Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Covering the Christmas charts... 1974

Forty years ago, December 1974, the cover version LP was going strong. Perhaps a little past its peak, when budget albums were scaling the charts themselves, but still a notable presence in High Street stores, especially Woollies. It's interesting now to take a glance back and see how the Christmas hits were rounded up - or not - on the albums in question. Before we do that, let's remind ourselves of the top 40 on Christmas day, 1974:

1 - Lonely This Christmas  (Mud)
2 - You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet  (Bachman-Turner Overdrive)
3 - Juke Box Jive  (The Rubettes)
4 - You're The First, The Last, My Everything  (Barry White)
5 - Wombling Merry Christmas  (The Wombles)
6 - Streets Of London  (Ralph McTell)
7 - My Boy  (Elvis Presley)
8 - Get Dancing  (Disco Tex And The Sex-O-Lettes)
9 - Oh Yes! You're Beautiful  (Gary Glitter)
10 - Tell Him  (Hello)
11 - Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds  (Elton John)
12 - You Can Make Me Dance, Sing Or Anything  (The Faces And Rod Stewart)
13 - The Inbetweenies / Father Christmas Do Not Touch Me  (The Goodies)
14 - Ire Feelings (Skanga)  (Rupie Edwards)
15 - Down Down  (Status Quo)
16 - Tell Me Why  (Alvin Stardust)
17 - Sound Your Funky Horn  (KC And The Sunshine Band)
18 - Christmas Song  (Gilbert O'Sullivan)
19 - I Can Help  (Billy Swan)
20 - Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy)  (Al Green)
21 - Gonna Make You A Star  (David Essex)
22 - Under My Thumb  (Wayne Gibson)
23 - Hey Mister Christmas  (Showaddywaddy)
24 - The Bump  (Kenny)
25 - Never Can Say Goodbye  (Gloria Gaynor)
26 - Magic  (Pilot)
27 - Stardust  (David Essex)
28 - How Long  (Ace)
29 - Only You  (Ringo Starr)
30 - Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart  (The Trammps)
31 - Cheri Babe  (Hot Chocolate)
32 - Je T'aime... Moi Non Plus  (Jane Birkin And Serge Gainsbourg)
33 - Ms. Grace  (The Tymes)
34 - Too Good To Be Forgotten  (The Chi-Lites)
35 - Killer Queen  (Queen)
36 - Pepper Box  (The Peppers)
37 - Help Me Make It Through The Night  (John Holt)
38 - No Honestly  (Lynsey De Paul)
39 - (Hey There) Lonely Girl  (Eddie Holman)
40 - The Wild One  (Suzi Quatro)

What’s striking about the listing is the sheer number of Christmas songs represented. And these weren’t all novelty records either – quite a few were specially written hits for some of the major acts of the day. Number 1 were Mud with “Lonely This Christmas”, while both Gilbert O’Sullivan and Showaddywaddy were on chart with their respective seasonal offerings. “Christmas Song” and “Hey Mister Christmas”. Meantime, the then-popular Wombles were sitting pretty at number 5 (“Wombling Merry Christmas”), with TV stars The Goodies placed at number 13 (“Father Christmas Do No Touch Me”)

Of course the aim of the covers album was to scoop up all these hits - or, as many as could be predicted given that they had to be recorded some time in advance. When it came to Christmas singles though, the main LP series were often reluctant to get to grips with them for some reason, and so there are comparatively few available over the years. (Not a single one tackled the current number 1 hit, “Lonely This Christmas”!)

So what about the rest of the top 40? How did the covers albums fare? Let's start with the stalwart of stalwarts, "Top of the Pops". Like several of the album series, there were actually two offerings for your stocking that year – the standard album, as well as an end-of-year round-up LP:

Top of the Pops were currently running at volume 42, and their 12 song selections manage to capture the current chart numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11 and 16 – not a bad snapshot of the Christmas listing. The unseasonal “Streets of London” was missing, as well as that chart-topper from Mud, but we do have at least one Christmas number in the form of “Wombling Merry Christmas” – actually, an underrated example from the genre.

The “Best of 1974” collection contains 14 (count ’em!) number 1s from the year.

Naturally, one might look to compare mfp’s offering at this stage, to see how they stacked up against the Hallmark boys. But, with “Hot Hits” having folded a year earlier, mfp had little available in 1974. Their most recent album, “Chart Choice 74” was something of a retrospective, casting its eye over the year’s blockbusters, and just managing to tap into the Christmas charts with the inclusion of “(Hey There) Lonely Girl”, which was clinging on to number 39 on Christmas morning.

Now, something strange was afoot in late-1974. Three of the leading names in cover version LPs were quietly closing in on one another. Get this - the Christmas releases from Pye (“Chart Buster Hits” volume 13), Windmill (“Parade of Pops” volume 19) and Stereo Gold Award (“12 Tops” volume 25) each had exactly the same contents! What on earth??... Here they are:

So what makes the cut? The Christmas numbers 2, 3, 4 and 9 appear – all of which were also to be heard on the current “Top of the Pops” collection, but there are some curious choices as well; five of these tracks never even cracked the top 10, while one, a cover of Peters & Lee’s “Closer” failed to chart at all in the UK! No Christmas hits to lighten the mood either...

For number 1 hits, we have to look at the annual collections, scooping up the year’s highlights. Pye went out on a limb by issuing a 30 (yes, you heard me) track assemblage called “1974 Top 30” – so vast it wouldn’t fit onto a disc and so only came out on cassette and 8-track cartridge:

Meantime, Windmill missed the Christmas boat completely, their yearly retrospective not landing until January:

We should also mention one other review of 1974, Rediffusion’s lesser-known “The Best of ’74”, pretty similar to the “Top of the Pops” equivalent LP, but with a couple less tracks:

The last name on the scene in December 1974 was Contour, currently running volume 16 of their “16 Chart Hits” series. Alongside it came their best-of album, “20 Great Hits of ’74”...

The album “16 Chart Hits” pulled out nine tracks from the seasonal listing: 2, 3, 4, 7, 10, 26, 36, 38 and 40, and was the only one to capture a version of Elvis’s “My Boy”.

So, all-in-all, a fair bit of overlap can be seen on these “rival” offerings, but nevertheless, buyers had a choice of five current chart collections, besides as many again surveying the hits of the previous 12 months. Not bad for a format supposedly past its prime. But where, oh where, are all the Christmas hits?...


  1. The top one - bikini girl, was one of the earliest TOTP albums bought. I sat eating Marmite on toast, listening to that album for hours while reading the Fantastic Four Treasury Edition


  2. That Rediffusion best of '74 album was re-released on the line label as pop Choce '74. I'm not sure if there were any more cover albums released on that label (it was run by rediffusion ) https://rateyourmusic.com/release/album/various_artists_f2/pop_choice_74/