Saturday, March 2, 2019

Top of the Poppers ... featuring Alan Caddy ?!?

Surely some mistake? Well, read on...

Over in New Zealand, Top of the Pops recordings were originally issued on a local version of the Hallmark label. Then, in the mid-1970s, Music World took over - the label having been created by budget record entrepreneur, Hoghton Hughes.

Before and after the switch, New Zealand tended not to simply re-issue the UK albums, but instead create their own collections, many of which plugged specific artists in the titles - so, for example, we find albums with novel names such as, 15 Hits of Slade, T Rex, Sweet, 20 Hits of Abba and Other Great Groups, and 20 Hits of the Wombles and Other Pops for Children.

All good fun, of course, and fitting in with these was the 1973 LP, The Top of the Poppers Present Elvis Gold: 16 of The King's Greatest Hits. Here's the cover:

This album was issued by Hallmark New Zealand, before Music World became involved. What's odd, is that even by the close of 1973, The Top of the Poppers only had 13 cover versions of Elvis hits to compile. Yet the album promises 16 titles - so how did they do that?

The answer may surprise you - the album contains only three Top of the Pops recordings ("Polk Salad Annie"; "I'm Leavin'" and "Burning Love"). The rest of the tracks? One was borrowed from Hallmark's Revived 45s album (and was previously issued as a 45 on the Embassy label) - namely, "Surrender" - but the other 12 consist of the whole of this LP:

Yes, indeed. The bulk of the New Zealand album purporting to be by the Top of the Poppers actually had nothing to do with them! For those who don't know, Ross McManus was a modestly successful singer better known today for the fact that he was Elvis Costello's father. (This album was once re-issued on CD as Elvis's Dad Sings Elvis!)

(Bear with us, we're getting to the Alan Caddy bit...)

Come 1975, the Music World label had superseded Hallmark New Zealand, so far as Top of the Pops was concerned, and among the many interesting records which were issued, was this one - The Top of the Poppers Present Elvis' 20 Golden Hits.

Now, the proprietors of this blog, and the Top of the Pops fan website, have known about the LP for several years. But without full scans of the cover and labels, we did not know the track listing - until now. Buying Top of the Pops albums from such far-flung places is an expensive hobby, so when a copy turned up on Ebay from a UK seller, at a bargain price, we felt we should snap it up. What we discovered came as a surprise...

This LP contains all the material on the earlier New Zealand record, but contains four additional tracks: "Promised Land"; "Fool"; "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me" and "Rags To Riches". All of these songs were to be found on earlier Top of the Pops albums, so one might suppose they were the source.

Well in fact, that was true for three of them - "Promised Land"; "Fool" and "Rags To Riches". But when it comes to "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me", the Music World label eschewed the Poppers' recording from volume 15, and substituted a completely different soundalike cover version. Some intrepid detective work (ie, we listened to it) revealed this is none other than the recording by Alan Caddy, which was originally released in 1971 on the following Avenue label LP:

So what's the deal? We have to confess, we have no idea. Firstly, there's no obvious reason why the bona-fide Top of the Pops version would be ignored; and secondly, how did Music World manage to get the master tape of Alan Caddy's recording? And could the switch somehow have been a mistake? It's hard to see how!

Whatever the story, this is a possibly unique example of an Alan Caddy track being issued under the name The Top of the Poppers!

We might also mention that research into overseas releases is not always easy, and it's often the case that one discovery leads to more. In this instance, we were able to identify three other Top of the Poppers releases from the listing on the back:

 Hopefully, one day, copies of these will also surface.  Maybe they too hold surprises for us...

Friday, February 22, 2019

Very rare box set on Ebay

Back in 1968 (we think!) mfp took the extraordinary step of re-issuing their first four budget cover version albums in a special box set - containing the albums, Hits '67, Smash Hits, Heart Hits and Hits '68.

Some years ago I spotted one online and bought it - I have never seen or heard of another copy anywhere until now. Remarkably, one of these mega-rare box sets is up for sale on Ebay:

More info on this box set can be found here. And here's an old blog post I did about my own copy back in 2012.

For a reasonable £29 plus shipping, this holy grail for cover version fans can be yours if you're quick. Here's a link to the Ebay listing.

It looks to be in reasonable condition, with some light wear and tear, and also has the original printed insert. Judging by the photos, the inner sleeves are later, but could easily be swapped for plain white ones, as originally issued. And some sticker removal would be in order for at least one of the record labels! Nonetheless, a great item for someone out there.


**UPDATE: Item is sold.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Top of the Spots

Another in our series of occasional posts, which crop up when a Top of the Pops LP makes a cameo appearance in the media.

This time out, we spotted one of the LPs in the popular British TV show, Hollyoaks, a sort-of adolescent soap opera screened in the early evenings. OK, we don't normally watch the show, and don't know much about it, but our research reveals the following:

Down in "Hollyoaks Village" is an "emporium" (a junk shop) staffed by the character, Liberty Savage. The episode screened on Valentine's Day this year saw Liberty having a tense conversation with her sister, inside the emporium, and here's what we noticed:

There it is - just behind her - Top of the Pops volume 26.

For some reason, they've stuck a big pink label over the model's face. Something's written on it, but we can't make out what!

Here's the original LP sleeve:

Next to it on the shelf is a Contour album, which may well be another budget cover version LP. Impossible to say. We don't recognise the red album sleeve behind it, but then again, it doesn't necessarily belong to the disc anyway.

Watch out for more 'Top of the Spots' - and if you see any yourself, drop us a line.

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:

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??