335. Gary Glitter – I’m the Leader of the Gang (I Am!) (1973)

I’ve been dreading this ever since I started this blog. How to review the music of one of the, if not the first pop star to be effectively erased from modern times. Gary Glitter was one of the most popular glam rockers of the 70s, and through several comebacks in the 80s or 90s, was a national treasure (and yes, I thought he was great), until his ill-fated trip to PC World and the discovery of child pornography on his computer in 1997. He’s now rightly a figure of hate. At best, he’s ammunition for cheap jokes. His music is rarely heard anywhere, and made the headlines recently for its use in the Todd Haynes’ acclaimed Joker (2019). In the world of cancelled culture, musicians have mostly escaped unscathed. I’ve already reviewed number 1s by the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry. But Glitter is another matter.

Paul Francis Gadd was born 8 May 1944 in Banbury, Oxfordshire. His mother, a cleaner, raised him with the help of her mother. He never knew his father. Gadd was a troublesome child, and he was 10 when he and his brother were taken into local authority care. He would frequently run away and head for London, and he became determined he would one day be a star there.

In 1960, aged 15, Gadd released his first record with Decca Records under the name Paul Raven, Alone in the Night. It got him nowhere, but he did well performing in nightclubs in and around Soho. A year later, Raven signed with Parlophone and worked with future Beatles producer George Martin. A further two singles, Walk On Boy and Tower of Strength (a number 1 for Frankie Vaughan that year) also tanked.

Fast-forward to 1964 and Raven was struggling, serving as the warm-up man on ITV’s Ready Steady Go!. He was also wearing a wig, as he had gone bald at 18. Raven starred in TV adverts and auditioned for films, and around this time he first met producer Mike Leander. In early 1965 he joined The Mike Leander Show Band, and soon was helping as a deputy on some of Leander’s production sessions. When the band split, Raven helped form Boston International and toured the UK and Germany. Several singles were also released, sometimes under the name Paul Monday, including a cover of Here Comes the Sun.

Raven must have felt fame would never be his, until he watched on from the sidelines as glam rock began to rise thanks to T. Rex. He searched for a new name. Working backward through the alphabet, he tried to find an alliterative name… Vicky Vomit, Terry Tinsel and Stanley Sparkle were among those considered, before he settled on Gary Glitter.

Glitter and Leander went into the studio and worked on a 15-minute jam session that was to finally catapult him into stardom. Splitting the jam into Rock and Roll, Parts 1 and 2 became Glitter’s first single release in 1972, reaching number two in the UK. With a stomping, deep beat, filthy guitar sound and echoey, double-tracked vocals to hide a poor singing voice, the trademark Glitter sound was there from the start. Rock and Roll, Part 1 paid tribute to the music of Glitter’s past, but Rock and Roll, Part 2 was most popular worldwide. It was instrumental, save for Glitter’s ‘Hey’. This was his only US hit and became used extensively in sport there, where it became known as ‘The Hey Song’. It was also the version in Joker, and in 1988, was reworked by Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond, aka, The KLF, aka in this instance The Timelords, as Doctorin’ the Tardis, where it shot to number 1 and gave Glitter his umpteenth comeback.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. With his flamboyant outfits, bouffant wigs and demented stare, Glitter became an instant glam icon, who loved to mythologise himself in a string of hit singles. After years of missing out, his simple, direct glam rock was a case of right place, right time. Debut album Glitter went top 10, and another track from it, I Didn’t Know I Loved You (Till I Saw You Rock and Roll) reached number four.

After the success of Rock and Roll, Parts 1 and 2, Glitter and Leander knew they would need a regular backing band for live shows. The Boston Showband became known as The Glittermen and soon after settled on The Glitter Band. The group consisted of John Rossall (trombone and musical director), Gerry Shephard (lead guitar and vocals), Pete Phipps (drums and keyboards), Tony Leonard (drums), John Springate (bass and vocals), and Harvey Ellison (saxophone).

In 1973, Glitter came ever closer to the top spot, with two singles from Touch Me, Do You Wanna Touch Me and Hello, Hello, I’m Back Again reaching number two. Rossall and Ellison took part in the sessions for Touch Me, but the rest of the instruments were once again Glitter and Leander. However, it seems more likely to have been purely Leander, as it was Glitter who claimed he helped, and who can believe a thing he says?).

I’m the Leader of the Gang (I Am!) became the first of three number 1s for Glitter, and, until he was uncovered as a paedophile, one of his most enduring anthems and giving him the nickname ‘the Leader’.

So here I am listening to Gary Glitter songs in full for the first time in over 20 years. It’s a weird experience to say the least. When the Michael Jackson documentary Leaving Neverland was shown last year, I wondered if I could ever listen to his music again, but I have done, from time to time. When it came to listening to Glitter, I did it in an empty house, with earphones, with a sense of shame and a feeling of being complicit in something terrible.

And yet I had a strange feeling of nostalgia listening to I’m the Leader of the Gang (I Am!). I loved it as a boy, the slow ‘Come on! Come on!’ stomp building in speed and power, and I also liked Glitter, despite being scared by his manic staring. I like Leander’s production on Glitter’s hits and it’s a shame his work has also been wiped from public consciousness – I don’t know if it’s the associations Glitter’s discography now has, but there’s an uneasy, eerie feeling to these songs… I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s a unique, exciting sound.

However, any sentiment I might have felt about this number 1 vanished after I heard Glitter laugh after singing ‘I’m the man who put the bang in gang!’. It disgusted me, brought me to my senses and also made me think I’ve found the reasons Glitter is reviled so much and his work will never be reappraised. Most of the lyrics at best sound seedy, at worst, boastful of his behaviour, like barely hidden clues, as if daring us to find him out. He’s never shown the remotest bit of remorse for his crimes. There’s footage of him on YouTube, leering and winking and mock-shushing people for hinting at his love of schoolchildren on This Is Your Life. He was a fake in his public and private life. A fat, bald pervert, pretending to be a children’s hero. His music would have to be incredible to make you forget all this and enjoy it at all. It isn’t.

Written by: Garry Glitter & Mike Leander

Producer: Mike Leander

Weeks at number 1: 4 (28 July-24 August)

Births:

Terrorist Richard Reid – 12 August
Northern Irish radio presenter Stephen Nolan – 20 August

Deaths:

Race car driver Roger Williamson – 29 July
Actor James Beck – 6 August
Motorcycle designer Edward Turner – 15 August
Labour Party MP George Benson – 17 August
Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Basil Brooke, 1st Viscount Brookeborough – 18 August

Meanwhile…

30 July: 18 coalminers were killed in the Markham Colliery disaster near stately, Derbyshire when the brake mechanism on their cage failed.
Also that day, £20,000,000 was paid to victims of the Thalidomide scandal following a court case that had run for 11 years.

31 July: Militant protesters of Ian Paisley disrupted the first sitting of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

8 August: Stoke City and England goalkeeper Gordon Banks announced his retirement from football. He had lost sight in one eye in a car crash in October 1972.

20 August: Len Shipman, president of the Football League, called for the government to bring back the birch to deal with the rise of football hooligans.

21 August: The coroner in the inquest into Bloody Sunday accused the British army of ‘sheer unadulterated murder’ following the jury’s open verdict.

308. The New Seekers – I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony) (1972)

The first new number 1 of 1972 was the first time a song was a mammoth hit because of its association with a TV advert. Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames topped the charts in 1966 with Get Away, which was used in a commercial for petrol, but I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony), used by Coca-Cola, is probably the most famous example of all, and the one that opened ad men’s eyes to the idea of how much money could be made this way.

It all began in Ireland a year previous. Bill Backer was the creative director for the McCann Erickson advertising agency in the US. Backer was supposed to be meeting songwriter Billy Davis in London to discuss new radio jingles for the soft drink giant. Davis had written several brilliant hits for soul star Jackie Wilson, including Reet Petite (1986 Christmas number 1) and (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher and he had then moved into the lucrative advertising world. Davis was to be joined by British hitmakers Roger Cook and Peter Greenaway.

London fog had caused Backer’s plane to land in Shannon, Ireland instead. Understandably, Backer noticed how angry some of the passengers were at being forced to stay there overnight until the fog lifted. But the following day, he noted many of those people were sat laughing and joking, many drinking from bottles of Coke. An idea began to form.

When he met with the others in London, Backer told them of his idea of ‘buying the world a Coke’. Davis wasn’t bowled over, saying if he had his way he’d buy everyone a house and give peace and love to all first. Backer told him to start writing and he’d show him how his concept could fit in with it. Together with Cook and Greenaway, who let them use the tune of a single they wrote for Susan Shirley called Mom, True Love and Apple Pie, they came up with ‘I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke’. A month later the jingles were released to US radio, and did so well, Davis’s DJ friends told him he should consider a single version.

Meanwhile, Backer was busy coming up with one of the most famous adverts of all time. So famous, it inspired the ending of one of the best US drama series of the past decade (I won’t say which, just in case you’re still watching it). Filming began on the white cliffs of Dover, but constant rain moved the shoot to Rome instead, where eventually 500 young people were assembled to lip sync to the catchy jingle. The epic advert, which you can see here, hit TV screens that July. It was huge.

Davis wanted The New Seekers to record a rewritten single version, but their manager said they were too busy, and so instead he arranged for session singers to record it, and christened them The Hillside Singers. The new version dropped all references to Coke, including their ‘It’s the real thing’ slogan. With the single climbing the charts, suddenly The New Seekers found themselves available.

Ironically, much like ‘New Coke’ in the 80s, London-based pop act The New Seekers had little connection to the Australian folk group The Seekers, who had achieved two UK number 1s in the 60s. They had split in 1968, and one of the quartet, Keith Potger, decided to use the name to give his new group, who he managed, a leg-up. Formed in 1969, they originally consisted of Laurie Heath, Chris Barrington, Marty Kristian, Eve Graham and Young Generation member Sally Graham (no relation).

The first album made no impact, so Potger shuffled the line-up around, adding himself, Lyn Paul, Peter Doyle and Paul Layton and removing Heath, Barrington and Sally Graham. Despite some US success, they continued to struggle in the UK until June 1971 when their cover of Delaney & Bonnie’s Never Ending Song of Love spent five weeks at number two. The reworking of the Coke jingle could be a great way to keep the ball rolling.

There’s no denying the infectious quality of Cook and Greenaway’s tune – so much so that expert pilferer Noel Gallagher adopted it for one of my favourite Oasis singles, Shakermaker. And obviously, the message of the Coke advert really struck a chord with America in particular, a country desperately in need of peace, love and unity as the war in Vietnam raged on (one has to wonder if ad companies are working on a similar thing during the coronavirus pandemic). But as a standalone single, it’s too twee and lightweight to deserve the mammoth sales it enjoyed. It sounds more like a Eurovision single circa 1968, playing catch-up with the hippy idealism of the time.

Nonetheless it established The New Seekers, who had a second number 1 in 1973. And Coca-Cola had another associated number 1 in the UK – the earnest power ballad First Time, by Robin Beck, in 1988.

Written by: Bill Backer, Bill Davis, Roger Cook & Roger Greenaway

Producer: Al Ham

Weeks at number 1: 4 (8 January-5 February)

Births:
Conservative MP Gavin Barwell – 23 January
Take That singer Mark Owen – 27 January

Meanwhile…

9 January: The National Union of Mineworkers held a strike ballot in which 58.8% voted in favour of industrial action. Coal miners began a strike which lasted for seven weeks. It was the first time they had been on strike officially since 1926, but more action would take place in the 70s.

20 January: Unemployment exceeded the 1,000,000 mark for the first time since the 30s – almost double the 582,000 who were unemployed when Edward Heath rose to to power less than two years previous – but that’s the Tories for you.

30 January: Bloody Sunday. After several years of growing tension in Northern Ireland, the most infamous incident of the Troubles took place when 14 Roman Catholic civil rights protestors were gunned down by British paratroopers in Londonderry. A further 14 were injured.

2 February: In retaliation for Bloody Sunday, protesters burned down the British Embassy in Dublin. 

3–13 February: And yet Great Britain and Northern Ireland competed as one team at the Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan. But they didn’t win any medals.