I mentioned Top of the Pops in a piece I wrote a couple of weeks back, and it got me thinking about my favourite moments from the show. There has been plenty of nostalgia for TOTP, but it mainly concentrates on moments from before my time (Pans People, Dexy’s performing in front of a picture of darts player Jocky Wilson etc.). Most of my memories are from the 90s when TOTP was a fixture in my viewing schedule. Here are 7 of my favourite moments.
Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit (1991)
Don’t really remember seeing this one at the time, only a couple of years later. Top of the Pops had two modes of performance. Either entirely mimed or mimed except for the vocals. Nirvana ignored the conventions of the show with Krist not even pretending to play his bass and Kurt changing the words and singing in a weird monotone. As a teenager I was pretty impressed by what now seems like a pretty tame form of rebellion.
Inspiral Carpets & Mark E Smith – I Want You (1993)
Being a thirteen year old fan of the Inspiral Carpets jaunty organ-led indie, I wasn’t really aware of The Fall so was a bit bamboozled by the grumpy middle aged man performing backing vocals. But even then I respected him very much for reading the lyrics from a bit of paper.
Bjork & Skunk Anansie – Army of Me (1995)
Given the purpose of Top of the Pops was promotion, most bands tried to present themselves in the most commercially friendly way possible, but Bjork was never one for the obvious. Instead of performing the single version of ‘Army of Me’ she went for the b-side version, a duet with labelmates Skunk Anansie, who at the time still seemed pretty angry and terrifying, not having settled into comfortable power ballad territory as they did a few years on.
Lee and Herring present (1995)
As a sarcastic teenager who enjoyed taking the mickey out of pop music (even whilst secretly enjoying some of it), what could be better than your favourite sarcastic comedians presenting top of the pops and taking the mickey put of them. Bonus points to Richard Herring for use of the word ‘wazzock’. Bonus points to Stewart Lee for being, presumably, the only person to both present Top of the Pops and curate All Tomorrow’s Parties.
Bis – Kandy Pop (1996)
By the mid-nineties Top of the Pops was making a bid for indie credibility, eschewing it’s usual policy of just featuring whatever sold the most records, leading to such moments as Heavy Stereo featuring when they weren’t even in the Top 40 (shock, horror!). Bis made history in 1996 by becoming the first unsigned band to appear. I loved them at the time (and still do), but I think this not especially representative track being broadcast to the nation led to them being written off as a novelty act. My metal-loving friends certainly thought they were a terrible joke band, so my love for them remained mainly hidden.
Minty – That’s Nice (1997)
The zenith/nadir of Top of the Pops bid for credibility was when they played the video for Minty’s ‘That’s Nice’ over the closing credits. Minty were more a performance art troupe than a band, and I can only imagine the bafflement of the nation’s living rooms at the weird people in strange costumes shouting “water with oestrogen and lemon, that’s nice” at them.
Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots, Part 1 (2002)
I love this song in any case, and did briefly wonder about calling our first child Yoshimi before almost immediately deciding it was a bad idea. But how to improve the performance for Top of the Pops? I know, let’s get Justin Timberlake to play bass whilst dressed in a dolphin outfit. I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t describe myself as a Timberlake fan, but I do enjoy ‘Cry Me a River’, and I do respect him for this particular performance.