Saturday, December 22, 2018

Spare Snare


Spare Snare are (according to Wiki) a long-standing lo-fi band from Dundee, Scotland. Recently, one of the group got in touch about a record they had released back in 2015 - a single titled "Spare Snare Sing Billordo", containing two tracks, No Quise Angustiarte / More Action Heroes.

The songs are great, but the reason it finds its way onto this blog is because of the artwork on the sleeve and label. So, without further ado...



 
 


Pretty cool, eh? (Red vinyl too!) Our thanks to Jan of Spare Snare - check them out.

Top of the Pops collectors won't need to be told where the artwork originated, but here anyway are the original sleeves:






















Monday, November 26, 2018

Bowie tribute LP arrives.

We were delighted last week to get out hands on a copy of the much-anticipated David Bowie LP issued by Electronic Sound magazine: The Top of the Poppers Sing and Play the Hits of David Bowie.

As detailed in our last post, it compiles nine tracks from the Top of the Pops albums and is the first new vinyl release from the series in 33 years. Check out the fabulous purple vinyl!





Of course Poppers fans will know exactly what the record contains - nine cover versions bridging across Bowie's 1970s output, from "Space Oddity" through to "Fashion".

This LP is certain to become highly collectable, and I would recommend snapping a copy up while you can. And while you're at it, check out the mag as well, which carries an article about the Top of the Pops series by (ahem) a certain collector and blogger.



Mag and vinyl are available here: https://electronicsound.co.uk/



Sunday, September 30, 2018

Top of the Poppers Sing & Play David Bowie!

If you thought another vinyl Top of the Poppers LP would never appear, then, like me, you were wrong.

Details have started emerging on the internet of a forthcoming vinyl LP, Top of the Poppers Sing & Play the Hits of David Bowie, issued by the Electronic Sound label.

Check out the groovy coloured vinyl as well:


The record is not available yet, but I would recommend anyone interested place a pre-order here as these are bound to become collectors' items, and likely to be limited editions.

The track listing is:
  • Starman (from TOTP volume 25)
  • Life On Mars? (from TOTP volume 32)
  • Sorrow (from TOTP volume 34)
  • The Man Who Sold The World (from TOTP volume 36)
  • TVC15 (from TOTP volume 52) 
  • Space Oddity (from TOTP volume 48)
  • Heroes (from TOTP volume 62)
  • Boys Keep Swinging (from TOTP volume 73)
  • Fashion (from TOTP volume 83)
  •  
 More info will be posted here in due course...

Monday, August 13, 2018

Previously unknown Top 4 EP found

This week, I was contacted by collector, Benn Elsey, with details of a Top 4 EP, produced by Bill Wellings and featuring a couple of Lennon-McCartney songs on side 1.

At first, it was unclear what Benn had found - so far as we knew, there were only ever four of these EPs released, and none had "She Loves You" or "Bad To Me" on - so this would be a brand-new discovery.



What we are looking at is T4505 - the fifth EP in the Top 4 series, previously uncatalogued and not known to exist!

The previous four can be seen here, by the way.

The Top 4 label was a cousin to the Top 6 label, whose EPs contained six tracks. Top 4 would take a quartet of them and issue them again - presumably at a cheaper price. Here, then, is the corresponding Top 6 edition, which also has versions of "I'll Never Get Over You" and "In Summer".



Dating the disc is reasonably easy, since it would have appeared while the hit versions were current. We therefore place it circa August 1963.

Great find - our thanks to Benn for the info and images.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Top of the Pops 50!


July 2018. We couldn’t let this time pass without marking a very important anniversary: Top of the Pops, the best and most famous series of cover version albums is 50 years old! It would go on to enjoy some 92 standard editions, not to mention copious spin-off releases, but here we will focus on the first of them: Top of the Pops volume 1.

We don’t know the exact release date for this debut LP, but it was right around now, five decades ago, that it hit the bargain record racks of Britain. 





Let’s start by listing the tracks, and where the original versions got to in the singles charts:

  • Young Girl – Originally a hit for The Union Gap Featuring Gary Puckett (No. 1)
  • My Name Is Jack – Originally a hit for Manfred Mann (No. 8)
  • Can't Take My Eyes Off You – Originally a hit for Andy Williams (No. 5)
  • Blue Eyes – Originally a hit for Don Partridge (No. 3)
  • Something Here In My Heart – Originally a hit for The Paper Dolls (No. 11)
  • Jennifer Eccles – Originally a hit for The Hollies (No. 7)
  • Do You Know The Way To San Jose – Originally a hit for Dionne Warwick (No. 8)
  • I Can't Let Maggie Go – Originally a hit for Honeybus (No. 8)
  • Lovin' Things – Originally a hit for Marmalade (No. 6)
  • Where Is Tomorrow – Originally a hit for Cilla Black (No. 39)
  • La La La – Originally a hit for Massiel (No. 35)
  • Boy – Originally a hit for Lulu (No. 15)

Top of the shop is “Young Girl”, which had been number 1 for most of June 1968. Here’s the Top of the Pops version, the very first thing most purchasers would have heard when their new LP smashed down onto the turntable, and the automatic arm jerked its way across to the vinyl…


Top of the Pops, of course, was not the first such series to launch. Apart from mfp’s ‘Hits’ albums, the most important competition came from the Marble Arch label, and their ongoing Chart Busters series, which happened to hit instalment number three right around now. So, along with Top of the Pops volume 1, buyers had the choice of the following LP:


Note how it too contained a version of “Young Girl”. Top of the Pops were, of course, keenly aware of this rival offering, and it’s interesting to read the sleeve notes on the back of the album, which take a sly dig at the Chart Busters series:

Welcome to the 'Pop' scene, here we present a wonderful bunch of 'Pop' goodies. All the songs on this record are 'Chart-Busters' and we take great pleasure in reproducing them for you using the swinging-est bunch of talent on the scene. Switch on and we dare you to try and SIT through both sides.

In terms of recording Top of the Pops, it seems the early editions were made at Marquee Studios in Soho, under direction of Bruce Baxter. We once heard from the engineer on that very first edition, Gery Collins, who recalled his work on volume 1 and the next few editions which followed:

“I engineered the first TOTP album. To help date it, I know ‘Do You Know the Way to San Jose’, was on it. I'd only been with the Marquee for about nine months when Allan booked us. The studio then really was stretching its facilities to burst to accommodate such a large session. In fact, I remember the session men were in the studio and the backing singers were hastily located in the adjoining studio office and stairs up to the loo. Picture it if you can as you listen to the track…”

(and here it is, for you to do just that!)


Gery continues, “Bruce Baxter was the MD, and I believe the arranger was called Andrew Jackman. As I stated, the basic rhythm, brass and strings were laid down on an Ampex four-track machine. Yes, just four tracks! Sometimes we pre-mixed the four across to three tracks of a Leevers Rich half-inch tape machine, leaving one track free for vocals.”

The link between these recording artists and the Hallmark label remains a little sketchy. It seems that Hallmark purchased the tapes, rather than having funded them themselves, and set about putting the LP package together. One conundrum Gery couldn’t solve when we asked, was how there came to be stereo versions of some of these tracks in circulation; although the Top of the Pops album was issued in mono, there exists a little-known LP without a title, which was released on the Uni-Zel label at around the time, and which contains nine of the recordings – in glorious stereo!


I asked Gery about this, but he was not sure how this obscure LP came to be: “I’ve not heard of Uni-Zel. The original four-track would have been mastered on half-inch tape, and mixed down, I’m pretty sure, to mono. Allan [Crawford, the man behind the series] was a business-minded, no-frills man. Don’t think he would bother then with stereo. At that time, I know from contemporary engineers that stereo was not widely accepted for pop singles as many thought the stereo detracted from the audio impact that mono would give… maybe Hallmark leased the master to Uni-Zel and they remixed it into stereo?”

Whatever the back-story, Hallmark needed to create a striking cover for the forthcoming record, and when it emerged, it was housed in a bright orange sleeve which couldn’t be missed! The cover design would become iconic, and established a standard for cover version LPs from then on.

The man behind the design was Bill Graham, who worked for Pickwick International and was in charge of the small creative studio, based in Victoria Works, Cricklewood, designing the label’s regular sleeve art:

“I remember when the MD (Monty Lewis) briefed me on the project. I had a couple of hours to come up with a design using an existing photograph that, quote, ‘could be seen from the other side of Victoria Station’.”

The photograph supplied to Bill was one which Pickwick had used previously, on the US album, The In Crowd – a collection of original hit recordings:


Bill recalls, “The first picture, the girl in the cap, was supplied to me. I can’t remember now in what form, but it was probably a transparency. Most of the covers I worked on were photographed specially in a small photographers in Gerrard Street. The problem was that these were produced very quickly, the design studio had limited facilities and remember it all relied on the printers re-touching (I believe at film stage) to achieve any cut-outs, so sometimes it could be a little crude especially with the hair (How easy it is now with computers).”

So contrary to popular belief, the models were not cut out and stuck onto coloured backgrounds; rather, the colours were painted around them. Of course, there was an issue with this particular photo in that Bill needed to select a bright, bold colour, but the model’s hair was in jet-black shadow. Consequently, it was subjected to an unusual cropping effect, to the left as we look!


This image, by the way, was re-used when the Best-of collection form 1969 was assembled the following year. Here she is again, with her hair restored!


Key to getting the series launched was the title, Top of the Pops. As Bill recalls, “We knew that the most important thing was the name and its connection to the BBC program.” And apart from that photo, Bill also had to come up with the logo for the albums:

“For the record, the font, Cooper Black, at that stage did not have the outline I required – so I had to draw it, which I can say I did not enjoy. I wanted it because the white and dark outline would ensure the title would show up whatever the background.”

Thus, Bill’s idea for the style of lettering allowed any and every variety of colour scheme to be used, which indeed it was. Bill had immediately created a design classic, the basic template for which would remain unchanged into the 1980s. “Nobody realised how popular it would be, and that the series would continue so long. My format was hardly changed for many years.”

And here we are, half a century on, still celebrating that first Top of the Pops LP. What followed is well-known. Top of the Pops ultimately accounted for almost a hundred full albums, all freshly recorded and containing over one and a quarter thousand individual cuts. That’s pushing a hundred tracks a year. Check the little coloured panels on the front and you will see lists of song titles which provide documentation of what was hot, and occasionally what was not, in each six- or eight-week micro-era, which taken as an entirety, charts the development of popular music through well over a decade, bridging from the 1960s to the 1980s.

We salute Top of the Pops on this 50th anniversary, and the people who worked behind the scenes to make it happen.

Happy Birthday Top of the Pops!

And finally, one last cut from the LP, for your delectation:





Saturday, February 10, 2018

Top of the Tots on cassette

We've always assumed this 1971 album was issued on cassette, but had never actually seen a copy. One has now surfaced, confirming our suspicions...


Here are the full scans:




Notice how the order of the tracks has been shuffled, as compared to the LP edition. I've never really understood why they did that! The usual supposition is that it's to equalise the playing time of the two sides - but is one really that much longer than the other? We'll probably never know.

I presume these cassette editions are so rare because they were universally owned by children, and if any copies survived a typical kid's careless treatment, few would have been kept once the owner had become a teenager.

The above confirms to us that the album was issued on all three main formats in the 1970s - vinyl, of course, cassette, and the equally rare 8-track cartridge.


Nice to add one to our cassette discography. Keep a lookout for volumes 2, 3 and 4.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Sensational new find: unknown UK Top of the Poppers LP!

Blog posts like this don't come along too often. I can date my interest in Top of the Pops back to my early childhood, while I started properly collecting and cataloguing them maybe 15 years ago. So how amazing is this new find? A UK album by Top of the Poppers, which I had never previously seen a hint of, in all my time collecting and researching.

Here are some scans:







Some of this package will look familiar to the collector. The back-story is a little convoluted, so we'll start at the beginning. 1975 - and Pickwick decided to compile a single disco album from Top of the Pops tracks. Here's the cover, and it's the same graphic as on our latest find:


What happened next is not entirely clear, but let's take a guess at the correct sequence of events. It's now 1976 and Pickwick are starting to take an interest in issuing double albums - hence, the Top of the Poppers were subject to the 2LP treatment with the following:



This double album contained the former compilation LP as disc 1, adding a second 20-track disc to complete the package.

And so to the newly discovered LP - it's a re-issue of the double LP, but with artwork from the earlier single LP! The records inside are not re-issues in the usual sense, though. They are literally the same pressings, just housed inside a different cover (a single sleeve, by the way, not a gatefold).

And to cap it all, Pickwick squeezed in a third LP - the eponymous Mac and Katie Kissoon on its original Hallmark press, from 1975. Below is the original commercial sleeve:


This Pickwick triple album has no catalogue number, the original vinyl discs retaining their own numbering. This factor, accompanied by a complete lack of small print, makes dating this new discovery very difficult. We assume it compiles the previous releases, but...

Note the "40" on the front of the double LP above. This album appeared just as Pickwick were branching into their "50" series of double albums. Is it possible therefore, that they launched the triple album just before this idea began, then had a fast re-think and issued the double Poppers' album separately, to fit into their new branding initiative? That might explain why the cover art follows on from the very first LP. If so, the sequence of events changes, and the triple LP actually pre-dates the double.

There's no way of knowing for sure. If you know anything about all this, please let us know!

Meantime, we're delighted to add a new title to the UK discography Who'd have thought it??


Friday, January 5, 2018

Groovy 7-inch releases from Portugal

The second in a mini-run of Top of the Pops posts.

I have recently become aware of a series of singles and EPs from Portugal, with Top of the Pops recordings and artwork. First, here are the covers of the three I've found so far - not great images, but good to see anyway...




Great little records! The sleeves of course incorporate photos of models as shown on the British LP covers - cut out onto white backgrounds and converted to black and white. Just for those who don't know - here's where they originate...




The two singles contain tracks from volume 31: "Hallelujah Day" / "One And One Is One" and "Can The Can" / "Rubber Bullets" - but the original cover photos are from the earlier volumes 27 and 29. We think 1973 is correct for both.

The EP has four tracks from volume 38: "This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us" / "The Night Chicago Died" / "Shang-A-Lang" / "Red Dress" - and the cover photo is from the same LP, so it's a dead cert the EP came out in 1974.

We should also draw attention to the fact that the group is given two new identities - Free Band and The Non Stoppers. Nonetheless, there is a little "Top of the Pops" logo printed on the fronts!

Here are the backs of two of the sleeves. We'd love to find more of these, if anyone can help.