Various Artists

Top of the Pops: Best of 1980

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The Top of the Pops series of albums entered the 1980s with declining sales, a risible reputation, and little chance of extending its already remarkable run of some 86 individual volumes into triple figures. In fact, the only bright spot on its horizon was the continued adventurousness of the British record-buying public, an attribute proven across the half-dozen editions of TOTP that were cherry-picked for the traditional end-of-year Best Of. From Pink Floyd, whose first single in a decade opened 1980 at the top of the chart, to the emergence of the Pretenders, the Jam, and the 2-Tone axis as genuine contenders for the number one slot, Best of 1980 gallops across the landscape with such wide-eyed enthusiasm that it's almost churlish to point out that the magic was seriously slipping. Past Top of the Pops albums prided themselves in coming as close as they could to the original performances that they were reprising. By 1980, simply getting the singer's sex right was an achievement to be proud of -- and one that wasn't necessarily always arrived at. Or should the Police really sound like the Brotherhood of Man? Once past the inevitable crop of MOR chest-beaters, drab disco leftovers, and substandard Eurovision Song contestants that traditionally top the U.K. charts during times of political dismay (Margaret Thatcher was still enjoying her first year of Prime Nannyhood), 1980 really wasn't a bad old year, and the track listing at least reflects that -- the Specials' "Too Much Too Young" is a bitter yelp of ska-fired discontent no matter how much the singers resemble Monty Python's Gumby characters; Blondie's similarly styled "The Tide Is High" has an irrepressible joy that even a karaoke kicking cannot dent; and the Jam's "Going Underground" at least recaptures the original's defiance across a pulsing rhythm and the emergency siren guitars. Elsewhere, however, the plaintive fragility of ABBA's "Winner Takes All" is delivered with all the finesse of an Andrew Lloyd Webber showstopper (don't cry for me, Gotenburg, perhaps?) and, suddenly, the strangely resurrected "Theme from MASH," with its insistence that "suicide is painless," doesn't sound half as glib as it ought to. Anything's got to be better than this album.