Various Artists

Top of the Pops, Vol. 64

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Of all the multitudinous genres that faced the musicians responsible for the Top of the Pops series over the years, it was reggae, time and again, that drew out their greatest performances. From the golden age of the Trojan stable of one-hit wonders in the late '60s and early '70s, through the orchestrated MOR-isms of Ken Boothe and John Holt around the middle of the decade, and on to the rootsier sounds of 1977-1978, if a reggae record made the U.K. charts, you could bet that a smart reworking would be a highlight of the next Top of the Pops album. Purchasers of Vol. 64, the first edition of 1978, were in for a real treat, then -- there were two of the things. Actually, it's a good album all around, and that despite a quick look at a track listing -- ABBA, the Brotherhood of Man, the Bee Gees, and Baccara all plant songs within -- that scarcely engenders an enormous sense of hope. Bill Withers' "Lovely Day" is delivered as a seductive roller, Heatwave's "Groove Line" percolates with a furiously funky fire, and Odyssey's "Native New Yorker" has a sassy disco charm that at least echoes the swagger of the original. But it's Bob Marley's "Jamming" and Althea & Donna's "Uptown Top Ranking" that really stand out, the latter for an absolutely naïve charm and innocence that owe more to the duo's nerve-wracked U.K. TV performances than it does to the tight Joe Gibbs production that topped the British chart, and the former for divorcing the song from the increasingly cuddly marketing machine that was now enveloping Marley himself, tying it instead to a starkly under-produced bass and wah-wah rhythm that was a far cry from the gloss of the Wailers' own recording. Which is not to say it's a better performance. But it's certainly a tougher one, and there was a time when the majority of Marley fans would have said that was an important consideration.

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