Here’s what a Thursday evening looked like back in the 1980s: get home from long day, feed the gerbil (not a euphemism), grab a plate of beans on toast, possibly a can of Hofmeister, then sit down at precisely 7pm with the whole family to watch the music television program Top of The Pops.
You’d switch on the telly at the actual switch (remember that!), then before you knew it, your mind would explode to the sound of drum machines and shattering 7-inch records. Now, at this point there is a slight elephant in the room, because the scrolls of history have revealed a stain on humanity bigger than Brexit – but let’s put the BBC’s dubious employment policy to one side, and look, instead, at the cultural significance of the music.
And what music it was. I remember seeing Orange Juice performing Rip it Up in 1982 and buying the single that very same week (my first ever record, no less), or Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder looking to piano keys to solve race relations (my second), or novelty acts like Renee and Renato, or Mr Blobby, or Glenn Medeiros, or cultural watershed moments like Band Aid, or Boy George turning up and causing an eruption of tea to splutter from the mouths of enraged bigots. What was it? Not a bloke! Old ladies would slope off to quietly scrub the front step, young minds everywhere would be rewired and enraptured.
Point being, watching Top of the Pops with a baffled parent was a rite of passage. It was your chance to tap into what was happening in “yoof culture” and their chance to abhor it. They’d tell you that rap music was nonsensical mumbo-jumbo – echoing precisely the same argument their parents had about Bob Dylan all those years before – and you’d tell them they were dinosaurs and just didn’t get it. Top of the Pops was essentially the yardstick that measured the size of the generation gap in your home, and at some level you were brought closer together for it – they had a glimpse into your world, you had a glimpse into theirs. And all on terrestrial TV at an innocuous enough time that suited everyone.
Which leads to the most surprising thing about it – it essentially committed suicide. Unlike so much that was once held sacred (like certain magazines, certain musical formats) it wasn’t the internet that killed Top of the Pops, it was being shifted to Friday night. Suddenly, there was no school to go to the following day, no important playground debates and discussions to have. In a bid to become event television, it stopped being an event at all, because cool kids were out on Fridays drinking mucho cider, leaving their parents alone to tut into the abyss and lament the old days in comparative silence, or not to watch it at all.
And now, years down the line, the generations exist like separate rivers rarely overlapping – households are presumably full of lonely little cells, half of them plugged into headphones, offering just tiny little snippets of themselves without ever really having to share their tastes or stand them on trial in a kangaroo living room court on a Thursday evening. It’s a genuine shame, it’s an important part of figuring out who you are, and it’s a situation I plan to remedy immediately by learning how to do that weird dental floss dance, and performing it for my children and their friends.
Who’s with me?
Alternatively, we could just bring back Top of the Pops. On a Thursday. Where it belongs.
Yeah, let’s do that.