Various Artists

Top of the Pops, Vol. 56

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Then came the final volume of Top of the Pops for 1976 and, once again, the overall lack of character that scarred that year echoed from the grooves with heart-sagging familiarity. When Rod Stewart's assault on the Beatles' "Get Back" is the hardest-hitting thing in sight, when Leo Sayer's "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing" is considered a worthy successor to "Moonlighting," when Mud could turn down a song the caliber of "Under the Moon of Love" in favor of a lukewarm flap through "Lean on Me...," you sit through the album that recaptures the age and the fast-percolating advent of punk rock doesn't only seem inevitable, it becomes essential as well. In any event, it would be another few months before any punk record impacted hard enough to cause a blip on the Top of the Pops radar. But the gusto and attention to detail with which the team attacks Queen's "Somebody to Love" and ELO's "Livin' Thing" suggests that they were ready for a change of pace as well -- how long, after all, can anyone make a living churning out note-perfect versions of the soulless pap then wobbling around the Top 40 listings? Still, they grit their teeth and do their best. A note-perfect cover of Showaddywaddy's own eventual version of the discarded "Under the Moon of Love" has a warm, elderly rockabilly-flavored appeal, while "Lost in France" reminds listeners of a time when Bonnie Tyler could sing without sounding like a tart Rod Stewart. But the Leo Sayer cover sounds even more like a poor man's Bee Gees than the original, and ABBA's "Money Money Money" -- never one of their greatest songs, no matter how well it lived up to its title -- simply sounds brassy. There's also a horrendous version of the Stylistics' already disappointing rendition of "You'll Never Get to Heaven If You Break My Heart," which is salvaged only by wondering whether one could get away with such a sentiment in today's more PC world. Emotional blackmail is an ugly enough crime to begin with. Dragging religion into it only compounds the sin.

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