Friday, April 06, 2012

Records That Changed My Life: Motown Chartbusters Volume Three

Lists are good, dear blog reader. Long ago, this blogger accepted that everybody should have a decent dose what yer actual Keith Telly Topping has in their lives - a minor strain of Asperger's Syndrome. I mean, lists can tell you so much; for instance, yer actual Keith Telly Topping can use a list to inform you that the first four films he was taken to see as a child (by various relatives, obviously) were, in no particular order other than the purely chronological, The Aristocats, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Yellow Submarine and Diamonds Are Forever. And, that yer actual Keith Telly Topping stands one hundred per cent behind all of those. Or, he can tell you that the first six gig yer actual Keith Telly Topping saw as a fourteen/fifteen/sixteen year old were, in order, yer actual Paul McCartney & Wings, Deep Purple (yeah, okay, stop sniggering at the back), Lindisfarne, the Live Stiffs Tour (with Ian & the Blockheads, Costello, Rockpile and Wreckless Eric), The Jam and The Clash. That's a pretty decent start to life watching music live, even if yer actual Keith Telly Topping does say so himself. (Ignore Deep Purple. Please.) He can also tell you that the first record he can ever remember hearing was 'My Boomerang Won't Come Back' by Charlie Drake, one of a number of 45s that were lying around the house when yer actual Keith Telly Topping was, like, but three or something. All of which had belonged to his older brothers. (Gene Vincent's 'Pistol Packin' Mama' was another.) The first record he ever, actually, had bought for him specifically, at Christmas 1966, was 'Yellow Submarine.' The first single he ever bought with his own Telly Topping cash as it were was 'Get It On' by T-Rex. The first LP, though, that one's even more special for yer actual Keith Telly Topping. Because, sometime around about Christmas 1971 (maybe a bit later), he expressed an interest in acquiring Motown Chartbusters Volume Three.
To be honest, I cannot, for the life of me, remember exactly why it was that one I wanted, and - even more importantly - why then. It had, after all been released in November 1969 so it had already been around for at least a couple of years and three, far more current Chartbuster compilations had been released subsequently. Maybe there had been a TV advert for it, or something. I can't even remember how it was that I first heard about it or its contents. But that one, specifically, was the one I wanted. Grey cover, black Tamla Motown label (STML11121 – because we got the stereo version even though, at that stage, the Telly Topping household still only had an old Plessey 'Defiant' mono dansette. Which I really wish I still owned because records sounded bloody great on it!) So, along with yer actual Daddy Telly Topping, one Saturday morning Keith Telly Topping went to JG Windows in the Central Arcade and bought Motown Chartbusters Volume Three. For something like eighty pee which seemed, in 1971, to be like eighty quid would seem today. The vinyl copy has long since vanished (I think, as with much of my really old and worn vinyl that I gave it away to a charity shop when I got a replacement CD sometime around 1999). So, instead, I'm sitting here looking at the CD, with its sleevenotes by yer actual Alan Freeman (not 'alf) which instruct listeners 'don't you EVER read sleevenotes BEFORE you play the record.' Sound advise, that, Fluff. On this record you got (and, you know, still get) sixteen Tamla Motown singles – eight per side - which had been released in the UK during the spring and summer of 1969. Some of them - 'The Tracks of My Tears', 'This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak For You)', 'Dancing In The Streets', 'Get Ready', 'SOS (Stop Her On Sight)' - were old even then. ('SOS' wasn't even first released on Motown, they'd merely bought the company it was released on and then pretended that Edwin Starr had been theirs all along!) But, they had all been reissued (and, in the case of the first two, had been top ten hits in Britain) during this period. A period when Motown was getting its first sustained foothold in the British market. Before then it had been something of a niche label, a bit of a cult just like its main rival, Stax. (Terry Wilson's excellent book Tamla Motown: The Stories Behind The UK Singles gives far more background on the way in which the company's marketing and reissue programme in 1969 and 1970 brought significant inroads into markets where it had previously been something of bystander.)
There was also 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine', 'My Cherie Amour', 'Love Child', 'Behind A Painted Smile' and 'Roadrunner'. Gems, all of them. Even the relatively obscure 1968 Four Tops single 'I'm In A Different World' is a thing of extraordinary Holland-Dozier-and-Holland beauty. I cherished Motown Chartbusters Volume Three. Indeed, to such an extent that, I think, the next LP I saved up for some months later was another Motown Chartbusters compilation. (Number One, with its cartoon cover and 'The Happening' and 'I Was Made To Love Her' and 'Standing In The Shadows of Love' and 'What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted?' on it.) When I got a tape recorder for my birthday about a year later, I studiously took myself away into a quiet room with the dansette and ran a cassette copy of both LPs – one on each side of a C90 - so that I didn't have to play the records too much. I also made copies for a couple of friends ('Home taping is bad and naughty and is killing music, kids'). Then, I started to buy Tamla singles – 'Up The Ladder To The Roof', 'The Love You Take', 'Superstition', 'There's A Ghost In My House' - and, within a couple of years I'd moved from singles to What's Goin' On and Innervisions and Fulfillingness' First Finale. My love affair, which started with Motown Chartbusters Volume Three lasted through punk (Weller, Costello and Micky Jones were all confirmed fans so that made Motown acceptable even amid the quasi-Stalinist rejection of much of the past from those times), through indie (where every bass player reckoned he was James Jamerson) and beyond. Way beyond. It's still here today. It's the music that inspires me and makes me recall the happy times in my life. Like the day I bought Motown Chartbusters Volume Three and ran – literally ran, and I was a fat kid so that was a sight to see in and of itself – to the number Thirty Four bus stop on Westgate Road so I could get home to play it. I can't remember if the sun burst out all over the St Anthony's Estate on a gloomy December Saturday in 1971 when the needle hit the record and the rattlesnake burst of tambourine poured out of the dansette's speaker-grill, Marvin following its sinister entrance with his sly, knowing 'I'll bet you're wonderin' how I knew…' But, in my mind it did.
Yer actual Keith Telly Topping, dear blog reader, is forty nine. And he has survived pop, glam, prog, punk, post-punk, mod, ska, synth-pop, indie, post-indie, goth, shoegazing, soul, funk, jazz-fusion, house, reggae, rap, hip-hop, trip-hop, trance, Madchester, grunge, post-grunge, Britpop, dadrock, techno, hardcore, jungle, drum n' bass, handbag, garage, contemporary UK R&B, glam metal, thrash metal, death metal, black metal, nu metal, ragga, bhangra, two-step tanga and the English folk revival-revival. And then, sometime around 2007, he thought ... 'nah, sorry, that's me done. Can I have some milky cocoa and a pair of slippers now?'