Various Artists

Top of the Pops, Vol. 16

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It all seemed impossibly tame several years later, but in spring 1971, the appearance of a pair of female nipples on the sleeve of the latest Top of the Pops album wasn't merely a bold step into territory that few pop records have ever taken in the past, it was enough for some observers to actually write letters of stern complaint to the record label, outraged that such "smut," "filth," and "degeneracy" should be allowed to sully the minds of the young. And that's before any of them even played the actual record. Ah, but maybe if they had, they'd have been a little more understanding. The U.K. charts of early 1971 were scarcely rampaging through their most vibrant era ever and, though the burgeoning stirrings of T. Rex (noted here via the inclusion of an oddly restrained "Hot Love") suggested that the future could only get brighter, little else in sight demanded more than passing glance. And volume 16 echoes that blandness with chilling verisimilitude. So, in an era when Hair was on the London stage and Woodstock was filling the cinemas, they kept abreast of the times in other ways. Listeners pass through a gently rocking rendition of Deep Purple's "Strange Kind of Woman," gloss over the appalling lukewarm but still strangely touching take on Paul McCartney's "Another Day," and wonder how CCS's micro-hit "Walkin'" ever managed to get included. But then the listener begins to founder and, from the country ballad "Rose Garden" to the thoughtfully bombastic "Where Do I Begin," actually begins yearning for a return to the only other song in sight that actually meant anything to anyone under 30 -- Clodagh Rodgers' gratingly bouncy "Jack in the Box," Britain's contribution to that year's Eurovision Song Contest. And, let's face it, when that starts looking good, you know you're in trouble.

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