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REVIEW – Rocktopia
REVIEW – Record Collector
Despite its disposable appearance, glam rock has survived and thrived for four decades, and is now viewed as one the best loved and most productive periods for pop music. From the UK, its influence spread and fused with ideas blossoming in Europe and the U.S., spawning artists such as Alice Cooper and Kiss. This book chronicles every band and artist who made a significant impression on the art form, both in its heyday and during its conception and later years. Detailing their output and recording significant events and contributions, it provides a wealth of information on numerous much-loved acts, such as T. Rex, Wizzard, Slade, Bay City Rollers, Mud, Sweet, David Essex, Suzy Quatro, Mott The Hoople, Sparks, Kenny, Spiders from Mars, Alvin Stardust, and hundreds more, ranging from household names to lesser known acts.
ABOUT THIS BOOK
Well, not everything, that’s for certain. Nobody has, because nobody could, ever catalogue every Glam record released in the UK between 1970 and 1975, simply because nobody can ever agree on what a Glam record is. Websites such as Robin Wills’ redoubtable http://purepop1.uk/blogspot, and the leviathan http://www.45cat.com both serve up startling overviews of the sheer wealth of material being thrown into the marketplace during this period, and it is for readers and collectors alone to decide what is and isn’t Glam.
Or bubblegum, or pub rock, or belated psych-pop, or proto-punk, or any of the myriad other genres that we now declare were burgeoning then. And which will also have slipped into these pages.
I certainly make no distinction between what might be called “High” Glam (Bowie, Cockney Rebel, the Doctors of Madness, Be Bop Deluxe etc) and “Low” Glam (Slade, Chinnichap, the Glitters etc… with Marc Bolan walking the thin line between the two). Rather, I agree with Virginia Scott, Mellotron Queen of Beggar’s Opera (yes, they’re in here too) when she told me, “Glam Rock was fashion. I am not so sure that what is now called glam was any different from a lot of the Progressive Rock at the time, except that the songs were shorter/more accessible and ultimately more banal and dadaistic.”
It is, she reminds us, simply “a question of stylistic tectonics (whose plates were noisily siding into punk).”
Instead, The A-Z of Glam Rock attempts to delineate the widest boundaries within which Glam could be found, both musically, visually and, for readers of a certain age, culturally. Several of the groups and many of the records referenced here really can’t be described as “true” Glam Rock. Some of the artists themselves would furiously deny any association whatsoever with the genre.
But they are guilty by association, chronologically caged within a genre that may not have been of their own making, but which allowed them to make something of themselves all the same.
The layout of the book is simple. It can be used as the straightforward A-Z which its title alludes to, in which case you go to the index at the front of the book, find the band you wish to look up, and then follow the month-by-month references from there.
It can be left in the bathroom, to be randomly dipped in and out of, as and when nature calls.
Or, and this would be my preference, you could start at the beginning, read through to the end, and emerge with an understanding of the era not as a piece of ancient pop history, littered with theories, condemnations and thoughts; not as an encyclopaedia in which every band has its own nice, neat entry; but as it actually unfurled, with bands reacting to one another’s releases, with flops and follow-ups falling into place in the context of the other acts they were all competing against.
Read it like that, and it’s one helluva story,
At the end of each month, additional listings are compiled under the titles On The Radio, On The Box and On The Shelves. The first notes “live” radio sessions recorded by the bands in the book for and broadcast by the BBC; the second notes their television appearances broadcast during that month; and the third is concerned with other record releases of interest. These listings are not inclusive or complete; other artists played sessions, other artists appeared on the listed shows, and other artists released records. But they weren’t Glam.
Another point to bear in mind is, this book is only concerned with British Glam, in Britain. There was a wealth of bands springing up on the continent and beyond, usually in response to the UK example, and another entire book could be devoted to their activities and histories. Likewise the United States, where Glam scenes flourished in both the New York and Los Angeles undergrounds, and burbled elsewhere, too.
Of course, these restrictions are abandoned when it suits me, but that in turn requires the band in question to have made some sort of impact on British shores – Jobriath being advertised on the back of a London bus; the New York Dolls on the Old Grey Whistle Test; Arrows’ Alan Merrill trailing Japanese stardom; and so on.
For the most part, though, I refer you back to that immortal Times headline from 1909 (or so). “Fog in channel, continent cut off.”
Anyway, I hope that you have as much fun reading this book as I did writing it and, maybe, if we all wish real hard, the last almost-forty years will roll back right now, and we can all relive it as well.
Are you ready, Steve?
January 1974 – the Sweet: Teenage Rampage/Own Up, Take A Look At Yourself (RCA LPB0 5004)
Rooting around for the next Sweet single, Chinnichap came up with “Moonlight In Baskerville,” a rocking little number that appeared, on first hearing, to offer up plentiful possibilities for clothing and imagery.
But rehearsing the number saw its musical charms fade quickly, and the visual angle lost its appeal as well, once it became apparent that the entire idea was predicated on the success, that same season, of a reissue of the old 1960s’ novelty shocker “Monster Mash.”
“Mike wanted us to go from glam rock to horror rock,” Tucker recalled. “And my attitude was, ‘well I don’t know. I think we should move on but….’ I mean, I didn’t wanna stand still because, you know, never be afraid of anything new, so to say, but I wasn’t sure whether that was the way to go. Thinking about it now… we [could] had made something of that. It would have been a hit record. But when I heard the chorus, I said to Mike Chapman, ‘it sounds like a Mud song’.”
“Moonlight In Baskerville” was abandoned, “and two days later,” Connolly laughed, “Mike walked in with ‘Teenage Rampage’ and said ‘here you go, it’s the Nuremberg Rally’.”
“Right, we’ll have it,” Scott replied.
A raucous call to arms, with liver-than-live applause pouring through it, “Teenage Rampage” was utterly primal, purposeless, violent, a demand for rebellion for rebellion’s sake. Which is what rock’n’roll is all about.
But why was it released in the same week as a new Mud 45?
January 1974 – Mud: Tiger Feet/Mr Bagatelle (RAK 166)
Mud’s best-loved hit was a riot of excitement. Their best-remembered record was a broiling ball of energy. The finest three minutes was the peak of idiot dancing.
“Tiger Feet” was all of these things, and that still doesn’t begin to sum up its magnificence. But it set the whole country frantically bopping round their living rooms to the most explosive chorus of the age, and four years later, Gordon The Moron would still be doing the dance to Jilted John’s eponymous lament.
On Top Of The Pops, it was Mud’s road crew and friends who clenched flying fists at the ends of outstretched arms, and they probably incited more dance floor casualties than any other routine on earth. “This song is like my pension!” singer Les Gray recalled years later, but then he confessed that the first time he heard it, he wasn’t even sure that it would be a hit. And even after he was convinced, “we never realised it would be quite so huge.”
“It is the defining sound of Mud,” Rob Stiles agrees. “People who weren’t even born at that time love that record, and when it gets played people still get up and do that Mud dance. And I listen to it today, and think it’s a bloody good record.
“But we weren’t too keen on it at the time. Mike gave us that, and we played it to a few people and they were ‘ooh, they could give you something better than that to record’.”
Their reticence communicated itself to the recording session. “Mike got the vibe that we weren’t that knocked out with it. It seemed a bit silly to us, and it wasn’t happening. We got a track down, but it just wasn’t sitting right.
“Now, when Mike gave you a demo, he always wanted the recording to sound just like the demo. But this time, he got the hump with us, and said ‘oh bloody hell, just do it your own way. So Dave suggested we use a fuzz bass, and it started to become a bit more lively, and then we started adding more and more, growing into it in the studio.”
Mike Chapman agreed that it was the band’s input was vital to the song’s success. “One of the most interesting parts of it is a lick that was played on the bass, which Ray Stiles came up with.” And, by the time the session was finished, “it was one of those records that you knew was going to be a Number One as soon as you listened to it.”
And if you still weren’t convinced, wait until they got it onto Top Of The Pops.
“My favourite memory of that whole period,” Stiles says, was… “we were in rehearsals over at Ealing for a tour, and we left home about 9 o’clock in the morning; our tour manager picked us up in the car, and the charts were up that morning. But we got caught in traffic, and by the time we got to this huge cinema in Ealing, they’d already been published. So we walked in, and before we could even ask how we’d done, our managers were there, and they were screaming that we were number one.”
“Tiger Feet” became the third Number One single of the new year, and January wasn’t even over yet. Slade had clung on for two more weeks; the New Seekers squeaked them out of the way for seven days, and then “Tiger Feet,” which entered the chart at number 10, bounded up to devour them all.
The Sweet’s “Teenage Rampage,” on the other hand, may have entered higher, but it stopped shorter… for two weeks at the end of January, beginning of February, Chinnichap occupied the top two spots on the chart and when somebody asked Brian Connolly what he thought about it, his response would have been funny if it hadn’t been intended so seriously. Or maybe it was funny regardless.
“The day that Mud sell four million of anything, then we’ll be impressed. In this business, he who has the last laugh, laughs longest. Mud have been dead lucky so far. But one hit single isn’t the point. We’re second with ‘Teenage Rampage’, but we’re not only second, we’re second! You mark my words. Mud will be well pleased if their next single makes second place.”
In fact, it would.
Connolly raged on. “Mud are quite nice looking lads, all of ‘em, but you’d never remember them, would you? I know I’m not the most beautiful man on earth, but when the kids see me on the box, they recognise me straight away. The same goes for Steve, Andy and Mick. One thing that makes us more visually striking than other groups is the colour of our hair. They don’t even have to know my name. They can just talk about the blonde one. Then there’s Steve’s red mop and Mick’s ebony tresses. But Mud, they all look the same. I can’t tell ‘em apart.”
Steve Priest looked back and admitted, “The only rivalry we had with Mud was the fact that Chinn and Chapman were being greedy, and they wanted one Number One after the other, and we being their first band thought that we should be higher on the food chain. But all of a sudden, we ended up with number twos and everyone else ended up with Number Ones, and that’s all down to timing. I’m not saying they didn’t deserve it, it’s just that you get remembered in history for having a Number One, not a number two.”
That’s right, that’s right, that’s right, that’s right….
January 1974 – the Rubettes: Sugar Baby Love/You Could Have Told Me (Polydor 2058442)
Wayne Bickerton, the head of A&R at Polydor, and Tony Waddington had written a song that nobody wanted. It was originally penned for a rock’n’roll musical that they were working on, alongside a number that singer Pearly Gates had already cut, “Johnny and the Jukebox” (Polydor 2058 443), and the duo knew that “Sugar Baby Love” had hit potential.
But having offered it around to all the usual suspects, they found they were the only people who did.
“Sugar Baby Love” was rejected by the team responsible for selecting Britain’s Eurovision Song Contest entrants.
It was turned away by Showaddywaddy, the Leicester rock’n’roll band that had just won TV’s New Faces talent contest.
It was even handed back to them by Carl Wayne, the man who sang the New Faces theme tune.
So they decided to record it themselves.
They returned to two of the musicians who played on the original demo, vocalist Alan Williams and drummer John Richardson, and asked them to recruit a band. Referring back to sessions they had recently completed with Barry Blue, the pair recruited Pete Arnesen and “Do You Wanna Dance” backing singer Bill Hurd (keyboards), plus vocalist Paul DaVinci, guitarist Tony Thorpe and one-time Tremoloes bassist Mick Clarke.
“We were all experienced musicians,” recalls Hurd, “and some of us were good friends who had worked together on sessions for various other artists together and individually. Some of us had also been in previous bands together at some time in our lives.”
Recorded in October 1973, the song continued to lie around for another couple of months, while Bickerton arranged its release on Polydor. He already had a name for the band, the Rubettes, and by December, the bulk of the musicians – DaVinci alone ducked out – had decided to stick together, at least until the single had done its business.
The Rubettes’ first photo session, in December, crystallised the band’s image.
Hurd: “Wayne and Tony had chosen the name, basing it on the song’s rock’n’roll/doo wop influence, a play on Diamonds/Ruby’s/Ronettes etc. It made sense to follow the theme through, and the first publicity photographs taken as the Rubettes leaned heavily towards Sha Na Na rocker style dress.”
That scheme was stymied as the first photographs of Showaddywaddy began to appear in the media, and with Bell’s publicity machine already gearing up around that band’s debut single, a quick rethink was required.
“We decided to go completely different, with tailored suits etc,” Hurd continues. “Also at this time, Wayne said he had seen Gene Vincent with his band the Bluecaps, and that idea prompted us to wear the caps.”
An image was in place, the record was in the shops, and the media response was good. Unfortunately, no-one was buying the record, while the bulk of the band (Hurd, Williams, Richardson and Clarke) were in any case preoccupied, preparing to tour the UK as Barry Blue’s backing band.
After all that work, it still seemed as though they were the only people who believed they’d written a hit.