Sunday, January 15, 2017

12 Tops volume 2 - coloured vinyl

A new addition has been found for our list of "12 Tops" pressed on coloured vinyl. A reader of this blog has contacted us with news that volume 2 was also pressed on what he described as "cherry red" vinyl, which like the others, appears to be normal black until held up to the light.

Here's a photo:

This copy is currently for sale on ebay - check HERE

As a result, we can update out list of confirmed coloured editions from this series, which now encompasses all of the first seven LPs:

  • Volume 1 
  • Volume 2
  • Volume 3
  • Volume 4
  • Volume 5
  • Volume 6
  • Volume 7
  • Volume 10
  • Volume 15
  • Volume 17
  • Volume 19
  • Volume 21
  • Volume 22
  • Volume 25
  • Volume 27

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Top of the Spots

Those old Top of the Pops LPs are turning up all over the place! We've recently featured a couple which made unexpected appearances on UK TV, and now we have another case of Top of the Pops pinching a bit of attention in the most unlikely of places.

So, I've decided to start a series of blog posts on this subject and invite readers to send in examples where Top of the Pops (or similar) have been spotted - "Top of the Spots" we'll call it.

And so to this post - music buff Rebecca Garnham has kindly sent us a copy of the front cover of Prog magazine (issue 51, Dec 2014). As the name suggests, this publication deals with prog rock, and ran a special feature on the music of 1974. Check out the LPs pictured:

All prog rock fans will recognise Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Queen's Queen II. And all prog fans will also recognise the red LP sleeve elbowing its way into shot, with cover versions of prog classics like, er, "Sugar Baby Love" and "Seasons in the Sun".

It is, of course, our very own Best of Top of the Pops 1974:

What's it doing on the front of the mag? We've no idea - unless of course the photographer and editors were closet TOTP fans, which seems overwhelmingly likely. Come to that, as Rebecca pointed out, taking your LPs out for a pint was never really a craze anyway!

Still, once again we have the era depicted with a Top of the Pops LP used to good effect. Top spot from Rebecca - more to follow soon (well, at least one, which I have up my sleeve...).

Send us your examples and we'll feature them.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Top of the Pops - more TV exposure!

A few weeks ago I mentioned the guest appearance of a Top of the Pops LP on UK national TV here. Well it seems the LPs are getting a taste for the limelight ... fellow collector Colin Cannon pointed out to us another small-screen cameo, aired on New Years Eve just gone.

The show is the Scottish comedy, Still Game, which included a flashback scene to a 1970s party, chucking in everything the decade had to offer from ghastly wallpapers to fibre-optic table lamps. And spinning on the "music centre" was none other than "Top of the Pops" volume 25:

Alas, viewers didn't get to hear the LP, for dubbed over the top was "That's The Way (I Like It)" by KC and the Sunshine Band.

Still, great to see one of the old TOTP LPs being used, obviously for its status as a 1970s icon.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Smash Hits - new tapes discovered

One of the scarcest and least documented series of cover version albums ever is the set which originated in 1971 as "Hits From England's Top Twenty", switching the name to "Smash Hits" in 1972. Many readers will be unfamiliar with it - here are a few sample scans of some of the standard editions:

Note - these scans are all of 8-track cartridges. "Smash Hits" was one of the few, and in fact the first of them, to be produced solely on tape - 8-track and ludicrously rare cassettes.

So far, we only have around 50 percent of the series documented. You can find out just about everything we know (so far) here.

In terms of anonymity, this series beats the lot! Not only is the recording group, producer etc kept anonymous, but there's scarcely even a label stated. The ambiguous 'International Artists' (IA) is given, along with Arrowtabs Ltd, which hardly sounds like a label.

The cutting below is from Billboard magazine, in April 1972 and mentions that IA are to "sell tax-free cassettes and cartridges in [the] duty-free shop at Heathrow Airport". Later it mentions the "Hits From England's Top 20" series, and indicates that the same firm are producing tape cases to hold them:

So much for the background - this post is to commemorate the fact that in December, not one but four new tapes from the series have come to light. We must extend our gratitude to Colin Cannon for kindly sending us some scans of tapes we didn't know about, and to Father Christmas for bringing me a couple more.

The four new finds consist of two standard editions, extending the length of the known series from 15 to 18. Here are scans of the 'new' volumes 17 and 18:

What's puzzling about this set is the source of the recordings they contain. We assume from the outset that IA / Arrowtabs are not recording their own tracks - which would be very expensive to do - and are buying in material from elsewhere. Indeed, we have every reason to believe that the widespread track sharing of the era was going on here too - and that these are the same recordings which turn up on series such as "World Top 12", "Non-Stop Hits" and "16 Chart Hits".

Our analysis of volume 17 indicates as much. Every track was selected by other covers series (11 of the 12 by Avenue). Volume 18 is more mysterious - the usual 12 tracks are bumped up to 20, with eight selections unique to this set (so far as we know) - ever heard Dylan's "On A Night Like This" on a budget album before?

Where they come from we do not know - contact us if you have any info.

And so to the other two finds. These are both 'end-of-year' collections, gathering up big hits over the preceding 12 months. At least, that's what they appear to be! The first is a little more uncertain, and goes by the name, "Top Hit Party Vol. 1":

Pictured above is the 8-track edition and Colin's cassette scans. The inside of the cassette is informative, for we see among the other intriguing albums listed, "12 Great Songs", "Top Album Tracks Vol. 1", "Smash Hits For Kids", etc - which could contain yet more of the same.

The cat number, 40-123, places the above at mid-1972, although every track was a hit from 1971. This means the album was not compiled from the series (which was only launched at the tail-end of '71), but put out as a stand-alone best-of-year at some point during 1972. (No other album series contained all 12 tracks, incidentally.)

And also listed on the inside is volume 2 of this very album, 28 catalogue numbers further on. This is about the right catalogue number to place it around the end of 1972, indicating it could be a second best-of-year, from that point. However it's listed on the cassette above, released half-way through 1972, so figure that one out!

Simpler to fathom is this last one:

"20 Smash Hits of 1973" is exactly that, and is compiled from the ongoing series. At least, we believe it is - we have some editions missing from our discography, but the songs we are unsure of were all hits at the right time to have appeared on the 'missing' albums. So, we assume they do, and the rest are confirmed as from volumes 13 to 15.

Whether there was ever an end-of-year for 1974, we don't know. Our new volumes 17 and 18 are the latest we know of, and both appeared in the first half of that year. Did the series endure?

Again, we appeal to readers to please contact us if you can help flesh out any of the info we have. All contributions will be appreciated and our thanks again to Colin for his help, and for some of the scans above.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Top of the Pops - The Christmas number 1 playlist

So, the festive season is upon us. To mark Christmas week I thought it would be nice to check back over the old Top of the Pops LP sequence to see how many of the yuletide number 1s we know and love were rounded up. These days you can even make yourself a playlist out of them (provided you know how to bluetooth your MP3s to your Skpye tweeter... er, or something).

Fun it may be to play the ghost of Christmas past, but you might be surprised to see a hint of Scrooge in the Pickwick offices, as revealed by the album selections available. If you thought every Christmas number 1 was a dead-cert for inclusion on the Top of the Pops albums, you'd be wrong. In fact, any hit with the word 'Christmas' in the title seemed to have given Pickwick cold feet, and you won't find the C-word cropping up too often here.

Of course we can see a logical reason for this; leading off an album with a Christmas-centric track would tend to limit the shelf-life of an LP which may well be eyed up in January by some lad, pockets sagging under the weight of bonus Christmas pocket money.

But I'm in danger of waffling, so let's get going with the first Christmas of the T.O.T.P.E. - that's the Top of the Pops Era - 1968 to 1981, in other words. Gift-wrap you lugholes around this Top of the Pops Christmas Number 1 playlist...

1968: The Scaffold - "Lily the Pink"

It's December '68, and top of the tree is this oddity by the Scaffold. Top of the Pops don't have an album out in time, and the best-of-year collections had yet to be thought up, so Scaffold fans would have to wait until January for a chance to hear Pickwick's cover version, on volume 3:

1969: Rolf Harris - "Two Little Boys"

If 60s music buffs thought "Lily the Pink" was so much nonsense, they must have been turning in their kaftans come Xmas 1969, as another kids' song topped the charts. This time it was Rolf and his "Two Little Boys". Latter-day events have put a different slant on Mr Harris's career, but let's not go there. Again, Top of the Pops weren't quite quick enough, and it wasn't until the cold light of January 1970 that a version was captured for volume 6.

Given the obvious children's appeal of the above two tracks, it's no real surprise to find that the Top of the Poppers released them again, in their Top of the Tots series. Both were on the first LP in that sub-set, and appeared on EP as well.

1970: Dave Edmund's Rockfile - "I Hear You Knocking"

Time for a proper hit single at last, albeit non-seasonal. "I Hear You Knocking" was a biggie - it first topped the charts in November and was still at the summit come February. Little wonder that Top of the Pops rounded up a version for volume 14, this time fast enough to get it under the tree for December 25.

1971: Benny Hill - "Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)"

And there it is again - the novelty children's hit which is the musical equivalent of a Christmas jumper given to you by your nana - everyone smiles at the time, but no-one really likes it.

Bad choice? The Australians thought so - when this album was released there, they unceremoniously removed the song in question! Benny Hill wasn't much amused by this recording either - when he heard it he first thought it illegal, then when he learned that others could indeed mimic his stuff, he vowed never to record another song. So every cloud ... no! I'm being unfair. "Ernie" was another very successful hit single.

By the way, check out the festive sleeve art on volume 21 (December 1971) - little piles of snow on the letters. Ahhh.....

1972: Little Jimmy Osmond - "Long Haired Lover From Liverpool"

We featured Jimmy Osmond in our last post a couple of weeks ago, and in fact, this very LP - volume 28. In 1972 the Osmonds were big ... very big. Even Little Jimmy was very big. Not as big as he is now, but big. Let's quote from Mojo magazine, who mentioned this recording of "Long Haired Lover From Liverpool" in an article on September 2000:

"For Little Jimmy Osmond Tony Rivers volunteered his son Anthony. When Tony’s wife asked Anthony’s headmistress for permission to take him out of school, she was told yes, but only if he got up in assembly to tell the whole school about it."

Yep, you heard right. TOTP producer Tony Rivers had his son perform the track! Here's how it appeared in December 1972 ...

Like a couple of recent Christmas number 1s, this was essentially a track aimed at youngsters, and again you can also hear it on Top of the Tots (LP and EP) as well as the Best of 1972 collection.

1973: Slade - "Merry Xmas Everybody"
1974: Mud - "Lonely This Christmas"

Bah. Humbug. Xmas, Christmas, call it what you will - incredibly, these two classic tracks were considered beyond the pale by Pickwick. In 1973, "I Love You Love Me Love" was number 2 on Christmas morning, and you can hear it on volume 35/Best of 1973. In 1974, second spot was held by Bachman-Turner Overdrive and "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" (smashing!), and that's all you get - hear it on volume 42. After all, you can't have a Christmas-themed track on Christmas album released at Christmas, can you?

1975: Queen - "Bohemian Rhapsody"

All together now, Christmas angels: "Scaramouche, scaramouche, will you do the fandango".

Bo-Rap was a seriously big deal in its day. Extraordinary in scope, and with the added dazzle of a pop video, it made a major splash and was number 1 in the charts for nine weeks. The Top of the Pops version is legendary of course. It was played on Radio 1, and even released as a single in Italy! You will find it on volume 49 (above) and also Best of 1976 - yes, it was so popular it was considered worthy of inclusion on the end-of-year set twelve months on!

1976: Johnny Mathis - "When a Child is Born"

Sorry, Johnny - too Christmassy again. "When a Child is Born" was another one skipped by the crew. If you want to feature 1976 on your playlist, it will have to be the Christmas number 2 once more - see "Under the Moon of Love" on volume 56 and Best of 1976.

1977: Wings - "Mull of Kintyre"

Shades of 1975 here. The Christmas number 1 was a nine-week topper with a non-Christmas theme, included on the Best-of-Year album a full 12 months late!

The Poppers' version first appeared on volume 63, as shown. Besides also appearing on Best of 1978, it turned up some years later on a Mr Pickwick EP, Pop Around the World Vol 3.

1978: Boney M - "Mary's Boy Child"

OK, this is getting silly now. The Poppers shunned it - too Christmassy. They then watched in sell zillions and eventually included a version on volume 77, not in December 1978 but in December 1979! 

And look at the album sleeve too! We finally have some tinsel - Scrooge has left da buildin'! Oh my Lord.

1980: Pink Floyd - "Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)"

Not very seasonal. Not very seasonal at all. The Poppers didn't include it on their current album, but a version was released nonetheless, on Best of 1980

By now, Top of the Pops were not recording their tracks in-house, and this version was leased in. Consequently it is available elsewhere too - hear it on Parade of Pops, for example.

1981: St Winifred's School Choir - "There's No One Quite Like Grandma"

Too ghastly.

So there we have it - in its day, Top of the Pops captured some nine Christmas number 1s, which is almost an album's worth. Pity the seasonal classics were almost all overlooked, but there are still some memorable hits in the above listing. Get them on your iPod and have a great Christmas, readers!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Little Jimmy Osmond discovers Top of the Pops!

There I was, casually ignoring the TV set tonight, when my attention was suddenly grabbed by a familiar sight: the sleeve of Top of the Pops volume 28...

What was it doing on BBC TV? You'll never guess - so I'll tell you!

The show was Celebrity Antiques Road Trip. The basic idea is a couple of celebs hook up with a couple of antiques experts, and travel from town to town hunting bargains to sell - hopefully at a profit - at auction. The whole thing is filmed of course. In tonight's gripping head-to-head, (no longer Little) Jimmy Osmond was pitting his wits against fellow popster, Tony Christie.

What happened next was quite unexpected. Jimmy and antiques expert Catherine Southon arrived in a second-hand shop in the town of Much Wenlock in Shropshire. They chanced upon a stack of old LPs, and out of the pile emerged this one. Jimmy Osmond was impressed to see an old Osmonds hit, "Crazy Horses" listed on the sleeve (he didn't seem to know it was a cover version though!):

Of course he had to buy it - and even more so when Catherine Southon pointed out another hit - Jimmy's own "Long Haired Lover From Liverpool" also on the LP!

Turns out 'Little' Jimmy is a 'big' deal when it comes to bargaining. He managed to get half a dozen LPs, a vintage Marconiphone record player, and even a wire record rack for a fantastic all-in price of £25. Great bargain lot to take to auction.

And Jimmy had more tricks up his sleeve. He autographed the LP, and then proceeded to lead a chorus of "Long Haired Lover From Liverpool" from the auction floor!

Bidding started at £50 and edged up to £56 - a £31 profit on the day. To be honest, if I'd been there I'd have raised the stakes considerably to secure this one - the record player alone was worth the price, never mind that LP.

Some lucky person took this gem home with him, and has a fantastic tale to tell. How often do you see one of the original recording artists proudly holding a Top of the Pops LP, let alone an autographed copy? (If the winning bidder is reading this, please get in touch and tell us about your day!)

If you're quick, you may be able to catch the whole episode on BBC iPlayer

Sunday, November 20, 2016

More Flags...

Clive Hetherington has sent us a couple of images of some rare Flag EPs which he's managed to pick up. These aren't cover version EPs, but are important in plugging hitherto unknown gaps in the Flag discography.

Clive has discovered EP 14, a collection of Tijuana Hits, and EP 20, with Classical Greats on. These are most likely spin-offs from other Flag/Boulevard LP projects.

These non-cover version records can be added to the other two we know of, EPs 15 and 17 in the set:

So now, we're down to just four EPs to still identify (assuming we're right that EP 10 was the first, and that EP 26 was the last). So our label discography now looks like this:

  • EP 10 - cover versions 
  • EP 11 - cover versions
  • EP 12 - cover versions
  • EP 13 - cover versions
  • EP 14 - Tijuana Hits
  • EP 15 - Hawaiian Hits
  • EP 16 - cover versions
  • EP 17 - Dixieland!
  • EP 18 - ?
  • EP 19 - ?
  • EP 20 - Classical Greats
  • EP 21 - cover versions
  • EP 22 - ?
  • EP 23 - cover versions
  • EP 24 - ?
  • EP 25 - cover versions
  • EP 26 - cover versions

Please let us know if you can identify any of the missing EPs.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Way ahead of the rest...

This post is a bit of a departure from the usual, but serves to document an important feat achieved by Britain’s anonymous cover version industry. What we are referring to is the brilliant spot by Allan Crawford back in November 1962, of a little-noted record by a new group called the Beatles, and his decision to nail a version of his own.

Crawford was the brains behind the Cannon record label, launched in 1961 with the aim of packing in six hit songs onto one EP disc, retailing for the price of just one regular single. Towards the end of 1962, Cannon had four releases to its name, and was about to make a fifth EP. Here it is:

Home in on the first track on side 2 – instantly recognisable of course, with Lennon and McCartney’s names in the brackets. What makes this disc special, is that this was the first time anywhere in the world that the Beatles, and Lennon-McCartney, had been covered. And what makes it all the more remarkable is that “Love Me Do” had arrived without a splash, and had not even scratched the top 30 yet, making it an unlikely choice, but one which we are now discussing, more than half a century on.

Putting together a brief timeline underscores the matter. “Love Me Do” had appeared in Record Retailer’s listing for the first time on 17 October 1962, and scored successive chart placings as follows.

  • 17 Oct – position 49
  • 24 Oct - position  46
  • 31 Oct - position  41
  • 7 Nov - position  32

On the day the single reached the lofty heights of number 41, it finally received its first broadcast by the BBC. What drew Allan Crawford’s attention is unknown, but around now the track was selected for the next Cannon EP (right around this time of year, in fact). Maybe he had seen something special in this fledgling act – something others around him were somewhat slower to catch on to.

To put this in context, check out the other five tracks on the EP, and who the original artists were. We have:

  • If A Man Answers – original hit by Bobby Darrin
  • I Got Plenty O' Nuttin' – original hit by Kenny Ball
  • Devil Woman – original hit by Marty Robbins
  • Lonely – original hit by Acker Bilk
  • Reminiscing – original hit by Buddy Holly

Of these, only “Devil Woman” had gone top 10 in the UK, but look at the pedigree of the hit artists – stars of the day, all. By contrast the Beatles had never had a record out before (excluding an obscure German recording from 1961) and so were generally unknown.

Beatles fans will know all about Mark Lewisohn’s magnum opus, All These Years, the most epic project ever undertaken in pop music journalism, which is still ongoing. Thanks to Lewisohn’s sterling work, we know more about this one cover version than practically anything else in soundalike cover version history!

Lewisohn provides us with the following (the group name, the Sparrows, is of course a nom de plume):

“The singers were John Shakespeare (the higher line, Paul McCartney’s part) and Kenneth Hawker (lower, John Lennon’s)... Shakespeare thinks the harmonica on their version of Love Me Do was played by Harry Fitch (he played on Frank Ifield’s ‘I Remember You’), with Alan Weighell on bass, and possibly Vic Flick on acoustic guitar. (He is best known for his fast lead guitar work on the James Bond Theme.) The drummer isn’t remembered.”

It’s ironic that the identity of the drummer on Cannon’s version of “Love Me Do” is unknown, echoing the problems which beset the Beatles themselves when they recorded it – first with Pete Best at the kit, then with Ringo, and then again with session man, Andy White, before producer George Martin was happy. (And interestingly, Andy White would later drum on a similar Beatles cover himself – as noted here.)

As the personnel had to be recalled from memory during Lewisohn’s research, it’s safe to assume that no actual session logs exist. Nevertheless, Lewisohn established that the musicians were on a flat rate for the session, not a royalty deal, and that the recording was made at Lansdowne Studios in Notting Hill Gate. The producer was Alan Moorhouse, the studio engineer Adrian Kerridge.

Here is the result in all its historic splendour:

Lewisohn was also able to confirm the timing of the release – “late November”. This means we can safely place the recording inside that month, and prove it was both recorded and released before the Beatles had ever dented the top 20, or even cut an album.

The first ever Beatles cover version, consequent of its status as a budget recording, has suffered the fate of being overlooked by most pop historians. What has falsely passed into folklore is that Kenny Lynch was the first performer to tackle a Beatle tune – for example, as of today, you can read on his Wikipedia entry, “Lynch is also known for a single, also issued in 1963, which flopped. That was ‘Misery’, the first cover version of a Beatles song to be released.

Sorry, Kenny, but you were beaten to it by several months - another good reason to acknowledge the mark the anonymous cover version has made on the British music scene.