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.


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