RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: April 2013

Any way you spell it.

Posted on

Another installment in the never-ending Edinburgh Exorcism series.

Tartan terror!When you’re the top-ranked DJ in the top-ranked radio market in the top-ranked music-buying country in the world, you can get away with shenanigans every now and again.

Legendary DJ Dan Ingram of New York’s WABC was well aware of that. So were his millions of listeners. And after Jan. 21, 1976, so were the Bay City Rollers.

Ingram had his engineer take razor blade to tape and reconfigure the famous opening chant of the Rollers’ “Saturday Night,” which Ingram and all of his listeners had been hearing nearly nonstop for at least the previous month.

The hilarious results can be heard here, though I’ll add a transcription for anyone who has trouble picking up the exact sounds:

Ingram: “…and when they had trouble spelling it, it came out like this:”

The Rollers (bursting in without a moment’s pause after Ingram’s last word, the way good DJs cue it up):

S, A, T-U-R, D-A-Y, night!

S, A, D-A-Y, T-U-R, night!

S, S, D-A-Y, T-U-R, night!

D-A-Y, T-U-R, S, S, S, night!

D-A-Y, D-A-Y, S, T-U-R, night!

S, D-A-Y, S, T-U-R, night!

S, D-A-Y, S, T-U-R, S, S, S, D-A-Y, T-U-R, night! night! night! night! night! night!

S, S, S, S, S, S, S, S, A, D-A-Y, T-U-R, night!

(band kicks in)

I’ve loved this from the moment I first heard it, probably close to 10 years ago, courtesy of the excellent MusicRadio77.com website.

For one thing, it sounds great. Each splice is done perfectly in rhythm. Each twist on the phrase is funnier and more bizarre than the last.

And when the choir of heavily echoed Les McKeowns starts yelling, “Night! Night! Night! Night!,” the whole thing takes on a sort of Dada momentum somewhere between the stomp of jackboots and the bark of a chained schnauzer.

But I love it even more because of the irreverence … the notion that one of America’s most popular songs is still fair game for a prankish DJ to have a little fun with.

(At first listen, I thought Ingram had it in for the Rollers — that he’d chosen to poke fun at them because he didn’t like the band, the record or both. I’m no longer sure that was the case. I think now that the song simply presented him with an opportunity to have fun, and he took it.)

I don’t listen to much Top 40 radio these days, even though I’ve got the local station programmed into my car radio for my kids’ sake. When I do listen, I don’t get the sense that any of the DJs I hear would cheerfully take the piss out of a top-selling record.

They might play part of a parody of a popular song, if they hosted the morning show, and if it were audibly different from the original. But I don’t imagine they’d actively make fun of a current hit.

Maybe you have to be New York’s bossest jock to get away with that.

Advertisements

Imaginary lovers.

Posted on

Another installment in the ongoing and potentially never-ending Edinburgh Exorcism series.

Tartan terror!Somewhere in Rochester, N.Y., around 1990, there lived a thirtyish British woman who felt she had outgrown childish things.

I never met her; I just harvested parts of her record collection from time to time when I visited my favorite local record store.

The Bay City Rollers’ Once Upon A Star, the group’s second U.K. album, was never released in the States, but I got my hands on it through the secondhand bin at Fantasy Records anyway.

(My copy was missing the ridge on the upper top with the band members’ photos on it, which I assume got stuck on the bedroom wall of the aforementioned British chick. Indeed, until Wikipedia came along, I never knew what the full album cover looked like.)

The motorcyclist appears to be straddling the center line, which would make the album cover design acceptable in either England or the States.

Is the motorcyclist riding on the left, British-style, or the right, American-style? He appears to be straddling the center line — equally illegal in both places — with his eyes off the road to boot. At least he’s wearing a helmet.

The most noteworthy thing about the album, to me, was a small note on the back cover that appeared under the Side Two song titles.

See, Once Upon A Star includes songs titled “Marlina” and “La Belle Jeane,” both original tunes with songwriting credited to various members of the Rollers.

Lest anyone take that too seriously, the album says:

Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

I’ve not seen a disclaimer like this on a record before or since.

(Although I don’t normally traffic in albums geared to teenage girls, except for a Partridge Family album I can only vaguely remember buying and will deny all knowledge of if asked.)

It raises more questions than it answers:

1. Was (or is) this common? Did Bobby Sherman or Shaun Cassidy have to put this same sort of caveat on the LPs that had “Julie, Do Ya Love Me” or “Hey Deanie” on them?

2. Whose idea was this? Bell Records? The Rollers’ management? The Rollers themselves? (Though, since they wrote the songs, they could just have changed the words if they thought it was going to be a problem.)

3. What did they think would happen? Were they genuinely concerned that the Rollers’ teenage fans would go throw themselves in front of trains, thinking that Derek or Woody was involved with some French chick named Jeane?

(J.K. Rowling had a funny line about her decision to write Fleur Delacour into the Harry Potter series — something about how English boys fantasize about French girls. Arsed if I can find an exact citation, though.)

4. Was this just for the British audience? Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of Bay City Rollers, the band’s first U.S. long-player, which cobbles together “Marlina” and a bunch of other songs from their first couple British records.

I wonder — and maybe one of the fan-club folks can enlighten me — whether the same admonition was reprinted on the U.S. album, or whether the group decided its U.S. fans were made of sterner stuff than their sisters across the pond.

(My copy of 1976’s Dedication includes no such warning about the song “My Lisa,” for what that’s worth.)

5. Was the band trying to skirt the entire issue? “Marlina” is a pretty uncommon name; I wonder if the group used it in a song specifically because there weren’t too many Marlinas out there.

The whole thing summons one charming image, though:

I like to imagine some 14-year-old Rollers fan in 1975 lifting the needle at the end of “Let’s Go” and setting it down again at the beginning of “My Teenage Heart,” so she wouldn’t have to hear Les McKeown sing a song to some other chick named Marlina.

Encore Performances: Rolling.

Posted on

Tartan terror!This originally appeared on my old blog in November 2010; I’m reposting it as part of Edinburgh Exorcism, an ongoing series of posts about the Bay City Rollers. The blog entry that inspired it (the “recent roundup of the AT40”) hasn’t been reposted here.

Been thinking a little more about a footnote I tossed into my recent roundup of the AT40 for the week ending Nov. 22, 1975.

As I mentioned, Bay City Rollers singer Les McKeown struck and killed an elderly woman in May 1975 while driving the Mustang he had bought as a token of his success.
In November of that year, McKeown was acquitted of the most serious charges against him in relation to the accident.
(He was found guilty of lesser charges; he lost his license and paid a fine, but did not serve jail time as far as I know.)

I find it interesting that the period of McKeown’s legal problems coincided with the major promotional push that broke the band in America.
In the fall of 1975, the Rollers:

* Got their first significant U.S. radio airplay. (The first local singles chart in the ARSA database to include them comes from WBZ in Boston for the week ending Sept. 19.)

* Were featured in an article in a mid-September issue of Time magazine.

* Dropped their first LP release in North America.

* Performed via satellite hookup on the first episode of Howard Cosell’s “Saturday Night Live” network TV show on Sept. 20.

* Landed at Kennedy Airport for a week’s worth of New York-area promotional activities. (The airport landing received extensive media coverage, including this Nik Cohn story in the Nov. 3 issue of New York magazine.)

* Started showing up in Tiger Beat.

* Cracked the US Top Forty for the first time in the week ending Nov. 8.

That’s a lot of promotion, attention and activity for a band that didn’t know whether its lead singer might be disappearing for an extended prison sentence.

I wonder whether McKeown’s uncertain legal status made Arista Records, the Rollers’ label, think twice about its big promotional campaign.
It would have been awfully inconvenient, to say the least, if the lead singer of this heavily promoted, squeaky-clean teenybop band had suddenly been sent up the river.
(How might Capitol Records’ “The Beatles Are Coming” promotional campaign have been different if one of the Fab Four had been up on similar charges in Liverpool in January of ’64?)

The potential for McKeown’s departure suggests that promoting the individual personalities of the band, Beatles-style, would have been a bad idea.
In the few news stories I’ve seen from ’75, Rollers manager Tam Paton takes the lion’s share of the spotlight in dealing with the media.
Nowadays, boy bands all fit into predetermined personalities — there’s the moody one, the babyish one, the “real singer,” etc.
But contemporary coverage of the Rollers makes them seem like one cuddly twenty-limbed organism, with about as much individual personality as five pieces of Bazooka gum.
Perhaps that was the result of a conscious decision by the Rollers’ management to downplay the individual members. Maybe they didn’t want America to get too attached to any single one of the band members.

(That’s speculation, of course; I haven’t read every single Rollers article out there, and maybe U.S. journalists were doing extended interviews with Les McKeown in the fall of ’75. It doesn’t seem that way from what I’ve seen, though.)

Had McKeown suddenly become unavailable, Arista and the Rollers’ management might simply have replaced him with some other tartan-clad Edinburgh teen, and American listeners probably wouldn’t have been the wiser.
But the damage to the Rollers’ image might have been irreparable once American journalists got their teeth into the story.
Vehicular manslaughter, while not a morals charge, still doesn’t reflect well on a bunch of aspiring boys-next-door.

Clearly, if Arista had any serious concerns about promoting the Rollers, it managed to get over them.
And everything worked out for the best, at least from Arista’s point of view:
McKeown got off on the most serious charges on Nov. 20, and the Rollers were free to conquer America.
“Saturday Night” would become the Number One single in the U.S. about a month-and-a-half after McKeown’s day in court.

Of course, things weren’t so easy on McKeown, who — at just 20 years old — was expected to keep performing and smiling through a time of massive personal stress and sorrow as if nothing had happened.
But if you want the details on that, you can read his tell-all autobiography.

Solo.

Posted on

Another installment in the Edinburgh Exorcism series of posts. Read this if you’re late joining in.

As my regular readers know, I have a fondness for Lone Pop Geniuses.

Tartan terror!Dennis Wilson, Todd Rundgren, Van Duren, Chris Bell … the list goes on. Show me a talented guy outside the mainstream, pursuing a creative artistic vision that is both uncommercial and catchy, and I’m sold.

(The same principle extends to people like Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney and Prince, who can package their talent and creativity into settings that move millions of records. But usually I go for the cult heroes above the platinum sellers.)

A casual music fan might not expect to find a performer like that in the Bay City Rollers’ orbit, given the Rollers’ entrenched image as a manufactured pop band for teenage girls.

But the Rollers did harbor such a musician, however briefly. And while I don’t know much of his story, I’ll repeat what I do know, in hopes of turning a couple more sets of ears his way.

# # #

The Rollers went through a lot of members in their first five years or so, before Rollermania took hold, first in the U.K. and then here.

One of them was a keyboardist — a fairly rare thing in the Rollers’ universe, as they favored a singer, two-guitars, bass and drums lineup for most of their career.

His name was Billy Lyall, and he passed through the group fairly quickly in 1970-71, along with a guitarist named Dave Paton.

One account I’ve read claims that Lyall and Paton considered themselves serious musicians, and were put off by the teenybop aspect of  the band.

Subsequent events support the first half of that sentence, if not necessarily the second. Lyall and Paton went on to form Pilot, an Edinburgh pop band that scored a Top 5 U.S. hit with “Magic” and a U.K. Number One hit with “January.”

From Pilot, Paton went on to a successful if low-profile pop career, recording with the Alan Parsons Project, Elton John and Rick Wakeman.

Lyall, for his part, recorded a solo album, Solo Casting, released in 1976 under the name William Lyall. (Session players on the album included Paton, Phil Collins and bassist Phil Chen, who played with Rod Stewart around the same time.)

I had absolutely no idea this album existed until about a week-and-a-half ago.

And y’know what? It’s an interesting, ambitious record, and pretty damn good in spots.

(Thankfully, someone uploaded it to YouTube. You won’t find it in the iTunes Store, and a used CD on Amazon will run you $50 a shot.)

Lyall’s tunes bounce unpredictably from style to style and section to section in a way that reminds me a little bit of Dennis Wilson’s. There’s some pop, and some prog, and some rock, and some piano pounding.

At other times, his music reminds me of Rundgren — none more so than “Don’t Be Silly,” with its heavily processed vocal swoops, creative backing vocal interjections and biting rock guitar solo:

“Us” is cut from similar cloth. Or, to use a better simile, it flows from a deep, lush, familiar well of Seventies pop. Except for some of the weirder vocal effects, it would have been right at home riding the singles charts alongside “Afternoon Delight”:

The title track of Solo Casting starts off as midtempo pop, drops into a slower middle section, emerges almost Fifties-flavored with a sax solo, then fakes an ending and pops back up again, ending for real on a sustaining pillow of strings and piano:

“Sleep,” meanwhile, is a lengthy orchestral instrumental built around a repeating piano pattern. It doesn’t really make me think of sleep, per se, but it’s a nice wide-screen piece of writing and arranging that would play well in a big-budget movie:


Unfortunately, Lyall died in 1989. And as far as I can discover, Solo Casting is his only solo recorded legacy. I would have liked to hear more from him.

Perhaps the age of the MP3 reissue will someday make Solo Casting readily available again — just as the digital music age gave new life to Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue and Van Duren’s Are You Serious?

I definitely think it’s a record I could spend some time with, if I could find it in a format that allowed that.

And maybe a re-release would bring some attention to a musician who deserves to be more than just a footnote to the Bay City Rollers story.

How do you say “Bay City Rollers” in Spanish?

Posted on

The next installment in my potentially endless Edinburgh Exorcism series of posts, devoted to the Bay City Rollers.

Tartan terror!I’ve been to Las Cruces, New Mexico. As best I can recall, there is no tartan to be seen there, nor is it a hotbed of Anglophilia.

It surprised me, then, to learn that Las Cruces may have been the Cradle of American Rollermania.

The online ARSA database contains hundreds of local radio airplay charts featuring the singles and albums of the Bay City Rollers.

I decided it would be fun to search the database and find the very earliest local radio chart to mention the band, just to acknowledge the station and city whose fans were first onto the Rollers bandwagon.

(The standard disclaimer applies: The ARSA database doesn’t include every local hit-radio chart ever, just the ones people have scanned in and submitted. Still, it gives the best and broadest view we have of local radio play patterns, especially for the ’60s and first half of the ’70s.)

The Rollers first start showing up on local chart radar in mid-September 1975, with Boston’s WBZ listing “Saturday Night” as hitbound during the week of Sept. 19.

An impressive bit of hitbreaking by WBZ? Certainly, when you consider that the song wouldn’t reach the national Top 40 until early November.

But the real pacesetters of Bay City Rollers fandom didn’t live in Boston: They lived in south-central New Mexico.

That’s where Top 40 station KNMS 660-AM reported the Bay City Rollers album at No. 25 in its list of top local albums for the week of Sept. 15 — beating WBZ by a few days, and representing the band’s earliest showing on any local chart in the ARSA archives.

The burghers of Las Cruces had pretty wide-ranging tastes. The local top albums list that week ranged from the Grateful Dead’s spacey Blues for Allah to the silky Philly soul of the Spinners’ Pick of the Litter to folk-blues cult hero Taj Mahal’s Music Keeps Me Together. (The Rollers were the only bubblegum group on the list.)

A Google search also tells me that the station was operated from New Mexico State University, as its call letters would suggest, and that its on-air staff in the mid-’70s styled themselves the “Ozone Rangers.”

(I can’t imagine they were too thrilled to program the teen-oriented sounds of the Bay City Rollers. But, you gotta give the people what they want.)

Seems like a weird place for a national trend to take root.

I’d theorize that maybe the Rollers moved units in Las Cruces simply because they were an exotic quantity. Adorable teenybop bands wearing plaid-trimmed flood-pants were probably pretty thin on the ground in 1975 New Mexico.

Or maybe there’s a case study here about thought leaders and the ways they spread their influence. Could be there was one alpha-female eighth-grader who glommed onto the Rollers somehow, and everyone else in her orbit followed her. Big fish, small pond, you know how it goes.

Whatever the reason, the teenagers of Las Cruces were in the vanguard of American popular culture in September 1975, perhaps for the first, last and only time.

Hope they savored it.

Fender imprecision.

Posted on

Yesterday’s post will explain what this is all about.

Tartan terror!I could tell in my bones that the Bay City Rollers were poseurs.

Way back when I was a teenager, I came upon a copy of the band’s first British album, Rollin’, in a secondhand bin.

I snapped it up. It was cheap enough, and I perceived it as a sort of entry point to a time and culture that did not directly involve me.

And soon enough I was checking out the tinny music and the wealth of fan-magazine biographical facts on the cover. (Did British girls in 1974 flock to Edinburgh to see the hospitals where their idols were born?)

But what stuck with me more than anything else was the band picture on the inside, which showed guitarist Eric Faulkner cheerfully holding a bass and bassist Alan Longmuir happily holding a guitar.

This cheerful defiance of unwritten rules offended some of my basic principles.

See, my dad is an electrical engineer by training. And while I did not inherit his mathematical talent, I inherited his fixation on details.

We were a family of liner-note readers and musical anal-retentives. When we listened to my parents’ favorite Paul Simon albums, we knew whether Richard Tee or Barry Beckett was playing the keyboard solo; whether he was playing it on a Hammond B-3, a Fender Rhodes or a Wurlitzer; and whether that was John Tropea or Eric Gale backing him up with tasteful guitar comps.

Rollin'So, seeing these guys who didn’t even hold the right instruments on their album cover — and didn’t even seem to care — was something of a minor scandal.

These goons can’t be real musicians, I thought. Clearly the music doesn’t matter to them. Their instruments are just props. They could just as well be posing with a soccer ball, or a loaded schoolbag, or a sack of potatoes.

I had a certain amount of derision toward their audience, too. Only teenyboppers would be so heedless and unthinking as to overlook such a visible discrepancy, I thought.

(This would have been before the Milli Vanilli scandal broke, so the willingness of teenage girls to let details slide hadn’t yet been driven home to me.)

And to top it all off, that wasn’t the only time the Rollers had played fast and loose.

The quickie Rollers paperback biography I’d bought for pocket change at the local library booksale had featured a picture of drummer Derek Longmuir, looking just as cheerful, strumming a Les Paul.

Poseurs, I thought.

Scandal!

# # #

As I get older, I’ve come to appreciate — maybe even envy, a little bit — the point of view of those heedless listeners who don’t care about the details.

I suspect they get what they want, and what they need, more often than we obsessives do.

They don’t spend time thinking about who plays what instrument — or even whether the guys on the album cover are playing the instruments at all. They don’t care whether the lead guitar is being filtered through a Leslie, a phaser or an envelope filter.

They just enjoy the music coming out of their stereos.

And I suspect they enjoy it at least as much, in the long run, as those of us who strain our memories trying to remember the names of percussionists and horn players.

The music is as much a part of their lives, as much a soundtrack, as it ever has been to mine. And it summons emotions and memories that are just as vivid for them as for me.

(I’ve mentioned before that I knew girls in high school who went to see Milli Vanilli perform “live” as part of the Club MTV Tour. I don’t know what those girls would say about it 25 years later … but I don’t believe any of them asked for their money back at the time.)

I’m not sure I’ll ever switch sides and join them. I’m not sure I could; I’m just not wired that way.

And even if I did, I don’t think the contents of Rollin’ would suddenly take a place alongside A Love Supreme or Astral Weeks on my personal hit parade.

It does seem like the non-obsessives take the shortest, most direct path to the enjoyment of music, though.

Maybe — with apologies to Eric, Derek, Les, Alan and Woody — maybe I’ve been the poseur all along.

Dedication.

Posted on

I’ve had a weird thing for the Bay City Rollers for years and years now.

It was never about the music, which was invariably bland and well-scrubbed and faceless and only occasionally energetic.

At first it was the cheese factor. Faced with the teen idols of my youth — the mulleted Richard Marxes and fraudulent Milli Vanillis — the idea of five scrawny Scotsmen wearing perpetual smiles and goofy tartan outfits seemed fresh and charming and just a little off-kilter.

(Plus, everything Seventies seemed interesting in comparison to everything Eighties. You had to have been there, I guess, to truly understand my wish to not have been there.)

Years later, I came to understand that the Rollers had a pretty compelling backstory that I never knew about when I was younger.

Their rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches-to-rags journey featured interpersonal conflict, decadent behavior, allegations of sexual predation, and the disappearance of millions of dollars that either slipped through the grinning lads’ tartan-lined pockets or never made it there in the first place.

An epic rock n’ roll story, all in all.

And, in an effort to get it out of my brain, I’m going to dive into it and splash around in it for a while.

Tartan terror!

For at least the next week, and probably longer, I’m going to blog about nothing but the Bay City Rollers, until I’ve said everything I might possibly want to say about them and will never want to mention them again.

I don’t care what happens in the world over the next week or two. I don’t care if Iggy Pop gets elected pope or Art Garfunkel knocks on my door for a cup of sugar or the Philadelphia Phillies pick up and move to Tulsa.

I’m calling this series of posts the Edinburgh Exorcism. All Rollers, all the time, until I can’t stand it any more. And I must be serious — I’ve even got a logo and stuff.

If you don’t find this sort of proposition of interest, keep checking back every few days. When the tartan logo no longer appears on my posts, the fever will have broken, and regular blog-service will have resumed.

I’ll probably see most of you then.