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Remembering The Chartbusters

Wednesday 13 February 2013, 14:05

Christopher Jones Christopher Jones Assistant Producer

As the series unfolds it becomes clear that often it’s the tangential journeys down memory lane that add to the experience of listening to the show. It seems only fitting that in the month that celebrates The Golden Age Of The Album that we take a short detour beyond the singles format and look at how albums also played a huge part in the cultural landscape of Britain.

You may have seen last Friday's TV show on BBC Four: When Albums Ruled The World and, like me, have been overwhelmed by the memory, not only of the music that was such a huge part of our lives, but also by the Proustian rush of seeing old album sleeves along with descriptions of taking those slices of vinyl out of their sleeves.   

During the show the story of Marvin Gaye’s classic album, What’s Going On showed how, until the early ‘70s, Tamla Motown label boss Berry Gordy’s insisted that the 45 rpm single was the medium to get the music of Detroit to the people. Received wisdom meant that rock was deemed the premier genre to be experienced via the album format.

And if you heard last week's episode which looked at the experience of young black people in '60s and '70s Britain, you'll have heard The Supremes' wonderful ‘Nathan Jones’ along with a contributor remembering how a night down the roller rink involved every kind of music the including reggae and soul but definitely ‘no rock’. So how does this tie up with a celebration of the album?

Well, straight afterwards we heard how the legendary Motown Chartbusters album series allowed school kids to experience soul by taping their friends’ copies.  These compilation albums collected together for the first time the hundreds of hits enjoyed by the label.

Volume 3 with its 'hologram' cover was mentioned and, as the lady says in the show, it was the first compilation album to ever reach the top of the UK album charts (in 1969), which shows how massively important these albums were in the UK at the time. The following two volumes also topped the charts, and Volume 6 is the one with ‘Nathan Jones’ on it (there were 12 volumes in total).

And, because we like a nice circular blog post, you may be interested to know (or be reminded) that the cover of Volume 6 was designed by none other than Roger Dean. This is the man who is interviewed during When Albums Ruled The World and whose fantastical paintings usually graced the covers of progressive rock bands like Yes and Asia. Admittedly the strange spaceship/insect on the cover seems a long way from the urban grit of Detroit’s soul factory, but it's a canny demonstration of how albums played a huge part in the musical history of modern Britain.

It'll be a while before this series comes to look more closely at the very English genre of progressive rock (not until episode 46 in November). More in keeping with the Tamla sound is tonight's show featuring the late great Amy Winehouse. Stuart will be looking at the dark side of celebrity culture that blights the path to stardom in the 21st century.

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Stuart Maconie looks ahead to episode 7 of The People's Songs, 'The Price of Modern Fame'.

I hope you can join us tonight at 10pm.



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Featuring memories contributed by Radio 2 listeners, Stuart Maconie narrates the story of post-war Britain via 50 records that soundtracked this dramatic and kaleidoscopic period.

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