‘On the programme tonight’

The Old Grey Whistle Test as tastemaker for British AOR audiences in the early 1970s

Authors

  • Andy Bennett Griffith University

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.1558/pomh.41438

Keywords:

Old Grey Whistle Test, album-orientated rock, television, audience, tastemaker, YouTube, popular music

Abstract

British popular music television series The Old Grey Whistle Test (OGWT) was a regular feature on BBC2 between 1971 and 1987. The show enjoyed its greatest popularity during the early 1970s when, as a programme synonymous with the term album-orientated rock (AOR), it was responsible for introducing British popular music audiences to a different range of music than was generally featured on national television and radio at the time. Despite its iconic and relatively unique status during the early 1970s, however, little has been written about OGWT. The purpose of this article is to examine and assess the significance of OGWT in terms of its critical role as a tastemaker for British AOR audiences during an era where opportunities to listen to AOR on British television and radio were limited. The article also considers the legacy of OGWT in the digital age where its significant archival footprint on YouTube has given the show a renewed level of importance as a comprehensive retrospective guide to the AOR music of the early 1970s.

Author Biography

Andy Bennett, Griffith University

Andy Bennett is Professor of Cultural Sociology in the School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science at Griffith University. He has written and edited numerous books including Popular Music and Youth Culture, Music, Style and Aging, British Progressive Pop 1970–1980 and Music Scenes (co-edited with Richard A. Peterson). He is a Faculty Fellow of the Yale Centre for Cultural Sociology, an International Research Fellow of the Finnish Youth Research Network, a founding member of the Consortium for Youth, Generations and Culture and a founding member of the Regional Music Research Group.

References

Auslander, P. 1998. ‘Seeing is Believing: Live Performance and the Discourse of Authenticity in Rock Culture’. Literature and Psychology 44/4: 1–26.

Bal, M., J. Crewe and L. Spitzer, eds. 1999. Acts of Memory: Cultural Recall in the Present. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England.

Bennett, A., ed. 2004. Remembering Woodstock. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Bennett, A. 2007. ‘The Forgotten Decade: Rethinking the Popular Music of the 1970s’. Popular Music History 2/1: 5–24. https://doi.org/10.1558/pomh.v2i1.5

—2009. ‘“Heritage Rock”: Rock Music, Re-presentation and Heritage Discourse’. Poetics 37/5-6: 474–89. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.poetic.2009.09.006

—2013. Music, Style and Aging: Growing Old Disgracefully? Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Bennett, A., and I. Rogers. 2016. Popular Music Scenes and Cultural Memory. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Burgess, J., and J. Green. 2009. YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture. Cambridge: Polity.

Carah, N. 2010. Pop Brands: Branding, Popular Music and Young People. New York: Peter Lang.

Friedlander, P. 1996. Rock and Roll: A Social History. Boulder, CO: Westview.

Friedman, S. 2014. ‘The Hidden Tastemakers: Comedy Scouts as Cultural Brokers at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe’. Poetics 44: 22–41. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.poetic.2014.04.002

Frith, S. 1981. ‘The Magic That Can Set You Free: The Ideology of Folk and the Myth of Rock’. Popular Music 1: 159–68. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0261143000000970

—2002. ‘Look! Hear! The Uneasy Relationship of Music and Television’. Popular Music 21/3: 277–90. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0261143002002180

Frith, S., and H. Horne. 1987. Art into Pop. London: Methuen.

Fryer, P. 1997. ‘“Everybody’s on Top of the Pops”: Popular Music on British Television 1960–1985’. Popular Music & Society 21/3: 153–71. https://doi.org/10.1080/03007769708591684

Garner, K. 1993. In Session Tonight. London: BBC Books.

Gracyk, T. 1996. Rhythm and Noise: An Aesthetics of Rock. London and New York: IB Tauris and Co.

Harron, M. 1990. ‘McRock: Pop as a Commodity’. In Facing the Music: Essays on Pop, Rock and Culture, 2nd edn, ed. S. Frith, 173–220. London: Mandarin.

Hodkinson, M. 1995. Queen: The Early Years. London: Omnibus Press.

Inglis, I. 2010. ‘Introduction’. In Popular Music and Television in Britain, ed. Ian Inglis, 1–7. Farnham: Ashgate.

Jones, C. W. 2008. The Rock Canon: Canonical Values in the Reception of Rock Albums. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Kaplan, E. A. 1987. Rocking Around the Clock: Music Television, Postmodernism and Consumer Culture. London: Methuen.

Kutulas, J. 2010. ‘“That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be”: Baby Boomers, 1970s Singer-Songwriters, and Romantic Relationships’. Journal of American History 97/3: 682–702. https://doi.org/10.1093/jahist/97.3.682

Laing, D. 1985. One Chord Wonders: Power and Meaning in Punk Rock. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

Long, P. 2007. ‘The Primary Code: The Meanings of John Peel, Radio and Popular Music’. Radio Journal: International Studies in Broadcast and Audio Media 4/1-3: 25–48. https://doi.org/10.1386/rajo.4.1,2,3.25_1

McAvoy, G., with P. Chrisp. 2005. Riding Shotgun: 35 Years on the Road with Rory Gallagher and Nine Below Zero. Maidstone, Kent: SPS Triumph.

Mills, P. 2010. ‘Stone Fox Chase: The Old Grey Whistle Test and the Rise of High Pop Television’. In Popular Music and Television in Britain, ed. I. Inglis, 55–67. Farnham: Ashgate.

Moore, A. F. 1993. Rock: The Primary Text: Developing a Musicology of Rock. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Murdoch, G., and R. McCron. 1976. ‘Youth and Class: The Career of a Confusion’. In Working-Class Youth Culture, ed. G. Mungham and G. Pearson, 10–26. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Palmer, T. 1976. All You Need is Love: The Story of Popular Music. London: Futura.

Regev, M. 1994. ‘Producing Artistic Value: The Case of Rock Music’. Sociological Quarterly 35/1: 85–102. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1533-8525.1994.tb00400.x

Schmutz, V. 2005. ‘Retrospective Cultural Consecration in Popular Music’. American Behavioral Scientist 48/11: 1510–23. https://doi.org/10.1177/0002764205276617

Shuker, R. 2001. Understanding Popular Music, 2nd edn. London: Routledge.

Simpson, J. 2002. Top of the Pops: 1964–2002. London: BBC Worldwide Ltd.

Straw, W. 1990. ‘Characterizing Rock Music Culture: The Case of Heavy Metal’. In On Record: Rock Pop and the Written Word, ed. S. Frith and A. Goodwin, 97–110. London: Routledge.

Thompson, D. 2012. Hearts of Darkness: James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Cat Stevens and the Unlikely Rise of the Singer-Songwriter. Milwaukee, WI: Backbear Books.

Vahimagi, T., and M. I. Grade. 1996. British Television: An Illustrated Guide. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Willis, P. 1978. Profane Culture. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Published

2020-11-13

How to Cite

Bennett, A. (2020). ‘On the programme tonight’: The Old Grey Whistle Test as tastemaker for British AOR audiences in the early 1970s. Popular Music History, 12(3), 316–332. https://doi.org/10.1558/pomh.41438