The Top of the Tops effect

THINK BACK TO THURSDAYS in the 1970s and 1980s: as the evening came upon us they’d be a flurry of activity to get the chores out the way. Why the flurry of activity? In order to be in front of the telly to watch the nation’s flagship music show, Top of the Pops. Whoever the host, there was always an atmosphere of excitement in the studio; a posse of smiling music-lovers surrounding the host during the intro was pretty common.

After the intro, the music swiftly followed. The artists and music was varied; we had the loud, the sultry, the soulful, the weird – the music mixture was like bag of sweets containing Jelly Babies, Dolly mixtures, Cola-cubes, Bon-Bons, Love Hearts, Black Jacks and Dib-Dabs; during a fifteen-minute period, Adam Ant, The Commodores and Bad Manners could have graced the TOTP stage. The mixed bag of sweets concept may have seemed a bit jumbled, but in reality, the concept was pure genius: it was an ideal way of getting the whole family to tune-in. Clever.

Another piece of pure genius was the way TOTP influenced the sales of music singles. These were the days when singles ruled (45 rpm on your record player) and albums were less popular; the days when the music format choice was either vinyl or cassette. Record label executives wanted their artists to appear on TOTP: an appearance meant a dead-cert increase in record sales and publicity. To highlight the sheer power of TOTP, lets look at the Our Price Records (once popular high street record shop) process: the BBC provided in phone-in service for them – the Our Price team would give them a call on Tuesday, and in turn, the BBC would tell them which songs, artists and groups were going to be on Thursday’s TOTP. Our Price were also informed about whether the group or artist would be appearing live, or if a music video would be played instead. Once Our Price got the list of songs from the BBC, they would order the music singles to arrive in stores by Friday. A bit of inside information and a slick supply chain meant Our Price was ready for a weekend of fast and furious trading.

The final piece of genius that TOTP boldly displayed involved leggy women. When a group or artist was unavailable, the female dance group, Legs and Co, danced in the studio to the unavailable artist’s song. Let’s face it, the name of the dance group gave a rather clear indication as to which part of the body would take centre stage. I’m sure many men didn’t really care much about the song as they were hypnotised by the leggy ladies. Another tick in the success completeion box for the TOTP bosses.

The Top of the Pops effect was unique: starting-off on Thursday evening, its vapours kept engulfing the surroundings until the following Thursday. The TOTP vapours engulfed viewers, then drifted into record shops and continued drifting out of the radio speakers throughout the country. TOTP was once a well-oiled, precise music programme that touched the lives of the nation.

Enjoy the Bad Manners performing Lip Up Fatty on TOTP by clicking the photo below

Enjoyed the blog? A nostalgic collection of blogs featuring a fun and factual look back at British advertising, leisure and entertainment from the 70s and 80s are featured in the new hardback book, Section N Underpass. Get the rundown here by clicking the front cover below:

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