Alvin Stardust – The Magnet AlbumsAlvin Stardust: The Magnet Albums – album review

7T’s

3CD | DL

Released 14 January 2022 – preorder

New set which brings together the three Alvin Stardust albums recorded for Magnet Records between the years 1973 and 1975. The breakthrough smash My Coo Ca Choo and sole chart topper Jealous Mind feature, as well as six other UK pop chart hits. Also included is a surfeit of bonus material and a sleeve booklet with in-depth sleeve notes. Ian Canty straps on his stack-heeled brothel creepers

As Alvin Stardust, a bombastic rock & roller modernised through glam and taken to the ninth degree, didn’t exist in 1973, it was necessary to invent him (apologies to Voltaire). Songwriter Peter Shelley, (not Buzzcocks’ leader, this one later scored hits with Gee Baby and the frankly bizarre Love Me, Love My Dog) had recently founded the Magnet imprint with Michael Levy. What this new label lacked was a fashionable, glam rock superstar to conquer the charts. The trouble was, there wasn’t one readily available.

Shelley solved the problem by coming up with the Alvin Stardust name and concept, taking a huge slice of inspiration from David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album. His first activity was to establish the parameters of the persona as a leather-clad 1950s rocker refracted through glam and then he set about writing and recording the song My Coo Ca Choo. This number clearly had hit written all over it and was quickly released as a single, with Pull Together on the flipside. It made slow progress initially and the fly in the ointment was that Alvin didn’t actually exist, thus hindering promotion. Shelley was unwilling to to appear on stage under the Stardust name and after making a sole appearance under a mask on Lift Off With Ayesha to plug the record, Magnet sought someone else to play the role.

At this point in the story, enter the Muswell Hill-born, Nottingham-raised rock & roll journeyman Bernard Jewry aka Shane Fenton. Under the latter name he had some success with his band The Fentones in the years just before The Beatles changed the UK pop scene forever, but he was destined to make his biggest impact on taking the Alvin Stardust moniker. His voice was able to get very close to the one Shelley achieved on the single and, dressed up in black leather like a space-age version of Gene Vincent, he looked the part too. With an Alvin Stardust now available for television appearances, My Coo Ca Choo stormed up the UK singles chart to number two. From this point Bernard/Shane (I will refer to him as Alvin going forward to save confusion) lived the part, with a memorable, gloved hand-twirling Top Of The Pops spot sealing the deal.

Fitted out in a sleeve-photo of Alvin posed with a cat for some reason, the follow-up 7″ Jealous Mind did even better, topping the charts for one week in the new year of 1974. The debut LP, The Untouchable Alvin Stardust, reached the UK Top five at around the same time too. This record makes up the first disc of The Magnet Records, along with a short but droll jingle designed to promote the second album (which probably would have made more sense on disc two) and the first single’s country hoedown b-side Pull Together. The LP itself was mostly written by Shelley, with Stardust chipping in on four numbers himself and Peter Goalby providing The Bump (which has nothing to do with the Kenny song of the same name). Though harking back to the first flush of rock & roll for inspiration like much of glam rock, creditably the album does not take the easy route of merely updating 1950s cover versions to pad it out.

My Coo Ca Choo kicks things off with a glitterbeat-enhanced flourish and is pretty hard-hitting for a pop tune too. The moody electrified r&b of Be My Judy is a goodie and The Bump’s more earthy version of the blues presents itself as a more raucous item. This may seem to take a step or two away from the overall theme and more towards upfront 70s hard rock, but this is a neat enough effort. Jealous Mind was a classy single, a tightening up of the formula of its predecessor maybe, but a fine one adeptly splicing biting guitars and a dance beat with Alvin’s honey-dripping vocal style. I’m In Love Again harnesses a Alice Cooper/Stooges-style attack that dives headfirst into the original rock & roll sound and it works brilliantly, and the following High Fever does a similar trick in a more restrained manner. The wah-wah Elvis update Guitar Star concludes the album on a high.

There is a bit of filler on this LP (the country-flecked ballad You’re My Everything springs to mind), but for the most part it’s a thoroughly entertaining ride that provides a large dose of genuine colourful fun to a music scene that was attempting to gradually shaking off the hangover of the swinging 1960s. Though not in the Bowie/Bolan/Slade/Roxy league obviously, The Untouchable is right up there with the best of the rest.

The self-titled second collection continued the cat motif on its sleeve and is bolstered on disc two of this set by seven bonus tracks, including the sole single by Alvin’s live backing outfit The Heartbeats. The LP itself followed in the tradition of the first by having a red-hot single as the opening track – this time around it was the brilliant Red Dress 45. A imaginative and futuristic rocker with synth splurges, it came over like a proto-electropop Troggs and racked up another well-deserved hit. Combined with the punchy Heartbeat, this was a hell of a way to start another set of fresh material. Shelley and Stardust penned the tunes for the most part, only calling on the assistance of Dave Maynard and John Fiddy for a couple of tracks.

The sappy ballad Where’s She Gone does take a bit of wind out of the sails though after that up-tempo and thrilling opening. However, You, You, You, a lighter version of his trademark stomp that was another sizeable hit single, and the thumping glam blues of Chilli Willi get things back on track. The latter song is versioned in a screaming, two-part glam fashion by Alvin’s stage band The Heartbeats on their 7”, and these two sides close out this disc. Jump Down! and Shake On Little Roller are both convincing rock & roll upgrades, but Tell Me Why goes back more overtly to the 1950s source, a straight doo wop influenced slowie. Despite this change of emphasis, it still managed to nip into the Top 20 as a single. First Train Out follows in a more restrained, vocal-dominated style and before the grandstanding Blind Fool ends this second LP with only the merest hint of glam’s flash in its cutting guitar line.

Alvin Stardust the album got a bit lost in the run up to Christmas 1974 and as a result only scraped into the UK Top 40. Nevertheless I found this a hugely enjoyable set, probably for me Stardust’s best. The bonuses here mop up the 45 flipsides and include the number eleven hit Good Love Can Never Die, a jangly pop tune imbued with a restless rhythm. The energetic Come On! is a highlight, and Route 66 is ably spoofed to include Newcastle and the A1 on a very wry Roadie Roll On.

For the final Magnet collection Rock With Alvin, Shelley, the driving force of the project, was now focussing on his own solo career and stepped away from the team. As a result the album falls back on a number of rock & roll cover versions. It’s a bit of a disappointment after the first two LPs, but a wholly understandable move considering the circumstances and that the glam wave was receding quickly in 1975. Roger Greenway stepped into the breach after Shelley’s departure and is responsible in part at least for most of new material here, with Alvin himself penning the speedy blues rock of Come On (a different song to the one from the Alvin Stardust album).

Opening up the album are two numbers Eddie Cochran made famous and Twenty Flight Rock follows the Stardust glam blueprint to the letter. C’mon Everybody is given an unusual, funky reading, and Cliff’s Move It undergoes a moody refit for Alvin’s last single success of the 1970s. The MOR ballad It’s Better To Be Cruel Than Be Kind is okay, though it is no real shock to find out it flopped as a single. But the very neat Angel From Hamburger Heaven surely deserved a better fate. Good Love Can Never Die in a remixed form is included and the album finishes with another funk number Never In A Million Years, which was a million miles away from the smash hits of Alvin’s heyday. It’s an odd record to be honest, but not without a certain haphazard charm.

A generous eleven bonus efforts complete The Magnet Albums set. They include Sweet Cheatin’ Rita single, the last gasp of Stardust’s glam glory which preceded the Rock With Alvin album and just about scraped into the Top 40 in the UK, and Be Smart Be Safe, part of a Green Cross Code campaign that had Alvin memorably addressing a couple of kid jaywalkers with the words “you must be out of your tiny minds” in a Public Information Film. It of course comes with plenty of 70s hauntology novelty value which doesn’t mask what is a good slice of heads-down tough rock & roll.

An odd single choice, The Word Is Out is more a good album track rather than something to set the charts aflame, but it isn’t bad at all and the folk rock of Growin’ Up is certainly a bit different. You could say the same for A Hobo’s Life, which has a light music box style, but Sweet Little Rock ‘N’ Roller, a hit in 1979 for Showaddywaddy, takes us back to the 50s given a glam beat sound. A noisy cover of Jailhouse Rock is satisfyingly raw and Love Is Real, which completes the set, is an interesting attempt to update the Alvin Stardust sound for the late 1970s.

After Alvin left Magnet and with glam rock now thoroughly outmoded, he spent a few years in the doldrums. To his credit, he returned to score hits in the early 1980s, firstly on Stiff Records in 1981 with Pretend. Eventually that second flush of success waned, but he still cut out a career in television presenting and acting. He also continued to perform on stage into the 21st century, playing up his 70s glam image to the hilt. Sadly he passed away in October 2014, just as his first new album for decades was being readied for release.

Although Alvin Stardust was an artificial construction to a certain extent and never likely to threaten the “big guns” of glam, what is featured on The Magnet Albums is consistently enjoyable, cleverly realised and imaginative; especially given the narrow confines of updated 1950s rock & roll that the project was built on. The second, self-titled album is probably the pick of the three, but The Untouchable runs it very close. The singles are always great fun, with at least three of them at least being nailed on classics and some of the b-sides tinker with the formula to produce impressive results. In the booklet that comes with the set is a very well-written and informative history of Stardust’s germination, and includes evocative photographs taken from magazines and single picture sleeves. People go on about “guilty pleasures” but there should be no shame at all in embracing The Magnet Albums, full of wonderful, surprisingly tough-sounding and immediately pleasing pop music.

Preorder here

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All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here

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2 COMMENTS

  1. This why I love Louder Than War! Who else would do a serious review of Alvin Stardust reissues? If any other magazine/website actually did, it would all be post-post-modern ironic sneering etc….

    Brilliant stuff Ian and LTW!

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