Various Artists

Top of the Pops, Vol. 50

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As milestones go, this was quite a remarkable one. Less than eight years after the series' inception, Top of the Pops reached its 50th volume, and celebrated with a collection that echoed both the hits of the day -- January 1976 -- and a clutch of oldies selected as "outstanding all time pop hits [released] since Volume One." Four "bonus tracks" extended back to "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and forward to "I'm Not in Love," while a deliciously phased "Itchycoo Park" celebrated that song's hit reissue with another tasty dose of retro fever. Not that you can blame the Top of the Pops team for looking back so enthusiastically. Early 1976 itself served up such an unappetizing crop of new hit singles that the past could not help but look good. Forget comedian Billy Howard's deeply unfunny "King of the Cops," rendered here without even a begrudging attempt to upgrade the original; even the latest hits by such time-honored troupers as Marie Osmond ("Deep Purple"), Andy Fairweather-Low ("Wide Eyed and Legless"), and Barry White ("Let the Music Play") rattled by with barely a memorable moment among them. What chance did the Top of the Pops covers have? True highlights are genuinely hard to find, then. But a felicitous romp through Sailor's aptly titled "Glass of Champagne" does communicate some sense of occasion, while side one plays out with a couple of genuinely great efforts, an electrifying "Mama Mia" and so sonorous a version of the Walker Brothers' "No Regrets" that Scott Walker's original vocal sounds breezy by comparison. There's a neat stab at Mike Oldfield's festive instrumental "In Dulce Jubilo" as well, just in case anyone needed a refill of Christmas spirit. But the inclusion that best sums up the album's predicament -- how to have a party when you don't like the guests -- has to be Bob Dylan's "Hurricane." Even with the Top of the Pops team's not quite infallible crystal ball on hand, it was difficult to comprehend how a meandering ode to a decade-old murder was going to score a New Year's hit, especially when Dylan himself had kept the U.K. charts at bay for close to five years at that point. And so it proved -- "Hurricane" stiffed, but the Top of the Pops version definitely gives it a gallant go, and adds another "first" to the series' already creaking hall of fame: the first ever loudly bleeped rude word in Top of the Pops' history.

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