The Chart Show premieres on Channel 4
If, like me, you were a child of the 80s and devoured the pop music of the time with a rapacious appetite, then it probably wasn’t Whistle Test (self-consciously no longer Old and Grey) that gave you your weekly TV fix, as was the case a decade before. That was for grown ups. And it probably wasn’t even The Tube as that seemed a little bit on the scary side; leave that for older, harder siblings. Top Of The Pops in the mid-80s was in it’s imperial phase ‘balloons and party atmosphere’ pomp of course and that was all well and good, but again belonged to an older generation. In April 1986 something appeared at Friday teatime on Channel 4 that seemed, well, shiny and new as Madonna would have put it.
Wow, it’s got titles that look like that Dire Straits video, you know the one about MTV. Cool. Hang on, what’s happening here, looks like the video’s on the blink, it’s rewinding. Do Channel 4 know? Where are the presenters? And the what the flip is an Indie Chart anyway?! To my 11 year old mind I thought it was something to do with a subcontinent.
Initially designed as a seasonal stop-gap in between series of The Tube, it ran for a total of 12 years, switching to mornings on ITV in January ’89. But it’s the 86-88 years on the alternative channel that hold a special place for me. For such a simple concept it really was revolutionary at the time. Before satellite dishes started popping up all over the place and bringing MTV into UK homes, we hadn’t seen anything like this. By ’86 the art of the music video had reached it’s zenith, and this was the perfect platform for those 4-minute marvels. This is where I first saw the stop-motion grotesque spectacle that was Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer”. But it wasn’t all about big-budgets, for another area that became part of the show’s character were the specialist charts. The Indie, Heavy Metal, Dance and Reggae charts were where very strange, slightly unnerving pieces that looked like they were produced on a budget of 50 quid also aired. Before they raided TopShop with a pure pop makeover and a truncated moniker here’s We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It… OK maybe 50 quid was too generous.
In the early days we also had the Network Album chart and Compact Disc chart! Features like End To End, showcasing a video in it’s entirety (a must for the condensed-feature-film mood of the time, where most musicians proved to be terrible actors), Vintage Video, Rough Cut (an exciting pre-production preview of an upcoming release). It’s gimmicky trademark though was the combination of fast-forward/rewind mock video control and on-screen information courtesy of an cutting edge-at-the-time Amiga computer. The first few months featured a less aesthetically pleasing “H.U.D.” green graphical interface, to be replaced by the more familiar mouse/pointer/windows layout.
It was in the Indie Chart section that bands such as The Wedding Present, Pop Will Eat Itself, Sugarcubes, The Mission, Gaye Bikers On Acid, Danielle Dax, Fields of the Nephilim (causing pronunciation problems for one Peter Powell on Top Of The Pops I recall) and countless others that spawned from the NME C86 movement were given a chance of primetime exposure. Pre-Madchester, listening back to those “Indie Top 20” compilations that define that era, you realise that it is before the term “Indie” became homogenised and uniform into the 90s- the only criteria being that it was released on an independent label (ah, that’s what it means! – 11 year old self). So that’s why on those early Chart Shows you would have Erasure and , gasp, Kylie and Jason at the top of the Indie rundown. Yes, Stock, Aitken and Waterman really were a truly non-corporate venture, whatever you think of the output of PWL Records. But if that is pushing the boundaries too far for you, there was still your fair share of shoe-gazers and noise merchants too. Baggy beats and baggier jeans were just around the corner though when in late ’89 the indie landscape got funky. An edition of Top Of The Pops from November of that year had both The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays in the studio and soon you couldn’t move for Indie-Dance crossovers with the obligatory ‘Funky Drummer’ sample.
This clip is before the Indie kids got their groove on though (although No.1 New Order of course bridge the gap very neatly from gloomy introspection to dancefloor euphoria that was to come). Laibach doing a take on the 1985 Opus hit “Live is Life” there. Again, where the hell else would have broadcast that at the time?! God Bless you Chart Show.