Various Artists

Top of the Pops, Vol. 77

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The Top of the Pops series had already passed its tenth anniversary by Christmas 1979, but still the final volume of the '70s saw it chalk up another milestone, as the only musical brand name to have documented all ten years of the decade without having to alter its appearance in the slightest. Still gleaming out of the racks from behind a scantily-clad dolly-bird cover star, still remaking (or, if you prefer, massacring) the top hits of the day without too much concern for whether or not they sounded like the originals, still standing as a snapshot of a moment in pop history that no other compilation could match. It was more than an LP, it was an institution. Sixteen performances ring out on Vol. 77. The season's inevitable festive fare is here, of course -- Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmas Time," rendered no more or less annoying than Macca's original recording, and Boney M's "Mary's Boy Child -- Oh My Lord" medley, with passion and harmonies surprisingly spot on. There's a wealth of disco, too, from a delightfully exaggerated romp through Michael Jackson's "Off the Wall," to a syrup-sticky bleat through the Commodores' "Still." But reminding us that the New Wave was still reverberating loudly through the U.K. charts, Gary Numan's "Complex" gets an icily excellent run-through; the Police's "Walking on the Moon" and the Skids "Working for the Yankee Dollar" inject some mayhem into the proceedings, and there's a stab at Madness' "One Step Beyond" that could easily be one of the Nutty Boys' own outtakes. The Jam's "Eton Rifles" has an ego-popping charm, deflating the self-importance of the lyric with a vocal that really couldn't care less, but the one that you'll keep returning to is the Boomtown Rats' "Diamond Smiles," performed with all the panache of a shopping list, and prone to some ear-shaking vocal lapses. Hearing the anonymous frontman trying to stretch the words "Martini Dry" out over far more beats than it needs to be is one of those unscripted treasures for which every modern-day collector keeps an eye open. Of course Vol. 77 is not a patch on the series' golden age of five or six years earlier. But it's an enjoyable disc regardless, and one more reason why these records are just so absurdly compulsive.

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