Death of the Video


Top of the Pops was the centre of the musical week but as more and more bands begun to produce promotional videos the mimed performances were often a disappointment as you wanted to see the video.

This early eighties over-experimentation with video didn't go unnoticed by the satirists - nowadays they can't show a retrospective of early eighties music without wheeling out the Not The Nine O'Clock News parody Nice Video, Shame About the Song. But even though I did like Not the Nine O'Clock News and thought that the parody was well observed in places I couldn't quite shake the feeling that the writers didn't quite "get" it and were probably in the process of turning into a parental generation banging on about the rubbish that young people listened to in the name of music today.

Or rather the rubbish that they watched. By now everyone had to have a video and inspiration was beginning to wear a bit thin. Having scored an unexpected big hit with Too Shy, Kajagoogoo threw everything (including cameos from Kenny Everett and Christopher Timothy) at the video for Ooh To Be Ah and ended up with a bit of a mess. Other bands contented themselves with videos which attempted to reproduced the experience of them playing live with varying degrees of success.

But everyone had to have a video.

Of course there were still bands and directors experimenting with the medium. After producing a whole album of videos for Soft Cell - unique at the time in that they weren't being made to sell singles but to illustrate an album - Tim Pope went on to produced myriad memorable and psychedelic clips for The Cure.

Other bands went the other way. In a (subconscious?) mirroring of The Clash's refusal to appear miming on Top of the Pops, The Smiths initially refused to make promo videos before eventually caving in in style by getting Derek Jarman to direct them.

But everyone had to have a video and Top of the Pops was not fit for purpose.

Denied access to MTV the UK made do with The Chart Show, which launched on Channel Four in 1986. In keeping with the show's video only format it also eschewed presenters, instead mimicking a clunky computer desktop in which snippets of information about the band would appear mid-song - a gimmick later appropriated by the BBC for their Top of the Pops repeat compilations TOTP2. If a band hadn't shot a video then a snippet of their single during the chart countdown would be accompanied by a still photograph.
The Chart Show also attempted to spread the net a bit wider when it came to what they'd show. In addition to the normal chart the show would run down the "specialist" charts of Dance, Rock and Indie, focussing on each one of them (showing several videos from it) in a three weekly cycle.

However it became clear to me that the show probably had a rota of editors some of whose musical tastes reflected mine and other whose didn't. This was at a time when dance music was becoming big and Stock Aitken and Waterman made their breakthrough and unfortunately a lot of the acid house records and all of the PWL output were at the time on independent labels. This meant that if you got the editor who liked dance music on the week that the Indie Chart was due to be shown, all you got was Kylie and S-Express. To be fair the reverse sometime happened - once Dance Chart week was obviously overseen by the editor who liked Indie/Alternative music as we got Renegade Soundwave's Probably a Robbery. In retrospect the cross-fertilisation of indie and dance music that was happening at the time was actually very interesting in its own right, but that's another story...

At the time I used to fill endless Scotch E180 VHS cassettes with videos from The Chart Show as well as Top of the Pops appearances and other live TV performances, confident that I was creating an archive of visual music that I would enjoy into my dotage. Little did I realise that the Scotch skeleton was lying through his teeth when he told us we could watch Scotch forever.  In recent years upon attempting to play tapes I've discovered that snow and static are the order of the day.
I'm going to tell you how it's going to be 
I've been replaced by DVD
To be fair the only reason I've dragged VHS cassettes from the archive recently has been in a bid to transfer them to my computer so I can then upload to the final platform in the story of music video: YouTube.

When YouTube first started out in 2005 I couldn't see how it was going to catch on. Compared to all the other fledgling social networks it seemed like too much work, the idea of having to make a video and then sit through a long uploading process. Even the tagline "Broadcast Yourself" sounded vaguely insulting.

Of course in the end where YouTube came into its own was as a way of salvaging all those videos and Top of the Pops appearances from decaying VHS music tapes. Plug your old VHS into the computer and the treasure contained within can be preserved digitally forever, static and interference included. Furthermore YouTube turned out to be the saviour of many lost memories. Remember that video from one of your favourite bands you only saw thirty seconds of on The Chart Show twenty years ago? Here it is complete in all its three minute glory.

But it's not as exciting.

How much of this is simply as a result of getting old and how much is due to genuine change I have no idea, but with everything being available all the time there isn't the anticipation of a band's new video appearing on The Chart Show. Or, more importantly the excitement of the Top of the Pops debut of one of your favourite bands.

No matter how much some might have sneered at the mainstream appeal of Top of the Pops, when a band finally appeared it meant that they'd made it. It was a rite of passage, a defining moment and ultimately more exciting than seeing a promo video.

I miss it.


Popular posts from this blog

Talking shit

The Invisible Sign

The Most Effectual Top Cat