Various Artists

Top of the Pops, Vol. 31

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It sounds pretty tame today but, back in 1973, it was one of the grandest controversies of the age. "She never lost her head," mused Lou Reed in that year's "Walk on the Wild Side" mega hit, "even when she was giving head." And across the English-speaking world, knowing souls who understood the reference raised their eyebrows and wondered how such talk ever slid so unconcernedly across the airwaves. There again, 1973 was nothing if not a source of sour discontent for those who would moderate pop's capacity for subversion. From David Bowie putting into apparent practice what Lou merely sang about, to the Sweet dropping camp Nazi storm troopers into their television appearances, everywhere you turned there was sex and sauciness. And the Top of the Pops series, that most versatile of all barometers of public taste and titillation, was flaunting it like the best of them. From the provocatively posed young dolly birds who decorated the sleeve of every volume, to the obvious relish with which the day's dodgiest ditties were painstakingly recreated, it's clear that producer Bruce Baxter and company had a finger on something more than the mere pulse of the record-buying public. Top of the Pops, Vol. 31 packs two songs that caused comment at the time. The first, of course, was "Walk on the Wild Side," which compensates in slippery basslines for all that it lacks in Danny Street's distinctly non-New York-y sounding vocals (Baxter later compared the rendition to "a newsreader reciting a shopping list," although that is a trifle unfair). The other was 10cc's "Rubber Bullets," a record that was briefly banned by the other Top of the Pops, the BBC TV series that unwittingly gave the LPs their title, in the mistaken belief that it commented upon the then volatile situation in Northern Ireland. And is that the merest hint of an Irish accent in the Top of the Pops backing vocals? Naaah. The remainder of Vol. 31 is considerably less dramatic, but its highlights are just as entertaining. The Sweet's "Hellraiser" opens with what sounds like a yowl of agony but rattles along fairly faithfully thereafter, Wizzard's "See My Baby Jive" emerges a garage-band approximation of the original's Spector-influenced purity, and series regular Martha Smith brings a proto-L7 shriek to Suzi Quatro's "Can the Can," which is exactly how it should be performed.

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