Various Artists

Top of the Pops, Vol. 6

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A sharp summation of the state of the U.K. chart in June 1969, Top of the Pops, Vol. 6 also marked the first anniversary of the redoubtable series' launch with one of the strongest lineups yet, as the anonymous session men hired by producer Alan Crawford got their teeth into such meaty treats as the Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Women" and Thunderclap Newman's "Something in the Air" (both destined for the number one slot), Billy Preston's "That's the Way God Planned It," the Beach Boys' "Breakaway," and Elvis Presley's "In the Ghetto" (the series' first attempt on the King, and one of its finest). Even this early in the Top of the Pops series, it becomes apparent that the trick is not to look upon the songs as straightforward attempts to copy the hit song, but as interpretations rendered in the style of the hit. "In the Ghetto" is a definite case in point, but even more impressive is the rendering of "Barabajagal," the chart-bound collision of Donovan and the Jeff Beck Group. The guitar is a series of deliciously splintered shards, the boogie piano a runaway train, and the semi-spoken word passage that splits the original version sounds even more disturbing than Donovan ever could -- imagine Arthur Brown in full God of Hellfire mode, reciting poetry in a faltering Irish accent. There's also an astonishing version of the Walker Brothers' "Lights of Cincinnati," which abandons any hope of emulating the Walkers' own vocal resonance in favor of a kind of Cliff Richard-y melodicism, while Albert Hammond and Family Dogg's foppishly seductive "A Way of Life" is almost uncannily delightful, gentle harmonies building and turning around a memory that seems familiar whether you've heard the song before or not. Of course, no Top of the Pops album is complete without its share of gallant failures, and it's unfortunate that it's the Stones and Thunderclap Newman numbers which fall the flattest. Also disappointing is Desmond Dekker's "It Mek" -- disappointing because, within a year, the Top of the Pops team would be turning out reggae covers as adeptly as any Kingston session band.