Top of the Pops Albums:
These albums were recorded by some undoubtedly talented session musicians struggling to achieve the polished performance of the original. However they were hampered by time and budget constraints so it's hardly surprising that they often failed in their endeavour. These collections of pop impersonations were contained in a lurid cover adorned by sexy glamorous women in a state of undress. The LP's dominated the album charts in 1971 selling 300,000 copies at their peak. This prompted the ‘major’ record companies to get together and force the powers that be, to change the rules, so that these ‘budget albums’ would never appear again in the regular ‘pop’ charts.
Eight Top of the Pops Albums were issued every year for 12 years, one every six weeks, with each album's 12 tracks recorded in four days or less.The albums were priced well within pocket money range at under £1. The LP's were the brainchild of producer Alan Crawford who handed the reins over to Bruce Baxter in 1970 after 14 volumes.
Baxter enlisted a top team of musicians and singers headed by Tony Rivers who used to be lead singer with 60's vocal group Harmony Grass. He would impersonate chart stalwarts like Mud, 10CC, and the Sex Pistols. Other singers who contributed included Tina Charles before she had a worldwide smash hit with "I love to love". John Perry handled the Donny Osmond, Stylistics and Freddy Mercury vocals. Ken Gold became the voice of Gilbert O’Sullivan and Elton John and was later to pen the Real Things classic hit "You to me are everything". George Chandler and Jimmy Chambers would handle the soul tracks while another regular contributor was Ken Barry, who would later grace the charts with the theme tune to the children's TV show "Postman Pat".
Over a period stretching from the late 60's to the early 80's these musicians mimicked everyone from Bowie and Abba to Lennon and Laurel and Hardy. The results tended to vary between excellent and appalling. The dire efforts included the "Norman Wisdom" style vocal performance of Tony Rivers on "Anarchy in the UK". However Tony more than redeemed himself with his excellent version of "Bohemian Rhapsody. It took Queen almost three weeks and 180 overdubs but Tony and his team of Ken Gold, Stu Calver and John Perry needed one night.
Eventually companies like Arcade and K-Tel released their ‘original artists’ collections, which lead to the demise of the ‘TOTP’s’ albums. Pickwick pulled the plug in 1979, although they briefly revived the idea to an apathetic public in 1985. However these albums have encountered a bit of a revival recently with an article in Mojo magazine and Tony Rivers and Bruce Baxter were interviewed on the BBC's ‘I Love A 1970’s Xmas’ show . All this prompted ABM records to release a 13 part "Best of Top of the Pops" series on CD.
With the benefit of hindsight the Top of the Pops LP's were a vital part of the 70's pop scene. However at the time they were regarded with a great degree of derision but I think the time is right to re-appraise them. If you have any of these albums gathering dust in your attic do yourself a favour and give them a listen. The LP's may have been manufactured under a great deal of duress but they're a lot of fun.
Gordon Bathgate November 2001