Various Artists

Top of the Pops, Vol. 42

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In 2002, Mike Batt's latest album, Classical Graffiti, included a track called "One Minute Silence," which indeed comprised 60 seconds of absolute quiet. Notwithstanding Batt's reputation as one of Britain's most successful composers, there were a lot of people who wished he'd thought of doing the same thing 28 years earlier. When Batt first put his musical genius to work for childrens' television show The Wombles, his cute little jingles gave the show some extra character. Who could ever have imagined that it would also launch the program's rodent-like heroes onto a chart career that ultimately stretched to eight major hits in under two years? "Wombling Merry Christmas," a number two in December 1974, was the fifth, and its appearance on Top of the Pops, Vol. 42 reminds us, once again, of the British chart's seasonal predilection for some very unpredictable silliness. Carl Douglas' "Dance the Kung Fu" follow-up to the summer's "Kung Fu Fighting" was soaring as well, and with Elton John's bizarrely reggae-led stomp across "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" also flying high, Vol. 42 captures the spirit of the age with an accuracy that is almost ruthless. Which is a shame, because elsewhere, the team does itself proud. An excellent version of David Essex's "Stardust" is at least as moody as the movie soundtrack original, and packs a guitar solo just as breathtaking as Chris Spedding's prototype. There are marvelous jabs at the Rubettes' "Jukebox Jive" and Hello's "Tell Him," while a metallic crunch through "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" suffers only from the singer's inability to precisely replicate Bachman-Turner Overdrive's prototype stutter. All around, Vol. 42 is a winner. Until the needle gets back to the Wombles. But never despair, because there's an easy solution. Just turn the volume control down until the song is over. And you have another silent classic to enjoy, John Cage's "4.33".

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