Classic Album Review: Various Artists – Top Of The Pops

Greetings pop pickers! This week’s Classic Album Review is Dedicated to Chrissie and Easy With The Tonic & Pussies.

Wizzard – See My Baby Jive

Both Chrissie and Easy have voiced concerns with regard to the choice of artists for this series, and this is perhaps understandable. Zappa, ZZ Top, Morissette, et al., might all be hugely popular artists, but they are not to everyone’s taste. So for this week’s review we shall spread our net to include a wider selection of artists that hopefully will include, as Easy puts it, someone recognisable. To achieve this I have rolled up my sleeves; dug deeply into the dank, dark and foetid regions of my album collection; and pulled out, not a singular album, but an entire series of budget compilation albums. A series that enjoyed great popularity and endured much ridicule in the brown and beige 1970s – Top Of The Pops!

10cc – Rubber Bullets

The Top of the Pops albums were not in any way affiliated to the TV programme of the same name, but they were very much aimed at the same teeny demographic as the hugely successful BBC show. The albums were released at regular intervals – roughly every 6 to 8 weeks – and featured a compilation of the hits of the day. However, none of the recordings on these albums were original. Instead, each track was re-recorded by an anonymous and entirely uncredited rotating cast of battle-hardened session musicians.

The Monkees – Daydream Believer

The recordings were of course intended to replicate the sound of the original hits as closely as possible. However the results were, to say the least, highly variable. Some of the cover versions were actually very good indeed, and some (well, in truth, a very select few) were actually the superior version, surpassing the quality of the original recordings on which they were based.

Mud – Tiger Feet

Many however – the vast majority, to be brutally honest – were absolutely dire; and herein lies the cheesy charm of this series, a series that sold very well, built up a loyal and dedicated following, and which now, astonishingly, has become highly collectible.

Sparks (backed by Franz Ferdinand) – This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us (for Molly, in case she still lurks)

The idea to name the series Top Of The Pops came from record producer Alan Crawford. The BBC were not impressed, but there was nothing they could do as the name of their programme wasn’t subject to any copyright limitations. To keep costs down, the recording process was a treadmill – with often a dozen tracks being recorded in a single day.

Sweet – No You Don’t

The albums were sold at the same price as a 7″ single, were available in outlets such as Boots and Woolworth, and perhaps crucially, nowhere on the album cover would you find even the slightest hint or suggestion that the recordings it contained were not the genuine article.

Marc Bolan & T Rex – Get It On

Finally, and quite importantly for teenage lads in their fumbling formative years, the album covers were inevitably adorned with the image a scantily clad young lovely – mini skirts, hot pants or itsy bitsy teeny weeny bikinis were all de rigueur (God, I miss the 70s).

Slade – Mama Weer All Crazee Now – 8/4/1975 – Winterland

It was a winning formula. The Series sold very well and was so successful they frequently topped the UK album charts. The major record labels (who, as far as they were concerned were being royally ripped off and tucked up a treat) were not happy. As a result the Top Of The Pops albums were quickly excluded from the album charts. But it really didn’t matter and the albums continued to sell in significant and lucrative numbers as the series rolled on.

Roxy Music – Street Life

The records were issued by Pickwick Records on their budget Hallmark label and the series ran from 1968 to 1985, by which time the series had become a sad, pale, shadow of its former glories. Additionally, by the mid ’80s the cheap-and-cheerful all-covers formula had been thoroughly eclipsed by a range of popular original artist compilations such as “Now That’s What I Call Music”.

David Essex – Rock On

However, the series still has its devotees and for anyone with a very strong constitution the albums are all available on iTunes (other services are available). And for anyone who fancies a big ol’ chunk of cheese for their evening’s delight and delectation, here’s a big slab of prime Top Of The Pops from their glory years in the early to mid ’70s (you have been warned…).

Top Of The Pops


The Curious Case Of The ‘Top Of The Pops’ Albums

Top of the Pops album series

Featured image: BBC Television 1964, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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