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.

130. Frankie Vaughan with Accompaniment directed by Ivor Raymonde – Tower of Strength (1961)

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It had been four years since Frankie Vaughan last had a number 1 with The Garden of Eden – the longest gap for a number 1 artist up to this point. However, he had continued to do well in the charts, occasionally troubling the top 10. How did Vaughan weather the storm of rock’n’roll, when so many other crooners couldn’t? Perhaps it was that ‘Mr Moonlight’ was unique when so many other singers of his ilk were too similar – too smooth and safe? His two number 1s suggest that might be the case. The Garden of Eden was tougher than most easy listening tunes in 1957, and Vaughan’s performance on Tower of Strength is not only unique, it’s extraordinary.

Since his previous chart-topper, Vaughan had continued to score plenty of hits – Man on Fire, Gotta Have Something in the Bank Frank (the latter was a duet with The Kaye Sisters) and Kisses Sweeter than Wine in 1957. Kewpie Doll in 1958, and Come Softly to Me (with The Kaye Sisters again) and The Heart of a Man in 1959, were all top 10 hits.

The song was written by Burt Bacharach, making this his third number 1. However, the lyrics came from Bob Hilliard, not Hal David, his better-known and more frequent collaborator. It had already been a hit in the US for singer-songwriter Gene McDaniels, but he didn’t have the following that Vaughan had in the UK, and his version barely scraped into the top 50.

Vaughan’s version begins with some rather bawdy-sounding trumpets, sounding like incidental music from a Carry On film. Despite the song’s title, the singer’s imposing physique and the bravado behind the performance, Vaughan is anything but a tower of strength in this track. He wants to break free from his relationship, and he lists the things he’d like to say, before imagining how she’d respond. He sounds not unlike Tom Jones in the way he bellows the vocals, and often that’s something that I’d run a mile from, but in the next section in which the horns turn into a stomp, he cuts loose so much he sounds more like an early soul singer.

He grunts, he growls, he sings ‘knees’ in a falsetto. He sounds unhinged. Vaughan has shot up in my estimation, and is now one of my favourite crooners. A little bit of madness goes a long way with me. I haven’t heard the original by McDaniels, or the other 1961 version from Paul Raven (later to become grotesque glam rock paedophile Gary Glitter), but I doubt either of them can beat Vaughan for entertainment value.

The hits finally did dry up for Frankie Vaughan in 1963. He suffered with ill health for many years, nearly dying of peritonitis in 1986, which curtailed his role in a stage version of 42nd Street at London’s Drury Lane. Despite his problems, he continued performing until shortly before his death from heart failure on 17 September 1999, aged 71.

The Scouse singer may have been most famous for his trademark top hat and cane, but beneath the glitz was a good heart. He gave away his royalties from Green Door in 1956 to Boys Clubs, by way of thanks for the help they gave him during his time as a refugee in Lancaster during World War Two. And in 1964 he was appointed to a committee to give advice on juvenile delinquency. Four years later he persuaded gangs in Glasgow to give up their knives in an amnesty.

Written by: Burt Bacharach & Bob Hilliard

Producer: Johnny Franz

Weeks at number 1: 3 (7-27 December)

Births:

Chef Marco Pierre White – 11 December 
Scottish presenter Carol Smillie – 23 December 

Deaths:

Children’s writer Charles Hamilton – 24 December