(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson, of Glasgow – March 2021)
If proof were needed to illustrate just how much music influenced our younger years, you need look no further than this very blog: in less than five weeks, posts broadly centred around Mott the Hoople; Rory Gallagher; The Who; Ian Gillan (Deep Purple) and also The Apollo, Glasgow, have garnered over two thousand hits.
And that’s from only a small, sample representation of the music genres that blossomed throughout The Seventies.
Those of us at school during the decade will remember kids wandering round the playground with LPs under their oxters, proudly displaying their allegiance to Yes. Or Wishbone Ash. Tangerine Dream, maybe?
Those with less pretentious taste of course, would carry their favourite albums in plastic bags. They probably contained works by Mott the Hoople; Rory Gallagher; The Who or Deep Purple. But you could never really be sure. Equally, the secreted album could have been ‘Electric Warrior,’ or ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars.’ Maybe it was ‘Rollin’’ or ‘Cherish,’ ‘Crazy Horses’ or ‘Rock On.’ Who knows?
In all likelihood, though, it wouldn’t have been one of these – a Hallmark label, Top of the Pops compilation. To draw one of these babies from a Listen Records bag in front of your pals would have been the death of cool. Ominous sounding, single peals of a heavy bell would ring out; tumbleweed would roll. Children would run and hide beneath their mothers’ long flowing skirts.
I often wondered who bought these albums. They were immensely popular, so a great many people obviously did. Then I realised it was actually people like me who bought them. And you.
Or at least our parents did. Whether they did that in some futile attempt at resurrecting their youth (you know – kind of like what we’re doing with this blog!) or genuinely trying to do the best by their kids, goodness only knows.
The rationale for buying these albums was obviously sound. Being classed as ‘budget’ releases, they were considerably cheaper than those of established ‘chart acts;’ they boasted between twelve and sixteen tracks, so, more bang for your buck; to buy all the tracks in 7” ‘single’ format would have been prohibitive for many people, and the compilation comprised current, very recent and predicted chart hits.
I still have the several of the Volumes that my parents bought – I remain steadfast in my assertion that I did not actually pay for any myself!
The observant reader will notice that the central image is not from the Top of the Pops series. Rather, it was released by Hallmark’s rivals, Music For Pleasure, who were first to exploit the compilation market. This particular one was the first such album into our household, closely followed by TotP Volumes #15 and #18, from January and July 1971 respectively.
The green covered Volume #18 is memorable for two reasons. It was the first of two in the series to reach Number 1 in the album charts, deposing The Moody Blues album, ‘Every Good Boy Deserves Favour,’ believe it or not! And, having watched the Top of the Pops TV episode on Thursday, my mother sought a refund from the shop she’d bought it from two days prior, because, she spat, “…that Marc Bolan ‘person’ looks dirty.”
The fact I still have that volume in my collection indicates the course that particular conversation took.
(For all you Pop Pickers out there, the other to reach Number 1 in the charts, was Volume #20 in November 1971. This one had covers of Maggie May, Sultana and Tweedle Dee, Twedle Dum, and ten others. The Chart company though, soon acceded to protests from other labels and artists, and disallowed budget priced albums from chart computations, reasoning they held an unfair selling advantage.)
The producers of these albums never pretended they were anything other than covers. But having grown up on a diet of yellow label food and imitation leather ankle boots, they had me fooled for a year or two. I didn’t know any better. And looking back, in those days before tape recorders, never mind CDs and this new-fangled streaming thing, the albums were a good lead into hearing new music.
In fact, were it not for my favourite, Volume #19 from September 1971, I may not have discovered bands like Curved Air, or appreciated George Harrison’s solo output.
When I did learn the terrible truth, though, I felt let down. Betrayed.
This could also have been in part to my now having earned money of my own. Paper rounds opened up a whole new world to me. The power of spending; the power of choice.
I learned what John Kongos and The Sweet actually sounded like. I wanted the real deal, and with cash to burn, I craved originality.
My interest in the Top of the Pops and other such compilations quickly waned. My last volume was #21 in December 1971, the Christmas chart edition, given to me by a now out-of-touch Santa Claus.
I immediately considered the performers on these albums to be amateurs; poor imitators of the originals – which I now know to be completely wrong. These folk were respected and hard-working, professional session musicians. Their number included a chap, Elton John, who went on to do rather well for himself. There was also a young woman named Tina Charles and a bloke called Trevor Horn who graduated via this process.
Actually, in the interest of research for this piece, I played through my copy of Volume #18 – and it really wasn’t so bad. Stop laughing, it wasn’t! (Oh, all right – cut me some literary slack here, please.)
In total the Top of the Pops albums series, which ran to ninety-one regular volumes between 1968 and 1982, was like most things ‘Seventies’ – revered at the time; dismissed through ensuing decades, but now regarded with some kitsch fondness. Costing between 75p and £1.25 back in the day, many volumes can now be found online at around eight pounds.
Love them, loathe them or simply leave them, these early to mid Seventies compilations were certainly iconic of the decade.
Hello. My name’s Jackie. I’m a Sweet fan ….. and I love early Seventies Top of the Pops albums.
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