10 times metal bands improved Top Of The Pops

Top Of The Pops
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Top Of The Pops was a British music institution. Running from January 1964 until July 2006, the weekly new music programme broadcasted a mind-crumbling 2,263 episodes to homes all over the United Kingdom. Usually metal bands weren't invited on, instead opting for The Wombles or Tweenies, but now and again we would manage to infiltrate the BBC and show the country what good music is all about.

Here are ten examples of Top Of The Pops having its bottom well and truly kicked by heavy effing metal.

1. Black Sabbath in 1970

It’s unfathomable to think of now, but back in 1970 Black Sabbath were on primetime BBC television performing title track of their second album. Of course, Paranoid wasn’t the gigantic mega-anthem it is today, but this psychedelic-esque performance put Ozzy Osbourne on the map and into the homes of scared grannies everywhere.

Tony Iommi wasn’t actually very happy with Sabbath’s booking on Top Of The Pops, claiming the band started to attract the wrong kind of crowd to their shows.

2. Iron Maiden in 1980

Iron Maiden were one of the first ever bands to perform live on Top Of The Pops, refusing to appear unless they could play Running Free as it is meant to be heard. TOTP backed down and the rest is history. What followed was a raw, powerful, energetic performance from one a British powerhouse embracing their punk edge.

3. Metallica in 1997

Metallica were going through an odd patch in the late ‘90s, trying their very best not to look metal, but the crowd here are all about throwing the horns and getting their bounce on to one of Reload’s better moments. It’s good to see the ‘Tallica boys on the BBC properly, as ten years later their set would be cut short in BBC’s coverage of Live Earth, causing over 400 complaints.

4. Linkin Park in 2003

Linkin Park’s second appearance on Top Of The Pops, following a Hybrid Theory set in 2001. Commanding the room and sounding enormous, it was obvious this band were destined to break free from nu metal and into the mainstream – just look at how happy Mike Shinoda is to be onstage at the Beeb! Although Chester’s guttural scream probably sent some dinners flying across the room.

5. Limp Bizkit in 2001

Probably the most nu-metal thing to ever happen on Top Of The Pops. Wes Borland is in full painted regalia and Fred Durst has turned rowdiness up to 11, hurling himself around the stage and gurning into the camera, whipping up the riotous crowd. We’re not actually sure if Fred self-edited his signature ‘Get the fuck up!’ scream or it was some swift editing work by Auntie Beeb.

6. Saxon in 1980

This couldn’t look more like metal in the early ‘80s – with the amount of dry ice floating around you can barely see Biff Byford at the beginning. There doesn’t appear to be a live crowd for Saxon belting out Wheels Of Steel, but someone in the editing suite is having fun with some cutting-edge visual effects.

7. AC/DC in 1980

Filmed on February 7, 1980, AC/DC frontman Bon Scott would be found dead just 12 days later. It looks like a slightly off performance from him and the band here as they’re having to mime, but how can you not relish the delight of seeing original era AC/DC on BBC television? The crowd could give a bit more effort, though.

8. HIM in 2006

Appearing a few months later than planned after guitarist Linde Lindström broke his wrist, HIM performed Killing Loneliness to a very non-HIM crowd, lacking any sign of goth or love metal. Ville Valo looks ecstatic with his performance at the end, despite the the ‘fun fact’ about his foot fetish greeting viewers within mere seconds of the song starting. Still, Fearne Cotton gives the horns at the end, so she must’ve enjoyed it.

9. Kiss in 1987

Very much into their no make-up phase, Kiss brought their brand of bombastic, anthemic rock ‘n’ roll to Top Of The Pops with the infectious Crazy Crazy Nights. No longer the scary men in corpsepaint (and a cat), this is a rock show you can play to your mum in the early evening – if she doesn’t mind Gene Simmons seemingly trying to lick the crowd.

10. Soundgarden in 1994

It’s not often you see crowdsurfers on the BBC, but it’s not often one of rock music’s greatest voices appears live and in person on primetime TV. Looking and feeling like a proper grunge gig, the sombre, downtrodden performance of Black Hole Sun is classic Soundgarden. Chris Cornell is giving it everything he’s got while Kim Thayil beams cheeky grins out across the room. What a band.

That’s our ten, but it would be remiss not to mention Nirvana’s performance on Top Of The Pops, purposefully taking the piss out of the whole thing. Refusing to mime their instruments or sing properly (at all), this is still brilliant.

Luke Morton joined Metal Hammer as Online Editor in 2014, having previously worked as News Editor at popular (but now sadly defunct) alternative lifestyle magazine, Front. As well as helming the Metal Hammer website for the four years that followed, Luke also helped relaunch the Metal Hammer podcast in early 2018, producing, scripting and presenting the relaunched show during its early days. He also wrote regular features for the magazine, including a 2018 cover feature for his very favourite band in the world, Slipknot, discussing their turbulent 2008 album, All Hope Is Gone.