Various Artists

Top of the Pops, Vol. 21

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The weeks around Christmas are always a weird time in British chart terms, a month or so during which the top of the pile is a veritable battle involving established superstars, one-hit-wonders, and wacky novelty songs. And the end of 1971 was no exception. On the one hand, T. Rex maintained its singular domination of the listings with the boogie rocker "Jeepster"; on the other, comedian Benny Hill scored his maiden chart-topper with the spaghetti Western saga of "Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)." Slade scored its first major hit with the still remarkable "Coz I Luv You," and pop chameleon Jonathan King engineered his umpteenth with "Johnny Reggae," a piping skanker co-fronted by Are You Being Served/East Enders TV star Wendy Richards. Wacky? It was downright weird. Top of the Pops, Vol. 21 immortalizes this so memorable moment with frank clarity. All of the above are present, faithfully duplicated by the Top of the Pops team and really not sounding too bad -- in fact, the violin cutting through the Slade song is even crazier than Jim Lea's original performance, while the vocals chirruping through "Johnny Reggae" have a gratuitously grating quality that makes the prototype sound like a passage from Masterpiece Theatre. A handful of querulous moments do arise. Cilla Black's "Something Tells Me" occasionally sounds more like Margaret Thatcher than the erstwhile Priscilla White, while Middle of the Road's "Soley Soley" serves only to remind listeners of the absolute domination that was enjoyed that year by this most wholesomely ghastly of combos. But John Kongos' "Tokoloshe Man" is almost terrifyingly tribal and, as for "Ernie," rarely have love, death, and yogurt been melded together with such delightful aplomb.

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