“I’ll do anything to be on TV” | The best musical moments of Channel 4’s ’90s youth show ‘The Word’
The Word was a seminal moment in youth culture during the nineties. A Channel 4 exploit, designed to capture the rising viewership of Generation X, The Word acted as a conductor not only for bored teens desperate to have their brains filled with ultimate, irreverent, po-mo guff, but also as the proving ground for the growing musical landscape that surrounded it. From Nirvana to Oasis here we look back at the show’s most memorable musical moments.
The Word was a TV show in the early-nineties which, like its predecessor Tube, was designed to engage with a new and emerging youth movement who, though jaded by MTV, still refused to believe anything that didn’t come through the small screen. The show was hosted by radio personality and all-round shit-smirker Terry Christian and only really got moving when it was moved from a 6 pm slot to a new late-night slot on Friday nights. It allowed the show to truly flourish and their guests to do pretty much whatever they wanted. They had big plans.
The magazine format of the show allowed for interviews, live music, features and even game shows. The new flexible late-night format meant that guests could do just about anything to be controversial. There was also an ‘I’ll do anything to be on television’ section called “The Hopefuls” in which people ate worms, bathed in maggots, licked the sweat off fat people, intimately kissed old people, and did generally repulsive things in order to get featured on the programme.
This allowed for a variety of musical genres take the stage. It allowed bands to express themselves without fear of reproach, it was less stuffy than BBC’s Top of the Pops, and far more engaging than any other show on at the time. It invited the world’s best musical acts and it got them.
Nirvana perform ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ for the first time (1991)
The band took to the TV studio in 1991 to give the first televised performance of the iconic ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. Their raw energy, fury of performance, and undoubted star power meant that the band left an indelible mark on the youth of Britain. Nirvana, after this, would never be the same band, instead, they would be the hope of a disenfranchised generation.
Not only was the performance the first televised showing of Nirvana, but it was the first time that the world was formally introduced to Cobain’s girlfriend and future mother of his child, Courtney Love. “I’d like all of you people in this room to know that Courtney Love, the lead singer of the sensational pop group Hole, is the best fucking the world.”
Oasis write a rock and roll tale on their TV debut as they perform ‘Supersonic’ (1994)
The welcoming of Oasis to the stage of The Word would not only set the stall out for one of the biggest acts Britain has ever seen but also see Oasis start their journey as career-Rock stars. Host, Terry Christian accepts full responsibility for giving them the air time to perform their new track ‘Supersonic’ in ’94 and the rock and roll story that ensued.
Christian says: “Since Oasis made their first television appearance, on Channel 4’s The Word on 18 March 1994, everyone from the series editor and music booker to the cleaning lady has tried to take the credit – when, of course, it was really all down to me, me, me!” He then continues with the insights on Liam Gallagher’s budding rock star career.
“As it was the last show, most of the maggot-eating Hopefuls who’d been on that series had come down for the after-show, and one of the girls made a beeline for Liam. He then took her back to the band’s studio where they were staying that night (no hotels in their rock’n’roll lifestyle then) to do the business.”
So, yes, this was the making of Oasis. This TV performance was the beginning of the legend of the band from Manchester with enough attitude to sink a Britpop battleship. As Christian says: “So that was Oasis: pushed themselves on to TV by pestering, great performance on the night, everyone got trashed, and the lead singer banged a Hopeful.”
The late, great Oliver Reed sings The Troggs’ ‘Wild Thing’ with Ned’s Atomic Dustbin (1992)
The wonderful and vibrant personality, and drinking habits, of the late Oliver Reed, got a full screening on this 1992 episode of The Word as the acclaimed actor, some what inebriated, gave the nation a memorable performance of ‘Wild Thing’.
Backed by British rock band Ned’s Atomic Dustbin Reed eventually, after some cringeworthy conjuring from Christian and his co-host, gets to the stage and does his best to give the nation what they wanted. Fair to say he succeeded.
Sadly, the thing the nation wanted was for an old school alcoholic actor to make a bit of a tit of himself. They had tuned into The Word after all. But maybe we’re being too sensitive as Reed doesn’t seem to matter a bit as he ad-libs and generally tries to make love to the camera.
Rage Against The Machine perform ‘Killing in the Name Of’ (1993)
Mark Lamaar, a much-beloved host of the show introduces this next performance accompanied, for some reason, by the championship-winning boxer Chris Eubank and then tells the viewers to “swivel” if they’re easily offended. He introduces Rage Against The Machine to perform their new track.
The 1993 performance is notable, not least of all because it remains one of the few times that RATM was allowed to perform the song on TV, but because the crowd, a young and hopefuly lot, were bouncing and moshing like you’d expect to see at one of their actual gigs.
It builds, helped along by some awesome editing, until the crescendo moment of “fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me” and sees Zach De La Roche disappear into the audience.
Snoop Dogg turns Manchester into Long Beach performing ‘Gin and Juice’ (1994)
Sometimes the British infatuation with Americana can feel a little stupid. One particular facet of this silliness is when the suburbs of Stourbridge and Leamington Spa are bouncing to the sounds of ganagsta rap. But in 1994, that’s exactly what was happening and Snoop Dogg was partly to blame.
Over in the UK to promote his US chart hit and now iconic song ‘Gin and Juice’, Snoop takes to The Word studio to give not only a very special performance of the slow jam, surrounded by lads with curtains, Gola trainers, and Ben Sherman shirts, but also a hilariously awkward video. You’re welcome.
Primal Scream change rock and roll with ‘Movin’ On Up’ (1991)
The founding fathers of the baggy scene the first taste much of the nation got of the merging forces of rave culture and rock n roll was Primal Scream’s stunning performance on The Word in 1991.
Their rendition of ‘Movin’ On Up’ (a permanent mash-up anthem) would set the stage for what would become the Madchester scene which would later morph it’s way into what we could call Britpop today. It’s a fair bet that this could’ve been the igniting moment for many of the bands who would cultivate the decade’s musical output.
Looking back it’s fair to say, however contrived the Channel 4 execs were when creating The Word in the early nineties, they got it spot on. The show was full of notable moments of gross grandeur and musical madness. It was perfect late night telly.
Cypress Hill performs ‘Insane in the Brain’
Weezer ‘Undone the Sweater Song’ (1995)
Happy Mondays’ Shaun Ryder’s interview (1992)
Pixies take the early stage to perform ‘Cecili-Ann’ and ‘Allison’ (1990)