TOP OF THE POPS
|THE BEST OF TOP OF THE POPS|
|NOTES ON THE ABOVE|
Top of the Pops was conceived back in 1968 by Alan Crawford who pitched the idea of producing cheap alternative recordings of famous songs to Pickwick Records. They loved it, bought the idea and formed a committee to decide each month the 12 songs to pick that could be replicated as near as possible to the original recordings by hiring session musicians and laying down basic tracks in the quickest time possible. These would then be produced between 3 different studios: one for vocal, one for backing vocal, and one for overdubs. By volume 4 Bruce Baxter was brought on board and pretty much after Crawford's departure in 1970 (volume 15 onwards) was left to run the show by himself, arranging session musicians, finding suitable Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart sound-a-likes, etc., until he left in 1978 after volume 79. Having produced over 65 volumes of the series he knew when it was time to quit, for the series had had it by then and was steadily declining in sales. This was not helped by two factors: 1. The ban on copy artistes from entering the charts; 2. The original artistes compilation albums being churned out by other (more respectable) labels coming out around the same time, they being more competitively priced. By 1979, the subsidiary of Pickwick, Hallmark Records, who had specialised in producing the whole series, dropped the idea—although they regrettably tried to revive it in 1985. The resultant volume 92 (with Samantha Fox's rival, Linda Lusardi on the cover) was a flop, and Top of the Pops, which had been the forerunner of all the cheap and cheerful albums that were later to follow, with in excess of 3 million copies sold, was no more.
To demonstrate the rapidity with which the albums were produced, once the series got into full swing, here are the release dates for the first 50 volumes: volume 1 (June 1968), volume 2 (September 1968), volume 3 (January 1969), volume 4 (March 1969), volume 5 (May 1969), volume 6 (July 1969), volume 7 (September 1969), volume 8 (November 1969), volume 9 (January 1970), volume 10 (March 1970), volume 11 (May 1970), volume 12 (July 1970), volume 13 (September 1970), volume14 (November 1970), volume 15 (January 1970), volume 16 (March 1971), volume 17 (May 1971), volume 18 (July 1971), volume 19 (September 1971), volume 20 (November 1971), volume 21 (December 1971), volume 22 (February 1972), volume 23 (April 1972), volume 24 (June 1972), volume 25 (July 1972), volume 26 (September 1972), volume 27 (October 1972), volume 28 (December 1972), volume 29 (February 1973), volume 30 (April 1973), volume 31 (June 1973), volume 32 (August 1973), volume 33 (October 1973), .volume 34 (December 1973), volume 35 (February 1974), volume 36 (April 1974), volume 37 (June 1974), volume 38 (August 1974), volume 39 (October 1974), volume 40 (December 1974), volume 41 (February 1975), volume 42 (April 1975), volume 43 (June 1975), volume 44 (August 1975), volume 45 (October 1975), volume 46 (December 1975), volume 47 (February 1976), volume 48 (June 1976), volume 49 (August 1976), volume 50 (October 1976), the last being a special 50th edition with four extra tracks (Wow!). On the whole, not bad going for this series considering it was only eight years old. This pace was pretty much maintained up till 1979 with one album being released every other month, each with a striking cover. The photos used for the covers, by the way, were taken from a standard agency portfolio of young, up-and-coming models, and were not, contrary to the rumour, especially shot for the sleeves.
After the initial success of the first seven albums, Hallmark decided to produce a 'Best Of The Year' series, starting in 1969. This was released December 1969 to tie-in with the Xmas sales. This trend was continued for another 12 years with a selection of the best 12 tracks of the year making it to each offering. They also came complete with a pin-up poster of a girl (different to the one on the cover) next to a calendar for the following year. Needless to say, copies of the 'Best Of' series can rarely be found with one of these inside, most of them probably being permanently fixed to some adolescent's bedroom wall. However, the Best of Top of the Pops for 1971 was originally released in a gatefold cover (see here). It was the only one of its type. In 2002, Pickwick re-released all the 'Best Of' series in CD format, including the 1971 edition replete with a foldout sleeve like the original LP. See here for the sleeves. They also re-released some of the original albums on CD. So far only four are available, as far as I am aware.
Incidentally, some retailers on the web are now selling the original LPs for exorbitant sums, especially if they are in good condition. Whilst setting up this site a few years ago now, I came across 'Sound and Pressure' only to be staggered by how much they were asking for them, around £10 in near mint condition, none of the 'Best of' series having any calendars, needless to say. Other LPs, as featured on this site, are all pretty steep, and very indicative of the mark-up value, about £6-£8 for LPs I consider to be utter trash. Check out the site anyway, just for curiosity alone (www.sounds-and-pressure.com).
Lastly, to end my ranting on the subject of Top of the Pops, I recently
became aware that a serious music magazine, Mojo, actually did a piece on
this series in their September 2000 issue. Entitled 'Better than the real
thing?', I suspect it was full of praise for a bygone era, rather than
outright condemnation. I have yet to read said article, but it's nice to
know that even such a prestigious magazine as Mojo should doff it's cap to
these items of disposability. (My reference is taken from Tony Rivers
remembrances about his involvement with the project as one of the session
musicians. See his site:
Tony Rivers.) And if you're interested in
what these slabs of platter sound like, you can download the tracks (at
cost) from the following link:
Unfortunately, three are missing from my collection. Hopefully, one day I will come across them, and when I do I will add them to finish off this page.
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by Jon Lange. Copyright © 2005
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