For me, Pickwick were the saintly equivalent of a dealer who stands outside a school - and both must have had a similar mantra... Get 'em early with a few cheap purchases, then once they are hooked, they'll be paying top dollar for the hard stuff! So 2 or 3 years later, when the interest in the kiddie singles was waning, I moved into phase two of the Pickwick range, the Top of the Pops 'sound-a-like' albums. An obligatory item for every charity shop and boot sale these days, but the number still floating around shows just how popular these albums once were. Between 1968 and 1979, Pickwick released a TOTPs albums every six weeks (91 volumes in total), each containing 12 'sound-a-like' versions of the very latest chart hits. Astonishingly, each album was recorded in less than 4 days, and it is common knowledge that a number of future stars appeared on them (Elton John, Rod Stewart etc).
It's weird to believe now, but in the early 70's there was no such thing as the chart 'compilation album'. It was buy the 7" singles or nothing. My pocket money didn't stretch to many 7" singles, so 12 hits on an album for less than a quid was a 'must have' bargain! The fact it wasn't the original artist didn't seem to matter much then (we were simple folk in simple times!). And what a great leveller they were too - they were the i-Pod shuffle of the 70's, where the (fake) Sex Pistols were followed by the Bee Gees, The Goodies, Clive Dunn, Blondie and Demis Roussos! With almost certainly the same musicians appearing on each track!
There is some real muse-o snobbery around these albums - no doubt from people who slam them as inferior, then happily attend a 'tribute act' concert, or sit down to enjoy Stars in Their Eyes on the box! They are seen as absolute tat these days, yet they once sold by the shedload (300,000 a piece at their peak) - in fact in the early years, the album charts used to be full of these LPs, until the 'proper' record companies complained, and had the chart rules changed, so the TOTP albums could no longer qualify. The legit labels weren’t the only ones to have their nose put out of joint by these albums, the BBC were miffed at the use of the title 'Top of the Pops' - however this was completely their own fault, as the Beeb had neglected to register the name. Sharp work by the Pickwick legal department! The Beeb were no doubt less than pleased with the design of the covers too, as each contained a model who looked like she'd just stepped out of Pans People. Sales started to dwindle in the late 70's (mainly due to companies like K-Tel and Ronco starting to release compilations featuring the real artists) and in 1979 they stopped making them. They did try to revive the idea in the mid 80's, but unsurprisingly, they didn't sell.
Like a kindly old gent who nurtures sick animals and releases them back to the wild, Mr Pickwick finally set me free into the big world of record collecting around 1980, by which time I had been well and truly bitten by the bug. My Vinyl must have been 80% Pickwick and Hallmark at that point (and I still have them all today!), but I'd already decided that record collecting was the greatest hobby in the world (I still do!).