TV Tuesday S01E12: TOP GEAR [BBC]

Possibly the most quintessential Brit-centric man cave show, Top Gear has built a cottage industry out of man's love for motorized vehicles by selling clothing, videos, books and magazines.  The show began in 1977 as typical motoring magazine show with straight-forward road tests and other automobile related topics.  As producers came and went, the presenters were shuffled and eventually the show found it's voice as a harshly critical yet humorously controversial and often politically-incorrect look at every facet of the vehicular lifestyle.

After peaking in 2000, the show experienced a rapid decline in viewers and was cancelled in 2001 then surprisingly revamped and relaunched in 2002.  Top Gear has since gone on to become a global phenomenon as the world's most widely-watched factual based television program seen in over 200 territories while spawning country-specific shows in several of those territories. The 20th series of Top Gear began airing in the Summer of 2013 - that's twenty series not seasons, with each series running from 6-11 episodes and two series airing almost every year.

HERC's favorite elements of the show are: the enigma that is The Stig (HERC imagines him as a shadowy Racer-X figure) driving his Power Laps, the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car segment which features celebrities of all sorts driving a no-frills, economical car as fast as they can around the test track and the music.

Since the show's inception more than a quarter-century ago, the opening theme has been The Allman Brothers Band's "Jessica" which was fairly contemporary at the time, having "just" been released in 1973.  The closing theme for most of the original run of the series was Elton John's instrumental "Out Of The Blue" from his 1976 album, Blue Moves.

In 1994, a marketing exec in cubicle exile, probably dressed in his finest Stig attire, hatched a brilliant plan to produce a Top Gear-branded driving music compilation.  The resulting double-disc collection was well-received and paved the way for more than a dozen such collections with the most recent one released in 2010.

That first album was simply titled Top Gear (although it is usually listed as Top Gear: Rock on most sites and discographies) and featured a selection of 36 mostly recognizable songs from the Sixties up through the Eighties including the show's theme, "Jessica".

The second compilation, Top Gear 2, not-so-quickly followed the first almost a year later.  It also features 36 tracks although a few songs from the Nineties were added into the mix.  Whereas Peter Frampton had two tracks on the first comp, this time around that honor goes to Cher.

Shortly after the release of the Top Gear 2 album, a series of four classical music CDs was released under the Top Gear Classics banner with tracks selected by one of the show's hosts, Jeremy Clarkson.  The four single disc titles are:
  • Turbo
  • Baroque Busters
  • Open Top Opera
  • Motoring Moods
Also in 1995, Clarkson lent his visage and name to a comedy album under the Top Gear banner: Jeremy Clarkson presents 35 High Octane Comedy Hits.  All five of these albums are out of print and fetch top dollar on the collectors market.

In February 1996, Top Gear 3 was released and the pop/rock series was back on track.  The previous two volumes are subtitled 36 Classic Driving Tracks while this third one is subtitled Rock Ballads.  Packing 38 tracks, this album features the most British leaning lineup of artists and songs yet in the series.

Later in 1996, Top Gear: On The Road Again skidded onto retailers shelves with an all-star lineup of Seventies, Eighties and Nineties artists and the subtitle 36 Classic Rock Tracks.

Another two years passed before Top Gear Anthems rolled out of the garage.  Among the 38 tracks were several that already appeared on the previous four Top Gear collections.  Iggy Pop takes the double-clutch honors with his songs "The Passenger" and "Lust For Life".

Half a decade after Anthems, Top Gear - both the TV series and the CD series - were resurrected.  Top Gear: The Greatest Driving Album This Year! sprinted off the line in November 2003 with 39 songs beneath the hood or bonnet, depending which side of the road one drives on.

It would be another two years before Top Gear: The Ultimate Driving Experience was unveiled in 2005.
Like the previous model, this one comes equipped with 39 tracks and two artists are featured with two tracks apiece: The Charlatans UK and The Killers.

Eighteen months would pass before orders would be filled on Top Gear Anthems: The Greatest Ever Driving Songs.  As the title hints at, this collection is mostly made up of songs previously featured in the series and if you're on a budget, this is the safe and economical choice for you.

Later in 2007, Top Gear: Seriously Cool Driving Music came roaring out of pit row with the contemporary rock and pop on CD1 labeled "Cool" and the classic rock tracks on CD2 labeled "Sub Zero".  (Both terms are references to the show's "Cool Board" where cars are rated.)  Given his druthers, HERC likes to shuffle the new with the old rather than segregate them.  The second disc does feature a lot of encore appearances from prior entries yet HERC still rates it as one of the best discs in the series but, although it's a mighty fine tune, why is "Bohemian Like You" on the classic rock disc?

Six months later in the Summer of 2008, Top Gear: Anthems 2008 - Seriously Hot Driving Music began rolling off the compilation assembly line and into showrooms, more or less following the similar divide that had begun with the previous album.  Once again, some songs are brought in for another go 'round.

Following the quickest lap time between albums, Top Gear: Sub Zero Driving Anthems took to the streets in November 2008.  The formula has not been tampered with this time out as there are some returning favorites as well as an attempt to divide the tracks chronologically.  Some copies of the album came with a three track bonus disc.

Then another year passed before the next album came out in the Fall of 2009.  Top Gear: Seriously Rock & Roll! is probably HERC's favorite album in the series, with an interesting mix of newish and older tracks spanning five decades.  The album kicks off with "Teenage Wasteland" "Baba O'Riley" from The Who and closes out with an Eddie & the Hot Rods track, which unfortunately isn't on Spotify yet.

Like clockwork, the (thus far) final entry in the series, Top Gear: Full Throttle, appeared in the Fall of 2010 fully upholstered with 38 tracks.  One of HERC's favorite bands, The Stereophonics, gets the 2fer track privilege on this model, albeit with two of their weaker tracks.

Let HERC know what your favorite driving music compilation or playlist is in the Comments below.  The Hideaway's Annual Driving/Road Trip Music Week is fast approaching so keep your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel and the pedal to the metal.  And turn up the music!

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