Sunday 16 June 2019

Brendan O'Connor: The ghost of Christmas TOTP past

The band Muse get into the swing of things on Christmas 'Top of the Pops'
The band Muse get into the swing of things on Christmas 'Top of the Pops'
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

It's almost impossible to explain what a highlight the Christmas Top Of The Pops was. I guess, like the 1960s, you had to be there.

And it was difficult enough to be there. They tended to run it early enough in the day so you had to make sure you were back from mass and had commandeered the TV for an hour, but that dinner hadn't started yet.

In those days there was just one TV in the house and people would sit down and watch it together. No one had their own screens. TV watching was in fact a social activity, the basis for chats and fights. It was so quaint. And worse again, you generally had to watch things when they were actually on. Unless you had a giant thing known as a video recorder which allowed you to use large tapes to record some programmes. But generally that was only done in emergencies or to preserve for posterity the odd great movie, like The Godfather.

So we would try and keep Mum and Dad busy and try and keep some bit of peace and quiet for an hour while those of us who liked pop music watched the hour-long Christmas Top Of The Pops, which features all the big hits of the year and possibly Wizzard singing I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday, or maybe Shakin' Stevens, a kind of Welsh Cabaret Elvis, expressing similar sentiments in his song Merry Christmas Everyone. He too wished that every day could be Christmas, which sounds like some kind of horror film when you think about it.

We didn't even like most of the songs on the Christmas Top Of The Pops, because it was generally all the big hits of the year, and we prided ourselves on being much more alternative in our musical tastes in our house. But back then there was so little opportunity to see any kind of music on TV that you took every opportunity to see any form of musical entertainment at all. Fab Vinnie's MT USA meant that even those of us who were not fans of the musical stylings of Glenn Frey or ZZ Top still have Frey's The Heat is On and the trio of singles from the 'Top's Eliminator album burnt on our brains.

And besides, even mainstream pop was still vaguely subversive back then and bands like Culture Club and Duran Duran and the rest of them all had their origins in scenes like New Romantic or Club Culture or whatever, so they weren't complete rubbish. And your parents didn't get them, and would still pop their head in the door now and then to ask if Boy George was a man or a woman.

I have a series link on old Top Of The Popses from the early 1980s that they re-run on BBC. I flick through a bunch of them every now and then for some down-time, reminiscing about how rubbish we all thought everyone from Jim Diamond to Phil Collins were back then, how young Sting was once, and how even the alternative bands who were against the system were all thrilled to be on Top Of The Pops. It also throws up the odd gem for revaluation. For example. FR David's Words is actually an electro-pop classic if you listen to it without prejudice. Trust me. Stick it on at the end of a Christmas party when people have had a few drinks and watch what happens.

The series link threw up an old Christmas Top Of the Pops the other day and I got sentimental watching Duran Duran in their heyday and poor old George Michael and how Paul Weller actually mimed the Bono line when most of the Band Aid crowd turned up in the studio to mime to the record.

But overwhelmingly, I remember how simple life was then, and how we were all there living under the same roof, rubbing along together, never dreaming that we would all grow up and leave and that so many things, good and bad, would happen to us all. And it reminded me to cherish Christmas now, because the cycle will repeat again in the blink of an eye.

Happy Christmas.

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