TELEVISION / Spirit of the aged: Thomas Sutcliffe watches Tony Parsons go pop

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AH, THE tunes of my youth] Remember this golden oldie?

'Pop music isn't what it was, the lyrics aren't about anything and it all just sounds mechanical - I don't know, young people nowadays don't seem to have any ideals, they just don't care. In my day the music was wonderful, I could still hum the melodies now. This modern stuff has no soul, no passion, the industry has sold out to the soundtracks and the big record companies . . . '

That was Tony Parsons there folks with his BURRilliant cover version of 'It's Time for Punk', which some of you may remember was a big hit in the late Seventies, when Tony was one of the New Musical Express's top journos. Not everyone knows that 'It's Time for Punk' was itself a cover version of 'Peace and Love Is Here', a monster hit in the late Sixties, which was itself a cover version of the Fifties chart-topper 'Give Me Rock'n'Roll'. Funny old world, eh?

These days Tony Parsons is a prosperous rock biographer (George Michael done and dusted, David Bowie on the way) and he has already taken a fair amount of incoming fire for 'Souled Out', a 30-minute film for Without Walls (C 4) in which he rehearsed the number above. He was obviously a bit nervous himself, sticking in an anxious disclaimer near the top of the programme ('It's not that we're getting old and can't understand the noises coming from little Jimmy's bedroom') and broadening his argument to avoid accusations of premature middle-age spread. A better charge might have been that of selective amnesia.

Not everything he said brought to mind the retired raver who has left behind the night-clubs for the golf clubs. He made a good case for the importance of the computer games market in luring young people away from their almost religious devotion to pop music (sales of Sonic II, he pointed out, were pounds 27m in a single day, more than last year's best-selling album achieved in an entire year). He explored the industry's fascination with formats in characteristically abrasive style (muttering about today's train- spotter consumers 'fiddling with their knobs' in the Tottenham Court Road). He complained that we weren't preparing for our children's nostalgia ('It's sad that they won't be able to hear their past on the radio,' said Neil Tennant, jumping the gun by about 25 years). He was (four cheers for this alone) judiciously contemptuous of the shallow gratification of dance and hip-hop, its grimly tedious substitution of rhythm and beat for melody and lyric.

But what was surprising was that his conclusions should be so baleful and millenarian, that he was saying 'this is the end' rather than 'it's time for a change'. After all, people had made much the same complaints about commercial music, in almost exactly the same form, when Tony was still a cub reporter and then, out of the blue, punk came swerving round the corner, like a juggernaut driven by a joy-rider, to restore a sense of danger. He watched it happen. He described it - wonderfully - in the pages of the NME. He's forgotten it already. That, far more than the impatience with the heedless hedonism of youth and the tuneless grind of their favoured music, was a sign of age.