Friday, December 15, 2006

The ITV Chart Show

With hundreds of digital satellite channels searching for cheap ways to fill time, it often seems that almost any show is guaranteed an afterlife on satellite. But it still comes as something of a surprise to find the Vault (way up on channel 356) repeating entire episodes of The ITV Chart Show from the early nineties.

According to Wikipedia, the Chart Show ran for 12 years from 1986 to 1998. It was very much a programme from the tail end of the pre-multichannel era. Quite simply, it was on for an hour a week, and it played music videos. Or rather, it played the middle two thirds of music videos, because it was trying to cram everything into an hour a week. Dispensing with the services of a presenter altogether, the show simply jumped between videos, put up loads of captions, and could be relied upon to enliven the middle eight with spectacularly banal information. It was also rather keen on mock-VCR graphics, since VCRs were terribly cutting edge in 1986. And it baffled kids by periodically inflicting an indie chart on them, despite the fact that Britpop hadn't started yet, and indie meant the New Fast Automatic Daffodils.

Obviously, in the days before MTV, there was some sort of point to a show like that. By 1998, it had long passed its sell-by date. It didn't help that a bizarre scheduling decision meant that the show aired on Saturdays, one day before the singles chart was actually announced, forcing the show to use a wildly erratic chart that frequently failed to match the official version at all.

But there's a weird charm to sitting through this week's hour-long show from 1992 again. We tend to end up with a very lopsided memory of pop music, since we only remember the stuff which was either genuinely good or at least distinctively awful. Watching the actual show from 1992 reminds you of the vast quantities of drek in the middle. Yes, this was the week that "Safe From Harm" by Massive Attack came out as a new release. It was also a week when "Gypsy Woman" by Crystal Waters was in the Top 10, and at least that's a memorable record, whatever else might be said about it. And a minor Pet Shop Boys single had just come out. ("Jealousy".)

But it's also a week when Sonia was in the Top 10, when Marillion were touring for a grateful nation, and when the producers somehow overlooked Massive Attack for their single of the week in favour of a long-forgotten dirge by Sinead O'Connor. Jason Donovan was still around. People were actually buying Amy Grant's "Baby Baby", which has a video of her cuddling a puppy, and lyrics like "Baby baby, I'm taken with the notion / To love you with the sweetest of devotion."

And the number one that week was "I Wanna Sex You Up" by Color Me Badd. In fairness, it's actually nowhere near as bad as I'd remembered, at least musically. But time has not been kind to their fashion stylings. Come to think of it, I remember thinking they looked like total idiots at the time, so it may not just be the intervention of fifteen years. Still, though...

This is the compellingly bleak reality of early nineties pop music - a mixture of records you'd mostly forgotten, linked by staggeringly poor animation. Yes, you can find most of this stuff on YouTube... but you'd probably never even think of bothering. Thank god for satellite.