Insane Autobahn Cover Version
1970s cheapo compilation cash-in reverse engineers ‘Autobahn’ with remarkable results
Words: ES STAFF
In the 1970s, the cash-strapped youth of Great Britain (and there were many of them in that decade) and other cheapskates who wanted to own the latest chart sounds were often victim to the vinyl plague known as the Top Of The Pops compilation.
Each compilation featured a dozen or more cover versions of current hits, as recorded by a group of anonymous session musicians, the idea being that the version you got on your compo was as close to the original as they could manage.
This factory line of musical reverse-engineering took a turn for the electronic when, in 1975, our very own Kraftwerk hit the charts with the three minute edit of ‘Autobahn’. Undaunted, the session players dusted down the Minimoogs and Arp Odysseys, not to mention the WEM Copycats and flangers, and cranked out what is a pretty remarkable facsimile of one of the most important electronic recordings ever made.
You owe it to yourself to give it a listen…
If you’d like to know a bit more about these strange compilations, have a read of this, from 1994, from the Info Freako page of Melody Maker, where readers would write in and ask about strange records and answers to intractable queries they had, before Google existed. It was researched and written by Electronic Sound editor Push.
“TOP OF THE POPS” COMPILATION ALBUMS UNSUNG HEROES
The other day, I bought a 1972 compilation LP called “Top Of The Pops” from a junk shop on the strength of it featuring T-Rex’s “Telegram Sam”. But when I got home, I discovered that all the tracks are covers and they’re all appalling, especially the T-Rex track! Have you any idea what this LP might be? Is it worth more than the 25p I paid for it!?
Greg Shimmon, Coventry
If, as seems likely, this LP is on Pickwick Records, 25p is probably about the right. The Pickwick “Top Of The Pops” series was designed to give British pop fans a chance to obtain a dozen or so covers of current chart hits for not much more than the price of a single. In some ways, the records were cheap forerunners to the “Now! That’s What I Call Music” albums.
The idea was the brainchild of a Pickwick sales manager and a buyer at Woolworths. The first “Top Of The Pops” album came out in the summer of 1968, with fresh editions subsequently appearing roughly every six weeks. A total of no less than 92 volumes were issued, all of them with a half- undressed girl on the sleeve. Pickwick’s head honcho Monty Lewis came up with this trademark.
Sticking as close to the original tracks as possible, the covers were recorded by session musicians under the guidance of producer Bruce Baxter. Paul McCartney is said to have popped his head round the studio door when Baxter’s band were recording “Mull Of Kintyre” and said, “That’s how I did the demo!”. Of the various other covers collections of the 1970s, like Music For Pleasure’s “Hot Hits” LPs, only Baxter was bold enough to attempt a version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Suitably dreadful it was too.
At the height of their popularity, it was not unusual for a “Top Of The Pops” LP to sell getting on for half a million copies. For the most part, however, the covers compilations appeared in a budget records chart instead of the official UK national album chart. When they were allowed into the regular chart, during the second half of 1971, volumes 18, 19 and 20 each reached the Top Three. The special budget chart was hastily reintroduced in early 1972.
The “Top Of The Pops” series lasted until 1982, by which point companies like K-Tel were producing budget compilations featuring the original artists. Pickwick briefly resurrected the series in 1985, but “Volume 92” was a huge flop. The concept was then permanently shelved.