Various Artists

Top of the Pops, Vol. 73

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Dating from June 1979, Top of the Pops, Vol. 73 is one of those albums that you can't help but look back on with wonder. From the zany novelty percolations of "Pop Muzik" to a fiery disco reinvention of "Knock on Wood," from the trans-gender affirmation of "Boys Keep Swinging" -- David Bowie's most heated hit in a couple of years -- to the madcap punkoid retro-fever of the Dickies' "Banana Splits," the album, like the chart, contained something for all, and was intent on ensuring they enjoyed it. Truly, anyone who disdains the later Top of the Pops albums as mere shadows of their earlier, so creative selves, really has not spent any time revisiting 1979. Perhaps it was the fact that producer Bruce Baxter, after nine years and more than 60 albums, had finally made up his mind to leave the series (No. 79, in 1980, would be his farewell); perhaps it was the fact that the series itself needed to try harder to compete with the major record labels' compilations of original hits. Or maybe it was just that the charts really were a thing of joy back then, from Blondie seducing "Sunday Girl" to ABBA demanding "Does Your Mother Know," and each one floating along on an exquisitely rendered musical bed that utterly encapsulated the magic of the originals. Even the bad times are good -- in its original form, the Police's "Roxanne" was little more than fake reggae sung in a mock falsetto. The Top of the Pops team, on the other hand, had been playing reggae for years, and their "Roxanne" has a rootsiness that makes Sting and company sound anemic. Roxy Music's "Dance Away" is delivered as a sleek love letter, while "Bright Eyes" retains all of Art Garfunkel's blueprinted sweetness but loses the cloying edge that marred Mike Batt's hit arrangement. True, the 16-track format that was now the Top of the Pops norm does leave the album open to some rather blatant space filling ("Shine a Little Love," "Reunited," "Hallelujah"). But the pearls far outweigh the swine and the result, if listeners let Earth, Wind & Fire be their guide, is nothing short of a wonderland -- a disco-new wave-power pop-electro-art rock-punky-boogie wonderland.