After the hideous depths plumbed by the Top of the Pops series during 1980, and with the end of the series now an open secret throughout the U.K. music industry, the final clutch of volumes released during 1981 was greeted with the sort of morbid fascination that accompanies an inevitable car wreck -- and mourned by the very same people who'd once danced on the series' graves. Best of 1981, the final album in the series proper, wasn't simply the best one to arrive in a good three or four years, it also celebrated its own looming demise with a devil-may-care selection of songs and a positively brutal assault on its chosen victims. Adam & the Ants' "Stand and Deliver" is at least as frantic as its role model, the Specials' "Ghost Town" at least as eerie (catch the drunken valkyries yowling the backing chorus), and, of the three John Lennon songs wrapped up within, either "Imagine" or "Woman" could have given Roxy Music's version of "Jealous Guy" a run for its money in the brokenhearted sincerity stakes. Elsewhere, "Tainted Love" totally out-electros Soft Cell's hit rendition, and sounds a lot more subversive too, while Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin's atmospheric restyling of "It's My Party" comes over like Henry Cow, if that group had been produced by Trevor Horn. Of course, Best of 1981 packs the usual crop of clinkers, most notably a sub-sub-ABBA interpretation of the merely sub-ABBA Bucks Fizz. But a year that also served up its fair share of novelty numbers -- "Shaddap Your Face," "Japanese Boy," Shakey's heartless slam through the "Green Door" -- was tailor-made for the Top of the Pops treatment. It's just a shame they wouldn't be allowed to keep up the good work.
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