Various Artists

Top of the Pops: Best of 1978

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By 1978, the Top of the Pops series was fast approaching the end of its useful life. Budget-label compilations of original hit recordings were making horrific inroads into the series' hitherto unassailable market for ersatz renditions and, if you want to look at such things from a less-objective point of view, the British charts at the end of the 1970s weren't a patch on those at the beginning. By year's end, all of the series' principle characters -- from producer Bruce Baxter to singers Tony Rivers, John Perry, Stuart Calver, and Ken Gold -- would have departed for more conventional studio pastures, and few of their replacements treated their work with anything like the attention to detail that had hitherto been the series' hallmark. All that said, there is no doubting the delightful eccentricity that percolates through Top of the Pops: Best of 1978. Eschewing the last few years' penchant for presenting only chart-toppers, the 17 tracks instead range across the six volumes issued that year and haul out a selection that really does represent all that the year had unleashed. From the reborn rockabilly of Darts' "Boy From New York City" to the Springsteen-esque street balladry of the Boomtown Rats' "Rat Trap," from the cod-reggae of 10cc's "Dreadlock Holiday" to the genuine article that was "Uptown Top Ranking," not a turn is left unstoned -- although, it must be admitted, it is difficult to hear the Top of the Pops' take on Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights" without losing control of your bladder. When cynics dismiss the series as a collection of worthless cash-in covers for fools who know no better, "Wuthering Heights" is precisely what they mean. But a couple of selections from Grease can scarcely be faulted, all the way down to re-creating that skull-voiding "uuuurgh" sound that John Travolta drops into the final moments of "Summer Nights." The Bee Gees' "Night Fever" swaggers 'round the mirror ball as though every night was Saturday night, and Paul McCartney's "Mull of Kintyre" is terrific even if the bagpipes do sound deflated. So, it's Top of the Pops' business as usual -- but for the first time you can hear the rot creeping in. "Wuthering Heights" indeed.

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