The Old Record Shop - framed vinyl records and sheet music
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We're finding, buying & framing records all day. Every once in a while we pause for thought.
Many of the biggest-selling vinyl albums in the 1970s were compilations of the biggest hits of the day, but unlike the Now! or Hits! LPs of the 80s and 90s many of these were recorded by session singers and musicians so that they could be released cheaply and quickly.

It was sometimes hard to tell the difference between them in the local record shop. Two of my first purchases were K-Tel's Music Explosion and Music for Pleasure's Blockbusters.

Two hits albums from 1974: one features the original artists, the other session musicians
Music Explosion was a collection of the original recordings of Elton John, Bay City Rollers, Showaddywaddy, Sparks and others. Blockbusters was an album of hits by The Sweet, Suzi Quatro and Mud all written by the legendary Chinnichap song-writing team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman - the Stock, Aitken and Waterman of their day - but played and sung by session musicians. This was much cheaper to buy.

This didn't really matter at the age of eight: it wasn't always obvious that these weren't recordings by the actual bands one saw on TV on Top of the Pops on a Thursday evening.

Speaking of Top of the Pops, it seems the BBC had not fully copyrighted their programme title, so it was borrowed by Hallmark Records for the series of budget hits albums of the same name, which quickly dominated the market and often reached Number 1 in the album charts while other budget hit series fell by the wayside.

It's not hard to see why the Top of the Pops albums succeeded: the budget price, the name, the strong, familiar logo and design, and the big photos of sexy young ladies on the front.

But it is easy to forget how good the music was. The songs were arranged well and performed by excellent, anonymous musicians and singers. Session musicians have always been proficient, fast, cheap and reliable; it's their job. One thing they aren't expected to do is write hit singles, but that was already taken care of.

They handled the quirkier hits well, really earning their tea-break on the two songs here, for example - This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us by Sparks, and Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody - featuring two of the most distinctive singers of the day, both with incredible falsettos.

But the management changed in 1978 and the quality quickly dropped - listen, if you dare, to their version of 1979's Are Friends Electric? by Tubeway Army - and the last Top of the Pops album was released in 1985.

You can still find the Top of the Pops LPs everywhere in charity shops and car boots sales - and in some specialist used record shops albeit in their "10p" section. They make a wonderful - and cheap! - souvenir of the golden age of pop vinyl.

Many thanks to Top of the Pops - The definitive website for some of the background to this piece, and to Stan Jones whose wonderful YouTube channel is a treasure trove of Top of the Pops session recordings

Posted by Mark Lawrence on Wednesday, 4th May at 1.00 pm
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