Various Artists

Top of the Pops, Vol. 49

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It is, of course, one of the most pervasive legends in the entire history of the Top of the Pops series -- how producer Bruce Baxter and singer Tony Rivers accomplished in one night all that it took Queen three weeks and 180 vocal overdubs to perfect, and how, upon hearing the Top of the Pops version of "Bohemian Rhapsody," British DJ Kenny Everett spliced the two together and then challenged his listeners to spot the difference. "The series at its best," raved Mojo magazine's September 2000 re-evaluation of the series, and it would be a curmudgeon indeed who disagreed. The operatic sequence is quite spellbinding, and if you've got the wherewithal to synch up a stereo with the original Queen video, you're in for the joyride of your life. Vol. 49 is by no means a one-trick pony, however. The Bay City Rollers' hard-rocking "Money Honey" rocks even harder than the tartan terrors, while 10cc's "Art for Art's Sake," itself the most contrived offering in that band's satchel, is raised to such absurd heights of po-faced portentousness that the joke, at last, is clear for all to hear. Slade's "In for a Penny" gathers up a grandeur that the original's comparative obscurity has allowed history to forget, while "All Around My Hat" drops all the betrayed folkie baggage that scarred Steeleye Span's original version and goes balls-out for the boogie. Perhaps the finest moment, though, comes with what ranks among the most unexpected success stories of the entire year, as comedians Laurel & Hardy's "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine" was peeled off a vintage movie soundtrack and galloped all the way to number two. There it was halted, of course, by "Bohemian Rhapsody," but Top of the Pops, Vol. 49 treats them as equals all the same. The flicker of an old projector, the crackle of an ancient soundtrack, and the reedy voices snap out of the past -- the "reel" life indeed.

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