The BBC’s New Music Show Could Learn From These Iconic Top Of The Pops Moments – Featuring Oasis, Nirvana, Kate Bush And More

When Top of The Pops was finally laid to rest in 2006, music fans mourned the loss of an iconic weekly music show that was more than just a run down of the charts. Sure, music videos, live performances and badly filmed fan clips were just a click away online, but while we’re all curating our own music channels, we’re missing out on the chance of being floored by a performance so amazing – or so awful – you can’t help but take notice.

Almost a decade after its demise, the gap TOTP left behind has never quite been filled, but last week Radio One’s Ben Cooper announced the BBC’s plans to bring back a weekly chart show. “It’s not just about one musical performance after another,”, he said, adding that it won’t be branded Top of The Pops because the format won’t work in modern times. As new plans get underway, we remind ourselves of some of the show’s most iconic moments. From culture shifting performances and on-stage protests to downright bizarre antics.

David Bowie – ‘Starman’
July 1972


Dressed head to toe in a multi-coloured catsuit, neon orange quiff standing proud, Bowie sent out a message that it was not only OK to be different, it was cool. Bands were formed overnight. Fashion experienced a seismic shift. And Bowie cemented himself as a strange new breed of pop icon that’s still being copied today.

Best bit: When Bowie points down the camera and sings, “I had to phone someone, so I picked on you-who-ooo.” If only it were true.

The Smiths – ‘William It Was Really Nothing’
August 1984

The indie showmen had already made an impact with their debut performance in 1983, when Morrissey cemented his unabashed flamboyance by singing into a bunch of gladioli. “After that we tried to make every TV appearance a spectacle,” said Johnny Marr. A year later they returned to do just that.

Best bit: Morrissey ripping open his shirt to reveal ‘Marry me?’ written on his bare chest in eyeliner and breaking just about every indie-leaning heart in the process.


Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit
November 1991

Kurt Cobain wasn’t exactly famed for approving his pop star status, so it’s no surprise that Nirvana’s Top of The Pop’s performance didn’t go to plan. The band responded to the policy of live vocals sung over backing tracks with randomly hit drums by Dave Grohl and some seriously entertaining miming and mic eating by Cobain.

Best bit: Cobain’s faux operatic vocals and his quick edit of the song’s opening line, from “load up on guns, bring your friends” to “load up on drugs, kill your friends.” Ah, live TV.

John Lennon – Instant Karma
February 1970

The first time a member of The Beatles had appeared on the show since 1966, Lennon turned more than a few heads, not least with his new haircut and musical compadre Yoko Ono. Sat on a stool behind the solo Beatle, she proceeded to subtitle the Phil Spector produced hit with a series of placards reading, ‘Peace’, ‘Love’, ‘Smile’ and ‘Breathe.’ Oh, and she was blindfolded. Obviously.

Best bit: For all her peace loving intentions, not a single member of the audience seems to be paying attention to poor Yoko. Luckily she couldn’t tell.

All About Eve – ‘Martha’s Harbour’
August 1988

Artists have famously protested against miming on TOTP for years. But when All About Eve finally broke the agonising stillness midway through ‘Martha’s Harbour’, it became clear this wasn’t an anarchists’s statement, it was just a technical glitch that meant they were unable to hear their own track, causing them to sit in silence looking confused for the best part of their debut appearance. But hey, all PR is good PR. Thanks to the cringeworthy performance, they rose five places in the singles chart the following week.

Best bit: The painstaking moment of realisation and the look of pure panic in Julianne Regan’s eyes.

Orbital – ‘Chime’
March, 1990

Brothers Paul and Phil Hartnoll repped the ’90s underground rave scene with their debut appearance on Top of The Pops. Sporting T-shirts proclaiming ‘No Poll Tax’ in answer to Margaret Thatcher’s latest smack-down, the duo injected the show with the cultural significance and rebellion it had long been missing. Despite dominating the charts, they weren’t invited back for another six years.

Best bit: The lone raver on stage, silver bomber jacket and all. Rumour has it she hadn’t been to bed since last week’s show.

Happy Mondays – ‘Hallelujah’, The Stone Roses – ‘Fools Gold’
November 1989

It wasn’t often you’d get to see two of your favourite bands on the same episode. As the rise and rise of Madchester continued, the debut TOTP appearances by Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses went down in history. “It felt like Manchester was taking over,” remembers Shaun Ryder. “People still talk about it to me, blokes in their 40s saying, ‘I was at college when you and the Roses first did Top of the Pops and it was fucking brilliant.'”

Best bit: If the grin on Shaun Ryder’s face isn’t enough, see Ian Brown’s moves. There’s baggy, then there’s BAGGY.

Rod Stewart and The Faces – ‘Maggie May’
September 1971

Ah, 1971. A vintage year for haircuts. As proven by Rod Stewart and The Faces in their mullet-flashing gem of a performance of ‘Maggie May.’ If you’ve not already run off to the barbers, stick around ’til the end of the track…

Best bit: Instruments were so 1970. What you really needed back then was someone to chuck a football on stage for a quick kickabout. Oh, and watch out for John Peel on the stool at the back, making a cameo by miming the mandolin for good measure.

Kate Bush – ‘Wuthering Heights’
December 1978

Another career defining live performance, this time from wild woman extraordinaire Kate Bush. When the singer performed her debut single ‘Wuthering Heights’ in 1978 she arrived adorned in a ghostly white gown and proceeded to dance as if possessed on the moonlit moors of Emily Bronte. “It was like watching myself die,” she said, commenting on the performance years later.

Best bit: Spawning a series of dance moves destined to inspire a lifetime of drunken interpretations.

Culture Club – ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me’
October 1982

Much like Ziggy Stardust before him, Boy George made headlines the day after his appearance on ToTP thanks to his evocative garb during Culture Club’s debut stint on the show with third single ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me.’ “There were newspaper headlines the next day saying things like ‘Is it a Boy or a Girl?'”, Boy George remembered. Adding, “Although I famously said at the time that I’d rather have a cup of tea than sex, my sex life was actually really rampant.”

Best bit: The hat. No, actually, his waistcoat. Or maybe the dreads? Don’t forget the eye shadow and lipstick. Oh, it’s all good.

Oasis – ‘Roll With It’
August 1995

With an over enthusiastic intro from Robbie Williams, Oasis launch into ‘Roll With It’ and continue where Nirvana left off, albeit with a far subtler approach to demonstrate their disdain for the chart show. Can you spot the switch-up?

Best bit: The feeling of one-up-manship over the producers of the show. Who unlike you, had no idea Noel and Liam had swapped roles for the performance. A sign of things to come, perhaps.

Eels – ‘Novocaine For The Soul’

Ever the professional, Mr. E instructed his band to bring along a series of toy instruments. Brandishing the miniatures, they proceed to mooch through their debut single before launching into the tried and tested rock finale: a mighty smash up, albeit on a much smaller scale.

Best bit: Watching three grown men trample on children’s toys as an act of defiance. It’s strangely cathartic.