Various Artists

Top of the Pops, Vol. 59

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The Muppets have a lot to answer for. No sooner had they reinvigorated Piero Umiliani's grumbling gambol "Mah Na Mah Na" for a generation of preschool nonsense songsters, then both the veteran original and a saucy disco remake came hurtling out of the woodwork -- and listeners should be grateful, one supposes, that it was the pure and simple prototype that then went bounding up the U.K. chart. Grateful because the Top of the Pops version isn't simply as infuriatingly compulsive as the original, it is also one of the peaks of the entire series' stabs at "novelty songs." Too often, after all, such songs lose so much in the translation that it's impossible to believe they were ever funny once -- as "King of the Cops," Yin & Yang, and any singing TV detective will testify. But gather a gang of grown men around a microphone for a few choruses of "mah na mah na -- doo doo doodoo doo," and you're onto a winner every time. Top of the Pops, Vol. 59 is an interesting album. It was, for instance, the first album in the series to purposefully duck a major chart hit, as the outrage and bans that accumulated around the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen" ensured that even an attempt at covering it would lead to TOTP, too, being barred from the chain-store marketplace. It was also the first to include a String Driven Thing song, as the Bay City Rollers took the veteran prog folkers' "It's a Game" and tried to transform themselves into a band that people might now take seriously. It failed, of course -- in fact, the TOTP version is truer to the original than the Rollers' ever was. Elsewhere, the team sinks its teeth most satisfyingly into 10cc's "Good Morning Judge," Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke," and, with pomp-puncturing guile, the Eagles' "Hotel California." There's also a great stab at Kenny Rogers' "Lucille," although the pronunciation does seem a little suspect -- unless the original really did include a line about "400 crocs and a cat from Brazil." No matter how often you want to play the entire album, though, the stylus will always return to the same place in the end. "Mah Na Mah Na" really is that good.

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