TOTP 2 – the BBC’s recycling of decades old Thursday evening material, or perhaps it is upcycling rather than recycling, the repackaging selects the best and captions each with information about the song and the group.
The pre-Christmas programme was a disco special, a selection of songs from the mid-70s until the late-80s that were remembered as those that had filled the dance floors of discotheques around the country. The striking thing about most of the music was how bad it was, disco was not the preserve of great musicians or vocalists, it was a genre filled with repeated chords and bland and repetitive lyrics. Yet, if BBC 2 was carrying the programme, there was an expectation on the part of the schedulers that someone would pass an hour on a Friday night watching it.
It is hard to imagine that the programme would have held an interest for anyone who had not encountered the music when it was first released. Younger people, accustomed to sophisticated technology and more neatly packaged production would have found it an odd experience. Some of it was instantly forgettable, some of it made one wonder why it had been recorded at all, let alone why it had sold in such numbers that it had been broadcast on peak-time national television in the 1970s.
Perhaps it was about context; the often bad fashion, the tunes that struggled to rise above the inane, they were part of a spirit, a mood, a means of escape. The flared trousers, the loud shirts, the platform shoes were the stuff of nights out, the company of friends, laughter.
Discos were not about music, they were about an experience, they offered a world other than the mundane stuff of Monday to Friday. The lighting was synchronised with the syncopated music, strobes and multicolour changed the place from being the function room of a pub into somewhere altogether different. The bland and the ordinary became special, the plain assumed a beauty.
TOTP 2’s disco material might better have been presented as part of a package, the music interspersed with nuggets of information on the fashion and the venues, and with the reminiscences of those for whom the disco was an event. Disco music will not ensure by itself, anymore than music hall music is now recalled, but it does have its own small place in social history as part of a mood of happy flamboyance. The programme evoked memories of fun and enjoyment; yes, the music was rubbish, but who noticed?