
The Blues Are Still Blue Belle & Sebastian
Standing On My Own Again Graham Coxon
Dirty Mind The Pipettes
Visionary Road Maps Stereolab
Prisoner Song The Aggrolites
Let’s Get Out Of This Country Camera Obscura
Broken Promise Land Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint
Put Your Records On Corinne Bailey Rae
Rehab Amy Winehouse
That’s No Way To Tell A Lie James Dean Bradfield
Goodbye Babylon The Black Keys
Really The Blues Carbon Silicon
We Are The Sleepyheads Belle & Sebastian
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