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Friday, January 11, 2013

Top of the Pops

Before I continue with this piece, I just want to alert you all to the fact that I have re-added the Official Facebook Page to the sidebar of this blog.  If you click on that link and click "like", you will be the first ones to get the newest content.  Just something to consider for the future.  Mull it over, if you will.

And now, on with today's subject.

I'll be the first one to admit that I always loved television programs that centered around music.

(Mind you, this also included the NBC Saturday Morning series “California Dreams”...but I digress.)

The truth is that when I was growing up, there was never a shortage of television shows on the air that celebrated music and popular artists of the day.

Take the genre of country music, for example. In addition to variety shows performed by Barbara Mandrell and the Statler Brothers, there was also the “Grand Ole Opry”, which featured the cream of the crop of country artists.

If R&B music was your thing, there was the show “Soul Train”, which aired from 1970-2006. Dance and electronic music was huge in the early 1990s, and for that type of music, you had USA's “Club MTV” (1986-1992) and Canada's “Electric Circus” (1988-2003).

And, for those of you who enjoyed the Top 40 charts, you had “Solid Gold”, as well as the granddaddy of them all, “American Bandstand”.

But what about overseas? Not all UK households got the chance to watch any episodes of “American Bandstand”, and I honestly don't know if “Soul Train” or “Solid Gold” ever aired on British television. (Perhaps any of my friends who live in the UK can help me verify this?)

Well, as it turns out, the UK had its own version of “American Bandstand”, and it ended up lasting longer than “American Bandstand”!

American Bandstand” began broadcasting in 1952, moved to national affiliate ABC in 1957, plus an additional two years in syndication. That's a grand total of thirty-seven years...a modest run. But this British show began airing on January 1, 1964, and aired its last weekly episode on July 30, 2006...a whopping run of forty-two years!

So, what's the show that we'll be discussing today?

Why, it's “Top of the Pops”, of course.

I'll be perfectly honest with you. I didn't know what “Top of the Pops” was until a few years ago. I was babysitting my then toddler aged niece and nephew at my sister's house, and I was trying to find something for us to watch on television. We stumbled across BBC Canada, and happened to come across an episode of “Top of the Pops”.

Being one who actually has more interest in British music than American music, I was intrigued by the show, and I ended up hearing a lot of music that I had never heard before. The way that the show was presented was kind of a mixture of “American Bandstand” and “American Top 40 with Casey Kasem”. The show blended performances by popular artists and a group of people dancing in a studio with a countdown of the UK's biggest hits. Every episode of “Top of the Pops” had the same format with the conclusion of the show featuring the song that was topping the British charts that week.

The show has also had several spin-offs. In 1994, a second edition of the series (entitled “Top of the Pops 2”) featured classic performances from the original program, and still airs in some format today. And, although the weekly series ceased production in 2006, the show still airs an annual holiday special on Christmas Day.

So, how did “Top of the Pops” begin?

Well, the idea for the show was coined by BBC producer Johnnie Stewart, and was inspired by a European radio program “Teen and Twenty Disc Club” that aired on Radio Luxembourg.

When the show debuted the first day of 1964, it was filmed in Studio A on Dickinson Road in Rusholme, Manchester. Initially, the program was intended to air for just a few weeks. Nobody ever expected it to run for over four decades! But, that just went to show everyone how much of an impact the show had.

TRIVIA: The program filmed its 1,000th episode in 1983, and it's 2,000th episode in 2002. Not bad for a show that was only supposed to last a few weeks!

The show reached its peak around the 1970s and early 1980s, as the show averaged fifteen million viewers per week. Initially, dance troupes (The Go-Jo's, Pan's People, Ruby Flipper, Zoo, Legs & Co.) were brought onto the show to dance along to singles that were played on the show (in some cases, they were brought in because the original artists were unable to appear on the program for whatever reason). But by the mid-1980s, the troupes were eliminated in favour of having a live studio audience, as featured in this clip from 1990 featuring Kylie Minogue.

The show originally aired on Thursday nights when it first began, but in 1996, the program shifted to Friday nights, which presented a bit of a problem, as the show often aired up against the British serial “Coronation Street”. This was the move that likely began the show's steep decline. There was an effort to revitalize the program in 2003 by retooling the entire format (which included more up and coming tracks and interviews with artists), but by 2006, the writing was on the wall, and the show's cancellation was officially announced in June 2006.

On the final episode, which aired July 30, 2006, the show brought back past presenters of the show (including original host Jimmy Savile, Reggie Yates, Mike Read, Pat Sharp, Sarah Cawood, Dave Lee Travis, Rufus Hound, Tony Blackburn, and Janice Long, and was more or less a retrospective show. The show opened up with a tune by the Rolling Stones (the first band to appear on the show), and featured the final countdown of the series (the #1 song was Shakira's “Hips Don't Lie”), and concluded with Jimmy Savile shutting the lights off in the now empty studio one final time.

Here's some more trivia about “Top of the Pops” for you.

01 – The longest running performance in the history of “Top of the Pops” history was performed by Green Day. Their November 6, 2005 performance of “Jesus of Suburbia” clocked in at a whopping 9 minutes and 10 seconds!

02 – There's some debate over what performance was the shortest one to air, but at last belief, it was “Here Comes The Summer” by the Undertones, which lasted a grand total of a minute twenty-four.

03 – The most frequent solo performer to appear on the program was singer Cliff Richard, who appeared on the show 160 times.

04 – The most frequent band to appear on the program was Status Quo, with 87 different performances.

05 – When the show first began, the practice of miming was encouraged (in which acts pretended to sing and play along to a pre-recorded track. By 1966, some bands chose to perform live, while others opted to use a specially recorded backing track.

06 – However, the problem with miming was that sometimes technical difficulties could arise. Perhaps one of the most unintentionally funny instances of this happening occurred in 1988, when the band All About Eve appeared to perform their song “Martha's Harbour”. Apparently, the song played to television audiences, but the sound was not transmitting into the studio. As a result, the first part of the performance showed the duo sitting in silence and the track played on television. Have a look!

Wow...that wasn't awkward, was it? Fortunately, as an apology to the band, they were invited back the following week, where they chose to sing the song live! Smart move on their part.

07 – Regarding the miming procedure, it was stated by former executive producer Andi Peters that it was up to the performers themselves as to whether they wanted to perform live, or mime their performance.

08 – The BBC's original policy of deleting old episodes of programs during the 1960s lead to the complete erasure of the first five hundred episodes of “Top of the Pops”. These missing episodes included the one and only time that the Beatles made an appearance on the program!

09 – The earliest surviving footage of “Top of the Pops” comes from the February 26, 1964 broadcast, which featured The Dave Clark Five and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas.

10 – Although the Beatles performance was erased, parts of it could be seen in the television serial “Doctor Who”.

11 – There were no episodes of the program filmed on November 20, 1969 or April 5, 1984. The first one was due to the Apollo 12 moon landing, and the second one was due to industrial action brought upon by unhappy workers.

12 – The songs that were featured on the inaugural January 1, 1964 broadcast were the following;

  • I Wanna Be Your Man – THE ROLLING STONES
  • I Only Want To Be With You – DUSTY SPRINGFIELD
  • Glad All Over – THE DAVE CLARK FIVE
  • Stay – THE HOLLIES
  • Hippy Hippy Shake – THE SWINGING BLUE JEANS
  • I Wanna Hold Your Hand – THE BEATLES

13 – Repeats of the “Top of the Pops” program can be seen on BBC Four.

14 – A “Top of the Pops” magazine has been in publication since 1995, and still publishes editions today. It is within this magazine that nicknames for each of the Spice Girls (Sporty, Baby, Posh, Ginger, Scary) were coined.

15 – A DVD was released in 2004, to celebrate the show's 40th anniversary, which featured one song from every year of the show's broadcast history (except 1966, in which a second song from 1965 was substituted instead.)

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