Various Artists

Top of the Pops, Vol. 18

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The stranglehold with which songwriters Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman grasped the British charts during the first half of the 1970s remains one of the most awe-inspiring runs of success in the annals of U.K. pop. Between 1971 and 1973, the apex of their success, they scored 16 Top 20 hits and, among them, some of the best-remembered singles of the entire glam rock era. Top of the Pops, Vol. 18 dates from the very dawn of that domination, its dozen tracks reflecting the charts of July 1971. But already the Chinnichap juggernaut is rolling, across the Sweet's pseudo-calypso romp "Co-Co" and New Zealanders New World's compulsively mawkish "Tom Tom Turnaround." Maybe there isn't a hint of the ballroom blitz in either number, but the duo's eye for immediacy cannot be faulted -- and neither can the Top of the Pops team's eye for success. From here on, there would not be a single significant Chinn and Chapman song that did not make it onto one volume or another. One of the joys of the earliest Top of the Pops albums lies in the rediscovery, or simply remembrance, of artists and songs that more mainstream pop histories either overlook or place in another context entirely. Bob & Marcia's "Black and White" turns up every time the Trojan label trumpets its own chart successes of the 1970s, but to hear it within the surroundings of the time, alongside hits by Philly soul stars the Delfonics, former Pink Floyd producer Norman "Hurricane" Smith, and, indeed, New World is to relive a time when the 1970s themselves were still seeking an identity -- and relive it with an eye for detail that is almost as good as being there. So what if badly faltering vocals ensure "Don't Let It Die" sounds like it already has, or if a lukewarm "Get It On" could easily be retitled "Turn It Off"? The Top of the Pops crew was obviously doing something right, for Chinn and Chapman weren't the only people who had the world at their feet this month. Top of the Pops, Vol. 18 became the series' first U.K. number one album, shoving the Moody Blues out of the way in the process. Isn't life strange?

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