20 October 2009

Top of the Spot(ifie)s

Top of the Pops

"A bad cover version of love is not the real thing/ bikini clad girl on the front who invited you in" Bad Cover Version, Pulp

Since we've already touched upon the subject of budget cover albums and EPs this month, we may as well keep the theme rolling with the news that a whole crateload of "Top of the Pops" albums have now worked their way on to Spotify. There's good news and bad news attached to this - the bad news is clearly that a lot of retro bloggers are probably going now to wonder if it's really worth the trouble of uploading those thirty volumes they found in Oxfam last week. The good news, of course, is that we now have unlimited access to these sounds in digital quality - although your definition of good news might vary from mine.

Since this discovery, it's become a game of mine to highlight the good, the interesting, and the awfully inaccurate cover versions that exist in the series. It's been well documented before now that the bargain bin version of "Bohemian Rhapsody" is actually quite impressive given the limited studio and arrangement time the piece was clearly given. Queen spent several half-lives and a country mile's worth of mastertape on the original, so whilst the version presented here may not be absolutely perfect, it shows a low=budget respect for the original arrangements akin to Andy Partridge's Beatles re-recordings.

Given this fact, it's astonishing how far off the mark other efforts are - clearly some session musicians who were hired to do a job had an unhealthy disrespect for other tracks. If BoRap can be nailed, then what's the major issue with "Mouldy Old Dough", for Stavely Makepiece's sake? The piano sounds wobbly and warped, the rhythm inaccurate, and the vocals like Granddad out of "Only Fools and Horses" with half a cheeseburger in his gob. To say that the session musicians concerned must have despised this track to treat it with such contempt is to understate the case to some considerable degree.

Gary Numan's "Cars" isn't quite so maltreated, although the synthesisers used have a touch of the Rumbelows about them, and the vocals appear to be done by a man who sounds like Gilbert O'Sullivan doing an impression of an American new wave vocalist who is in turn doing a poor impression of Gary Numan. If this was the intention, I'm seriously impressed.

And talking of XTC, as we were earlier, that particular band seem to be particularly ill-served by the series. "Senses Working Overtime" suffers from bum notes and miscued rhythms, and is sung with the incorrect lyrics ("I can see his well-turned taste"?) with the vocals of a drunken village idiot being kicked around a bar, wailing for mercy as he goes. "Sgt Rock" fares little better, being an anaemic approximation of the song sung by somebody who'd clearly rather be in Steppenwolf. They put more effort into their Benny Hill impressions, so you have to wonder why Swindon's finest were treated with so little respect.

I could go on, perhaps pointing out other items such as "Virginia Plain", a rather unsympathetic version of L&TB fave Gary Shearston's "I Get A Kick Out Of You" performed with tone-deaf vocals (Arthur Mullard eat your heart out), and a ridiculously Tiny Tim styled version of Sparks' "Something for the Girl With Everything", but if I keep on in this way I'll be rather spoiling your own fun having a dig around. Please do leave a comment if you manage to find anything particularly accomplished or absurd.

Whether you love or hate this series, its popularity was baffling. That the music industry in Britain made the decision to expel these budget cover albums from the main charts in the mid-seventies is an indication of how much the public appeared to have a soft spot for them, and even when they were consigned to their own special "budget chart" they remained strong sellers. The musicians behind the work were often of a high quality, with the likes of Bowie (*cough*)* and Elton John beavering away on the releases, and the latter's work was so extensive that a separate compilation has been created of his own efforts. I'd prefer to think of the series as being a very interesting anomaly, whilst not particularly wanting one of the items to ever be gift-wrapped and given to me again by a cheapskate relative, thank you very much indeed.

(*No, I doubt Bowie or his musicians had anything to do with that linked version of "Space Oddity", but it is rather impressive).


Anonymous said...

Sadly I Dont Have Spotify So I Cant Hear Any Of The Tracks-Even more sad is that I Have em On LP.The Version Of Bo Rap Is Excellent Though- Tony Rivers Gives Some Info About The TOTP Albums On His Website

23 Daves said...

Thanks for that link, it's quite revealing - it also confirms my suspicion that some of the session musicians did hold some of the artists with contempt. "Crap like the Sex Pistols"? "I did Johnny Rotten in my Norman Wisdom voice, because that's what he sounds like"? Hmmm....

As great as some of these musicians are, it does prove that they had complete cloth ears about certain artists and styles. I'm actually surprised it was Rivers behind both the Pistols cover and the Queen one, since they're at opposite ends of the spectrum quality-wise.

23 Daves said...

The examples of inaccurate lyrics just don't stop - a disrespectful cover of The Jam's "Going Underground" below

What the hell are the singing at the start? "Live like a duck"? That wasn't a Paul Weller philosophy. I love the way that the vocalist just spouts gibberish or moves away from the mic whenever he's not sure of the correct words as well. Hilariously shoddy stuff.

Anonymous said...

Thanks...the Gary Numan is may personal so bad-it's good favourite.