Sunday, March 19, 2017

VFM label cassettes - a hint of more undiscovered sets

Last week, a cassette appeared on Ebay which I'd not seen before (thanks to Ian Byrne for the heads up). I'll show some scans first, then take a look at what it might be...

As you can see, this cassette goes by the name, "Hit Parade '77 vol. 6" - and it's that "vol. 6" part which makes you wonder... were there others issued as well? I did some digging around, and basically drew a blank. The VFM label is featured on Discogs as a minor budget outlet, but none of the other cassettes are of soundalike chart hits like this one (not that the listing is anywhere near complete).

Checking through the tracks on this one reveals something else - all ten were hits in August/September 1977, so this is more of a topical selection than a yearly retrospective. Like the other budget series, it has a snapshot of the charts at a particular point in time. So, volume 6 of a regular series, running through 1977 then?

Maybe not. One important note in the packaging is the date of issue - given as 1978. So if this is a selective collection, my hunch was that it was issued the following year as part of a box-set. The other volumes presumably covered different parts of 1977... and yet even this theory doesn't quite add up - look at the cover. It shows a price point of 99p - so it was probably on sale individually.

Strange that absolutely no info seems to exist about this! Let me do my bit to get VFM and "Hit Parade '77" on the map, with this blog post, and here, a track from the album - a version of Bob Marley's "Waiting In Vain":

Finding this tape set something off in the back of my mind. It looked strangely familiar but I couldn't place it. The cover art reminded me vaguely of the "Smash Tracks" tapes from Artisty, but it's clearly not a part of that set. A dig through my pile of unknowns, oddities and mystery tapes resulted in my finding another cassette from VFM - one I'd cast aside as unidentifiable, but which now sits alongside the above.

This one is "Hit Parade 79 vol. 1". The artwork is different yet similar (see the starburst lines around the edges):

Not having had a clue about this one before, I hadn't attached any significance to the "vol. 1" designation, but now of course it looks like part of a second set (or should we say, third, considering 1978 came between them).

The tracks on this cassette were mostly hits in March/April 1979, although a couple are a bit older. At the point these were released, Coombe Music had cornered the UK covers market, supplying recordings to both of the main series in production at the time - "Parade of Pops" and "Top of the Pops". The dozen tracks on this cassette are Coombe recordings, and many of them can therefore be heard on those albums as well (mostly, Parade of Pops volume 8, and Top of the Pops volume 72).

Again, that "vol. 1" nags at me. There are probably more - and as this covers an early part of 1979 - say, the first quarter - there's every chance that further volumes extend through the rest of that year. Were they released sequentially, or all at once? I'd love to know!

As before, I have copied over one of the tracks, a cover of Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now", and you can feast your ears on it here:

I get tired of saying it, but here it comes again: please help us if you know anything more about these tapes. Drop us a line - we'll be most grateful and you will help us with one of the dark corners of UK cover version history.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Solid Gold ... on cassette

The "Solid Gold" series appeared in 1981-82 and is one of the briefest regular sets, with just three installments. The series was some sort of off-shoot from Chevron's "Solid Gold Parade of Pops", with which it shared a good number of recordings.

Until now, I'd always thought the "Solid Gold" albums were only issued on vinyl. Well, the grainy images below show I was wrong!

Nice gold box, too!

I don't have much else to add. I spotted this in an Ebay lot, and grabbed the images. Worth knowing these things exist. Maybe one day I'll strike solid gold and find one myself!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Top of the Spots

One we've known of for a while, but which fits in with our recent posts about Top of the Pops LPs turning up in various places. This one's a book cover, "Just for the Record" by Alan R Cox. It's about the turntable manufacturer, BSR, and the history the firm and its staff. Here's the front cover, and an enlargement of part of the main image:

You can see, just poking out from behind Elvis, a copy of Top of the Pops volume 42.

The inclusion of the LP was no accident. I once heard from the author, who told me (and I trust he won't mind me quoting), "These albums were an important part of pop and it was one of the many symbolic items placed on the cover."

Great to see a bit more recognition of this iconic series. It's likely that tens of thousands of these albums will have been slapped onto a BSR deck back in the day, so ubiquitous were they when 'suitcase' record players were all the rage. Here's a view of one, just like I remember when I was a lad. I can almost hear "Wombling Merry Christmas" rocking out from the built-in speaker...

Friday, February 24, 2017

Bohemian Rhapsody - second cover version discovered!

Bo-Rap - pinnacle of the "Top of the Pops" cover versions, and the most famous of all soundalike recordings. It's long been recognised for the sheer achievement of Bruce Baxter and the boys, nailing an impressive copy of something which took Queen three weeks to record, in just a single session.

So complex was the task that no other versions were recorded in the UK. Of the regular covers album series, Pye's "Charbusters" and Windmill's "Parade of Pops" were still going at the time, while other labels were continuing to dabble here and there - but no-one even dared take a punt on the formidable Bo-Rap.

It's long been thought, then, that the "Top of the Pops" version is unique. Well, not so. We're recently learned that in South Africa, a different version was made for the long-standing "Springbok" series of albums, on the Music for Pleasure label. Volume 27, to be precise.

There it is, placed at the very bottom of the song list, and avoiding our attention until now. So, I suppose you'd like to hear it? No problem:

This version appears to have been recorded in South Africa especially for the LP. It gives the "Top of the Pops" effort a run for its money, although the relative merits of the two are up to the listener to decide. (I won't offer a 'critique'.) Here is the "Top of the Pops" recording for comparison, from volume 49:

When the "Top of the Pops" recording emerged, it was a bit of a sensation. Kenny Everett played it on national radio, defying listeners to identify whether they were listening to the expensive original or the cheapo cover version. An extract from a more recent radio show is given below, with reference to the success of the "Top of the Pops" version, and Kenny Everett's famous listener challenge:

It was a rare thing for a cover version like this to be given anything other than derisory mention. Yet Bohemian Rhapsody, "Top of the Pops"-style, has always garnered respect, and rightfully so. It was even released as a single in Italy! (The group name, Green Fly, is of course a fiction - it's really the "Top of the Pops" crew.)

I wonder whether anyone took similar note of the Springbok version in South Africa? It certainly deserves some recognition, if only for the bravery of the crew - whoever they were - in trying their hand at this most challenging of songs when they could have opted instead for something more conventional and easy to capture. Hats off to them.

For more on the "Springbok" series, see "Blogs we Like" at the top of this page.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Take Aim – here come 100 number 1s of the 60s!

The Aim label isn’t exactly a household name, but it appears on our cover version radar as an imprint of the Artistry stable, who issued their monthly “Smash Tracks” series on cassette, from 1978 onwards (see here). Aim appears to have been introduced around 1980 and helped re-launch Artistry’s regular series under the tweaked name, “Today’s Smash Hits”.

Besides these regular tape-only albums, there were a number of related off-shoot cassettes. A full discography seems never to have been published, but on my travels I had previously discovered a cassette called “20 Fantastic Number 1 Hits from the 60s” – volume 5, no less – so there must have been others. Not a regular series of course, but of much interest anyway.

And then these appeared on Ebay:

 Wow – all five of the set in one go. Of course I had to have it. They were issued in a printed slip-case – fantastically presented, it has to be said. Here is the whole set together:

The final image above is of the bottom of the box, and you can see Artistry’s brand label still there, as originally sold.

The track listing is fascinating. I won’t type out all 100 tracks here, but you can see what’s included from the back of the box:

We know that the standard UK cover versions started in the early 1960s. However the tapes, “1960-1961” and “1962-1963” are early even for the first EPs, and we struggle to identify the origins of these recordings.

It gets easier for “1964-1965” as practically all were on the old “Top Six” EPs. For example, here’s where “A Hard Days Night” first surfaced:

“1966-1967" seems split between “Top Six” and the first Avenue EPs, which started up in 1967, so we can see where these come from too. Here’s where you first heard “Silence Is Golden”:

The final cassette in the box, “1968-1969” contains tracks almost entirely from the Avenue LPs, as well as the Marble Arch “Chart Buster” albums which often shared the same material. Check out the old Avenue albums for these tracks, for example, “Sugar Sugar”, "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" and "Love At First Sight", on the LP below:

Here are some images of that fifth cassette, which links in directly to the covers LPs we know and love:

This box set collection was the handiwork of Colin Richardson, and was sold by mail order. (It was also promoted on British radio.) We think it’s a fantastic item, and one which we are proud to have in our collection.

And just for the record, here are a few more of the Aim cassettes – please let us know if you have any others we can add to our database...

++++++++++++++++   UPDATE - MARCH 2017  ++++++++++++++++++

Since posting the above, we've spotted a variant on Ebay. See how the cassette shell is black, with print directly onto the plastic:

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Unusual Poppers compilation from Brazil

Known Top of the Pops releases from Brazil are quite diverse, ranging from odd EPs to self-styled compilations and, in a few cases, completely new cover designs for otherwise familiar LPs.

Our newest find is as close as we've come to locating a standard Brazilian issue from the main series, but it's not quite what it appears to be...

Of course it looks to be a pressing of volume 36. What's immediately striking though is the typing used for the song titles - front and back, it's in a range of colours, quite unlike anything we've seen before.

The new print was forced by the alternative track listing - for this isn't a plain and simple volume 36 - it's a compilation from vol 36 and the earlier vol 33:
  • Rock On -- from vol. 33
  • Ooh Baby -- from vol. 33
  • Love Me Tender -- from vol. 36
  • Rockin' Roll Baby -- from vol. 36
  • Teenage Dream -- from vol. 36
  • All Of My Life -- from vol. 36
  • Angie -- from vol. 33
  • Skywriter -- from vol. 33
  • The Man Who Sold The World -- from vol. 36
  • Teenage Lament '74 -- from vol. 36
  • Tiger Feet -- from vol. 36
  • Teenage Rampage -- from vol. 36
The two LPs it samples are about half a year apart - so why the gap? Our guess is that this Brazilian "volume 2" was preceded by a "volume 1" compilation from the UK volumes 34 and 35.

The label too is immediately noticeable - RCA-Camden, who had nothing to do with the UK releases! Here's the UK cover for volume 36 by the way, which itself re-uses the sleeve design from the Europe Edition of 1971:

Neat collection. Here's hoping the predecessor, "volume 1" will surface at some point.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Top of the Spots

More television cameos for those Top of the Pops LPs...

This time, it's the short comedy series, The Rebel, starring Simon Callow.

Callow plays an anti-establishment, ex-mod who refuses to grow old and likes nothing more than sticking two fingers to the law. Filmed in Brighton, scene of the most famous mod-rocker showdown in the '60s, episode 2 has him leading a group of pensioners in a riot over improper use of charity shop donations.

Down on Brighton beach, one of his army - an elderly lady in a Zimmer frame - proceeds to produce some Top of the Pops LPs, and, launching one as a frisbee, leads a charge against the enemy, LPs held aloft...

Here are some stills of her in action:

We can spot very clearly, volume 15 (the frisbee) and volume 35.

There's a third LP we don't get to see, the very edge of which is just poking out from behind volume 15. Given the red frame just visible, this must be an upside down sleeve, and the sharp square corner of said frame leads me to think it's volume 21:

If you see any surprise appearances like this, on TV, film, magazine, etc - send them in, and we'll feature them here.