Various Artists

Top of the Pops, Vol. 23

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It was one of those moments that "serious" music fans dreaded. After two albums of gathering underground kudos to their breast, the members of Argent had scored a massive U.K. hit, opening their progressive souls to a nation of teenyboppers and setting themselves up for the most unlikely accolade of all -- an appearance on a Top of the Pops album. Vol. 23, capturing the best of the British charts for April 1972, is a dynamite reflection of the state of the nation's listening tastes as this most memorable of years moved into its second quarter. Argent isn't the only band of beetle-browed proggies on board -- Lindisfarne, similarly snatching chart fame after two albums of unremitting cultdom, is represented as well, with a convincing strum through the delightful "Meet Me on the Corner." And, if it's not only bearded weirdies on board, neither is this edition an explosion of good-time pop either. Further dark moods are invoked by Gilbert O'Sullivan's singing suicide note, "Alone Again, Naturally"; ex-Beatle George Harrison cops a writing credit for the deeply contemplative "What Is Life," here performed à la Olivia Newton-John's twangy guitar-led neutron bomb of a version. The highlight, however, captures every last soupçon of silliness for which 1972 is historically remembered, as fellow former Fab Ringo Starr makes his series debut with the stormingly nonsensical "Back Off Boogaloo" -- a song that also remedies in one stroke the most noticeable absentee of all. Marc Bolan, whose T. Rex dominated the first half of 1972 like there were no other band on the planet, was between singles, so the fans made a smash of one of his favorite phrases instead. At least, that's what Ringo said the song was about. Being Top of the Pops, of course, there have to be a few performances that you really could live without, headed here by Nilsson's "Without You." Nothing against the song, nor even against a stirring Top of the Pops band arrangement. But that vocal! Those high notes! That poor cat! It's performances like this that give Top of the Pops albums a bad name.

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