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LOST IN THE GROOVES: ELEVATOR by THE (Bay City) ROLLERS

We’ve spoken of the 2005 book Lost In The Groovesthe self-described “capricious guide to the music you missed” which contained two entries written by me, covering Subterranean Jungle by The Ramones and Tell America by Fools Face.  I also submitted a short piece on Elevator, a 1979 album by The Rollers, the act formerly known as The Bay City RollersLost In The Grooves editors Kim Cooper and David Smay took a pass on that one. I can’t find my original manuscript so I wrote a new one for you:

THE ROLLERS
Elevator (Arista, 1979)

By 1979, The Bay City Rollers were clearly on the ropes. The hits had stopped, and the group’s fan base of screaming young girls had chosen not to grow older with their formerly-cherished tartan-clad heartthrobs. A Saturday morning TV series had not kindled a new audience; on the contrary, it was a tacit surrender, an admission that The Bay City Rollers’ S! A! T-U-R! D-A-Y! night had ended. As even the TV show faded to black, lead singer Les McKeown couldn’t split fast enough.

But the remaining members of the group–Eric FaulknerStuart “Woody” Wood, and brothers Alan and Derek Longmuir–remained together, determined to become the solid, successful rock ‘n’ roll group they felt they could be. They recruited a new lead singer, Duncan Faure, previously of a South African group called Rabbitt, and attempted to distance themselves from uncool, unfashionable teen idolatry, ditching the tartan togs and shortening their name to just The Rollers. And so The Rollers sought fame fortune anew, with an album called Elevator.

Elevator was neither new wave rock ‘n’ roll nor FM rock fare, but it was a splendid work that could have been appreciated by fans of The Babys or The Records. Faure’s vocals were identifiably influenced by John Lennon, lending a palpably Beatley sheen and edge to a confident collection of rockin’ pop tunes. The Bay City Rollers had been an underrated pop group, capable of creating a few unforgettable power pop tracks amidst the prerequisite morass of balladry and goop expected of lads gracing the covers of teen magazines. But Elevator was the group’s most consistent and listenable album to date. Sure, the drug references were winkingly and obnoxiously self-conscious–C’mon, an LP cover depicting a giant red pill in an elevator going up? Really?–but the songs and performances were first-rate. The single, “Turn On Your Radio,” was catchy and engaging, and it combined with terrific album tracks like “Playing In A Rock And Roll Band,” “I Was Eleven,” and “Who’ll Be My Keeper” to convey a compelling tale of the yin and yang of the good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll road show. The title song rocked, and the aforementioned “Who’ll Be My Keeper” was one of the best tracks of the year. Seriously!

And yeah, Elevator was stuck in the basement level from the get-go. There were some attempts to promote it; Trouser Press ran an article on this supposedly more mature edition of The Rollers, and the group appeared on The Mike Douglas Show hyping its new direction. But honestly, The Rollers could have released a record that cured cancer, fed the hungry, and reunited The Beatles, and none of it would have made any difference; in 1979, the public was done with The Rollers–with or without a “Bay City” prefix–and that was that.

This line-up of The Rollers released two more albums–an Arista contract-breaker called Voxx (one of the best odds-n-sods contract-breakers I ever did hear) and an album called Ricochet–that are well worth seeking out and enjoying; neither has ever been issued in the U.S. Later on, there was a terrible synth record called Breakout; in between Voxx and Ricochet, there was a cassette-only release called Burning Rubber, which I’ve neither seen nor heard (though the Rollers film for which it serves as soundtrack is on YouTube, I think). The Rollers’ career ended in obscurity. ElevatorVoxx, and Ricochet deserved a better fate.

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