Tony Christie is one of those weird, only-in-the-U.K. pop sensations that happens every couple years or so -- something as silly and massive as Chas & Dave or Mr. Blobby, something that seems absolutely bewildering to pop fans who don't live on the isles. Of course, unlike Blobby, Christie is an actual living, breathing musician, one who toiled at the margins of obscurity for decades before Peter Kay suddenly, inexplicably picked Christie's irresistible Neil Sedaka-written bubblegum 1971 novelty "(Is This the Way To) Amarillo" for the theme song for his 2004 BBC comedy Phoenix Nights. That was all it took to send "Amarillo" to number one in the U.K., well over 30 years after its initial release, making Christie a fleeting pop culture sensation in the process. This was something that had never happened to Christie in the past, despite his appearance on the first recorded version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita, despite enduring popularity in Europe, despite Pulp's Jarvis Cocker writing him a song in 1999, despite his "Avenues and Alleyways" being used as a theme in the post-Guy Ritchie British crime comedy Love, Honour and Obey. Christie survived all this to become a left-field star in 2005 and he wasn't the only one to seize the spotlight -- his former record labels followed suit, flooding the market with reissues and hits collections, of which Definitive Collection is the best. It runs an overly generous 21 songs, hitting all of the big moments in his career, which are not many: basically, "Amarillo," "Avenues and Alleyways," some cuts from Evita, Cocker's "Walk Like a Panther." There are a few Euro hits from the '80s and '90s that are missing, since the compilers wisely focus on '70s material that sounds a bit like "Amarillo" and a whole lot like a tamer Tom Jones. As dated kitsch goes, it's not bad, but a little goes a long way, and apart from the aforementioned trio of hits -- plus a handful of others, like "I Did What I Did for Maria," "Las Vegas," and "Don't Go Down to Reno" -- there just aren't that many memorable songs here; instead of great, forgotten schmaltzy soft rock, it often plays as generic Europop. Still, if "(Is This the Way To) Amarillo" makes you yearn for more Tony Christie, this is undoubtedly the collection that will satiate your curiosity, since it tells you everything you need to know and a whole lot more.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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