Just like America and many other countries, England in the 1960s had television programs designed to showcase pop music. The most prominent of those shows – and likely, the first – was the UK’s Ready, Steady, Go! BMG Books has brought out a very cool coffee table book with the lengthy title Ready Steady Go! The Weekend Starts Here: The Definitive Story of the Show That Changed Pop TV, and it’s a real swingin’ volume. Author Andy Neill dove deep into RSG!’s history and came up with a rollicking encyclopedia of “the most popular music program of all time,” and as far as books go, it’s nearly as exciting as the show itself must have been.
I say “must have been” because, being an American who spent literally no time in Britain in the ’60s, I’ve never seen the TV show. Aside from a few clips that reside on YouTube-type outlets (a couple are below), RSG! doesn’t exist in my memory as anything except a 1978 song by Generation X. For years after hearing the song I wondered who this “Cathy McGow-wow-wow-wow-wowan” was and what she had to do with “Ready Steady Go.” It took years of reading various rock ’n’ roll biographies to piece things together, yet there was still little or no visual evidence. (There was a time before YouTube, kids.) Think of a hipper, Brit-er American Bandstand – actually hosted by young people! – and that goes partway to describing the show, which featured pop groups doing their latest singles, kids doing the latest dances and a whole lot more. Though RSG! ran for only three and a half years, it clearly left a major impression on Britain’s youth.
Neill’s book is absolutely loaded with photos, which go a long way to helping us in 2020 to picture what the show was like. Sure, the essays he’s written are helpful, for context and scholarly history, but short of kinescopes, videos or audio recordings of the show, only photos and firsthand accounts can really put RSG! into focus. To that end there are literally (I’m pretty sure) thousands of photos here – many full pages in color – and captions to go along. Regarding accounts, well, how about Mick Jagger, Pete Townshend, Ray Davies, Lulu, Andrew Oldham and a whole bunch more? Some of the hosts are also quoted, though sadly Cathy McGowan herself decided not to participate.
Ready, Steady, Go! ran for such a short time, at a time when pop music was considered as something that would be here today, gone tomorrow, that only 5% of the filmed performances survive. The photos and essays help to tell the story but they still come up short – and that’s where Neill’s end-of-the-book, never-before-published guide to all 173 episodes comes in super handy. It gives a blow by blow (or artist by artist) account of who appeared each week, what song(s) they did, and more. It’s not exactly complete, since records of this kind of thing weren’t always kept (or at least, not kept long enough for Neill to get a hold of them), but through painstaking research of TV guides, music weeklies and other publications, Neill’s extra-mile work proves to be a very useful tool for understanding the scope of RSG!’s influence. Graphic designer Phil Smee, who’s done hundreds of great album and CD designs over the years, handled the art direction and layout of this 12″x12″, 268 page blast from Britain’s pop past and it’s a great looking book. In its entirety this behemoth volume gets you as close to watching an episode as you’re likely to get.
Gift-giving season will be upon us before you know it, so it’s a good time to have Ready Steady Go! The Weekend Starts Here on your radar for that Anglophile on your list. You may want to start bulking up your arm muscles, though, in order to heft this volume over to the gift-wrapping counter and then to whomever you’re gonna give it. Now: Ready, steady, go! – Marsh Gooch
4/5 (BMG Books 978-1947026346, 2020)