If you’re of an middle-aged persuasion you’ll remember these. In the seventies they were the cheapest ways of owning a copy of songs that were hits but ‘sung’ by someone else. When you were eight, this really didn’t matter and adjectives like “Phwoar” came to mind apropos the album covers that would have tittilated many a pre-pubescent schoolboy. Finbarr Saunders would have had a field day.
I wanted to reminisce and look back at the making of these LP’s that ingratiated themselves onto our Fidelity record players at the time and fortunately online, some articles were available.
Also. dare you to click on this video… though I certainly recognised January by Pilot! We will never hear anything like this again… and nor would we want to!
Top of the Pops is the name of a series of records issued by Pickwick Records on their Hallmark label, which contain anonymous cover versions of recent and current hit singles. The recordings were intended to replicate the sound of the original hits as closely as possible. The albums were recorded by a studio group comprising session musicians and singers who remained uncredited, although they included Tina Charles and Elton John before they became famous in their own right.
Record producer Alan Crawford conceived the idea for Top of the Pops, having noted several UK labels such as Music for Pleasure pioneer the anonymous covers format during 1967 and 1968. Crawford’s key idea was to create a continuous series of albums with the same title. The Pickwick label agreed to undertake Crawford’s idea and the first volume was issued in mid-1968, containing versions of twelve hits including “Young Girl“, “Jennifer Eccles“, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” and “I Can’t Let Maggie Go“. A second volume appeared later in the year and included versions of two Beatles songs.
In 1969 new volumes began appearing at generally regular intervals, with a new LP released every six to eight weeks. Volume numbers were not stated on the record sleeves, each edition simply called Top of the Pops, the name derived from the un-trademarked BBC television show of that name, with which there was no direct connection.
From 1968 to 1985, Hallmark Records released nearly 100 albums consisting of covers of Top 40 hits. According to session singer Tony Rivers, “In those days, more often than not, you had to do 3 songs in 3 hours then you were out of there!! Not much chance of getting good at it!”. However, he also notes that “there was good and there was bad” and that the studio singers and musicians usually tried their best. Dave Thompson for AllMusic stated that “it becomes apparent that the trick is not to look upon the songs as straightforward attempts to copy the hit song, but as interpretations rendered in the style of the hit”. Part sound-alikes, part true covers, the series sold well, and two of the albums reached No. 1 in the UK Albums Chart. In 2002, Hallmark Records went back to the mastertapes, re-issuing several of the original albums, and releasing compilations using the recordings, which have a following of their own.
During the early 1970s, the Top of the Pops series enjoyed considerable success and buoyant sales. Budget albums were accepted into the main UK album charts for a few months in 1971, during which four Top of the Pops LPs charted, and two made No. 1. However, they were disqualified in early 1972 since their budget selling price was perceived as giving them an unfair advantage in the market.
The albums continued to be released at regular intervals throughout the 1970s, with the general theme and cover art largely unchanged throughout. The cover designs featured female models in period attire, some with the models in skimpy clothing such as miniskirts and bikinis.
There were numerous similar album series in existence in the 1970s, put out by other labels. These include 12 Tops on the Stereo Gold Award record label, Hot Hits on the Music for Pleasure label, 16 Chart Hits on the Contour label, and Parade of Pops on the Windmill label (and, later, the Chevron label), plus several others. Some of these were also commercially successful.
While recently searching for Car 67 (Driver 67) to download from Youtube, scrolling down I discovered a version with said TOTP treatment, clicked play and heard just how bad most of this stuff must have been.
We can laugh at it now but at the time I guess many households owned copies of this series of albums which were cheap as chips and even sold in supermarkets.
And here it is…
Anyway, on with the story…
Released every couple of months, ‘Top Of The Pops’ and ‘Hot Hits’ sold almost underneath the radar for some years, until a brief change in the chart eligibility rules allowed the titles into the main album countdown. Thus, early in August 1971, ‘Hot Hits 6’ reached No. 1 and then, two weeks later, ‘Top Of The Pops 18’ did the same, incongruously stealing the top spot from the Moody Blues’ ‘Every Good Boy Deserves Favour.’
The album contained versions, of varying degrees of accuracy, of such recent favourites from the hit parade as Middle Of The Road’s ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep,’ Hurricane Smith’s ‘Don’t Let It Die,’ T. Rex’s ‘Get It On’ and the Rolling Stones’ ‘Street Fighting Man’ — all gamely performed, if unlikely to convince diehard fans.
The 20th volume in the ‘Top Of The Pops’ series also made the chart summit that November, before the chart ruling was revoked, after the major companies complained that the budget releases had an unfair pricing advantage. Nevertheless, the albums continued to sell throughout the 1970s, finally coming to a halt with Volume 91 in 1982.
The main series of Top of the Pops ran to 92 volumes. Albums were released continuously from mid-1968 to mid-1982, with one more following in 1985. These 92 albums account for 1,190 individual recordings; click the link below to find out more.
I wanted to find an image of one of these albums that is etched in the memory bank but can’t see it on the link. It had a green cover and I don’t remember the photo and of course it may not have been a TOTP album but one of the MFP series, This album would have been early seventies and had versions of Back Off Boogaloo (Ringo Starr) and Radancer (Marmalade) on it – I do remember that in comparison to the originals, these atually weren’t that bad renditions.
In the late 1970s the main studio band behind the recordings was dispersed, and both the group’s leader Tony Rivers and the regular producer Bruce Baxter left the fold. As a result, from about 1978, Pickwick compiled the LPs from material recorded by external companies. The series ceased in 1982 with volume 91, though a one-off volume (92) was released in 1985.
The end-of-year compilations have been released on CD, as have four of the original 92 sets. Pickwick have also issued a number of themed compilations made up from Top of the Pops recordings, with CDs such as Disco Fever, When They Was Fab, and Knowing Me, Knowing You, an Abba tribute album. In addition, most Top of the Pops albums have been released on iTunes in several countries, credited to the “Top of the Poppers”.