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The decade that taste forgot

Remember those naff TOTP compilations? Well now they're back. Sort of. Angela Lewis reports
top of the pops, like Radio 1 FM, wages a never-ending battle to shake up its fortunes. So perhaps it's not surprising that, in an effort to recapture its Seventies heyday, the programme is reviving one of its erstwhile defining features. No, not Pan's People (but close, if you remember the women). The TOTP compilation album is back.

In an effort to seduce fresh-faced, pop-hungry Oasis teenies into splashing out on the records, the anodyne Mark Goodier will promote the album on television. It is unlikely, however, that he will convince the over-30s to buy them in droves - memories are long and they don't forgive. The original cover records were unfailingly, unapologetically terrible. The Seventies was the decade devoted to bad taste, and TOTP was in the eye of the storm.

Evidence that the pop show traipsed in where sophistication and common sense feared to tread comes no starker than at the home of designer Steve Rumney, a veritable tack evangelist who recently appeared on Good Morning with Anne and Nick. The 34-year-old's Lewisham abode is quiet but his vast, lovingly cared-for archive collection of Seventies items is very loud indeed. On the ground floor there are wall chests laden with day- glo Dinky toys by the hundred and, in the kitchen, vast arrays of vintage products from fizzy-drink cans to washing powder boxes. Head up the stairs where blindingly garish psychedelic togs hang from the walls. Meanwhile, rows of three-inch platform boots weigh down bedroom shelves. But down in the basement, we hit gold. In a grey cabinet neatly stuffed with around 1,000 albums purchased solely for their kitsch covers, we find proof of TOTP's crimes against the discerning pop world. We uncover a veritable stack of their disgraceful, once top-selling records.

Blonde nymphs parade themselves on almost every one; sometimes pouting, sometimes in mid groove-tastic jig, always semi-naked with gigglesome eyes. Pink bikinis, brown hot pants, burgundy tinsel draped around a model like a strip of mink... boy, did TOTP know how to rope in the male attention.

As for the sleeve notes: well, shucks. "Every single pop fan in the country has been screaming for our next issue of TOTP. Well here it is, brighter, breezier, beatier than any of our previous issues, and packed with 12 of the current hit tunes. So you hip hip hippies, you yippies, go grab yourself a handful of rhythm and beat its brains out on your player until the next issue is out." Well, maybe Sid Vicious did die for our sins after all. Glory days? Purlease.

"The cover versions are all rubbish," Steve ruminates, asserting, not for the last time, that he loathed the recordings. "They were churned out and sold in their millions. I just archive anything that's in bad taste. And there were a lot of things in the Seventies that were really bad taste." Why do you think these records sold so well? "Every one follows the same formula: a woman on the front cover baring as much skin as possible, looking very seductively at you... blonde hair was a must. I don't know whether you've noticed, but it's exactly the same formula that sells girlie mags: a girl in skimpy clothes with bum out to one side, trying to sell a product."

Some of Steve's friends think he is touched for turning his home into a mind-boggling enclave of post-war consumer junkets. A casual perusal of his treasured goods fails to reveal a selection of anoraks. However, while you rest on a three-piece suite (green, Fifties, bought for pounds 20 at a Kent market recently), your eyes fall on the face of a blow-up doll attached to a mannequin body that's clothed in a purple shirt and a medallion- cum-radio set. "The blow-up doll has never been used, I must stress that," Steve insists. "I was going to use it as part of a Royal Academy Exhibition."

But far from being a mere nostalgist, Steve - the bus ticket-collecting, bus-spotting Seventies child who turned DJ in the Eighties under the pseudonym Too Damn Funky - has a big, conceivable dream. The intention is to build "a museum of modern urban archaeology". His years of trawling around markets, boot sales and vinyl outlets will have been for a reason: to let people know that yes, things were once as bad as his accumulated artefacts suggest.

In the meantime, Steve is concentrating on the launch of new club, Bus Stop, at Maximus in Leicester Square next week, which will play outlandish but cool Seventies funk. The more outrageously dressed the clientele, the better. As for the launch of the new TOTP compilations, well, Steve isn't terribly interested. At first he had thought they would feature Seventies songs in new sleeves and confessed that he might buy them. But even this weak enthusiasm dropped off at the news that the records will feature original recordings by the Celine Dion-types who currently file through the desperate-to-be-hip pop show. "The new ones will probably sell to the kids as they sold to the kids the other time," he shrugs. Now the babes in bikinis and the tunes by ceaseless ranks of session musicians unburdened by talent are gone, he's moving on. Tack ain't what it used to be.

'Top of the Pops - The Album' is on release through Sony Music

Bus Stop at Maximus, 14 Leicester Sq, WC2 (0171-734 4111) Mon 12 Jun