Various Artists

Top of the Pops: Best of 1979

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No matter how confused and confusing the British music scene of the late '70s may have been, with new movements springing up seemingly every week, then being forgotten within a month, it was refreshing to know that some things never changed. The now decade-old Top of the Pops series was one such immutable fact, heading toward its 80th edition and still turning out album after budget-priced album of sound-alike covers of the day's biggest hits. At first glance, 1979 brought some astonishing performances into its grasp, from Tubeway Army's electro feast "Are Friends Electric" to Public Image's funk-dub monstrosity "Death Disco," from Ian Dury's quirk-laden "Rhythm Stick" to Blondie's new wave disco "Heart of Glass." But by now such variety was the series' way of life, and when the annual Best Of collection turned up under the tree that Christmas, its 16 tracks only reinforced that hoariest of adages: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Concentrating on the year's biggest hits, Best of 1979 is of course dominated by past number ones, an eclectic bundle that ranked the Village People alongside the Boomtown Rats, allied Anita Ward with Cliff Richard, and left listeners with nothing to choose between the Police and Dr. Hook. Not every performance is foolproof -- the luckless gent selected to ape Gary Numan sings far too thinly to ever really worry about marrying a human, while otherwise note-perfect versions of Blondie's "Sunday Girl" and "Heart of Glass" replace Debbie Harry's endearingly nasal whine with a voice that would be better suited to ordering wine from expensive hotel bars. But "Message in a Bottle" is up there with the Heebeegeebees' "Too Depressed to Commit Suicide" in the world of ruthlessly spot-on Sting impressions, and "I Don't Like Mondays" oozes so much pathos that it probably doesn't like Tuesday or Wednesdays much either. So, another year, another Top of the Pops best-of, and if you've bought the series this far, you're not likely to be stopping now.