Archive | April, 2011

Top of the Pops 1976. A ‘blessed with hindsight’ review

15 Apr

In 1976 there were two staple TV shows that brought music to the nation’s youth – Top of the Pops and the Old Grey Whistle Test. While acts could be heard on the radio or read about in music magazines, only TV could offer the magical combination of seeing and hearing them at the same time from the comfort of your own home – a role in which the Internet has since eclipsed television. What a disappointment therefore to have to choose between a league of stupidly hairy men each playing 20 minute wanky guitar solos on Old Grey, and a league of stupidly hairy men ogling at Pans People whilst charismatically introducing The Wurzels on Top of the Pops.

"Hey kids, lets earnestly rock!"

BBC4 has begun showing a 1976 episode of Top of the Pops every Thursday – each episode being exactly 35 years old to the day when shown, and what an eye opener it is. As a fan of the BBC’s excellent TOTP2 series, I have seen many performances from this era. However it isn’t until you see an episode in its entirety, viewing each performance in context with others at the time that you can really get an understanding of 1976 pop music. It is simultaneously a fascinating and depressing affair.


So far, BBC4 have shown three episodes, each with a different host – Noel Edmonds in week one, then Tony Blackburn and finally Dave Lee Travis. Out of these three, only the perma-smiled, cheese-tastic Tony Blackburn comes across in any way likeable. Edmonds has the look and sound of a man who looks royally pissed off in having to be there, sneering through his episode with ostensible contempt for both the performers and the audience. Edmonds clearly dreamt of bigger things and on this evidence, had seen the future – a glorious 20 or so years lined with house parties, gunge and insane right wing political campaigns. TOTP is a mere stepping stone toward future light entertainment domination.

Laterz, losers!
Dave Lee Travis meanwhile, is frankly, a massive Bellend. The self proclaimed ‘Hairy Cornflake’ introduces Pan’s People twice, both times claiming that he’ll visit their dressing room after the show (no doubt to give them some of his hairy cornflake) and even poses after Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself” with two unassuming and visibly disgusted looking young ladies to show that he’s NOT all by himself. Travis, it can be said, is like a prehistoric Jay from The Inbetweeners – obviously way behind Edmunds and Blackburn in the groupie count and needing to verbally compensate at any available opportunity.

A DLT special

Then there is Pans People, a group of five young female dancers who jive to the tunes of acts who can’t be bothered to show up that week. Pan’s People, as many nostalgia based television programmes have mentioned previously, were eye candy ‘for the dads’. What the nations children made of their fathers lustfully drooling whilst the family all watched together is perhaps best left undocumented, but the Tony Blackburn episode in week 2 must have left perverts the land over terribly disappointed. In the link below, Pans People shoddily stumble across a crappy jungle set in explorer outfits while other folk in atrocious (and in some cases, frightening) animal costumes plod along with them.

Having grown up with 90s and 00s TV dancers being painstakingly perfect in increasingly complicated routines, watching Pans People is more funny than erotic. It is unfair to criticise their routines as they would have had to learn several every week in a very short length of time, but by today’s standards they are somewhat shambolic. This, coupled with the dancers themselves often etched with a glum or distant expression, is where Top of the Pops has aged the most. You would never get this on TV anymore, but in a strange way that is actually a shame – constant perfection can get rather boring at times.

Glum expressions are also highly visible on the faces of the audience. Compared with later editions of Top of the Pops the 1976 audience seem, like Noel Edmunds, rather unhappy to be there. Tony Blackburn claimed in an accompanying documentary shown by BBC4 that the atmosphere on the show was electric, but from viewing the three episodes shown so far I wouldn’t have been surprised if there had been mass suicide after every broadcast – gunshots rapidly fired all the way through Brotherhood of Man’s ‘Save all your kisses for me”. Each song, regardless of sound or genre is clumsily shuffled to and a pre recorded applause, rather than the audience themselves, ends every performance.

In all fairness to the manic depressives, the music on show is nothing to write home about – perhaps best verified by the number of reissued Beatles’ songs in the chart countdown (shown at the start of the show, oddly enough). Twice we have been exposed to Sailor’s “Girls Girls Girls” (three of Dave Lee Travis’s favourite things, so says our increasingly desperate host) – a largely confusing mash of jangly piano and loud harmonies. Another performance sees a solitary man leaping up and down on the stage claiming that ‘We’ve got Reggae like it used to be’. The man is Paul Nicholas, and his song is anything but Reggae.

In this context, Abba and Fox’s “Single Bed”– a performance I had seen before via TOTP2, really stand out as head and shoulders above the rest. Fox’s especially is a good song and a pleasing performance when seen individually, but is practically Mozart when shown in comparison with everything else on 1976 editions of the show.

The aforementioned Brotherhood of Man have been number one in every edition shown so far with a twee childish number that would even make your grandmother vomit. To add further insult, the TOTP studio has a gloomy brown decor, which although is typical of how many rooms looked in the 1970s, gives the impression that steaming piles of manure would not look out of place if it were dumped in various parts of the studio.

In conclusion, by showing Top of the Pops 1976 in full, future generations such as mine are now able to see in much clearer detail why Punk was so desperately needed. I genuinely pity the youth of 1976 if this was the music that sound tracked their earliest experiences, and this was the show that brought it to them. Top of the Pops 1976 was the nadir before the revolution, and I for one am glad the BBC are able to show those who weren’t around to see it, exactly how the British pop music scene was about to change forever.

God bless you, Malcolm Mclaren


The Gillette Fusion Pro Glide Challenge. Some Thoughts

6 Apr

To be completely fair to Gillette, they have never been a company that has concerned themselves with sobriety in their advertisements. Everyone has fond memories of their terrific “GILLETTE! THE BEST THAT MAN CAN GET!!!” power ballad jingle played over images of bouncy haired athletes, stock brokers and bride grooms. Since this highlight, Gillette adverts have rarely broken from the tried and tested brand of shouty voiceover and earnest hunks shaving in front of their visually satisfied women. Gillette is for winners! Only winners use Gillette! Gillette can and will scream this in your face if necessary!

As society’s fascination with celebrity increased into the 21st century, Gillette  brought in the talents of Roger Federer, Tiger Woods and Thierry Henry to accommodate this. Stockbrokers and bride grooms were out, victorious sport stars were in. Despite the fact that all three stars looked deeply uncomfortable in each other’s company, Gillette confidently informed us that by using their new ‘Fusion’ razor, you can join their high achieving gang! Only losers use Mach 3, real men use 5 blades!

"This Guy..."

But it all went wrong. Badly wrong. The switch to 5 blades was evidently too much for two of the triumvirate. Not long after the adverts had aired, the once untouchable Thierry Henry cheated his way into a world cup via a scandalous handball against the Republic of Ireland. If this defilement of a previously untarnished reputation wasn’t bad enough  the following world cup campaign itself proved to be comically disastrous. Shortly afterwards,  Tiger Woods hit the headlines for his rampant adultery that came to light after he crashed his car into a lamppost.

Even though Roger Federer continued to win championships like it was going out of fashion, the damage was done. The public were terrified of Gillette Fusion – if it was powerful enough to nearly destroy the careers of the best, no man in his right mind wanted to go near it.

Gillette, at crisis point, needed a new set of adverts with a brand new approach. Simply shouting that their razors were the “best that man could get” wasn’t cutting it anymore (pun intended). They desperately needed a new strategy to convince the public. Step forward, the Gillette Pro Glide Challenge.

That's close enough

The latest Gillete Fusion advert begins with an unidentified man and a camera crew jumping out of a van, marching through the entrance of a gym and announcing in a faux macho manner  that this  “is the Fusion Pro Glide Challenge”. The crew then burst  into a changing room, surprising a solitary Asian man. “Woo Buddy” shouts the mystery host, before asking the chap who is in no way an actor and just so happens to be shaving in a public changing room, how his shave is.

Rather than do what 95% of people in this situation would do and angrily ask “Who the fuck are you and why are you here?”, Buddy appears to magically change into a completely different person with a broad Scottish accent, and instead says something largely incomprehensible to the fleeting ear.

Assuming Gillette did not run in to a supernatural being with the ability to morph into other forms, it is implied that the team have done this many times in this very gym and many times have found one man on his own, wishing that somehow he could  shave without uncomfortable tug and pull.

Then comes the science. Mystery host pulls out his iphone and shows his victim directly how thinner blades means all the world’s problems are now solved. Cue clips of several men shaving whilst saying “glide” a lot, all of whom Gillette informs us were sceptics, but are now believers. Its clearly not enough to simply use this razor folks , you have to believe in it! For every one person who says he does not believe in the Gillette Fusion Pro Glide, a razor somewhere dies. What’s more likely is that our host and camera crew will cut off the heads of those who remain a sceptic – you can see it in his eyes, this guy will not take no for an answer.

This is later proved in the closing moments of the advert where the increasingly annoying host ‘playfully’ wrestles with what appears to be Liverpool striker David N’Gog.  N’Gog puts on a brave face but clearly does not want to suffer the same curse as his fellow countryman Thierry Henry so early in his career. Gillette however, have him cornered – “Take it” orders the host. But N’gog does not take it. Without warning, the Liverpool striker acts quickly and soon the host is embroiled in a headlock and may be forced to give in. The outcome of this final battle remains unknown, a study of David N’Gog’s career from this point can be the only true way of knowing if Gillette Fusion has won or lost.

God speed, David N'Gog

To put it bluntly (another pun entirely intended), Gillette can not cope with ‘real people’ in ‘real situations’. After years of blisteringly over the top visuals and metaphors, Gillette are simply unable to appear as if they have ever engaged  with ordinary members of the public. The advert is so embarrassingly staged, one can only imagine that candid camera pioneer Jeremy Beadle is rolling in his grave.

Hence the curse of Gillette Fusion Pro Glide continues. There will be no challenge. There truly can be only one way to sell the Fusion Pro Glide – return to the heady days of floppy haired athletes, stock brokers and bride grooms that has served Gillette so well in the past. Today’s society has many parallels with the 1980s anyway (Royal Wedding, bastards in government, public interest in Charlie Sheen), one more surely can’t hurt us.

Gillette, once again, be the best a man can get.

Fucking Hell, that's way too far!