A vast YouTube archive reveals the weird, wonderful and sometimes genius parallel universe of TopPop – the Netherlands’ anything-goes answer to Top of the Pops.
Think of a band, any band, so long as they had an international chart hit in the 1970s or 80s. There is a pretty good chance that band lip-synced that song on the Dutch music television show TopPop. There is an even better chance that the performance in question is incredibly bloody weird.
The Dutch answer to the UK’s Top of the Pops was broadcast from 1970 to 1988, featuring the latest hits from both domestic and international artists. Since few international acts included the Netherlands on their tour schedules, filming of a lot of the international performances was outsourced to studios in the US or UK. Across the board, little to no creative boundaries appear to have been put in place.
The official TopPop YouTube channel hosts more than a thousand (and still growing) performances which run the spectrum from pure class to utter depravity. Almost all of them feature one or more of the following: bizarre or inappropriate stage props, creative green screen techniques, appallingly lackluster attempts at pretending to play an instrument, unjustifiably bad fashion, strangely hypnotic dance routines… In other words it is a digital treasure trove containing some of the greatest and most creative music videos from a time before music videos were even a thing.
Please enjoy the following examples.
Iggy Pop – ‘Lust For Life’ (1977)
Iggy Pop was reportedly very mad about having to inauthentically lip sync his 1977 single, which is why he doesn’t bother to open his mouth for half the words of what is probably the most infamous TopPop performance of all time. There is a lot of writhing around the floor, and he also manages to destroy a stage lighting unit and tear a frond off a decorative palm tree and wave it around a bit. “If it’s tense it’s because I have to make it tense, otherwise some director or floor man would be telling me what to do,” he said in an interview following the performance.
Plastic Bertrand – ‘Ca Plane Pour Moi’ (1977)
From the same year as Iggy Pop, the 70s least authentic punk Plastic Bertrand’s bubblegum classic ‘Ca Plane Pour Moi’ features one of the show’s most inspired props: a full-size trampoline. The Belgian idol performs a variety of simple bounces while a rarked-up studio audience goes buck wild around the perimeter of the tramp.
Lindsey Buckingham – ‘Trouble’ (1982)
A strong contender for the surliest and most reluctant performance ever recorded for TopPop as Fleetwood Mac genius Lindsey Buckingham suffers his way through solo hit ‘Trouble’, unconvincingly miming the song’s flamenco guitar flourishes on an electric guitar. The only other person in the studio who cared less about their job appears to be in charge of the lighting.
George McCrae – ‘Rock Your Baby’ (1974)
It’s all very well to enjoy watching an artist hate their life, half-heartedly and sarcastically miming their song. The real pleasure is to be found in watching an entertainer go about their work whole-hearted, with style and grace and charisma. Here George McCrae gives an absolute masterclass in the art, captivating with a subtle slide of his hips, crooning his masterpiece straight down the camera, all in front of a green screen onto which will inexplicably be projected a proto-Windows 95 screensaver.
Luisa Fernandez – ‘Lay Love on You’ (1978)
Luisa Fernandez’s 1978 disco hit already had a pretty uneasy vibe courtesy of the whispered male backing vocal on the chorus. That, plus the way the young Spanish singer dances like some kind of human marionette, catapults this into the upper echelons of creepy TopPop performances.
Rod Stewart – ‘Tonight’s The Night’ (1976)
During the 1970s TopPop seemingly employed one of the most talented props departments in the world. Here, for example, Rod Stewart sings his sultry ballad ‘Tonight’s The Night’ standing in the middle of a giant pair of headphones. Hard to tell if this helps or hinders him, but he puts in a hell of a performance all the same.
Brian Eno – ‘Seven Deadly Finns’ (1974)
A superb example of TopPop’s imaginative approach to green screen technology (see also: Thin Lizzy ‘The Rocker’ from 1971 and David Bowie ‘Rebel Rebel’ from 1974). Creative camera angles and kaleidoscopic effects provide appropriately buzzy visuals for a rare performance by the dark shark himself.
Tight Fit – ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ (1982)
One of the risks of watching too many of these videos in a row is that you end up in a bad place and it all starts to feel a bit depressing. This one, in which a miserable caged lion is forced to endure pop nobodies Tight Fit clumsily miming their way through a shithouse version of ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’, is potentially the bleakest one there is. Turn back!
Sheila E – ‘The Belle of St Mark’ (1984)
to our journalism!Find Out More
Prince is a notable absence from the TopPop archive, but there are a couple of Prince-adjacent acts who carry the torch. Here Sheila E and band put in a classy performance of ‘The Belle of St Mark’, including one of the archive’s more competent (ie more or less in time) full band dance routines.
Feargal Sharkey – ‘A Good Heart’ (1985)
As the MTV era took hold TopPop reined in many of its extravagant production values, but the best artists remained true to the show’s creative spirit. Feargal Sharkey shows an admirable dedication to spectacle by turning up with a band including two drummers, two backing singers, two guitarists and a bloke playing the clarinet – even though there doesn’t appear to be a clarinet anywhere in the song.
The Spinoff’s music content is brought to you by our friends at Spark. Listen to all the music you love on Spotify Premium, it’s free on all Spark’s Pay Monthly Mobile plans. Sign up and start listening today.
Join The Spinoff Members for as little as $1 to help us hire more journalists and carry out more investigations. Or pay $8 a month and get a free Toby Morris-designed tea towel!
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.