Monday, April 17, 2017

VFM - those Value For Money soundalike cassettes

On the heels of our post about the recently discovered VFM label's cassette releases (here), we were contacted by Adrian Chappell with some more info, and some fab scans of other tapes in the series. Adrian is lucky enough to have three of these in his collection, "Hit Parade '77" vol. 2"; "Hit Parade '77" vol. 5"; and "Hit Parade '78" vol. 4".

Before we go into this deeper, let's have a look at the tapes in Adrian's collection:

These are truly fantastic cassettes. When we first chanced on the VFM releases a few weeks ago, it was a bit of a puzzle as to what was going on - the cassettes are so rare that even finding out what was released was impossible. The burning question was ... were these tapes a regular series, or were they released as ready-made collections, like typical box-sets.

The answer, so far as we can tell from Adrian's scans, is more towards the latter - which is to say, they were not a regular series with new installments released at intervals. I'll give you my logic below.

This is the printed inner of VFM's "Hit Parade '77 col. 5" (click to enlarge):

It will be noted that several more tapes like these are advertised inside. This enables us to fill out several gaps in our listing. For the record, and with reference to the above listings, here's the discography of VFM's relevant cassettes, as known to us today...


THE BEST OF 1976 (VCA 013)

Dancing Queen / Don't Go Breaking My Heart / Rhinestone Cowboy / Una Paloma Blanca / When Forever Has Gone / Save Your Kisses For Me / Fernando / Beautiful Noise / Money, Money, Money / Sailing


HIT PARADE '77 vol. 1 (VCA 015)

Rock Bottom / Red Light Spells Danger / Lay Back in the Arms of Someone / My Kinda Life / Tear Me Apart / Another Suitcase in Another Hall / I Don't Want To Put A Hold On You / Going In With My Eyes Open / Moody Blue / Southern Nights / When / Sunny


HIT PARADE '77 vol. 2 (VCA 021)

The Shuffle / Free / Hotel California / You Don't Have to Be a Star / Sir Duke / Pearl's a Singer / Have I the Right / Whodunit / How Much Love / Oh Boy / Another Funny Honeymoon


HIT PARADE '77 vol. 3 (VCA 022)

The First Cut is the Deepest / I Don't Want to Have to Talk About It / A Star Is Born (Evergreen) / Tokyo Joe / Lucille / Too Hot to Handle / Lido Shuffle / Good Morning Judge / Got to Give Up / Rendezvous / It's A Game


HIT PARADE '77 vol. 4 (VCA 024)

Show You the Way / Baby Don't Change Your Mind / Telephone Line / So You Win Again / Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy / Sam / Rhapsody / Kyrila / Don't Let Go / Feel the Need / Disco Inferno / Ma Baker


HIT PARADE '77 vol. 5 (VCA 033)

I Remember Elvis Presley / Telephone Man / Oxygene / Wondrous Stories / I Remember Yesterday / Best of my Love / Cool Out Tonight / Lets Clean Up the Ghetto / Thunder In My Heart / Down Deep Inside


HIT PARADE '77 vol. 6 (VCA 034)

Silver Lady / Black is Black / Waiting in Vain / Sunshine After the Rain / Float On / Nobody Does It Better / Think I'm Gonna Fall In Love With You / Magic Fly / Another Star / From New York To LA


HIT PARADE '78 vol. 4 (VCA 066)

Giving Up Giving In / Darlin / Instant Replay / Eve of War / Picture This / Rat-Trap / McArthur Park / Sandy / Again and Again / Where Did Our Love Go


HIT PARADE 79 vol. 1 (VCA 080)

Forever in Blue Jeans / Heaven Knows / I Was Made For Dancin' / My Life / Can You Feel The Force / Lucky Number / Oliver's Army / I Will Survive / Tragedy / I Want Your Love / Don't Stop Me Now / Fire


By checking the vintage of the hits, we can see that they do at first seem to fit the pattern of a regular series. "The Best of 1976" is just that, and was presumably the first such release from VFM.

When it comes to "Hit Parade '77", we have listings for all six in the set, and the tracks cover successive periods in the charts of that year - vol. 1 circa April; vols. 2 and 3 circa June; vol. 4 circa August; vols. 5 and 6 circa November.

The others follow the same pattern. "Hit Parade '78 vol. 4" contains tracks from the very end of that year, so looks like it could be the fourth of four from 1978, while "Hit Parade 79 vol. 1" has hits which all date to around April 1979.

So, clear enough you may think - but...

What proves to me that these are not a regular series is that the same printed inner can be found on the VFM cassette, "The Hits of the Shadows". The catalogue number of this album is VCA 016. This means it was sequenced between volumes one and two of "Hit Parade '77" - and since it contains track details for volumes three and four (VCA 022 and VCA 024), they must have all been released at once; if three and four were yet to be, they could not be itemised on VCA 016.

This all but proves the hit covers tapes were not released sequentially. While it's possible they were released in batches (in fact, quite likely) my hunch is that the tracks were deliberately selected in chronological order, to make the story of each year as it goes.

Of course, I could be completely wrong about this, and if I am, I will be happy to learn more from anyone who knows! It would be truly amazing to find another regular series which has escaped us for so long, but personally, I think the odds are against. If you disagree with my logic, leave a message!

My thanks to Adrian Chappell for the scans and info.

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: