Blog: The “Sound-alike” Record Industry

Sound alike record covers
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The record output of the sixties and seventies was peppered with what we may call sound-alike albums, i.e. records made up entirely of remakes of the top hits of the day. These albums aren’t to be confused with interpretive cover versions that add a new twist to songs or present them in new and different ways like Joe Cocker’s “With A Little Help From My Friends”, or Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”. The ones we are talking about here were aimed to be as precise a copy as possible to the original in an effort to make the listener feel they were getting two sides of hits for not much more than the price of a couple of singles.

By far the most well-known of these efforts, and the longest running and most successful, was the “Top of the Pops” series of albums which ran from 1968 to 1985. In total 92 volumes were released in addition to a few “Best Of” albums. The title was of course shared with the famous BBC weekly hits show but the BBC hadn’t trademarked or copyrighted the TV show’s name which opened the door to Hallmark Records’ exploitation of the brand leading to the buying public’s assuming it was a tie-in.

Top of the Pops Vol. 3 Hallmark
Top of the Pops Vol. 3 (1969)
Top of the Pops Vol. 18 - front cover
Top of the Pops Vol. 18 (1971)
Top of the Pops Vol. 81 (1980)
Top of the Pops Best of '79
Top of the Pops Best of ’79

Several of the Top of the Pops albums made the top spot in the charts of the day and sold in healthy numbers. What’s not known is how often they were then played after first listens. People – alright, mostly men – of a certain age will remember seeing these LPs in their local record shop (remember record shops?) and in a state of blissful ignorance believed that they contained the actual recordings listed on their front covers. The addition of a pretty girl on the cover seemed to make them a compelling purchase if only they could be afforded out of the weekly pocket money. When the knowledge eventually arrived that these were replications of the songs it came as a crushing disappointment. By the eighties their star had faded and with the arrival of the “Now That’s What I Call Music” series in 1983 – which contained the actual recordings and not cover versions – the Top of the Pops factory ground to a halt.

The answer is “yes, I’m afraid I can”

The Top of the Pops series, though the most successful, was by no means the only budget compilation player. Many other rivals also followed a similar format with similar covers. Notable competitors included 12 Tops, 10 Hits, Hot Hits, Chartoppers, Super Hits and many more. All of them sported record covers that featured a woman in some state of sartorial skimpiness as though acknowledging that without them the record itself stood little chance of being noticed let alone bought.

Hot Hits (Volume 1) - front cover
Hot Hits (Volume 1)
10 Hits - front cover
10Hits
Pop Express Band - Super Hits - front cover
Pop Express Band – Super Hits
Chartoppers
Chartoppers

A second strand to this genre is the “tribute” type of record. This sub-genre focused on individual artists whose greatest hits were re-recorded by session singers and musicians to sound as near to the originals as possible. They were notable for displaying the artist’s name in BIG LETTERS while in much smaller lettering giving you the less welcome news that these tracks are all cover versions. We have several of these record covers and along with the “tribute” moniker look out also for “sounds like”.

The Vale Orchestra with Singers and Chorus - A Tribute to Andy Williams - front cover

Sounds Like James Last - front cover

Danny Street - Million Copy Sellers Made Famous By Tom Jones - front cover

Tribute to Elvis - front cover

 

The Coverheaven archive of these record covers is growing all the time. If you’re fascinated by these relics that now seem anachronistic but still retain a certain charm then check back frequently to see new covers from all the different series.

If you’d like to learn more about this genre, and in particular about the chart-based releases, check out this excellent site that details their releases with enthusiastic precision.

 

Coverheaven Blog

 

2 thoughts on “Blog: The “Sound-alike” Record Industry

  1. That’s very interesting and reminded me of another record label of 1950s and 60s called Embassy which was issued by Woolworth’s; yes FW!
    Embassy’s artists were session singers and musicians and they would record hits of the day, almost exactly as the British hit parade versions – The Charts. A lot of the artists would go on to greater things; these records cost a fraction of the discs in the Hit Parade and are now quite valuable.
    Most of the hits, of the day, were written by Americans; some of them had been in the American Billboard charts sung by American singers and others were cover versions which were songs poached by British A&R men who recorded them with British singers like Craig Douglas who covered everything the great Gene McDaniels recorded. Frankie Vaughan also recorded Gene McDaniels’ songs such as The Green Door and Tower of Strength. So poor Gene didn’t get a hit here as he’d been elbowed out.
    One cover version was of a song recorded by Bobby Helms called Schoolboy Crush and was recorded by Cliff Richard. When it came to recording a B side Cliff recorded Move It which was written by Ian Samwell. Norrie Paramore, who was the big cheese, musically, behind Cliff Richard wanted Schoolboy Crush to be the ‘A’ side but it wasn’t to be.
    Move It became Britain’s first rock’n’roll hit.

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