BEEB's Greatest Hits

Launched by BBC Records And Tapes in 1974, the Beeb imprint was intended as a more focused and coherent outlet for some of the more commercially viable material from BBC shows, particularly session tracks from Radio 1 and Radio 2 broadcasts. It was hoped that the sub-label would be able to make better use of the talents of the more able and chart-savvy in-house composers and technical staff, but unfortunately, while this did result in some strong releases, they found themselves hampered by the parent label’s lack of experience and apparently interest in properly promoting their output. The singles released by Beeb enjoyed much greater success in Europe, where they were licensed to proper record labels and a series of successful ‘hits’ compilations followed, but none of them ever even came close to charting in the UK. While perhaps not as esoteric or evocative a collection of releases as the RESL series, the Beeb singles often had even more unusual and interesting stories behind them, and here are a couple of the most unusual and interesting.

BEEB001 Roll Over Beethoven/Say Mama/Be Bop A Lula - Gene Vincent (September 1974)

The Beeb series of singles began with this offering from veteran rock’n’roller Gene Vincent; in 1971, Vincent had been in the UK to promote his latest album The Day The World Turned Blue, and was determined to pursue his chances of a comeback with an energy quite at odds with his failing health. One of his final recordings was a strong session of rock’n’roll standards for Radio 1’s Johnny Walker Show – recorded only days before his death – from which this release was eventually drawn in response to public demand.

BEEB009 Duck'n'Roll/Sammy's Cha Cha - Sammy Duck (July 1975)

This unusual novelty single, featuring a pair of rock’n’roll numbers performed in an actionable approximation of Donald Duck’s voice, had been a sizeable hit in Europe earlier in 1975. Following airplay on a number of radio shows, notably Radio 1’s Junior Choice, it was licensed for UK release by Beeb, but perhaps deservedly failed to chart.

BEEB010 On The Move/Easy To Love You - The Dooleys (September 1975)

Broadcast on BBC1 on Sunday afternoons between 1975 and 1976 in a bid to promote adult literacy, the award-winning On The Move was a series of short comedy vignettes written by Barry Took and featuring Bob Hoskins as a delivery driver who had difficulty with reading and writing. Composed by prolific session musician Alan Hawkshaw, the catchy upbeat theme song was performed by The Dooleys, an unusually credible family rock band who, though virtually forgotten now, were top ten regulars in the late seventies. Despite its obscure origins, this remains one of the best loved BBC themes of all time, and in retrospect it is staggering that this was not a big a hit as the rest of The Dooleys’ output. On The Move was later included on REB236 Angels And 15 Other Original BBC-TV Themes.

BEEB019 Come Together/Dear Prudence – Graffiti (December 1976)

Graffiti were essentially a vehicle for up and coming singer-songwriter Phil Bates, and these two highly individual takes on Beatles numbers were released by Beeb in anticipation of a mooted BBC2 series in which the manufactured band would take part in a mixture of comedy, music and documentary segments, effectively a reworking of The Monkees for progressive rock fans. However, presumably due in no small part to this single’s lack of success, and more than likely to the emergence of several similar shows on the BBC, the planned series was ultimately shelved before production commenced.

BEEB021 Ten Years After/All Time Needletime Loser - Radio Active (September 1977)

Written and recorded by a band of BBC studio staff – including Radio 1 producers Malcolm Brown on guitar, BBC Records And Tapes' Mike Harding on keyboards, Paddy Kingsland of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop on bass, and Radio 1’s assistant controller Bryant Marriott on drums – this quirky pop-rock number was put together as a celebration of ten years of Radio 1 and released to tie in with the anniversary. Although the nominal a-side would ultimately attract little attention, the b-side proved far more popular; thrown together quickly and intended as a parody of punk rock, it amusingly ended up appealing to genuine fans of the movement, including John Peel who gave it a considerable amount of airtime on his Radio 1 show. Needless to say this single is now in high demand amongst those who grew up listening to Peel’s show.

BEEB026 New Wave Band/Theme From The Film Of The Same Name - Jock Swon And The Metres (November 1978)

In the Autumn of 1978, the BBC changed the frequencies of its four national radio stations in order to give them a greater national reach; while the more highbrow end of the audience were advised of this by a startling chorale from The King’s Singers (released by EMI as Some Enchanted Wavelengths), Radio 1 sought to announce the change with a topically punningly-entitled number pseudonymously provided by Glam Rock rock’n’roll revivalists Showaddywaddy with the ‘assistance’ of some of the station’s wackier DJs. It is not unreasonable to suggest that it might have left some listeners wanting to get the wrong frequency on purpose.

BEEB027 Blake's 7 Disco/Disco Jimmy – Federation (March 1979)

Terry Nation's much-loved 'space opera' has latterly acquired an unfair reputation as a poor relation of Doctor Who, although admittedly it was hardly helped by ridiculous ventures such as this; a weak attempt at producing a danceable version of the theme music in an equally weak attempt to cash in on the chart success of Mankind’s disco version of the Doctor Who theme. The unrelated b-side defies description. A measure of its ‘quality’ is that despite not being easy to find, the single is hardly sought after even by Blake’s 7’s intensely devoted fans.

Top of The Box - The Story Behind Every BBC Records And Tapes Single, which covers all of the Beeb releases and more, is available in paperback here, or from the Kindle Store here.