Various Artists

Top of the Pops, Vol. 2 [Hallmark]

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Just three months after Volume 1 debuted the latest kid on the soundalike block, Top of the Pops, Vol. 2 hurtled out with a far stronger lineup and a far greater sense of what potential purchasers wanted from their anonymous cover versions -- a semblance of similarity, for a start. Heartstoppingly ambitious in the scope of its subjects, a dozen-strong selection which ranges from the Beatles' "Hey Jude" to the Bee Gees' "Gotta Get a Message to You," Volume 2 impresses not only via the veracity of the versions, but also with its refusal to let the tricky bits put it off. Which is not to say that Volume 2 is any substitute for the classics included, just that a vintage month for the U.K. charts is tackled with an enthusiasm and enjoyment that was wholly lacking from the series' debut. The instrumental work behind "Those Were the Days" and "Mrs Robinson" is especially impressive, even if the featured singers don't even come close to their role models -- where Mary Hopkin sounded sad and sweet, Top of the Pops comes over whiny and weak, while Art Garfunkel sounds positively operatic compared to his Volume 2 equivalent. Elsewhere, too, the restraints inherent to the Top of the Pops series are loudly visible. In its original form, the Bee Gees' track is a masterpiece of both studio and sonic creativity, painstakingly pieced together over who knows how many days. Top of the Pops producer Alan Crawford banged his take together in a matter of hours and it sounds like it. But there's a virtue in its hurried freshness and, in that, it established the template for all of Top of the Pops' future masterpieces -- "anything you can do, we can do faster."

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