Various Artists

Top of the Pops, Vol. 20

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One thing you have to say about the U.K. charts -- they certainly have a sense of humor. Where else, after all, could Rod Stewart's Every Picture Tells a Story masterpiece be knocked off the number one slot by a collection of anonymous covers of the day's biggest hits, the opening shot of which is a croak-for-croak impersonation of Stewart's own "Maggie May"? Add an excellent take on Titanic's Latin-inflected "Sultana" stomper, a deliciously swampy "Witch Queen of New Orleans," and a genuinely courageous stab at "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," Joan Baez-style, and the album's success will surprise no one. Then there's a version of "Simple Game" that outdoes even the Four Tops' original in the doomy bombast stakes, while a stab at the Bay City Rollers' maiden hit "Keep on Dancing" stars a Les McKeown sound-alike a full two years before McKeown himself even joined the group. No wonder the album did so well. However, the Top of the Pops series' second British chart-topper (following volume 18) would also be its last. Because, barely had it settled into place in late November when the rest of the U.K. music industry suddenly realized what was happening. Retailing at little more than the price of a single 45, these collections weren't simply out-performing full-price LPs by a considerable margin, they were also outselling many of the original singles as well. And, while that was great for the music publishers, who got their money whoever performed the song, the poor labels themselves were left to starve. Not for the first (and certainly not the last) time in history, the cry went up -- it's the death of the music industry as we know it. The knives came out. Top of the Pops was a rip-off, claimed the major labels. In not openly stating that the hit songs within were not the actual hit versions, the albums were guilty of misrepresentation on an almost criminal scale. For the sake of the innocent, gullible public, Top of the Pops had to be stopped. Before the year was out, the powers that be announced that henceforth, budget-priced LPs would no longer be eligible for chart contention, not until they stopped being budget-priced. If Top of the Pops brought their prices in line with regular LPs, they could come back in. But, of course, they were never going to do that. The charts aren't the only barometer of sales, after all.

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