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