Various Artists

Top of the Pops: Best of 1969

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When the budget-priced Pickwick label launched its Top of the Pops album series in June 1968, few people could have predicted major success for a series of LPs which re-created the latest top U.K. chart hits through the auspices of sound-alike sessionmen and passing impersonators. Yet, within a year of that historic debut, the label was celebrating runaway sales with the first installment in what would become an annual tradition, compiling the cream of the previous 12 months' worth of material onto a succinctly titled best-of compilation that was separate from the main series but destined for just as lengthy a run. Issued around the same time as volume eight hit the stores, Top of the Pops: Best of 1969 arrived bedecked in a sleeve reprising all seven of its predecessors' cover girls -- another Top of the Pops tradition that would simply run and run. The album's contents, however, are largely recruited from just four editions, volume four through volume seven, with volume three and volume eight providing one track apiece: a positively tumbleweed-infested re-creation of Hugo Montenegro's "The Good the Bad and the Ugly" and a sweeter-than-sweet take on the Archies' "Sugar Sugar." One cannot, however, fault the judgment that went into compiling Top of the Pops: Best of 1969. All but three of its 12 tracks were past U.K. number ones, with one of that trio, a magnificently moody rendition of "In the Ghetto," not only boasting one of the finest Elvis impersonations in the entire series of 92 Top of the Pops albums, but also a performance of such finesse that Elvis himself could scarcely have done better. Other highlights include rootsy takes on Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising" and Thunderclap Newman's "Something in the Air," with the latter's piano, guitar, and horn interplay actually matching the original for sheer anthemic energy. Also gripping is a positively swampy rendition of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," as faithfully close to Marvin Gaye's prototype as you could hope for, but packing enough extra-curricular twiddles that it stands as a fresh interpretation in its own right. 1969 was the first of the best-of Top of the Pops series to be repackaged for CD in 2000; an excellent musical transfer is, however, partially undone by the cover art's reproduction of a distinctly dog-eared original sleeve. Or maybe that simply adds to the period charm.

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