Over the past several years, Nick Frater has assembled a gaggle of albums, EPs and singles that have collected gushing reviews from all those who have had the pleasure of experiencing these endeavors. Based in Croydon, England, the multi-diversified musician has always professed a penchant for seventies pop rock, but here on his latest album, Earworms, his love for the sounds of the decade is ramped up in full force. Although such influences are boldly expressed, Nick’s sharp-edged songwriting, combined with his industrious arranging and production techniques sit at the head of the class, preventing the material from coming off as mere mimicry.
One of the first things that attracts listeners to a song is the singing. And Nick’s butter-melting vocals, which are squarely schooled in Beatlism, extending to the mannerisms of The Raspberries, Electric Light Orchestra, 10cc, Gerry Rafferty and Elvis Costello, certainly do give the songs on Earworms instant appeal. You couldn’t ask for a better frontman than Nick, who delivers these perfectly-tuned compositions with clarity and strength.
A great choice as the opening number, It’s All Rumours, is a power pop marvel from the get-go. Ignited by slapping drums and stabbing riffs bleeding with distortion, the song is further engraved with twisty breaks and a fluttery falsetto. Jaunty piano chords jumpstart Lucky Strike, which transforms into a catchy vaudeville groove, while the rolling rhythms and punchy hooks of What’s With Your Heavy Heart? also features bluesy licks straight from the George Harrison playbook.
A dreamy piano-driven ballad iced with a lightly-battered jazz flavor, Star-Crossed would have fit nicely on a Walter Egan album, where the absolutely infectious Buggin’ Out, beams brightly with twinkling guitars, spunky melodies and merry doo-wop harmonies.
In typical seventies fashion, Earworms concludes to a grand and majestic climax. Patterned after a glitzy Queen inspired presentation, How To Survive Somebody swells and soars to a chorus of melodramatic vocals, sweeping keyboards and thundering chords.
In a parallel dimension, the songs on Earworm would be parked neck to neck on the AM dial with chart-toppers by Elton John, Paul McCartney and Wings, The Bay City Rollers, The Eagles and the Captain and Tennille. But good music is good music no matter what era it reflects, so there is no reason why Earworms can’t be enjoyed now, and reward Nick Frater with the widespread success – both artistically and commercially – he so clearly commands.
My thoughts drifted back recently to the worst interview I ever did. I’m not talking about job interviews–I’ve had several less-than-stellar results there–but interviews I conducted for my freelance writing work. The car-wreck status of this particular interview was entirely my fault, and the interviewee bore zero percent responsibility for the ways in which the discussion went south. Frankly, I just wasn’t prepared; it was supposed to be color commentary for something I was writing, it was a subject with which I had some familiarity, so I figured we’d wing it, just chat off the cuff. Big mistake. Without background information, without the wealth of reference material I usually gathered at my fingertips to scan during interviews, without any prepared potential questions to ask, the conversation floundered and failed. It was not my finest hour. My interviewee was game and accommodating, but I’m sure after our fruitless session concluded, an under-the-breath muttering of Well, this Carl guy’s an idiot would not have been inappropriate. A simple and stupid miscalculation on my part, but it still bugs me, decades later, even though I’m the only one who remembers it.
Because I was usually better than that. A lot better than that. I won’t say I was ever a terrific interviewer, but I was more than adequate, and occasionally pretty good at it. More than one interview subject–both Joan Jett and Ben Vaughn spring to mind–complimented my preparedness, and most seemed pleased with the experience and the result.
Most of my interviews were conducted on behalf of Goldmine, though I did a few for The Syracuse New Times and one each for DISCoveries and Yeah Yeah Yeah. I can’t remember the identity of my first interview subjects; might have been Tom Prendergast and Glenn Morrow of Bar/None Records, which I profiled for a Goldmine record label spotlight in the early ’90s. Although I began freelancing for Goldmine in 1986, and began writing GM feature articles in ’87 (commencing with a retrospective of The Bay City Rollers), my features were research pieces, compiled from previously-published resources and tied together with my attempts at overview and analysis. This was also true of my subsequent features on KISS, The Monkees, The Ugly Ducklings, Toni Basil, Barry Mann, and–Lord help me–Stars On 45, though I recall interviewing a KISS fan or two to gather background info. I interviewed Cyril Jordan in 1992 for a long history of The Flamin’ Groovies, and he was probably my first musician interview.
So I did a few more: Joan Jett, Ben Vaughn, The Ramones, Ron Dante, Joey Levine, Greg Kihn, Gary Frenay and Paul Armstrong of The Flashcubes (for The Syracuse New Times, for whom I also interviewed a few other local musicians, some local radio movers und shakers, even some preschool educators for an ultimately unfinished report on alternative education), Lou Whitney of The Skeletons, Mark Lindsay, Lenny Kaye, Dick Dodd, Barry Tashian, bubblegum producers Kasenetz and Katz, Ray Paul, bubblegum expert/aficionado Bill Pitzonka, writer Mark Evanier, Greg Spencer of Blue Wave Records, and possibly some others I don’t recall in the moment.
But I grew tired of doing phone interviews; transcribing such things is thankless drudgery, so I decided to discontinue doing them. Most of the interviews for my history of power pop were conducted via email (although those actually predate my Nuggets and bubblegum telephone interviews). Even if I were to ever take on another freelance assignment, I’m unlikely to do any further telephone interviews. It’s just not worth it to me.
Dana and I have done a few interviews on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, though technical complications at our nearly-Flintstones-level studio basically preclude the viability of phone interviews. Such kerfrazzles swallowed our attempted on-air interview with The Charms‘ lead singer Ellie Vee, who gamely soldiered on through a chat where listeners could hear me but couldn’t pick up anything she said (forcing me to repeat all of her responses for the audience: Ellie says she’s happy to be here on TIRnRR!). It was not a situation designed to inspire confidence in performer or audience.
I really wasn’t a bad interviewer. Other than that one jarring incident of trying to tackle an interview without sufficient prep, I’ve been able to come up with the questions the interview required. In-person interviews are a true rarity, but I’ve done all right when guests have appeared in-studio on TIRnRR. But that one bad interview? It was decades ago, yet I know it’s always going to bother me. I try to hold myself to at least a tiny bit higher standard than that one.
You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! Our new compilation CD This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4 is now available from Kool Kat Musik! 29 tracks of irresistible rockin’ pop, starring Pop Co-Op, Ray Paul, Circe Link & Christian Nesmith, Vegas With Randolph Featuring Lannie Flowers, The Slapbacks, P. Hux, Irene Peña, Michael Oliver & the Sacred Band Featuring Dave Merritt, The Rubinoos, Stepford Knives, The Grip Weeds, Popdudes, Ronnie Dark, The Flashcubes, Chris von Sneidern, The Bottle Kids, 1.4.5., The Smithereens, Paul Collins’ Beat, The Hit Squad, The Rulers, The Legal Matters, Maura & the Bright Lights, Lisa Mychols, and Mr. Encrypto & the Cyphers. You gotta have it, so order it here. A digital download version (minus The Smithereens’ track) is also available from Futureman Records.
The Ramones existed as a band from 1974 until 1996. The original members of this dysfunctional band o’ brudders–singer Joey Ramone (Jeffrey Hyman), guitarist Johnny Ramone (John Cummings), bassist Dee Dee Ramone (Douglas Colvin), and drummer Tommy Ramone (Tommy Erdelyi)–have all gone on to the great Bowery in the sky. But it’s not an exaggeration to say that the group has become legend, a universal pop-culture touchstone whose image and music are summoned as pervasive talismans in movies, print, TV shows, advertising–virtually everywhere except on the goddamned radio–and whose impact and influence are recognized by anyone and everyone who understands the history of rock ‘n’ roll.
Archie was created by cartoonist Bob Montana, and debuted in Pep Comics # 22 in 1941. The title character Archie Andrews has been described as “America’s typical teen,” and has bumbled and/or braved his way through 75 years of comic mishaps. The most common central conflict of Archie stories has been the unresolved love triangle of Archie and his would-be girlfriends, down-to-Earth Betty Cooper and pampered rich girl Veronica Lodge. Archie’s best bud Jughead Jones and rival Reggie Mantle complete the core cast of Archie; Archie and his pals and gals have starred in comic books, newspaper strips, a radio series, and TV cartoons, with a new, edgy live-action TV series called Riverdale on The CW in 2017. The fictional quintet has also performed in comics and cartoons as a rock group called The Archies, who crossed over to real-world chart success with the # 1 hit single “Sugar, Sugar” in 1969.
Archie and The Ramones. This does not seem like a match made in Heaven; what highway to Heaven could possibly lead through both the make-believe Riverdale and the all-too-real Forest Hills? And yet, the one-shot comic book Archie Meets Ramones is perfect. Lemme emphasize that again, with the sledgehammerin’ precision of New York’s Finest: Perfect. Perfect! PerfectPerfectPerfect!
When this book was announced, I heard complaints from some Ramones fans, whining that a crossover with the squeaky-clean Archies would be an insult to The Ramones’ memory, a whitewash of the group’s grungy, street-level depravity and inspiration. True, there was never any likelihood that a Ramones-Archies book would include glue-sniffing, heroin, violence, casual sex, male prostitute Dee Dee turning tricks, or Hilly Kristal‘s dog crapping on the floor at CBGB’s. These were all integral components of The Ramones’ formative years, and they have indeed been politely ignored in the pages of this comic book.
But if you think any of that is really what defines The Ramones, then I’m sorry to say that you don’t get it. At all.
You can protest, but I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care, etc. I don’t care if you’re the biggest Ramones fan this side of Riff Randall, I don’t care if you were there at CBGB’s or Arturo Vega‘s loft, and I don’t even care if you’re Danny Fields, The Ramones’ first manager (though I think Danny would get it–he was among the firstto really get The Ramones). If you believe that The Ramones are defined more by the seediness of their origins than by the brilliance of their pop music, then you need to check back with Miss Togar for some remedial sessions at Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.
Remember: The Ramones wanted to be a pop band. When I interviewed The Ramones in 1994, Johnny told me, “We started off, and I think we wanted to be a bubblegum band. At one point, The Bay City Rollers were becoming popular. They had written ‘Saturday Night,’ and we then sat down and said, ‘We have to write a song with a chant in it, like they have.’ So we wrote ‘Blitzkrieg Bop.’ Somehow, in our warped minds, I think we thought we were a bubblegum group.”
Also remember: The Ramones were a pop band. Indisputably. Their songs were concise and catchy, immediately unforgettable, and made transcendent via velocity and force of will. But the songs are great songs at any speed, played in any style; I’ve heard elevator versions of Ramones songs, earnest acoustic versions of Ramones songs, surf instrumental versions of Ramones songs, and Y2K girlpop versions of Ramones song, and each disparate version has retained the spark and panache The Ramones bestowed upon the original version. The durability of this catalog suggests a band greater than the sum of its vices.
Moving on to The Ramones’ only feature film, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, it’s worth pointing out that Johnny Ramone specifically and firmly nixed the idea of any scenes showing The Ramones doing drugs. Nein. Verboten! It was not the image The Ramones wished to project. No, in the film, pizza would be their stimulant of choice!
After all the Carbona huffin’, and the chainsaws and the lobotomies and the beating on the brat with a baseball bat…The Ramones still wanted to be a bubblegum band. Johnny said they wanted to be The Bay City Rollers; it would have been just as appropriate for them to be The Archies. Archie Meets Ramones suddenly makes a lot of sense in that context.
The comic book’s story, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Riverdale!” (written by Alex Segura and Matthew Rosenberg, with simply gorgeous artwork by Gisele Lagace), begins with The Archies tanking at a high school battle of the bands. Frustrated and angry, The Archies are ready to give up this silly notion of being in a rock ‘n’ roll band, but things change with a gift from Archie’s friend Sabrina the Teenaged Witch: an enchanted copy of The Ramones’ debut LP from 1976. As Archie plays that record, as the sound of “Blitzkrieg Bop” washes over Riverdale, The Archies find themselves magically transported back to ’76, standing in front of the iconic club Max’s Kansas City, and face to to face with Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy.
The tale is breezy and energetic, full of love for The Ramones, and loaded with an endless barrage of Ramones references. Sure, you know how the story’s gonna end long before The Archies realize it, but just getting there is more fun than a barrel of Sheenas. And that’s a lot of fun! There’s even an uncredited cameo appearance by Talking Heads. The book is just pure joy, from start to finish, the kind of pure joy I already recognize from listening to The Ramones.
Joy. That may not be a word often associated with The Ramones, but we should use it more often. We know of the troubles the individual members of The Ramones faced, of their bickering and battles, Dee Dee’s addiction, Joey’s OCD, Johnny’s authoritarian prickishness, Tommy’s nervous breakdown; but that’s not what I hear when I listen to The Ramones. I hear joy. Pure, loud, rock ‘n’ roll joy. This comic book captures that joy completely. And to say that something’s as good as a Ramones record? I don’t know of a greater compliment I can give.
Inducted into The Power Pop HallOf Fame in 2017, The Ramones!
The Ramones were one of the great power pop groups. They were also one of the great punk groups (of course), and one of the great bubblegum groups, and one of the great all-out rock ‘n’ roll groups. If these seem to be contradictory claims, I betcha Walt Whitman would have understood. The Ramones were large. The Ramones contained multitudes.
But the “power pop” part of that picture is dismissed far too often. Visually, The Ramones didn’t match any recognized notion of how a power pop band should look; they bore not even a superficial resemblance to The Raspberries, Cheap Trick, or The Knack, nor to power pop progenitors like The Beatles, The Kinks, and The Who. Their sound was rougher, less overtly melodic, lacking in harmonies, nearly bereft of jangle, lyrically more concerned with sniffing glue and beating on the brat with a baseball bat than with going all the way, wanting you to want them, or what the little girls do. Sharona is not a punk rocker. The Ramones were dirty–not leering-dirty like the salaciously horny approach of much power pop, but grungy, filthy punks. This is pop?
Well…yeah. Yeah, it’s pop. And it’s power pop.
Like much of the other power pop music we love, the music of The Ramones was rooted in the British Invasion, in hit singles played loud ‘n’ proud on transistor radios across the USA in the mid ’60s, in The Beatles and The Who and The Kinks and Herman’s Hermits. The Ramones added The Stooges, The MC5, and The New York Dolls to their blend of influences, but retained the 16 magazine appeal of fave raves and high-energy pop 45s. For their first single, they didn’t imitate Lou Reed or Bowie or Iggy; they tried to copy The Bay City Rollers, translating the “S! A! T-U-R! D-A-Y! Night!” of the Rollers’ first U.S. hit into the “Hey-Ho, Let’s Go!” chant of “Blitzkrieg Bop.” This was not coincidence; this was design and intent. The Ramones thought they were a bubblegum band. With their volume and ferocity, their bubblegum became power pop almost incidentally…but gloriously.
Listen to The Ramones’ early singles. “Blitzkrieg Bop.” “Swallow My Pride.” A cover of The Rivieras‘ “California Sun.” “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker.” “Rockaway Beach.” The perennial classic oldie “Do You Wanna Dance” (with its incredible B-side “Babysitter”). The supposedly country (but not hardly) “Don’t Come Close.” A cover of The Searchers‘ “Needles And Pins.” If these aren’t power pop, then power pop does not exist. This is the sound of an AM radio exuding sheer cool, radiating with both pimply hyperbole and rock ‘n’ roll swagger, its fist in the air, its heart on its sleeve, its volume set to MORE!! The kids are losing their minds. It may not seem so at first glance, but the kids are all right.
On This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio (a power pop radio show named after a line in a Ramones song), we routinely refer to The Ramones as “The American Beatles.” This is certainly not a comparison of units shipped and sold–if The Ramones ever released a counterpart to The Beatles’ compilation 1, they’d have to use a negative number–but it’s an acknowledgement of the comparably fab impact that Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, and Tommy (and Marky, and Richie, and C.J.) had on my life as a rockin’ pop fan. Hearing The Ramones when I was 17 was nearly as important as seeing A Hard Day’s Night when I was four. It was the sound of freedom, liberation, possibility…and it was catchy! When Bomp! magazine published its power pop manifesto issue in 1978, writers Greg Shaw and Gary Sperrazza! were savvy enough to realize that the power pop story stretched from the British Invasion through The Raspberries, Big Star, The Flamin’ Groovies, and The Dwight Twilley Band, and that it for damned sure included The Ramones. Even into the ’90s, when I talked with Shaw about power pop, he made a specific point of citing “Rockaway Beach” as one of power pop’s defining singles. And he was right.
Like The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks, and Cheap Trick, The Ramones built a musical legacy that encompasses power pop but is not exclusive to it. It’s easy to look at the leather jackets and leathery sneers, to read the twisted lyrics of “Glad To See You Go” or “Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment,” or experience the breakneck 1-2-3-4! pace of a Ramones concert and conclude that a belief in The Ramones as a power pop band is just the fevered result of huffin’ too much Carbona. But the evidence is there. It’s in the grooves, where it should be: playing back at 45 or 33 1/3, on tape or compact disc or digital download, AM or FM, in your head, under your skin, and in that forever-young heart you’ll listen to next time. The melody! My God, there is indeed melody–irresistible, undeniable melody–that no amount of bludgeoning can obscure. Melody that’s faster. Louder. Immediate. Unforgettable. Melody with a sense of menace, a feeling that everything could careen out of control at any second, yet all in its perfect place within the familiar parameters of a 7″ slab of vinyl. It’s still a thrill. It’s still worth swooning over. It’s still worth turning up. And it’s still power pop to me.
Take it, Dee Dee!
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Former Bay City Rollers lead singer Les McKeown passed away in April of this year. This memorial piece originally ran at BOPPIN’ (LIKE THE HIP FOLKS DO) on April 23, 2021.
Les McKeown, lead singer for The Bay City Rollers during their 1970s hitmaking heyday, has died at the age of 65. I was and remain an unapologetic fan of the Rollers’ uptempo material; I like a lot of the stuff the Rollers did when McKeown was a member, and I like a lot of what they did after he split from the group in ’79. I don’t have a specific eulogy to offer for McKeown, but I find myself thinking back now on some of what I’ve previously said on this subject of The Bay City Rollers.
My first feature article for Goldmine was a Rollers retrospective called “Rollermania: A Hard D-A-Y’s Night.” The article was published in 1987, and much later updated for the 2001 book Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth (as seen here). When I was in high school, I had a vague fantasy about trying to write a Bay City Rollers movie. More recently, I’ve had a slightly more concrete fantasy about trying to write a book called The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1), which would include a chapter about the Rollers’ “Rock And Roll Love Letter;” I also made a video about that chapter.
For all that, I don’t feel that I have anything fresh to add now about McKeown’s life, career, and body of work. Here’s what I’ve had to say in the past about a few of The Bay City Rollers’ songs:
THE BAY CITY ROLLERS: Saturday Night
Never feel guilty for digging a pop song. I reject the ludicrous notion of guilty pleasures in music; you either like something or you don’t like something, and no amount of misplaced hipsterism should be allowed to alter that. Stand your freakin’ ground, and dig what you dig.
I dig The Bay City Rollers. I pretty much always have, at least once I got over the absurdity of them being hyped as the next Beatles. As a teen, I owned the Rollers’ “Rock And Roll Love Letter” and “Saturday Night” 45s. I did not care whether or not my peers approved of the choice. Guilty? Not me, man–your rules do not apply.
THE BAY CITY ROLLERS: Wouldn’t You Like It
When I was in college in the late ’70s, I had a friend named Jane, who was a DJ on the Brockport campus radio station. We hung out together a few times, including one night when I kibbitzed with her in the studio while she did her radio show. And I requested one specific song….
By the end of the Me Decade, former teen idols The Bay City Rollers were persona non grata to the buying public, an embarrassing relic of adolescence for those (mostly female) fans who’d outgrown their puppy-eyed crushes on this Tartan-clad combo. And most music lovers who identified as older, male, hipper, and/or more mature just despised the Rollers all along.
But not me. Once I learned to ignore that ludicrous “next Beatles” notion, I found that I liked some of the Rollers’ records just fine, thanks. I was especially taken with “Rock And Roll Love Letter” and “Yesterday’s Hero.” When I became aware of the notion of power pop, I was delighted to learn that the writers of Bomp! magazine included The Bay City Rollers as at least a tangent to that discussion.
I saw the Rollers lip-sync an album track called “Wouldn’t You Like It” on the Midnight Special TV show, and I was instantly captivated by its power-chord riffs, chugging rhythm, and sheer overall oomph. My interest in the Rollers wasn’t then sufficient to prompt me to buy many of their records, but my girlfriend’s pal Debi was an unrepentant Rollers fan; she had the Rock And Roll Love Letter album, and played “Wouldn’t You Like It” for me. Man, what a great track.
So some time later, when I was chilling with miamiga pequeña Jane as she did her radio show, I bugged Jane to play “Wouldn’t You Like It.” Bugged. Begged. Pestered. Pleaded. No, Carl!, she insisted, I’m not playing the freakin’ Bay City Rollers on my show! She finally relented just to shut me up. The song played…and, to her surprise, she liked it, and said so on the radio. Gotta give her credit for that. She went so far as to say that if the Rollers had just come along a couple of years later than they did, they would have been considered part of the new wave.
It’s been more than forty years. We were pals, and we parted as pals. I still think of Jane whenever I play that song, a Bay City Rollers album track that illustrated the transcendent value of ignoring prejudices, and embodied the enduring strength of friendship. And I dedicate the song once again, as I did on the radio just the other night, to an old comrade. This one goes out to my friend Jane, wherever she is. Thanks again, my friend.
THE BAY CITY ROLLERS: Sweet Virginia
By 1977, teen idols The Bay City Rollers were nearing the end of their hitmaking tenure, but not quite done yet. The It’s A Game album yielded the Tartan-clad group’s final American radio hits, “You Made Me Believe In Magic” and “The Way I Feel Tonight.” I recall my friend Dan Bacich being amazed that a group like the Rollers (whom he normally detested) was capable of making a record he liked as much as “You Made Me Believe In Magic.”
Me, I liked the Rollers’ earlier hits just fine, and thought the new stuff okay, too (if nowhere near as pleasingly exuberant as the previous year’s “Rock And Roll Love Letter”). The album as a whole seemed like an attempt to groom a slightly more mature BCR audience, though our Rollers may have been undecided about exactly what kind of mature audience to target. MOR? Disco? The rock crowd, via a cover of David Bowie‘s “Rebel Rebel?” Album track “Sweet Virginia”‘s tragic tale of a young lesbian taking her own life (Was it really such a crime, to be lovin’ your own kind?) is certainly grown-up in its subject matter, its sprightly, boppin’ arrangement providing an odd juxtaposition with its downbeat storyline.
The Bay City Rollers’ next album didn’t sell, and they wound up hosting a Saturday morning kiddie TV show. The mature audience didn’t materialize.
THE BAY CITY ROLLERS: Yesterday’s Hero
We want the Rollers! We want the Rollers!Released late in 1976, The Bay City Rollers’ single of “Yesterday’s Hero” did not match the American chart success of “Saturday Night,” “Money Honey,” “Rock And Roll Love Letter,” or “I Only Want To Be With You,” missing the Top 40 and peaking at a mere # 54 in Billboard. Nonetheless, I’d rate
“Yesterday’s Hero” with “Rock And Roll Love Letter” and an LP track called “Wouldn’t You Like It” as the best of The Bay City Rollers, vibrant proof that the Tartan-clad poster boys were capable of transcending their teenybop image and delivering genuine, exciting power pop.
In ’76 and early ’77, I wasn’t aware of the phrase “power pop,” which had been coined by The Who‘s Pete Townshend in the ’60s but was not yet a part of the everyday rock ‘n’ roll lexicon. I heard “Yesterday’s Hero” on WOLF-AM in Syracuse, and I loved it. I was in a transitional period, just starting to transfer my allegiance from AM Top 40 to the wider rock ‘n’ roll vistas of album-rock WOUR-FM. I didn’t know that George Vanda and Harry Young, the authors of “Yesterday’s Hero,” had been members of 1960s Australian pop gods The Easybeats, nor that they had written The Easybeats’ signature hit “Friday On My Mind.” In fact, I didn’t know The Easybeats or “Friday On My Mind” at all; that knowledge would come later. I just knew there was a song on the radio that deserved to be on the radio, but that it disappeared from radio almost immediately.
I was a senior in high school. Boys weren’t supposed to like The Bay City Rollers, and I don’t think that girls my age were much interested in the Rollers by that point; although the group would bounce back with two big hits in ’77 (“You Made Me Believe In Magic” and “The Way I Feel Tonight”), they were themselves about to become yesterday’s heroes.
We don’t wanna be yesterday’s hero.Not me. Not yet. As I turned 17 in January of ’77, I was already tired of people trying to tell me what I could or couldn’t, should or shouldn’t. Piss off. Whether it was superhero comics or oldies records, The Monkees or The Marx Brothers, Marilyn Chambers or Suzi Quatro, if I was into something, the matter wasn’t up for debate. Dig what you dig. AM and FM influences would merge and converge. Catchy singles. Deeper cuts. Varying styles. Folk. Prog. Bubblegum. Metal. Soul. Punk. And power pop. We don’t wanna be yesterday’s hero. Haven’t I seen your face before? We want the airwaves. We want the Rollers. When we walk down the street, tomorrow’s gonna take yesterday along for the ride.
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Following tuesday’s reminiscence of the great Syracuse-based Gerber Music chain, we continue our tribute to the late Bill Gerberwith this all-Gerber Music edition of 45 Single Sleeve Cavalcade.
ABBA: Knowing Me, Knowing You I wish I could remember the first 45 I ever bought at Gerber. I picked up some slashed-price close-out singles from a record-store sidewalk sale at Northern Lights Shopping Center some time during my high school years, a haul that included gems like “Rock And Roll Love Letter” by The Bay City Rollers, “Changes” by David Bowie, “You” by George Harrison, and “I’m A Rocker” by The Raspberries. Those could have come from Gerber’s Northern Lights store, but I’m pretty sure the purchase took place after Gerber had left Northern Lights in favor of its new Penn Can Mall location in 1976. Record Town went into Northern Lights, and I betcha I bought those cheapie 45s from Record Town rather than Gerber.
So maybe this fab 1977 ABBA single was first. I liked some of ABBA’s singles, and neither time nor the negative opinion of others has done anything to change that. I enjoyed their first U.S. hit “Waterloo” in 1973, loved 1975’s “S.O.S.,” was benevolently indifferent to “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do” and “Mama Mia,” dismissive of “Fernando,” and A-OK with 1976’s “Dancing Queen.”
Although by ’77 WOUR-FM had nearly monopolized my radio listening, I still had some interest in AM Top 40, and ABBA’s “Knowing Me, Knowing You” was sufficiently catchy and engaging to prompt a purchase of the single. I also bought ABBA’s 1978 hit single “Take A Chance On Me” at Gerber.
I bought a number of other 45s in the ’76-’77 period, when I was a senior in high school. I can’t recall the precise chronology of my purchases, nor can I guarantee where I bought each of them, but it’s likely that my copies of “Carry On Wayward Son” by Kansas, “Magic Man” by Heart, “Blinded By The Light” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, “We Are The Champions”/”We Will Rock You” by Queen, and “Isn’t It Time” by The Babys all came from Gerber’s stock.
I remember eyeing a copy of KISS‘ “Calling Dr. Love” single at Gerber, and deferring the purchase because I knew my sister Denise planned to give me a KISS album as a graduation gift. And I remember being tempted by the sight of The Ramones‘ “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” 45. I had read about punk rock in my Gerber-supplied issues of Phonograph Record Magazine, and all of that exciting, as-yet-unheard noise intrigued me. I was especially intrigued by The Ramones, but couldn’t bring myself to check them out when I was in high school. That would change when I got to college in the fall of ’77.
THE CLASH: Cost Of Living EP Just as I can’t positively ID the first single I bought at Gerber, I can’t be sure of the last one, either. But I betcha it was The Clash‘s Cost Of Living EP in 1979. It was my last summer living at home with my parents in North Syracuse; when I graduated from college in 1980, my girlfriend Brenda and I got an apartment in our college town of Brockport, intent on finding out if we could be any good at this mystifying growin’ up thing.
I’ve written often of the events of my summer of 1979; I’ll try not to repeat those details here; those who do still wanna know about what happened can read a summary I call “Summer Could Have Lasted Forever.” For right here and now, suffice it to say that was both my last summer of (presumed) carefree youth and the first real hint of what trouble might loom ahead.
I’m trying to remember what Clash records I owned before this. Maybe just my two 45s, “Remote Control”/”London’s Burning” and “Tommy Gun”/”1-2 Crush On You,” and I may have gotten one or both at Gerber. I don’t think I had any Clash LPs yet; I would pick up the American version of their first album pretty soon thereafter, either at Gerber or at Brockport’s Main Street Records.
So my Clash collection was perfunctory. But man, I needed to own this Cost Of Living record. Maybe I read about it in Trouser Press, but I knew it contained The Clash’s cover of one of my favorite songs, The Bobby Fuller Four‘s “I Fought The Law.” The mere thought of one of my punk bands playing “I Fought The Law” thrilled me, and I snapped up the EP the second I saw it for sale at the Penn-Can Gerber Music.
I liked The Clash’s take on “I Fought The Law” a lot, but never as much as I liked The Bobby Fuller Four’s definitive version. The EP contained two tracks–“Gates Of The West” and “Groovy Times”–that were almost folky, and a killer remake of The Clash’s own “Capital Radio,” with a unique Cost Of Living tag stapled to to the end. It was a good purchase.
I don’t think it was quite my last-ever Gerber Music buy. I probably got a few albums at Gerber that summer, plus an issue or two of Trouser Press (one with The Beatles on its cover), and I think it was at Gerber’s Shoppingtown location that I scored 99-cent cutout copies of The Real Kids and The Residents Present The Third Reich ‘n Roll when I shoulda been back-to-school clothes-buying at J.C. Penney.
But if Cost Of Living was indeed my last-ever Gerber Music acquisition, it’s fitting. I was introduced to punk rock in the first place by issues of Phonograph Record Magazine I snagged at Gerber in 1977, and I’m cool with the symmetry of completing my Gerber Music patronage with a punk purchase.
I bought a few other punk records in the time between….
THE RAMONES: Rockaway Beach Here’s the only instance I can think of where I can tell you the exact date, location, and even the weather outside when I bought a specific record: The Ramones‘ “Rockaway Beach”/”Locket Love” 45; January 17th, 1978; Gerber Music at Penn-Can Mall; it was snowing.
And it was my 18th birthday.
I was home from college following the fall semester of my freshman year. Things at school hadn’t quite gone according to plan–in part because I didn’t have a plan–but another semester loomed with an opportunity to make things better. (SPOILER ALERT: things got worse before they got better.)
For my birthday, Mom and Dad took me out for a lovely dinner at Beefsteak Mining Company at Penn Can Mall. After dinner, I had planned to go out with friends for my first legal drinks, but there was time for a stop at Gerber Music to pick up a record. A 45. A Ramones 45.
This wouldn’t be my first Ramones record. I had finally gotten around to purchasing the “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” single while away at school, and already considered it the record that changed my life. I wanted more. And, on a budget, I chose to get more on the installment plan, one 45 at a time.
I don’t think I’d heard “Rockaway Beach” prior to that 1/17/78 purchase, but it didn’t disappoint. So, great birthday meal with parents, great doubling of my personal Ramones library.
But the weather was disappointing. It began to snow harder, ultimately forcing my goin’-out-drinkin’ agenda to be abandoned for the evening. The perils of a January birthday in Central New York.
It stopped snowing eventually; that happens, even in Syracuse. I had a few opportunities to go out a-partyin’ in Syracuse before the spring semester commenced back in Brockport. I even had a chance to see a local rock ‘n’ roll bar band for the first time–my first punk band! But that’s another story.
THE JAM: All Around The World In the summer of 1978, as I tried to reassemble my own scattered pieces after a tumultuous freshman year in college, I got a job at Penn-Can Mall. I was a part-time morning maintenance man–i.e., a janitor–at Sears, part of a mostly-young crew that cleaned the store each AM prior to the start of the business day. My friend Tom was on the crew, and he helped me get the job to begin with. Money in my pocket. I could go out, see bands, try to be better.
Great. Fine. Worthy goals! But let’s not forget the reason God created cash in the first place: I could buy records.
I still tried to stay within a reasonable budget. But c’mon, I now worked under the same big ol’ roof as a Gerber Music store! I wouldn’t and couldn’t resist the allure of import 45s at Gerber. My preferred rock magazines–Bomp!, Trouser Press, and CREEM–gave me an information pipeline to some of what was out there. I read about the U.K. punk/power pop group Generation X, and snapped up their “Ready Steady Go” and “Your Generation” singles at Gerber. I may have gotten my red-vinyl 45 of The Rich Kids‘ “Rich Kids” and/or the single of Rich Kids bassist Glen Matlock‘s former group The Sex Pistols‘ “Pretty Vacant” on one of my frequent Penn-Can Sears-to-Gerber beelines. Beyond punk, the sight of George Thorogood & the Destroyers on TV’s Midnight Special prompted a cash transaction at Gerber to secure my copy of the “Move It On Over”/”It Wasn’t Me” single. I also bought teen pop star Shaun Cassidy‘s hit single “Hey Deanie” and local group The Alligators‘ “I Try And I Try.” My main interests were rock ‘n’ roll, punk, new wave, and (especially) power pop. But I wasn’t strict. If I liked something, I liked it.
My specific interest in power pop was stoked by Bomp! magazine, which had published a special power pop issue earlier in ’78. Gospel to me. Hey, remember that local punk group I mentioned in the previous entry about The Ramones? It turned out the Syracuse punk combo’s idea of punk kinda dovetailed with a power-pop approach, evidenced by their original songs and their chosen covers, of acts like The Kinks, The Raspberries, Big Star, Badfinger, The Hollies, and the early Who alongside your prerequisite punks The Sex Pistols. And yeah, everyone who knows me knows exactly what local punk/power pop group we’re talkin’ about here, but we’ll get to that in a second. Their originals were fantastic, and they had excellent taste in covers.
And they covered The Jam, a great new British group that came out of punk but were clearly and proudly beholden to the model of ’60s Mod, particularly The Who. Following my own weird introduction to The Jam’s music, my fascination with them had grown by leaps and bounds. I bought The Jam’s U.S. single of “I Need You (For Someone)”/”In The City” while away at school, and dutifully trekked to Gerber after Sears shifts to snag import 45s of “The Modern World” and “All Around The World.” Of these four songs named, “All Around The World” was the only one I didn’t already know via live in-club covers by Syracuse’s own power pop powerhouse…
THE FLASHCUBES: Christi Girl Of course.
The story of The Flashcubes is happily entwined with the Gerber Music story. All four of The Flashcubes–guitarists Paul Armstrong and Arty Lenin, bassist Gary Frenay, and drummer Tommy Allen–worked at Gerber at some point. When Bill Gerber passed in May, The Flashcubes issued a statement: “There would be no Flashcubes if there had never been a Gerber Music. In 1977, we all worked at the best music store in CNY history. Gary and Paul (and sometimes Arty) worked at the Shoppingtown store, and Tommy worked at the Fairmount store. It was there that we hatched the idea of forming a band. Bill Gerber was a great boss (and a championship amateur golfer), and when you worked for him, you became a member of his extended family, that included his wife Debbie, mother Jean (and HER mother Mrs. Rosenbloom), and his siblings Leonard, Heidi and Terri.”
In no uncertain terms: the very existence of my all-time favorite power pop group was owed to Gerber Music. That makes Gerber sacred ground to me, now and forevermore.
When the ‘Cubes were set to release their first single “Christi Girl” in ’78, I hounded the staff at the Penn-Can Gerber every freakin’ day, with my own breathless inquiry of Is it out yet? Is it out yet? Is it out yet? To their credit, the good folk behind the Gerber counter put up with me. They even had an advance copy of the 45 on hand, awaiting its slow-to-arrive picture sleeve, and they let me hear both sides of it on the store’s sound system. I bought it the first day it was available.
I cannot overstate how important The Flashcubes have been to me. As I’ve said elsewhere, it’s possible that I would have gotten around to writing about pop music and co-hosting a weekly rock ‘n’ roll radio show even without The Flashcubes’ influence, but it would be a stretch for me to imagine how that would have been. When I was given the honor of inducting The Flashcubes into the Syracuse Area Music Awards Hall of Famein 2014, I noted once again the three groups that had the greatest and most lasting influence upon my life as a pop fan: The Beatles, The Ramones, and The Flashcubes.
That was also the night I met Bill Gerber, however briefly. Gerber Music was inducted into the SAMMYs Hall of Fame on the same 2014 evening, with members of The Flashcubes helping to induct their former employer. I shook Bill’s hand, and told him, “I never worked at Gerber; I worked at Cavages (the Buffalo chain that bought out Gerber), but I wish I’d worked for you!” I added that Cavages fired me, and he laughed and said, “They fired me, too!” I bought a commemorative Gerber Music/Flashcubes SAMMYs Hall Of Fame t-shirt from Bill’s sister Terri Gerber; I wear it often, and I glow with the shared pleasure of strangers who recognize the Gerber logo and want to tell me how much they cherish the joyful memory of being a Gerber Music customer.
Memories have a soundtrack. Life has a soundtrack. We play the music, and we let it reach us and inspire us. We’re grateful for those who brought the music to us. The writers, the performers, the music men and women, the DJs on the radio, and the song sellers, for whom it was more than just business; it was the only way to live.
Gerber Music lives. I have the records to prove it.
Hey! If you buy from Amazon, consider making your purchases through links at Pop-A-Looza. A portion of your purchase there will go to support Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do). Thinking Amazon? Think Pop-A-Looza.
This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.
We’ve spoken of the 2005 book Lost In The Grooves, the 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 Rollers. Lost In The Grooves editors Kim Cooperand 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 Faulkner, Stuart “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. Elevator, Voxx, and Ricochet deserved a better fate.
My veteran stereo receiver recently reached the end of its days. My needs are simple, but I wasn’t taken with any of the immediate replacement options. A friend offered to give me an old Yamaha receiver, so I took him up on it. It’s cool and old-school, without the surround-sound pizzazz that would have been extraneous for my use, but with a sufficient number of inputs. I need inputs for phono, CD, TV, cassette, and mini-disc. I hooked the whole magilla up Tuesday morning, and tested the respective inputs with a Peter & Gordon LP, a power pop compilation CD, a Veronica Mars blu-ray, a B.D. Love cassette, and a back-and-forth mini-disc run-through of playing The Flashcubes and recording the previously-noted Peter & Gordon LP. All systems GO!, and my rock ‘n’ roll capabilities have now been duly restored.
While I had everything disassembled and about to be put back together, I tested one other piece of equipment, something I’ve never had hooked up on any permanent basis. I connected my eight-track player, and listened to a minute of my only eight-track tape, Dedication by The Bay City Rollers.
Although all but 16 days of my teen years were contained within that garish decade called the 1970s, eight-tracks were never my thing. I was primarily a vinyl guy, LPs and 45s alike. My first tape recorder was a reel-to-reel, and I moved from there to cassettes. The reel-to-reel was exclusively a plaything for recording–I never owned a prerecorded reel-to-reel product–and my cassette players were mostly for recording, too. I had a few cassettes, though the only one I remember owning in the ’70s was my copy of the Billy Jack soundtrack. GO AHEAD AND HATE YOUR NEIGHBOR, GO AHEAD AND CHEAT A FRIEND..! Oops–sorry! ’70s flashback there. I also recall listening to my cousin Mark’s Deep Purple cassettes during our summer vacations in Missouri. To this day, a spin of “Highway Star” calls those happy days to the forefront of my memories.
But really, my cassette deck was mostly used for creating mixtapes, accomplished by placing the little gizmo right next to one of the speakers at our home stereo, putting the needle on a Beatles, Elton John, or Three Dog Night record, and trying to press RECORD on the deck before the music started. Fidelity? Not my main interest. I also tried to record my own comedy bits, either solo or with Mark. Not much fidelity there, either.
It must have been around 1977 or so that we got a new family stereo, with turntable, AM/FM tuner, and…eight-track? Awrighty. The eight-track never got much attention from me; I have a vague recollection of trying and failing to use the eight-track to record…something. God knows what. Still, knowing there was an eight-track player at my disposal, I bought exactly one budget eight-track tape: a collection of early sides by Paul Revere & the Raiders. That eight-track contained material predating the Raiders’ more successful run with Columbia Records, and it included stuff like their instrumental hit “Like, Long Hair.” I chiefly remember a song called “Sharon,” because I was keepin’ company at the time with a girl named Sharon, whom I’d met that fall ’77 semester at college. Sharon wasn’t in the picture with me for very long, making it really easy to pinpoint the approximate date of that stereo and its underused eight-track.
That stereo is, of course, long gone, and so is my Paul Revere & the Raiders eight-track. And, um, Sharon, too; she was gone by the end of ’77. I never gave much thought to eight-tracks again until, believe it or not, the ’90s, courtesy of my radio co-host Dana. Some time in between the death of our first radio show We’re Your Friends For Now in 1991 and the dawn of the inexplicably long-lived This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio at the end of ’98, Dana surprised me with the gift of an old eight-track player, and the above-mentioned Bay City Rollers tape.
It still works, or at least it works as well as an eight-track player should be expected to work. I’ve often thought about hooking it up and leaving it hooked up, just because, but I could never spare an input for it.
My freshly-installed Yamaha has enough open jacks for me to leave the eight-track player in place, and be free to re-live the ’70s Bay City Rollers eight-track experience at will. If I could find ’em cheaply, I could even expand my eight-track collection with tapes by The Ramones, The Flamin’ Groovies, The Isley Brothers, The Raspberries, and…and….
Over these past few years, I’ve begun a conscious effort to curtail my natural packrat ways. I’m not going to stop accumulating books–let’s not get crazy–but I sold nearly two-thirds of my comic book collection. I still buy new comic books, but I only keep a few of them. I rarely buy vinyl, and I try to keep my CD purchases within range of my ability to store them. I’m trying to cut back on tchotchkes. I don’t need to add eight-tracks to my vast accumulation of stuff.
So, with some reluctance, I disconnected the eight-track player and put it back in storage. If I ever really want to, I could hook it back up should the mood strike me, whenever, subject to the whims of my eight-track mind. Push and play. I feel younger already.
An infinite number of rockin’ pop records can be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!
THE BAY CITY ROLLERS: “Rock And Roll Love Letter” The next Beatles.
No one believed that particular bit of hype. I don’t recall the phrase “boy band” as part of the pop music lexicon in 1975, but it would have fit The Bay City Rollers like a Tartan glove. I was initially indifferent to them. As a discerning ‘n’ worldly 15-year-old Beatles fan, I thought the very notion of these Scottish wannabes, with their chanted S! A! T-U-R! D-A-Y! NIGHT!!,ever becoming a John, Paul, George, and Ringo just ludicrous. I dismissed them on that basis.
Dismissed them. I didn’t hate them. I dismissed them.
TV personality Howard Cosell took the hype seriously (though I betcha he didn’t really believe it either). In ’75, Cosell was launching a new live variety show called Saturday Night Live—not the famous one–patterned after The Ed Sullivan Show. Given Cosell’s goal to be the next Ed Sullivan, he wanted to introduce the next Beatles to the U.S. The Bay City Rollers made their American television debut on Howard Cosell’s Saturday Night Live. Again, not the famous one.
But slowly–and then more quickly–my indifference and dismissal began to yield to curiosity and burgeoning interest. I liked the idea of rockin’ pop teen sensations, The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five, Herman’s Hermits, The Monkees, even (one could argue) The Raspberries. I liked rockin’ pop songs meant to be played on the radio, from Badfinger to Johnny Nash to KISS. “Saturday Night” wasn’t a bad record; as I gave it a fair listen, it turned out to be a decent record. The Rollers’ second U.S. hit “Money Honey” was even better. And their third U.S. hit…well, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
By the time The Bay City Rollers invaded America, they had already been stars in the UK. The group formed as The Saxons in 1966, with original members including lead singer “Nobby” Clark, bassist Alan Longmuir, and drummer Derek Longmuir, Alan’s brother. The Saxons became The Bay City Rollers, and had a UK hit with a cover of The Gentrys‘ “Keep On Dancing” in 1971. Follow-up singles, including a little something called “Saturday Night,” did not match the success of “Keep On Dancing.” The line-up evolved, as guitarist Eric Faulkner became a Roller, and “Remember (Sha La La)” returned the group to the UK Top Ten. Clark split, replaced by new lead singer Les McKeown, and guitarist (later bassist) Stuart “Woody” Wood joined. McKeown, Faulkner, Wood, and the Longmuir brothers became the Rollers we know, and British stardom ensued. Hit singles. TV shows. Teen magazines. The Bay City Rollers were the idols of young lasses across the British Isles in 1974 and ’75. In late ’75, the colonies beckoned. Howard Cosell. “The next British phenomenon.” “Saturday Night,” a # 1 hit in America with a new version of a song that had never even charted back home. Success. International success.
Success, and immediate, everlasting scorn. That’s the price of being called the next Beatles. That’s also the price of actively courting an audience of adolescent females, young girls who’ll swear to love you forever, and plaster their bedrooms with craven images of their idols, only to outgrow you and move on. Ask David Cassidy, or Davy Jones before him. The Bay City Rollers’ music was not–and would never be–taken seriously.
Some of it deserved better.
I’m not trying to make a case for The Bay City Rollers’ induction into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. But I will insist there are true gems within the Rollers canon. “Rock And Roll Love Letter” is one such gem.
“Rock And Roll Love Letter” was written by Tim Moore, who recorded the original version for his 1975 album Behind The Eyes. It was a perfectly fine pop ditty. Its simple charm was transformed into something greater in the unlikely hands of The Bay City Rollers. The Rollers discarded extraneous lyrics about being crazy to express themselves this way, revamping and renovating the song’s basic structure. They replaced the easygoing sway of Moore’s instrumental opening with a quick rat-tat of drums, guitars then taking over to assume command of your heart, your soul, and your radio. It was louder. It was pop. It was a manifesto. I feel an ancient rhythm in a man’s genetic code/I’m gonna keep on rock ‘n’ rollin’ ’til my genes explode.
A rock and roll love letter.
Few would ever give The Bay City Rollers the credit they deserved. Boy band. Pop stars. A guy I knew once referenced the great British group The Records and their own subsequent cover of “Rock And Roll Love Letter,” hailing The Records for rescuing the tune from the crass, clueless clutches of the deplorable, disposable Rollers. The comment made my blood boil. Now, The Records were a fantastic group; “Starry Eyes” is also The Greatest Record Ever Made, and it’s not even my favorite Records record (which would be “Hearts Will Be Broken”). The Records’ version of “Rock And Roll Love Letter” is lovely.
It does not surpass the Rollers.
Without recognition from critics and pundits, The Bay City Rollers comforted themselves with the cool lucre of continued chart success for a little while longer. The American Rock And Roll Love Letter LP included a fabulous, group-written power pop song called “Wouldn’t You Like It,” which shoulda been a single, shoulda been a hit. Alan Longmuir left the group, replaced initially by Ian Mitchell, who was replaced briefly by Pat McGlynn, and then replaced by no one as The Bay City Rollers became the next Fab Four, in number anyway. In the U.S., there were still a few more hits: a cover of Dusty Springfield‘s “I Only Want To Be With You,” the dynamic “Yesterday’s Hero” (originally an Australian hit for Paul Young, written by Harry Vanda and George Young of The Easybeats), “You Made Me Believe In Magic,” and “The Way I Feel Tonight.” Their star faded. Tick-tock. Such is the finite shelf life of teen mania. Alan Longmuir returned. A 1978-79 Saturday morning kiddie TV show with Sid and Marty Krofft served as the epitaph for their career. Les McKeown split, acrimoniously. Faulkner, Wood, and the Longmuirs regrouped under the truncated name The Rollers (with new lead singer Duncan Faure, ex of South African group Rabbitt) and made some outstanding records that did not sell. The next Beatles had reached the end of their short and winding road.
That’s sales. That’s popularity. That’s the broader equivalent of the schoolyard milieu we hope to outgrow someday. Cliques. Crushes. Notes passed in class, clandestine fantasies of holding hands and meeting at the lips, adolescent wishes for the rapture of romance. The pre-teen dream. The fact that The Bay City Rollers catered specifically to that fantasy doesn’t negate the occasional moments when they transcended it. Hey sister poet, dear brother poet, too. “Rock And Roll Love Letter” exploded from the radio like an effervescent communique from an alternate world ruled by the virtues of pure pop. But I need to spend my body, I’m a music-makin’ man/And no page can release it like this amplifier can.
The little girls still understand. Older and wiser, maybe we can all understand it. too. It is what it promised it would be: a rock and roll love letter. The words are true, and meant for you. Gonna sign it, gonna seal it, gonna mail it away.
The first rock ‘n’ roll magazines I recall seeing were issues of Circus and Rolling Stone. I found them around the house, and I presume they belonged to one of my older siblings, probably my sister Denise. I am reasonably certain that neither of my parents would have been into either magazine. On the other hand, my Dad worked at the post office, so it’s equally plausible that these were dead-letter subscription copies that had been discarded, and that maybe Dad brought ’em home. Either way, these magazines made their way to our living room in North Syracuse.
Circus never meant much to me, and although I occasionally flipped through new issues on the magazine racks when looking for rock ‘n’ roll reading material in later years, it wasn’t something I cared about. Until a couple of days ago, I’d largely forgotten that Circus was my first, from 1973. I remembered that Carly Simon was on the cover, and a bit of Google sleuthing led me to the likely culprit pictured above.
I liked Simon at the time. I was an AM radio fanatic. I enjoyed her singles “Anticipation” and “You’re So Vain,” as well as “That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” and I would continue to like a few more of her hits before I lost interest in the mid ’70s. I’m sure I read the Circus article about her, and I would imagine I at least glanced through the other cover-mentioned pieces about Deep Purple, Yes, Black Sabbath, Stevie Wonder, Tommy, and Colombo‘s Peter Falk. But I remember virtually none of it. Not even the Uriah Heep calendar! Though it is fitting that my first rock magazine should presage my first live rock show: my first concert was KISS with opening act Uriah Heep on December 16th, 1976. A coincidence, sure, but a cool connection nonetheless.
My second rock magazine had a little more lasting impact: Suzi Quatro on the cover of the Rolling Stone, January 1975. Swoon! I was instantly smitten with Quatro, even though I’d never heard of her before seeing this magazine. I read the article about her, but didn’t get an opportunity to hear her music until much later. When I finally got to hear and see Suzi Q sing “I May Be Too Young” on the British TV show Supersonic in 1976, it verified the veracity of my smitten nature. Did I mention swoon? Thanks, Rolling Stone!
Most rock fans of my age or older had some affection for Rolling Stone at some point, and I was no exception to that. Other than a 1976 issue with The Beatles on its cover, I don’t think I read the magazine much (if at all) before starting college in 1977. But I devoured Charles M. Young‘s cover story about The Sex Pistols. My roommate Arthur had a subscription to Stone, despised punk, and eventually passed his copy of that Pistols issue to me (with the disdainful expression of one handing over a sack of poopy diapers). I bought Rolling Stone sporadically; I enjoyed “Bang The Head Slowly,” Timothy White‘s 1979 piece about The Ramones, but bemoaned the fact that The Ramones never rated an RS cover feature during their blitzkrieg-boppin’ lifetime.
I eventually subscribed to Rolling Stone, but I grew increasingly and frustratingly aware of the annoying polar opposites that characterized the magazine’s approach: one half rooted in a smug, condescending rote-hippie consciousness, the other not rooted at all, but embarrassingly eager to chase and embrace whatever shiny Next Big Thing mirage flits across pop culture’s short attention span. Come on–Rolling Stone‘s putz swine-in-chief Jann Wenner still insists on blocking The Monkees from The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, but he’s fine with cover-featuring Kardashians? Sorry, even introducing me to Suzi Quatro doesn’t earn sufficient gravitas to compensate for that. Rolling Stone and I parted company a long time ago.
But let’s get back to the ’70s. In spite of being initiated via Circus and Rolling Stone, I don’t really recall reading many rock mags during my high school years. I was certainly into the music. I mean, I listened to radio nearly all of the time, bought records when I could afford them, tried to catch rock ‘n’ roll on TV when the opportunity presented itself. But the meager spending cash I had for reading material went to comic books, pulp paperbacks, and the occasional Playboy or Penthouse. The latter resource did include a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll coverage amidst its more celebrated, y’know, uncoverage. I remember reading the lyrics to The Kinks‘ “Here Comes Yet Another Day” in a Penthouse article, at a time when I was just beginning to learn about The Kinks. Penthouse also published an extremely dismissive piece about The Bay City Rollers, and an interview with Patti Smith that was the first time I’d even heard of her.
The only other rock-related magazines I remember from my North Syracuse High School days were Welcome Back Beatles, a series of fanciful scenarios detailing fictional Beatles reunions, and a Bay City Rollers one-shot fan magazine. Oh, and Marvel‘s KISS comic book. And there was still one more bona fide rock ‘n’ roll publication that did matter to me, and it mattered a lot. I only saw two issues of this during my senior year, plus one more back issue the following summer. Even so, the impact of those tabloid pages was far greater than any other rock read I’d experienced to that point.
This was something new. This was something different. This was Phonograph Record Magazine.