Various Artists

Top of the Pops, Vol. 72

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Within every generation of emerging pop stars, there is always one whose sound is so distinctive, if not quite unique, that a world of celebrity impersonators will never truly master his tones. In the early '70s, it was Rod Stewart, and a string of Top of the Pops albums bear testament to the agony of attempting to emulate those croaky, choky tones. Into the latter part of the decade, it was Elvis Costello, master of the committed sneer and the persuasive cajole -- and, listening to the version of his "Oliver's Army" that rolls up deep inside Vol. 72, your heart bleeds for the poor chap assigned to cover the song, especially as it's one of the few weak spots on the entire album. The success of this edition is, in fact, rather surprising. After all, neither Kate Bush's "Wow" nor Lene Lovich's "Lucky Number" are exactly conventional in the vocal department, but both are enacted here with such gusto that the worst thing one can say about the latter is -- it sounds exactly like a Hazel O'Connor cover version. Which would probably thrill O'Connor to no end. There's a terrific take on "Sultans of Swing," driven by a purposefully laconic vocal and another of the Top of the Pops series' stable of unsung guitar heroes, while "Waiting for an Alibi" packs just as much streetwise energy as Thin Lizzy's prototype. The era's all-consuming disco scene catches a soul-crushing "I Will Survive" and a hilarious "In the Navy" and, just to make sure all bases are covered, there's a terrific slab of arena rock courtesy of Toto's "Hold the Line," rendered with an anthemic purity that the original could only aspire to. When British Top 40 fans gather to discuss classic moments in time, March 1979 is rarely brought forward as a contender for honors. Top of the Pops, Vol. 72, however, might easily have you rethinking that stance. On this evidence (and Elvis Costello fans notwithstanding), it was a very good moment indeed.