Friday, October 29, 2010

When Pop Cultures Collide: Top of the Punks

Today sees the first instalment of a two-part post from Terry TOTP -  mastermind and
curator of the online goldmine that is The Top of  The Pops Definitive Website. And what a treat, as Terry hand-picks his top ten highlights from the unlikely alliance formed when punk's pinch-eyed, spit and spikes songbook was refashioned for Hallmarks budget priced audience - filtering exploding dayglo rage through rose tinted studio arrangements...

Top of the Punks - Part 1

Most readers of this blog will be familiar with the old “Top of the Pops” LPs, which ran to some 92 volumes, spanning the whole of the 1970s. The idea was to cherry-pick songs from the hit parade and give them the anonymous cover treatment. On the way the series charted the rise and fall of styles such as glam, disco, soft soul, Eurovision and so on, all interspersed with outbreaks of Wombles, Smurfs, Osmonds and the like.

It was all wholesome family stuff of course; the Poppers had, after all, safely bleeped out a mild expletive on their adventurous version of Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane” (volume 50) to keep things respectable. But then something else happened: punk arrived in the pop charts, thereby kicking and spitting its way to Top of the Pops’ door. How would they react?

The response was initially predictable, with producer Bruce Baxter simply turning a deaf ear. Top of the Pops was, after all, the stuff at which punk’s venom was most sharply targeted – middle-of-the-road pop which had no interest in confronting mums and dads (who usually bought the things for their kids). But when the Pistols placed “God Save the Queen” at number 2 (or number 1, depending which version of history you prefer), the Poppers were forced to take notice, and as the Pistols’ follow-up, “Pretty Vacant”, headed for the top 10, the Poppers captured a celebrated cover version, their first foray into the world of punk (which will be looked at in greater detail in part 2 of this blog).

By the start of 1978, punk and the associated New Wave bands were starting to invade the charts regularly. But strangely, there was a meeting of minds, with Top of the Pops enthusiastically putting their unique spin on these new styles with no trace of irony, many of them fascinating to hear in hindsight.

This selection kicks off with the Poppers’ take on The Stranglers’ “No More Heroes”, from volume 62 (October 1977). The vocalist here sounds a little more like Douglas Hurd than Hugh Cornwell, but we can forgive that thanks to the overall tightness of the backing music.

No More Heroes from vol. 62

Next up is “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes”, originally a hit for The Adverts, with its subject matter the use of the murderer’s corneas for transplants after his execution. Unable to decipher all the lyrics (eg “I’m wincing in the light”), the Poppers’ man ad-libbed in places, Adverts singer Tim ‘TV’ Smith apparently amused on hearing it and commenting, “It would have been terrible if he'd got the words right”! It can be found on volume 61.

Gary Gilmore’s Eyes from vol. 61

Moving into 1978, we have the Poppers’ version of Blondie’s “Denis” (volume 65). This is actually quite a spirited attempt, and to the casual listener is a fair facsimile. Credit as well to the singer for having a confident stab at the French vocals. In fact, Blondie’s “original” was also a cover version, the song first recorded by Randy & The Rainbows back in 1963!

Denis from vol. 65

Top of the Pops volume 68 from August 1978 is one of the more punk-inflected LPs in the series, which we will dip into a couple of times here. It includes one of the most admirable Poppers covers in “Jilted John”, which is arguably a better listen than Graham Fellows’ original! It’s funny, and for all the right reasons.

Jilted John from vol. 68

For the last track in part 1 of this survey, we’re sticking with volume 68, and a recording which, Like “Denis”, was an updated cover of a 60s tune. Thus, The Kinks’ “David Watts” arrives via The Jam, marking their arrival in the Top of the Pops series. Here, you can certainly spot the difference, but it’s a solid stab nonetheless.

David Watts from vol. 68

Part 2 of this post will follow, with the story behind “Pretty Vacant”!


drew said...

Mondo all the links are for David Watts!

Mondo said...

Whoops, well spotted Drew. All sorted now though...

drew said...

These are fucking woeful Mond.

I still can't understand how these records sold in the numbers they did.

Cocktails said...

I'm a TOTP virgin and well, the best I can say is that at least they're not as bad as I thought they'd be!

Still struggling to see quite what the point of them was though...

lil said...

What fun Mondo; it was the funniest thing watching G’s expression when I played these to him not letting on?
(He was a big Stranglers fan back in the day, and noticed something was amiss straight away!)
“Jilted John” is such a great tune; love it!
(I really like The Popper’s version)

Mondo said...

It's funny I've seen the word 'woeful' come up several times with TOTP tracks..

Although, you have to look at them as a time capsule of the era, and
tribute albums were everywhere then - I think it's a great versh of Gary Gilmore and to my ol' ears the Jilted John track sounds like an doors Blur tune. Try this for a real howler..

These albums were the seventies equivalent of tribute bands Cocktails, and would guess they sold so well as they were pitched roughly the same
price as a single, so you could get a fistful of soundalikes hits for the same dosh (50p) as one chart tune. Mainly bought by/for pre-teens, who didn't weren't overly fussed about originals - I lobbed for some Elvis ones back then. A couple of the early comps even got to number 1 in the album charts, until being disqualified for their low price advantage.

Glad they're rocking your pop boots Lil - if want to give G a real shock - click these two Spanish pistols covers..


No Feelings

Mick said...

The synth solo in No More Heroes sounds more prog than punk. Haven't had the time to listen the others yet.

ally. said...

now this really is genius old boy. you've outdone yerself. three cheers and all that. i wonder if the totp gaye advert was anything like as lovely?

Ishouldbeworking said...

I actually believe that faux-Jam singer, when he says he's a dull and simple lad. He sounds like one.

What a truly odd phenomenon it was. I bet there'd still be a market for these somewhere like Austria or Switzerland!

Simon said...

Great post Mond, but I hate those albums, always did. Even when I was a kid it was like being given cheap cola when what you wanted was Coke!

Mondo said...

They haven't quite cracked the JJ Burnell bass rumble either Mick.

Gaye Advert Ally *sighs*

Or Germany ISB Top of the Polkas perhaps

Great analogy Simon ~ Terry who did the post kindly sent me ALL the albums on DVD. Some of the electro~pops are cracking Supernature, I Feel Love. I may have to post some more. New Wave wise even Death Disco gets the TOTP treatment on Vol 74

Mick said...

The bass sound on No More Heroes is one of the greatest sounds in the history of recorded music.

Mondo said...

It's the rule of punk Mick,the bass player was always the coolest member: Sid Vish, Simonon, Gaye Advert, Dee Dee Ramone, JJB. Always loved this one from the Strang's (look for the guitar switcheroo, Hugh's on bass)

Mick said...

Go Buddy Go instantly transports me back to college in 1977. I had to illegally download it because for some inexplicable reason it wasn't on my Stranglers 'Best of' CD.

Mondo said...

They were such a strong band, the retrospective punk focus seems to fall on the Pistols, Clash and Ramones - and the force of The Stranglers gets overlooked. They were one of my 'ways in' to punk. Mainly I loved the cover of Live X Certificate. And when I found out they dressed in black, wore monkey boots and JJ Burnel rode a Triumph and did karate - I was in

Piley said...

I too used to buy these as a nipper - simply because I couldn't afford singles. Records were much dearer (in comparison) in those days than now. I think my first single in the early 70's was 50p (it's only 79p to download a single now, 40 years later!!). You just couldn't get your hands on many singles as a kid, no matter how bad you wanted em (and the DJs talked over the start and end on the radio to ruin you taping them!). These albums were around the pound mark, so great value for so many recent tracks. It didn't seem to bother us that is wasn't the right version back then! Simple times!


EXPO67 said...

"And when I found out they dressed in black, wore monkey boots and JJ Burnel rode a Triumph and did karate - I was in"

Wow, you mentioned monkey boots!!! I wore these things for at lease a decade...then I changed footwear to Clarks desert boots.

Yeah! JJB pretty much ruled, such a cool lookin' fucka...

Nazz Nomad said...

we had stuff like this in the states as well- of course with nothing like the adverts!!!!!

Mondo said...

That's bang on P, and they must have had some pop appeal as if you went into Woolies there were rackfuls of sound-a-like LPs..

Yeah loved Monkey Boots Expo, had DMs too ( 8 holes generally), but there was something diff' about Monkeys - and yeah this pic of JJB is the essence of him

Check back tomoz Nazz and you'll catch the Pistols and four more...

PS what were the US versions called I don't think I've ever seen them?