Various Artists

Top of the Pops: Best of 1970

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For connoisseurs of the Top of the Pops albums, 1970 -- volumes nine through 14 -- represents one of the series' most triumphant years, with six albums pushing producers Alan Crawford and Bruce Baxter toward some quite phenomenal highs. The memorable, effects-laden guitars of Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky" and Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile" were both expertly re-crafted by Miller Anderson/Kenny Young sideman Bob Falloon; the England World Cup soccer squad's mawkish "Back Home" and the jug band buffoonery of Mungo Jerry's "In the Summertime" stretched the session singers' resources to quite sublime distances; and, of course, the year wrapped up with the emergence of Marc Bolan's T. Rex, the first of the glam rock crew whose own success would drive Top of the Pops into ever-greater heights of ambition and audacity. There was no room for Bolan on Top of the Pops: Best of 1970, just as there was no room on the cover for more than four of the dolly-bird cover models who had decorated the series throughout the preceding year. What you do get, however, are the aforementioned "Spirit in the Sky" and "Voodoo Chile" workouts, with the latter -- miraculously produced on a Fender Telecaster with standard gauge strings and zero sustain -- a seething mass that puts most recognized Hendrix impersonators to shame. Indeed, it is rivaled for sheer dynamics only by an absolutely impassioned take on "Band of Gold," a performance that more than compensates for the handful of clunkers (a yowling stab at Eurovision Song Contest victor "All Kinds of Everything" and a laryngitic "Wand'rin' Star") that also crept in. Elsewhere, "Lola" is executed with a knowing feyness that makes Ray Davies sound positively butch, while the unnamed Elvis impersonator who did such great things to "In the Ghetto" on Top of the Pops: Best of 1969 is reprised with a stunning warble through "The Wonder of You." It's hard, however, not to simply keep returning to "Voodoo Chile," and a performance that -- alongside such future Top of the Pops masterpieces as "Autobahn," "Bohemian Rhapsody," and "Death Disco" -- utterly demolishes any accusations that these albums were somehow contemptible pap. At their best, they were sometimes better than the originals.

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