Various Artists

Top of the Pops: Best of 1971

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With two U.K. album chart-toppers to their credit (volumes 18 and 20), 1971 was the year that the Top of the Pops albums came of age -- or, at least, no longer catered to the underage. First came the near-nipple exposure on volume 15, next came the unashamedly see-through blouse controversy which drove teenaged-boy appreciation of volume 16 through the roof, and on this one, for the traditional Christmas best-of, there was the series' first-ever gatefold sleeve design, which opened up to display a skimpily pantied Amazon with a hairy man on the end of a dog's lead. The theme of dominance and submission, of course, had its own hidden meaning -- those two U.K. number one placings during 1971 were accompanied by two further Top 20 entries (volume 17, volume 19) and the threat of chart domination as profound as that enjoyed by any of the artists covered within. Of course, the major labels panicked and within weeks the British music industry had pushed through new regulations that prohibited budget-priced LPs from being eligible for the chart, a move targeted almost personally at Top of the Pops. Top of the Pops: Best of 1971 was the first in the series to be affected by this new ruling, and it doesn't take too much imagination to see the haughty beauty and her submissive dog boy for what they really were: a comment on the speed with which the chart compilers had rolled over to heed the major labels' command. (The 2000 CD remastering reproduces the original sleeve in all its glory.) Once inside the LP, of course, it was Top of the Pops business as usual. Two highlights from volume 15 prove that its original cover was not the album's only attraction. A positively lascivious romp through Mungo Jerry's similarly lecherous "Lady Jump" offers a genuinely lampshade-swinging assault on the year's most glorious number one, while a dreamily echo-drenched take on "My Sweet Lord" not only features some sublime guitar work, but also an opening line apparently dedicated to "my sweet Claude." Elsewhere, a year in which the dying tides of mindless bubblegum were submerged beneath the burgeoning tsunami of glam produced any number of era-defining hits, and the presence of two cuts apiece from Marc Bolan/T. Rex ("Hot Love" and "Get It On") and Middle of the Road ("Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep" and "Tweedle Dee Tweedle Dum"), leaves one in no doubt as to who the year's biggest stars were. But a strangely polite version of Slade's "Coz I Luv You" and an eccentric interpretation of the Sweet's "Co-Co" serve notice of the next few years' other leading preoccupations, and one regrets only that the unnamed vocalists pressed into re-creating the sounds of Bolan, Noddy Holder, and Brian Connolly had yet to come to grips with the task. Thankfully, they'd be getting plenty of practice.

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