Various Artists

Top of the Pops, Vol. 34

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One of the most awkward Top of the Pops albums of 1973, Vol. 34 arrived in mid-fall, at a time when the hitherto howling glam rock pack was finally beginning to adjust its focus. We all remember that Slade's "My Friend Stan," Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," and David Bowie's re-creation of the '60s oldie "Sorrow" served first notice that their makers had more on their minds than their next pot of blusher, but how curious that they should all do so simultaneously. Was there something in the water? Or was it just bad timing? Having ridden glam more successfully than any other genre to come into its orbit, the Top of the Pops squad greeted -- and treated -- such oddly restrained meanderings with obvious trepidation. Any collector curious enough to assemble, say, every one of the series Bowie covers into one long listening session will instantly recognize "Sorrow" as one of the weakest; ditto Elton's farewell to all things Oz.

But salvation lurked around the corner, as hard rockers Nazareth turned up with one of the growliest, grinding-est hits of the year, a turbocharged take on Joni Mitchell's "This Flight Tonight" which Top of the Pops transforms into an even harder hitting mutation. "5.15," meanwhile, overcomes deafening problems in the vocal department to lay down a bombastic backing that makes the Who sound almost saccharine, while ELO's "Showdown" is so immaculately arranged that you forget to even try and compare it with the original.

Elsewhere, Dylan's "Knocking on Heaven's Door," David Cassidy's "Daydreamer," and the Carpenters "Top of the World" all pass by with nothing less than casual grace, but the (perhaps unexpected) highlight has to be "Eye Level," a spot-on orchestral re-creation of the first TV theme (the crime drama Van Der Valk) ever to top the British chart, and almost exactly a year since its first release faltered at a lowly number 42. Top of the Pops by name and nature!

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