Music

Sounds Like Friday Night – joining the chequered history of music television

From Bruce's butt to Jools' boogie-woogie piano, BBC One's new primetime music show Sounds Like Friday Night can learn a lot from music TV's highs and lows

BBC One has made its long-trailered return to primetime music TV programming with Sounds Like Friday Night, a six-part youth-focused series fronted by Greg James and Dotty. As a short survey of the history of music television teaches us, it’s a bold but potentially bountiful move, provided appropriate observance is made of the various triumphs and follies of music TV programing past.

Prior to the invention of Bruce Springsteen’s denim-clad buttocks in 1984, and with it MTV, music television was mostly a quaint and innocent affair characterised by grainy black and white footage of Cilla Black appearing a bit unsure where the camera is, and some years later, The Old Grey Whistle Test. A show which, despite seemingly being made in a dimly lit cupboard and presented by a man, in ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris, whose voice is the aural equivalent of chloroform, gave us a selection of classic live studio performances in the ’70s and ’80s – Talking Heads, David Bowie, Tom Petty, countless others – which, taken together, are basically an instructional video on how to be A Very Good Musician Indeed.

Then from the mid 1980s onwards, MTV and the music video rose to ­prominence, peaking in the late 1990s with some 5,327 spin-off MTV channels all simultaneously showing the same Britney Spears promo on a loop. Except VH1 Classic, which stubbornly continued to show Bruce Springsteen’s be-denimed backside on a loop.

Channel 4’s The Word – about the most On Drugs TV show of the 1990s, which in the age of Noel’s House Party is really saying something – welcomed waifs, strays and misfits and yielded era-defining early grunge and Britpop performances by Nirvana, Oasis and The Smashing Pumpkins against a trippy psychedelic backdrop. Its more respectable ’90s contemporary Later… With Jools Holland bafflingly endures even to this day, despite being apparently purposely scheduled in such a way as to be impossible to ever find. If you do catch it late of a Friday night, it’s only ever completely by chance, after waking up half-drunk on the sofa to be distressingly confronted by Jools playing boogie-woogie piano.

No Thursday teatime of 1964 through 2006 was complete without enjoying Top of the Pops with your oven chips or potato waffles, although personally I’ve always been more of a fan of TOTP’s wistful, backwards-looking cousin Top of the Pops 2. A show which continues to be repeated somewhere in the depths of the digital schedule, owing to the painstaking and no doubt distressing work some heroic and by now presumably deeply scarred archivist had to put in to make sure every episode ever to feature Jimmy Savile was comprehensively binned. My favourite thing about Top of the Pops 2 is the interesting fact boxes that flash up during performances. “Howard Jones’ uncle was one of three vagrants arrested on the grassy knoll following the assassination of JFK”, one box may have revealed – I can’t exactly remember – or “Carol Decker from T’Pau once ate an entire family-sized shepherd’s pie in a single sitting”. Are these facts true? Who even cares!

Sounds Like Friday Night is off to an auspicious start with lots of giddy teeny screaming and, as yet, a zero per cent Nick Grimshaw quotient

And so to Sounds Like Friday Night, and its mission I can only assume to wean the youth of today off the internet and back on to more traditional brain cell-killing distractions such as television. It’s off to an auspicious start, replete with lots of giddy teeny screaming and, as yet, a zero per cent Nick Grimshaw quotient. They’d no doubt prefer we don’t call it the New Top of the Pops, but they could stand to take a pointer or two from the Old Top of the Pops nevertheless. More awkward ‘sleb presenters! More forced audience dancing! More instances of ­musicians miming synthesiser parts on a guitar which is blatantly not plugged in! More ugly jumpers! And, in a nod to Top of the Pops 2, more interesting fact boxes! “Demi Lovato’s first car was a 2005 Honda Civic ­purchased off Gumtree for £430.” Is it true? Who cares!

Sounds Like Friday Night is on BBC One Fridays, 7.30pm

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