Various Artists

Top of the Pops, Vol. 4 [Hallmark]

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The first Top of the Pops album to appear in mind-bending stereophonic sound, volume four kicked off 1969 with a couple of performances that, more than a decade later, would still stand as high points in the series' entire history. A swampy rendition of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" is as faithfully close to Marvin Gaye's prototype as you could hope for, at the same time packing sufficient frills of its own to stand as a fresh interpretation in its own right. The Bee Gees' eternally lovely "First of May," too, receives a treatment that at least tries to match the matchless beauty of the original, while "Where Do You Go to My Lovely" at least retains the charmingly quizzical air of Peter Sarstedt's own. Unfortunately, that is where volume four and any notions of actual enjoyment part company. A surfeit of generally sorry songs ("Good Times," "Maria Elene," "If I Can Dream") offer little incentive for the musicians to aspire for the stars, and one imagines they had more fun finding someone who could happily mutilate the French language than they did actually recording Sandy Shaw's bilingual "Monsieur Dupont." One to file away for its collectors' value alone.

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