Bay City Rollers – power pop genius or goofy buffoons?
Where do you stand on the Rollers- the ultimate in seventies pop rubbish or perhaps the ultimate in proto punk rock n roll- as important as the New York Dolls and an unmentioned influence on punk itself?
Of course we hated them at the time but now they sound genius.
The Bay City Rollers were perceived as gurning buffoons committing hideous pop crimes. They arrived at the tail end of glam rock with overgrown feather cuts and Stonehenge teeth smiles caught in one of those screechy, screaming, pop rollercoaster rides of teenage lust and endless squealing that used to have the word ‘mania’ attached on the end of the band’s name by tabloids in a desperate echo of Beatlemania.
For a couple of years they seemed to equal the fan intensity of the mad Beatles, wet knicker landslide that had so altered the sixties but they ended up, like so many since then, enormous for a few glorious months before dissolving into court cases and a bitter twilight.
At their peak they were the young, dumb and full of tartan cum fantasy for early seventies, pre pubescent, sexually explosive mid teens looking for a fantasy fuck and cuddle from their favourite goofy pin ups.
ÃÂ The Bay City Rollers story is the ultimate tale of the road to ruin ride of pop- years of graft on the Scottish club circuit in the late sixties, a brief three years of being teen sensations, then big time in the USA before the wheels came off. They then lost millions. There was an afterlife of dingy sex, drugs, jail, a dark comedown after the brief orgasm of thrilling success.
Somehow battered and bruised there remains a love for the band, the teeny boppers, now middle aged woman, turn out for the band and at the Rebellion punk festival a couple of years ago one of the many line ups of the band went down a storm with non ironic, good time, sing a longs from punk rockers old enough to know better.
They still tour in dribs and drabs- a former member here and there celebrating the ghosts of some long lost screamathon, celebrating lost youth and white half mast kecks with bits of tartan sewn on them.
And yet somehow there is something of the classic about the band.
They were just not that bad.
In these Cowell days when all pop seems to be slushy auto tune ballads that have no sentiment the leering, joyous come on the Bay City Rollers anthems sound like perfect naive, teenage anthems. they were punk before punk. Not a million miles away from such national treasures as the Undertones.
Their songs now sound like the first fumbling grope in a freezing cold mid seventies youth club and the soundtrack to a million half hidden zits and disappointing hand jobs.
There is a brilliant pop naivety to their upbeat anthems and a simple doe eyed melancholy to their sadder tunes that, even then, harked back to a simpler time of the late fifties.
Shang A Lang is anthemic and could be the Scottish national anthem, Bye Bye Baby is mercurial in it’s innocence and seemed to be number one for ever, Money Honey is an example of when they almost convincingly rocked it up for that much hoped for but rarely achieved crossover- the point when the boys had to gruntingly admit that were not that bad before attempting to spell Led Zepplin correctly as they carved it into the school desk with a flick knife.
After signing with Bell Records, the band’s first hit was Keep On Dancing” which got to number 9 in 1971- a cover of a 1965 hit by The Gentrys, it was recorded at the suggestion of Jonathan King. It also featured original Rollers vocalist, Nobby Clark, backed on vocals by King doing multi tracked singing.
After a few follow up flop singles, Nobby was replaced by the ragamuffin Les McKeown whose crooked smile made him look like the hard kid trying to be cute for the girls, Mckeown looked like the fairground dodgem hustler- a job that oozed the ultimate in seventies glam and ambition and his leering charisma ignited the band into the big time.
They didn’t get another hit till 1974’s (Remember) Sha La la and then for three years they were pop gods. With their half mast, baggy tarten and birds nest hair they were pop TV staples and the hits kept coming- including their first number one in America with Saturday Night. Rollermania threatened to engulf the world, well the tabloids, and their singles were massive and there were number one albums. They were huge in America before the wheels came off with scandals, fuck ups and a fashion sea change when punk made them obsolete and the Rollermania girls hid their tartans and swopped them for the heavy manners punk rock gear and looked coyly embarrassed about their Roller love.
Oddly the band was one of the unspoken influences on punk rock- Malcolm Maclaren wanted the Pistols to be a ruder version of the Bay City Rollers, the Ramones are often quoted as claiming the Rollers to be their favourite band and there is a whiff of the Rollers in the Clash or Generation X, their converse shoes, hitched up pants and spiky hair were oddly more in tune with what came next than some of their contemporaries.
The Rollers songs, with their nod to classic power pop and girl group melodicism and neon Saturday nights of teenage lust and fish and finger pies weirdly sound like Jesus And The Mary Chain and classic indie pop.
Revisiting their anthems is a goofy pleasure and a timely reminder of the power of classic pop.
It’s, oddly, that good.