Monday, 1 December 2008

The (Un)Original Artists


A recent post on Jeff’s Imagine Echoes got me thinking. He describes buying a Donovan LP only to find on playing it that his favourite song was not the one he expected but an alternative version. Things like this can ruin your whole day.

For example, in 1968, the budget label, Pickwick, started to release a series of ‘Top of the Pops’ LPs through their Hallmark subsidiary. One of these records was released every 6 weeks throughout the late 60s and 70s and was the forerunner to the ‘Now’ CD series now currently up to volume 77 or thereabouts.

At about this time I was accompanying my mother to Tesco in St Albans. In those days Tesco was not the mega-supermarket chain that it is now, but a small ground floor grocery with clothes, home equipment and other bits and bobs on the first floor. Also to be found on the first floor was a box containing scruffy ex-jukebox singles and a rack of budget label LPs and it was here that I discovered ‘Top of the Pops Vol 12’ boasting hits of the day all wrapped up in a sleeve with a slightly surly looking young women on the cover in model pose. Not only that, it retailed at about 14 shillings - considerably less than the normal cost of an LP record. I was suckered in and bought a copy.

Of course, it was only when I’d got it home and played it that I began to realise that something wasn’t quite right. All the songs sounded a bit different and in order to placate my growing anxiety I persuaded myself that they were demo or unreleased versions of the songs that I knew so well from the radio. But the feeling of disappointment wouldn’t go away so I can sympathise with Jeff on this point. It was only later that I discovered the truth of the matter and it was that all the songs were imitations done by session musicians, not the original artists and this was why it was so cheap.

I no longer have TOTP Vol 12 in my possession, which is a shame because discs from this series are now something of collectors’ items. Some of the session musicians used in the replicas are now well known names. On my copy of volume 12 was the Stevie Wonder hit, ‘Signed Sealed Delivered, I’m Yours’ which was actually sung by an unknown Elton John so it would’ve been worth keeping for his passable Wonder impersonation alone. Also the rather chaste cover girls look incredibly kitsch by today’s standards but have a period feel that proclaims the times.

You can still buy them on eBay for £10+ a shot but I don’t think I’ll be bidding...unless it’s volume 12.

7 comments:

Adrian said...

You remind me of a purchase here in Canada of an album, can't remember the title anymore - "Rock of Ages" comes to mind - and, it, too, contained fascimiles of all the great songs promised on the cover. Never again!

Now, I believe worse scarring occurred from my encounter with Batman and Robin - who were trumpeted as coming to the parking lot of our neighbourhood Super-Value grocery store.

This was the 1960s, and Adam West tv-version Batman was the standard. So, there was a lot of slack we kids were prepared to afford the dynamic duo. However, the two sad-sack impersonators who showed up in their pyjamas couldn't fail to match even such low expectations. Their pjs had what is known as "pilling" - the little balls that form on fabric. (I learned this term, in adulthood, from a radio interview of Martha Stewart. I still don't know if that makes me feel better or worse about the whole affair.)

musicobsessive said...

Oh, the disappointments of youth! What a lovely story - it made me smile first thing on a Monday morning (not a frequent event, I have to say).

I think the 'pilling' phrase translates to 'bobbling' over here but no doubt I will be corrected by any fabric designers looking in and usually ends the life of most of my sweaters. Just as well I'm not a Batman impersonator.

Jeff said...

Thanks for the link! When I was younger I remembering a Bush album called "Deconstructed". I was only like 13 at the time and didn't follow music like I do today. When I came home all of the songs sounded nothing like the ones on the radio. It turns out the CD was a bunch of remixes of their popular hits. I was pretty devistated at the time, but now it's pretty interesting to hear different takes on the music.

Also, I'm a little embarassed to say this, but I own the first Now CD. I bought it mainly for Radiohead's "Karma Police" and Marcy Playgrounds "Sex and Candy". There were a few good songs mixed in with a lot of garbage.

musicobsessive said...

Ah, the dreaded remix album. At least you kept yours. I disposed of my TOTP album in the trash as I couldn't stand to have it around. I'm not sure I'd want to listen to it even now. The one good thing about itunes and the like is that you no longer have to buy Now vol46 just to get hold of one song. As you say, you end up having to pay for all the rubbish.

Maya said...

Nice post. Recently I collected some new album songs.Listening music is my hobby.I love music.
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Jayne said...

Oh those TOTP albums! My older brother had a few, but not for the music inside, I tend to think. :)

I remember being most confused as to why Now That's What I Call Music started life with a pig in a leather jacket on the cover. Apparently (and I am sure you know this!) it was because they 'borrowed' the slogan from a Danish bacon company (Now that's what I call bacon!) and the pig was supposed to be a nod towards its bacon heritage. Like the kids that bought it would know that - I ended up thinking somehow that if you listened to too much Now music you'd end up fat.

musicobsessive said...

Maya - thanks for the compliment and keep listening. It gets better!

Jayne - Do you know, I didn't know that! In fact I have no recollection of it at all - it must've been when I wasn't paying attention. Not sure about the calorific effect of Now! but I wouldn't recommend too much listening to them under any circumstances - and you can tell your brother that the early covers weren't up to much!