the Top of the Poppers sings and play the hits of David Bowie

In the days of proper local shops, ones that had such eye watering variety and shelves piled high with so much oddments aplenty that, had children not been busy climbing trees, building dens, making secret lairs, customising Chopper bikes and holding street meetings every five minutes to vote on changing their gang name to the latest TV or comic inspired crew, would have happily set up camp armed with gobstoppers, fizzy pop, sherbet fountains and a bulging bag of ollies. Aside the endless wall racks of books, comics and Hammer Horror or war plane inspired Airfix kits and Meccano desirables, not forgetting the mouth watering selection of sugar saturated sweets with the ability, in some cases, to give you a mild hallucinogenic trip, there were records (oh … and tape cassettes and 8 track cartridges). To a small child growing up in the 70’s who thought Woolies was the nearest thing to heaven and would often, if left for more than mere seconds, toddle to find paradise, those spin a round displays festooned with records where a constant source of fascination, and desire. Littered here on these hallowed racks sat budget pressings from labels such as Music for Pleasure, Camden and of course Pickwick. It was here you can find those strange exotica albums, Geoff Love ‘themes’ comps, Elvis represses, children TV themed releases (Gerry Anderson / TV21 and other such – stuff I heavily subscribed in) and those legendary Top of the Pops albums. Love or loathe them, indeed agreed they were painfully kitsch-y but rumours abound that the session musicians used often featured jobbing musicians whose star was yet to ascend. Yes they were tacky, the sleeves cheap and tasteless, yet despite all this they strangely became a way of life. Filed loosely next to your lounge / library prize platters, what I hear you exasperate, well stick with me on this, the sleeves distinctive and uniform fit in with the, often minimalist, looking KPM, Bruton and Chappell titles. Also remember this, they are a period preserved whether fondly or otherwise, that is synonymous of a decade both derided and held in high esteem. Such cheap cover versions of the days hits aimed at the budget market could never work today, I mean, have you had the misfortune to hear the charts these days, its almost like life imitating art, a Top of the Pops compilation could never survive in a climate where kitsch and naffness had been elevated to a whole new level and please don’t give me the you’re old you don’t get it patter, todays generation have, with their on trend false sentiments and politically corrected safeness, sent music into the dark ages. So at this point, if you are still awake, I myself am seriously struggling, you might be wondering, what is all this, is there a point, where’s that promised Landshipping review. The latter is arriving, hold tight. The point of this is that yesterday, slightly earlier than we expected, our copy of ‘the Top of the Poppers sings and play the hits of David Bowie’ arrived in the mail. A mail order sortie from the folks responsible for the very excellent Electronic Sound Magazine, these days proving itself as the finest music publication on the news- stands, if that is you discount Ugly Things. This set follows in the foot-steps of the well-received and dare I say, acclaimed Meat Beat Manifesto’s retooling of Terry Riley’s ‘in C’ release earlier in the year. Pressed on funky and kitschy looking purple vinyl with bright yellow sleeve (I’m now having flashbacks to our parlour c.74), the set is limited to just 300 copies and gathers together all the Bowie covers that featured on those ‘prized’ TOTP collections. Don’t be scared, its not the car crash you might expect, even Bowie himself had a mild affection for these (space) oddities pressing up a batch of CD’s that he gave as presents to guests attending a Christmas party in 2000. Nine such treats lurk upon this vinyl artefact, pretty much centring time line wise across Bowie’s most creative patch. Featuring extensive liner notes by ES’s Mark Roland, who even lists the relevant TOTP catalogue numbers from whence these tracks originally appeared, it looks to have been a real labour of love getting this from idea stage to turntable. After a few little needling vinyl pops – no pun intended – the set fires into life opening with ‘Starman’ which competently rambles through posing nothing of real note with which to write home and claim about, the lead singer nailing that nasally Sarf London accent while mention should be made of the neatly grooved guitar riffing which comes pressed with a coolly smoked haziness. Removed of the originals anxious gusto ‘life on Mars?’ might have, in another take, gone horribly wrong where it not for the glorious surge of the over exuberant orchestral strings dragging it by the collar from out its dry lacklustre toning, its disappointment more than made up for by the country phrased variant of ‘Sorrow’ which in truth isn’t that bad. Curiously enough ‘the man who sold the world’ is a cover of the Lulu version (a top 5 hit no less back in the day) which itself is a cover of the Bowie, confusing I know, a sore thumb perhaps to make up the numbers, yet for all that, here acutely scored and smouldered with a seriously laid back snaking jazzy noir. I’ll be honest when I say, I’m still sitting on the fence trying to figure the merits of ‘TVC15’,  when a Bowie track you have a straying if not, nostalgic fondness for is reduced to sharpened nails down the blackboard you have to admit a dread affection, as mawkish as it might first seem, there’s a mildly kooky and kitsch appeal attaching here, for all its naffness read playfulness, its oddly honky tonked trimming assuming a strangely disturbing Jools Holland piano led Hogmanay gathering of waifs and wastrels vibe. To the flip and things get a tad more interesting and by degrees, worrying with ‘Space Oddity’ first up on the execution block which aside the airless and trippy quotients, the ending particularly a treat as it just freakily veers off all wonkified and weird eared, is pretty much your standard bad Saturday karaoke hell. ‘Heroes’ next. I can hear your tears and haunted anxiety, fears aside, perhaps the best cover cut here, charged with an aching rush of emotion  you sense the players really got the meaning of the track in getting beneath its skin to craft this gem. Alas, I’ll never be able to listen to ‘Boys keep swinging’ ever again without echoes of this repeating, absent of its bite, snarl and aloof, in its place a cartoonish commercial trailer colouring that had us here much recalling the David Dundas jeans advert of the late 70’s. Which all leaves ‘Fashion’ to round out matters to the end groove. Now I’ll start by saying of this that everything about it just screams wrong, right from its pop lite casualness down to its somewhat missing a beat out of tune awkwardness, the glacial cool of the original reduced to a laughably woolly Stars on 45 tra la la all collectively etching upon it an admirably hammy vibe that’s so bad its good and with that, perhaps edges the epic ‘Heroes’ in terms of affection. Essential, but really, did you honestly think it was going to be anything else but.     

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