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.

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