In 1972 Slade were becoming wise to the glam rock movement springing up around them. They were already changing from their skinhead look, growing their hair out again, but they also began wearing increasingly outlandish outfits – particularly guitarist Dave Hill.
They also became obsessed with the idea of entering the charts at number 1 in week one, a feat that hadn’t been achieved since The Beatles and Billy Preston with Get Back. Last single Take Me Bak ‘Ome had been number 1 for a week earlier that year, but… well it wasn’t great, really. They needed something stronger. While recording it, as stated in the accompanying blog, Noddy Holder ad-libbed halfway through, and bassist Jim Lea liked what he heard… but asked him to save it as it had given him an idea for a new song.
The tune for Mama Weer All Crazee Now was for the first totally written by Lea. In a 1984 interview with Record Mirror, he recalled he had attended a Chuck Berry gig in 1972 where the legendary guitarist kept stopping his songs to let the crowd sing them for him, and he decided to write a readymade anthem where they could do the same. Combining it with the aforementioned ad-libs and recalling Holder’s comment after surveying the aftermath of one of their own gigs at Wembley Arena (‘Christ, everyone must have been crazy tonight’) he came up with My My We’re All Crazy Now.
And thus, the Slade formula was finally born. And what a formula it was. Holder letting rip over a simple but memorable riff, a simple ear-worm chorus fit for a stadium with crowd-like backing vocals, lyrics about having a good time… that’s all there is to it. But it hits that sweet spot so well. There were even better number 1s to come, but Mama Weer All Crazee Now is great fun. Ok, not a lot going on lyrically – it’s basically about wanting to get pissed on whisky. But what’s that bit about filling up ‘H’ Hill’s left shoe – is that a reference to their guitarist?
It doesn’t matter, it’s about the energy, and the climax, where Don Powell hits the drums repeatedly and Holder shouts ‘MAMA MAMA MAMA MAMA’ is brilliant.
Slade didn’t quite go straight in at number 1 this time around, but they did enter at two, and they got there in the end.
Written by: Noddy Holder & Jim Lea
Producer: Chas Chandler
Weeks at number 1: 3 (9-29 September)
Newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky – 9 September Oasis singer Liam Gallagher – 21 September Breaststroke swimmer Richard Maden – 21 September
Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher – 15 September
11 September: BBC One broadcast long-running quiz series Mastermind was broadcast for the first time, with Magnus Magnusson asking the questions until 1997. John Humphrys has been presenter since 2003.
12 September: The second Cod War was triggered when two British trawlers were sunk by an Icelandic gunboat.
13 September: 20 years after their debut in France, hypermarkets came to the UK when Carrefour opened in Caerphilly, South Wales.
18 September: On the orders of dictator Idi Amin, thousands of deported Ugandan Asians arrived in the UK.
19 September: A parcel bomb killed a diplomat at the Israeli embassy in London.
How fitting. As I write this, school’s out completely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and I’m still recovering from a ‘week off’ work where I was responsible for home-schooling my children. Don’t get me wrong, there were some nice moments, but I hated science at school and a day of experiments with an eight-year-old demanding answers and a five-year-old who would rather show me a fairy she’d sat on a tree stump left me in pieces. My mum has always insisted I should be a teacher and last week proved I was right all along.
UPDATE: as I prepare this to go live, the kids have actually returned to school at last, making this all rather ironic. How long it will last before another lockdown, we shall see.
Anyway, School’s Out. A summertime classic and rock standard, used in every film or TV show that wants to capture that feeling of childhood ecstasy, knowing that for a few weeks, freedom is there for the taking. This song turned Alice Cooper into a superstar. But did you know that originally, Alice Cooper was the name of his band? Me neither.
Cooper was born Vincent Damon Furnier on 4 February 1948 in Detroit, Michigan. Far from the ‘Godfather of Shock Rock’ he became, Furnier was from a family of evangelists and was active in church too as a boy. He was a sickly child, and following several bouts of illness, the family moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where he attended Cortez High School. Years later, Furnier’s high-school yearbook was found and inside he had written his ambition was to be ‘a million record seller’.
When Furnier was 16 in 1964, he was keen to take part in a school talent show, so he and four of his cross-country teammates, including future Alice Cooper band members Glen Buxton and Dennis Dunaway, became a Beatles spoof group called The Earwigs. Guitarist Buxton was the only one with an instrument so the others mimed. Their parodies of Fab Four hits went down a storm and they won.
They decided to form a garage rock band and bought instruments from a pawn shop, and with Buxton writing songs and teaching the others how to play, they became The Spiders. Furnier sang, with Dunaway on bass. In 1966 Michael Bruce became their rhythm guitarist, and a year later, now known as Nazz, Neal Smith became their drummer.
In 1968, now living in Los Angeles, they discovered there was already a band called The Nazz (featuring Todd Rundgren). Searching for a new name, Furnier believed they needed a gimmick and reckoned an innocuous name like Alice Cooper made for a nice counterpoint to the grisly theatrics they began to adopt when performing. For a long time there was an urban legend that the band came up with the name via a ouija board, but it was later discredited.
Developing outrageous antics on stage via cross-dressing, face paint and their primitive psychedelic rock, they began to cause a stir. One gig in Venice, California saw Alice Cooper empty the venue in 10 minutes. Music manager Shep Gordon thought this was brilliant and saw a way such negativity could get them noticed. He arranged them an audition with cult counterculture icon Frank Zappa, then looking for unusual acts for his new label Straight Records. He asked Alice Cooper to be at his house for seven. They thought he meant in the morning and woke him, but he was impressed by their commitment and signed them.
Alice Cooper’s first LP, Pretties for You, was released in 1969, the same year they made the papers for an incident in which a live chicken was thrown into the crowd, where the wheelchair users of the front row proceeded to tear it to pieces. Horrible, but the singer later claimed it was an accident. Whether it was or not, the press made it even more extreme and claimed he bit the chicken’s head off and drank its blood. He denied this but Zappa told him to pretend otherwise.
Despite the controversy, Alice Cooper weren’t actually selling many records. Their first two albums tanked. They were teamed up with Bob Ezrin for their final Straight Records release, Love It to Death, scheduled for 1971. Preceding single I’m Eighteen was a hit, and this is very much down to the partnership of Ezrin with the band, who Cooper later described as ‘our George Martin’. He toned down the weirdness and cranked up the volume, with a heavy but clean sound, more palatable for rock fans.
Despite the work on their recorded output, the live shows became ever more theatrical and dark, featuring the androgynoius Furnier (by now calling himself Alice Cooper) wrapped in a boa constrictor, baby dolls covered in blood and even a mock execution at the gallows. There had never been anything quite like it. This was the Devil’s version of glam rock. Next album Killer was also a success, and in the summer of 1972, just in time for the holidays, came the follow-up School’s Out and then the title track hit the singles chart.
So ingrained is School’s Out in popular culture, it’s hard to critically assess it with fresh ears. That mighty riff from Buxton is very memorable, and fits in perfectly with the glam rock scene in the UK. But of course, a song with lyrics about blowing up your school, featuring the nursery rhyme ‘No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks’ being sung by children… how could it not be a hit? Cooper’s snarling vocal is perfect, and actually, listening anew has made me appreciate what a great pop song it is. And the balls of Cooper, to actually sing in one verse ‘We can’t even think of a word that rhymes’, just because he could. Great stuff, and pretty shocking for the 1972 charts. The teachers complaining about Slade misspelling their song titles must have been beside themselves when this toppled them.
Among those complaining was miserable busybody campaigner Mary Whitehouse, who persuaded the BBC to ban the video. Cooper sent her flowers for the free publicity.
Alice Cooper’s tours broke box office records in 1973, and they reached their commercial peak with the album Billion Dollar Babies, but their gruelling schedule was taking its toll. Muscle of Love, released in 1974, was the last album by Alice Cooper, the band.
As we all know, Alice Cooper, the man with the woman’s name, continued. He changed his name legally to avoid any legal issues with his former group, and his first solo album Welcome to my Nightmare, recorded with Lou Reed’s backing musicians, was a big hit in 1975. Bruce, Dunaway and Smith formed a short-lived new group, Billion Dollar Babies, which split after one album in 1977. They would occasionally reunite with Buxton, but sadly he died of pneumonia in 1997, aged 49.
Although Cooper has remained a star throughout his solo years, there have been struggles with alcoholism, which became so bad, he entered a sanitarium in 1977. It provided inspiration for his 1978 album From the Inside, co-written with Bernie Taupin. His recovery was short-lived though – Cooper claims to have no recollection of recording any of his albums from the early-80s. With fortunes fading, he was hospitalised with cirrhosis of the liver, and the next few years he dealt with his own personal demons and divorce.
He returned to the fray in 1986, and fitted in very nicely during the years of slasher horror films. His song He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask) was used in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives that year, and he had cameos in Prince of Darkness (1987) and Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991). Cooper also had a guest spot at WrestleMania III in 1987, standing in Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts’ corner against the Honky Tonk Man.
In 1991, Cooper guested on the Guns N’ Roses album Use Your Illusion I and had a memorable, brilliant cameo in the music comedy Wayne’s World in 1992. His musical output became more sporadic, and as the decade continued his brand of rock went out of fashion, to be replaced by grunge. In October 1999, fans of the band Alice Cooper rejoiced as all four surviving members performed together at the second Glen Buxton Memorial Weekend. Since then they have reunited several times with guest guitarists, including for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.
2015 saw Cooper unveil Hollywood Vampires, a rock supergroup also featuring actor Johnny Depp and Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry. The group honours and is named after a celebrity drinking club formed by Cooper in the 70s. Aged 72, Cooper has defied the odds to outlive many of those old club members.
Written by: Alice Cooper, Michael Bruce, Glen Buxton, Denis Dunaway & Neal Smith
Producer: Bob Ezrin
Weeks at number 1: 3 (12 August-1 September)
Scottish field hockey forward David Ralph – 17 August Presenter Victoria Coren Mitchell – 18 August
Aviator Francis Chichester – 26 August Prince William of Gloucester – 28 August
26 August-10 September: Great Britain and Northern Ireland won four gold, five silver and nine bronze medals at the Olympics in Munich, West Germany.
28 August: Prince William of Gloucester, 30-year-old cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, is killed in an air crash near Wolverhampton.
1 September: The school leaving age at the end of the academic year in England and Wales was raised from 15 to 16. Temporary buildings were erected in secondary modern and comprehensive schools to accommodate the older pupils, while some authorities raised the secondary school transfer age from 11 to 12 or 13. The age was also raised in Scotland and Northern Ireland. ‘Well we’ve got no choice/All the girls and boys’…
By the dry, dull summer of 1972, glam rock was on the rise. T. Rex had already peaked with their four number 1s, but other acts were now breaking through. The Sweet had scored several hits with Co-Co and Little Willy and two landmark albums were released in June – Roxy Music’s eponymous debut LP, and most importantly, David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. In the first week of July he made his famous appearance on Top of the Pops for Starman, putting his arm around guitarist Mick Ronson and making rock history.
That same week, Slade were celebrating their second number 1. Since 1971’s Cos I Luv You, the Wolverhampton glam-rockers had turned down a multi-million-dollar campaign in the US to star in their own TV series and tour. But while the chance to become the next Monkees must have been appealing, singer Noddy Holder reportedly told the NME that they didn’t want to cancel commitments and let down their UK fans.
In January 1972 they released follow-up single Look Wot You Dun, written mostly by bassist Jim Lea and drummer Don Powell, with some help from Holder. The song reached number four, and Record Mirror reported they were annoying teachers by setting a bad example and releasing two misspelt singles in a row. Look Wot You Dun wasn’t as good as their number 1, but it proved Slade were no one-hit wonders. In March came Slade Alive!, recorded in front of 300 fan club members and featuring a storming version of Get Down and Get With It.
Take Me Bak ‘Ome, like their previous number 1, was written by Holder and Lea but according to Lea in the group’s 1984 biography Feel the Noize! it originated from an old tune he had made, with a bit of revamping and a phrase or two from The Beatles’ Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey.
Of Slade’s six number 1s, this ranks as the least memorable. It’s only really worth hearing to get a better insight into how the band were striving and struggling to find the winning formula that they achieved from their next number 1 onwards. It’s meat-and-potatoes rock without the unique element of danger in Cos I Luv You and no anthemic chorus to latch on to, which they later excelled at. Lyrically, it’s a laddish story of boy-meets-drunken-girl-who-stinks-of-brandy. He tries it on, only to flee in fear of her boyfriend a ‘Superman’ who’s twice his size. And it was ‘alright’, apparently.
Take Me Bak ‘Ome climbed to number 13, and Slade were booked to perform at the Great Western Festival in Lincoln. The field of rock fans booed when Slade were announced to be performing imminently. They were worried they were considered too ‘pop’ and had blown it before even starting, but they won over the crowd with their heavy material, and it helped propel them to their second number 1.
Interestingly, Holder had ad-libbed over the riff in the middle of the song’s recording but Lea suggested he change what he came up with as it had given him an idea for their next single…
Written by: Noddy Holder & Jim Lea
Producer: Chas Chandler
Weeks at number 1: 1 (1-7 July)
1 July: The first official UK Gay Pride Rally was held in London, with approximately 2,000 participants.
With a triumphant ‘Aaaaawh yeah!’ to kick things off, Metal Guru was a return to form after the lacklustre Telegram Sam. It was their fourth number 1 single, but it was to be their last chart-topper, and Bolan would be dead only five years later.
March 1972 was a busy time for the band, with two nights headlining at the Empire Pool, Wembley, filmed by Ringo Starr, who was to direct a T. Rex film, Born to Boogie. That same month the group began recording their third album The Slider. It was made at Château d’Hérouville near Paris, France, after Elton John suggested it as a way to avoid paying tax. Produced once more by Visconti, it captured T. Rextasy at its peak, but the fall was to be steep.
Metal Guru was rightly picked to be the opening track and gets the LP off to a blistering start. Bolan had been inspired to write about religion, and when explaining the message behind the song, proclaimed to believe in a god but wasn’t religious. Metal Guru was to represent all gods. Its mentions of the guru sitting in an ‘armour plated chair’, ‘all alone without a telephone’ create a vague image of a godhead who can communicate without the aid of BT, but as usual it’s an excuse for Bolan to conjure up some brilliant lines, and some terrible ones, even within the same verse. Consider;
‘Metal Guru has it been, just like a silver-studded sabre-tooth dream I’II be clean you know pollution machine, oh yeah’
First line, brilliant, second, not great.
Fortunately the music behind Metal Guru is better. No great change to what had come before, but the similarities aren’t as obvious as Telegram Sam, and the sound is bigger and more muscular without sounding bloated, which it often became once Visconti stopped working with Bolan. The ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ chant brings to mind the end of Hot Love, but rather than comparing it to past glories, you’re likely to notice how much Panic by The Smiths sounds like it, which Morrissey and Marr did deliberately, both being huge T. Rex fans.
Metal Guru enjoyed a month at number 1, and with a new album set for release later that summer and the film to follow, it seemed T. Rex would be around for a long time to come. The Slider is very much Electric Warrior Part Two, but that’s no bad thing, and with tracks like Baby Strange, it’s a great glam time capsul. But Born to Boogie, released in December, was a surreal mess of a movie, blasted by critics but loved by fans. It was Bolan’s very own Magical Mystery Tour.
Children of the Revolution was released inbetween the two projects, and although it was another excellent single, but it missed the top spot. They also recorded fourth album Tanx. Finally moving on from the sound of the last two LPs, Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman were ditched as backing vocalists and replaced with a gospel sound. It’s patchy at best.
Much better was the standalone single 20th Century Boy, released two months after Tanx in March 73. Muscular and sparky, it’s the first T. Rex song I ever heard, and still my favourite, thanks to its use in a Levi’s advert starring Brad Pitt in 1991, having been re-released at the time.
Although Bolan shouldn’t be criticised for finally trying to develop his sound, it came too late. His friend/rival David Bowie was now racing ahead thanks to his Ziggy Stardust creation, and Slade were the most popular glam outfit. Bolan was also putting on weight, no longer that attractive, elfin glam god. 1974 album Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow – A Creamed Cage in August was credited to ‘Marc Bolan & T. Rex’. The line-up was expanded to feature second guitarist Jack Green and pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole, and Bolan’s lover Gloria Jones featured in backing singers The Cosmic Choir. It’s an interesting listen, but the magic was getting harder to find. They were dropped in the US before the album could be released, and drummer Bill Legend quit.
Soon after Bolan’s already huge ego became out of control. He sacked Visconti and Mickey Finn left the group. The single Zip Gun Boogie was released as a solo single but performed so badly he took on the T. Rex mantle again.
He produced the next album Bolan’s Zip Gun (1975) himself, and it was savaged. The music press mocked him for his weight gain and he became a tax exile in Monte Carlo. The production became even more far-out on Futuristic Dragon, featuring disco backings and even a sitar. It also performed badly, but it’s a pretty interesting listen.
Single I Love to Boogie, also released in 1976, was a return to a simplistic sound, and with punk on the rise, suddenly a comeback was on the cards. Bolan slimmed down and toured with punk pioneers The Damned. He set to work on Dandy in the Underworld, released in March 1977 to critical acclaim.
Six months later, he was even fronting his own TV show. Marc, broadcast over six weeks on ITV, saw Bolan introducing some of his favourite new punk bands including The Jam and Generation X, as well as T. Rex performing old and new songs, albeit miming. The final episode featured none other than Bowie, then producing some of the most adventurous music of his life, produced by, ironically, Visconti. Both singers were glad to see each other and wrote a song together, Madman, before recording the show. In an eerie symbolic premonition of what was to come, during their duet, Bolan tripped on a microphone cable and fell off the stage. This final episode of Marc was broadcast on 20 September, four days after Bolan’s fatal accident.
According to Vicky Aram, a former nightclub singer who had been invited to discuss recording with Bolan after a party, she was driving behind Bolan’s Mini, being driven by his girlfriend Jones and with Bolan beside her, when the Mini hit a steel-reinforced fence post after failing to negotiate a small humpback bridge near Barnes, south-west London. She found the car near a sycamore tree (now a rock shrine). Bolan had died from a horrific head injury due to an eye bolt in the fence, and Jones was severely injured.
Of the classic T. Rex line-up, only Legend remains. Guitarist Steve Currie played with Chris Spedding before moving to the Algarve in Portugal, where he too died in a car crash in 1981 in Portugal. Finn played as a session musician for The Soup Dragons and The Blow Monkeys before his death in 2003 of possible liver or kidney failure.
Bolan’s star shone relatively briefly compared to some musical legends, but it also shone brighter than many. Were it not for him, who knows if glam rock would ever have happened. He took a potentially moribund decade and made it fun, sexy and cool. Pop had been declining ever since The Beatles had split, and Bolan brought it back to life. It’s likely that his 1977 comeback would have been short-lived, as his musical range was limited, but we’ll never know. What we do know is that T. Rex at their best – Hot Love, Get It On, Metal Guru, 20th Century Boy – have not only aged extremely well, they sound better than ever, all these years later. For as long as there is the teenage dream, there is Marc Bolan, and there is T. Rex.
Written by: Marc Bolan
Producer: Tony Visconti
Weeks at number 1: 4 (20 May-16 June)
Cricketer Martin Saggers – 23 May Footballer Steve Crane – 3 June Actress Debra Stephenson – 4 June Athlete Curtis Robb – 7 June
Poet Cecil Day-Lewis – 22 May Actress Margaret Rutherford – 22 May Edward, Duke of Windsor – 28 May (see Meanwhile…)
22 May: The Dominion of Ceylon became the Republic of Sri Lanka.
24 May: The final stretch of the M6 motorway opened between junctions 6 (Spaghetti Junction) and 7 north of Birmingham. Also that day, Glasgow-based Rangers FC won the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, beating FC Dynamo Moscow 3-2 in the final at Camp Nou in Barcelona. Celebrations were marred by a pitch invasion from their supporters, which led to the team being banned from defending the trophy next season.
26 May: State-owned travel company Thomas Cook & Son was privatised.
28 May: 35 years after he abdicated the throne, the controversial royal Edward, Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII, died of cancer at his home in France.
30 May: The Official Irish Republican Army declared a ceasefire in Northern Ireland.
1 June: Hotels and boarding houses became required to obtain certification when the Fire Precautions Act 1971 came into force.
3 June: A Protestant demonstration in Derry turned into a battle.
5 June: The funeral of The Duke of Windsor was held at Windsor Castle.
After the success of their second number 1, Get It On in the summer of 1971, T. Rex released possibly the first glam rock album, Electric Warrior, in September. It featured some of Bolan’s best material, including Jeepster and Cosmic Dancer. T. Rextasy was peaking.
After their contract with independent Fly Records ended, they signed with EMI. It didn’t stop Fly from releasing Jeepster as a single though, and it would have been Christmas number 1 that year, were it not for Benny Hill’s Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West). Despite this probably being rather embarrassing for the sensitive Bolan, he’ll have been buoyed by the success of the renamed Bang a Gong (Get It On) in the US as 1972 began. And the band were back in their studio to work on next album, The Slider.
Telegram Sam was the first fruits of that LP to be made public. Showcasing their new beefed-up sound, it featured Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman on backing vocals once more, along with producer Tony Visconti. It was inspired by Bolan’s manager (and drug dealer) Tony Secunda, Bolan’s ‘main man’.
It may have enjoyed a two-week run at number 1, but Telegram Sam is the first sign of Bolan’s well beginning to run dry. Yes, the sound is heavier, but it’s really just Get It On all over again, only not as good. And the lyrics, where they used to sound inspired and were never less than interesting, are Bolan-by-numbers. He reels off a list of bizarre characters – in addition to Sam, there’s Bobby, Golden Nose Slim and Purple Pie Pete, who are all excuses to come up with increasingly bizarre rhymes. Take Pete:
‘Purple Pie Pete Purple Pie Pete Your lips are like lightning Girls melt in the heat’.
Not great. The self-referencing line in the last verse, ‘Me I funk but I don’t care/I ain’t no square with my corkscrew hair’ is better, though.
There’s still great stuff to come from T. Rex at this point, their fourth and final number 1 Metal Guru among them, but here was a sign that Bolan was happy enough to stick to a limited formula and while that was fine for now, he’d soon be behind his contemporaries.
Written by: Marc Bolan
Producer: Tony Visconti
Weeks at number 1: 2 (5-18 February)
Footballer Darren Ferguson – 9 February Footballer Steve McManaman – 11 February
9 February: Prime Minister Edward Heath declared a state of emergency as a result of the miners’ strike. A three-day week had already been imposed, and power supplies were turned off for many for nine hours from this day.
“Get down and get with it!” Wolverhampton glam rockers Slade are one of the most fondly remembered bands of the 70s. Six number 1s between 1971-73, 17 consecutive top 20 singles, and according to The British Hit Singles & Albums, they were the most successful British group of the decade for singles sales. And I’m only just getting round to mentioning Merry Xmas Everybody, which I picked as the greatest Christmas number 1 of all time here.
All four members of Slade grew up in the Black Country area of the West Midlands. In 1964, drummer Don Powell, born and raised in Wolverhampton, was in a band with Dave Hill (born in Devon) called The Vendors. Meanwhile, Walsall’s Noddy Holder was guitarist and occasional singer with Steve Brett & the Mavericks. who released three records on Columbia in 1965.
The Vendors became The ‘N Betweens and gained momentum, supporting The Hollies and The Yardbirds, among others. Meeting on a ferry on the way to separate gigs in Germany, Powell and Hill tried to persuade Holder to join The ‘N Betweens, but he declined. Once they were all back home though, Holder changed his mind and became their lead singer. They had recently recruited multi-instrumentalist Jim Lea on bass, too.
By 1966 The ‘N Betweens had moved on from blues to a more R’n’B sound. They released their first single, a cover of The Young Rascals’ You Better Run, in 1966, produced by Kim Fowley, arranger of Nut Rocker.
They didn’t return to a studio for a few years, but in 1967, with flower power at its peak, Holder worked on an unnamed song with a chorus that went: ‘Buy me a rocking chair to watch the world go by/Buy me a looking glass, I’ll look you in the eye’. Six years later it became Merry Xmas Everybody.
A local promoter alerted the band to Jack Baverstock, head of A&R at Philips. After spending a week recording their debut album Beginnings in the label’s studio, he offered them a deal with Fontana Records – if they changed their name. Despite misgivings, they became Ambrose Slade, inspired by Baverstock’s secretary, who had named her handbag ‘Ambrose’ and her shoes ‘Slade’… as you do…
Beginnings and instrumental single Genesis sank, but on the plus side, they found a new manager in Chas Chandler, former bassist with The Animals, who helped Jimi Hendrix rocket to fame. It didn’t mean instant success, but Chandler did set them on the right path, telling them they needed more original material and a new image. They adopted the skinhead look in an attempt to keep up with prevailing trends and as The Slade they released the single Wild Winds Are Blowing, which tanked.
A new decade, a new name: Slade. They featured on Top of the Pops in 1970 with their cover of Shape of Things to Come, but to no avail. They added lyrics to Genesis and reworked it as Know Who You Are, but neither that nor November’s LP, Play It Loud, got anywhere either.
Finally, their fortunes changed. In 1971 Chandler suggested they record one of their most popular live numbers. Their cover of Bobby Marchan’s Get Down with It (later covered by Little Richard) – retitled Get Down and Get with It, came out that May, and it climbed to number 18 in August. And for good reason, it’s an electrifying performance, particularly Holder’s raw vocal, and really captures an infectious, fun, live sound.
Slade were already growing their hair long once more when Chandler demanded they come up with a follow-up themselves. One evening Lea turned up at Holder’s house with his violin and an idea for a simple song, along the lines of T. Rex’s Hot Love, and half an hour later, they had written their first number 1.
They played Because I Love You acoustically to an enthusiastic Chandler the next day, who confidently predicted it would be their first chart-topper. He booked them into Olympic Studios in Barnes. Slade were less keen on its chances, thinking it too soft and poppy, until they were allowed to add foot-stomping to the rhythm. They also decided to change its title, and Holder came up with the idea to misspell it to fit in with their dialect. Thus, Coz I Luv You, the first of their songs littered with spelling errors, was born.
Coz I Luv You is a nice signpost to the full-on glam sound Slade would develop. It doesn’t have the immediate ‘wow’ factor of Hot Love or Get It On, but it’s a great introduction to what was to come. It’s interesting that they all thought it was too lightweight, and maybe the footstomping really did make the difference, but this track actually has a bit of a sinister edge to it, thanks to Holder’s vocal styling. Inadvertently or not, he makes ‘Don’t you change the things you do’ sound like a threat, and Lea’s violin at times adds to the slightly uneasy feeling.
Soon Slade developed their more raucous, straightforward take on Bolan’s glam rock. They were never bothered with maintaining a cool mystique like he was, and began to also be known for their ridiculous glam outfits, before going on to become national treasures. For now though, they were just a slightly weird rock band who had finally made the big time.
Coz I Luv You would later be covered by fellow Black Country musicians, indie band, The Wonder Stuff.
Written by: Noddy Holder & Jim Lea
Producer: Chas Chandler
Weeks at number 1: 4 (13 November-10 December)
Olympic rower Cath Bishop – 22 November Actress Emily Mortimer – 1 December Triple jumper Ashia Hansen – 5 December
Actress Gladys Cooper – 17 November
22 November: Five children and one adult die after becoming stranded for two nights in blizzards on the Cairngorm Plateau. It is still regarded as Britain’s worst mountaineering accident.
2 December: The Queen’s yearly allowance was increased from £475,000 to £980,000. I’m sure millions of republicans were very pleased for her.
4 December: The highest death toll from a single incident in The Troubles to date took place when 15 people were killed and 17 injured in the McGurk’s Bar bombing. The Ulster Volunteer Force are believed to have been behind the bombing.
Moving fast to make the most of his long-awaited stardom, Marc Bolan returned to the studio to make a new T. Rex LP while Hot Love peaked at number 1 in March 1971. The result, Electric Warrior, is considered the first glam rock album.
Drummer Bill Fifield, who had made his debut on the last single, became a full-time band member and was renamed ‘Bill Legend’. This may have affected Bolan’s relationship with percussionist Mickey Finn, who apparently was hired more for his looks than musical ability in the first place. Although he contributed to Electric Warrior, he is absent from Get It On.
While in New York, Bolan asked Legend to work with him on drum patterns for a new song inspired by Chuck Berry’s Little Queenie. Returning to Trident Studios, Tony Visconti was back on production, and Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan returned for backing vocal duty.
Two progressive rock musicians were also involved, with King Crimson’s Ian MacDonald providing baritone and alto saxophones, and Rick Wakeman on the piano. In 2010 he recalled on BBC Radio 2’s The Glory of Glam that he was desperate for work to pay his rent when he bumped into Bolan on Oxford Street, who offered him the session. When he turned up, Wakeman pointed out to Visconti the track didn’t need piano, and the producer suggested he did some glissandos. Wakeman noted Visconti could do that, and he replied ‘You want your rent, don’t you?’. Wakeman earned £9 for those little touches of sparkle.
Built around that formidable Berry riff, steeped in sexuality and with some brilliant lyrics, Get It On is the sound of an artist at the top of his game. Coming after the last two number 1s, it’s a blessed relief, and it might well be the ‘coolest’ chart-topper up to this point.
It’s less polished and not as weird as Hot Love, and not as raucous as a lot of the glam rock to come, including 20th Century Boy (my favourite T. Rex single), but it’s such a groove. Yes, the riff is stolen (and would be ripped off again by Oasis with Cigarettes & Alcohol), but Bolan makes it totally his own, albeit with a cheeky ad-lib of ‘And meanwhile, I’m still thinking’ from Little Queenie itself during the fade-out. He comes on to his ‘dirty and sweet’ girl with some startling comparisons, the best of which are ‘You’ve got the teeth/Of the Hydra upon you’ and ‘Well you’re built like a car/You’ve got a hubcap/Diamond star halo’ (Bolan was a big fan of cars).
For the hardcore Tyrannosaurus Rex fans who remained faithful, there’s also a ‘cloak full of eagles’. Not that there were many of those left – the more the teenagers flocked to T. Rex, the more they accused him of being a sell-out, and it was Get It On that finally turned John Peel off. He dared to criticise it on air, which finished their friendship. They only spoke once more before Bolan died.
Released on 2 July as a taster for Electric Warrior, it only took three weeks for Get It On to become the second of four T. Rex number 1s. It also became their only US hit, climbing to number 10, retitled as Bang a Gong (Get It On) to avoid confusion with a recent hit by jazz-rock band Chase in the States.
Get It On would be covered by 80s supergroup The Power Station (featuring Robert Palmer and members of Duran Duran and Chic) in 1985. It was a hit, but the beefed-up sound robbed it of its charm.
Written by: Marc Bolan
Producer: Tony Visconti
Weeks at number 1: 4 (24 July-20 August)
Northern Irish footballer Michael Hughes – 2 August Newsreader Kate Sanderson – 9 August Electronic artist Richard D James, aka Aphex Twin – 18 August
Northern Irish footballer Charlie Tully – 27 July
29 July: The UK officially opted out of the Space Race when its Black Arrow launch vehicle was cancelled.
6 August: Chay Blyth became the first person to sail around the world east to west against the prevailing winds.
9 August: British security forces in Northern Ireland detained hundreds of guerrilla suspects and put them into Long Kesh prison – the beginning of their internment without trial policy. In the subsequent riots, 20 died, including 11 in the Ballymurphy Massacre.
11 August: Prime Minister Edward Heath took part in the Admiral’s Cup yacht race, which Britain won.
15 August: Controversial showjumper Harvey Smith was stripped of his victory in the British Show Jumping Derby by judges for making a V sign.
In March 1971, singer-songwriter Marc Bolan appeared on Top of the Pops to promote T. Rex’s second single Hot Love, as shown below. His stylist, Chelita Secunda, had suggested he wear glitter under his eyes, and it was this appearance that spearheaded the glam rock movement and gave Bolan the stardom he had strived for. Forget ‘Mungo-mania’ – ‘T. Rextasy’ was the first true pop phenomenon in the UK since ‘Beatlemania’. Pop was rejuvenated.
Bolan was born Mark Feld on 30 September 1947. He was raised in Stoke Newington, East London until the Felds moved to Wimbledon in southwest London when he was a young boy. Around this time he, like so many of his contemporaries, fell in love with rock’n’roll, particularly stars like Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran. He was only nine when he was given his first guitar and he formed a skiffle band, and soon after he was playing guitar for Susie and the Hula Hoops, whose singer was 12-year-old Helen Shapiro, who would have two number 1s in 1961 with You Don’t Know and Walkin’ Back to Happiness.
Feld was expelled from school at 15 and around this time became known as ‘The Face’ due to his good looks. He joined a modelling agency and appeared in catalogues for Littlewoods and John Temple wearing Mod getup just as The Beatles were first making waves.
In 1964 Feld made his first known recording, All at Once, in which he aped Cliff Richard. Next, he changed his name to Toby Tyler when he became interested in the music of Bob Dylan, and he began to dress like him too. His first acetate was a cover of Blowin’ in the Wind.
The following year, he signed with Decca Records and changed his name to Marc Bowland, before his label suggested Marc Bolan. First single, The Wizard, featured Jimmy Page and backing vocalists The Ladybirds, who later collaborated with Benny Hill. None of his solo singles, in which he adopted a US folk sound, made any impact.
Simon Napier-Bell, manager of The Yardbirds and John’s Children, a struggling psychedelic rock act, first met Bolan in 1966 when he showed up at his house with a guitar, proclaiming that he was going to be a big star and wanted Napier-Bell to work with him. Bolan was nearly placed in The Yardbirds but was placed in John’s Children as guitarist and songwriter in March 1967 instead. The group were outrageous, and Bolan proved to be a good fit, writing the single Desdemona, which was banned by the BBC for the lyric ‘lift up your skirt and fly’. Only a month later, they toured as support for The Who but were soon given their marching orders for upstaging the headliners (Bolan would whip his guitar with a chain). John’s Children also performed at The 14-Hour Technicolour Dream at Alexander Palace that month. Yet by June Bolan had left the group after falling out with his manager over their unreleased single A Midsummer Night’s Scene.
Bolan formed his own group, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and after one rushed, disastrous gig, he pared the band down to just himself and their drummer, Steve Peregrin Took, who would play percussion and occasional bass alongside Bolan and his acoustic guitar. For the next few years, Tyrannosaurus Rex amassed a cult following, with Radio 1 DJ John Peel among their biggest fans. Bolan’s fey, whimsical warbling could get a bit much at times, and I speak as a lover of 60s psychedelia, but the signs of a very talented singer-songwriter are there right from their debut single Debora and first album, the brilliantly titled My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair… But Now They’re Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows (1968), produced by Tony Visconti. Peel even read short stories by Bolan on their albums.
This was the last album to feature Took, who had been growing apart from Bolan, who was working on a book of poetry called The Warlock of Love. Bolan’s ego didn’t take kindly to the thought of Took contributing to songwriting, so he replaced him with Mickey Finn for fourth album Beard of Stars, released in March 1970. David Bowie’s follow-up to Space Oddity, The Prettiest Star also came out that month, with Bolan on guitar. The single tanked.
As the new decade dawned, Bolan was outgrowing Tyrannosaurus Rex, and was simplifying his songwriting while reintroducing an electric band setup to the mix. Visconti had been abbreviating the band’s name to T. Rex for a while on recording tapes, and while Bolan didn’t appreciate it at first, he decided to adopt the name to represent the next stage of development.
While preparing to release their first material in their new incarnation, Bolan replaced The Kinks as headlining act at the Pilton Festival at Worthy Farm, the day after Jimi Hendrix died on 19 September. 50 years on, it’s known as Glastonbury Festival, the king of the UK festival scene.
T. Rex released their first single, Ride a White Swan in October. This, simple, catchy layered guitar track caught on, and finally Bolan had a hit on his hands, narrowly missing out on the number 1 spot due to Clive Dunn’s Grandad in January 1971. T. Rex’s eponymous debut also went top 10 in the album charts. Bolan was now famous, but he needed to capitalise and go one better to avoid being a one-hit wonder.
Hot Love was recorded on 21 and 22 January at Trident Studios – the week Ride a White Swan peaked at number two. Seizing the moment, Bolan decided to flesh out T. Rex’s sound and adopt a classic four-piece line-up. With new bassist Steve Currie making his recording debut, Bolan and Visconti hired Bill Fifield as drummer, leaving Finn relegated to just handclaps. After helping out on T. Rex, this single saw the return of Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman on backing vocals. The duo had been founding members of The Turtles, and as Flo & Eddie had recently been part of Frank Zappa’s group The Mothers of Invention. Kaylan and Volman’s slightly unhinged harmonies became an integral part of the classic T. Rex sound.
Although Ride a White Swan served notice that Bolan was moving on from his old self-limited sonic boundaries, the lyrics were still very much the Tolkien whimsy of your average Tyrannosaurus Rex track. Hot Love featured a more simplistic, direct lyrical approach. Bolan is merely telling you about his lover.
Taken as read, much of T. Rex’s lyrical output can seem childish, sometimes even ridiculous, yet most of the time Bolan pulls it off, and he does so here. I’ve always admired the chutzpah of the lines ‘Well she ain’t no witch and I love the way she twitch – a ha ha’ and the charming camp of ‘I don’t mean to be bold, a-but a-may I hold your hand?’ but I’d never noticed the ludicrous ‘I’m a labourer of love in my persian gloves – a ha ha’ before. My favourite lyric of recent memory, right there.
There’s no point spending too much time dissecting Bolan’s words though, it’s more about the feel they add to his songs, and Hot Love feels sexy, which isn’t a label you could ever give his Tyrannosaurus Rex material. It’s fascinating to me how a voice that’s so fey, singing such daft words, can at the same time be so sensual.
The tune displays a key ingredient of glam rock – 50s rock’n’roll. Bolan has updated a simple bluesy riff and, thanks to the input of Visconti’s glossy studio sheen and string arrangement, updated it for 70s audiences. Kaylan and Volman’s backing vocals keep a certain strangeness in place and stop things getting too smooth, but this is a high definition Bolan that hadn’t been heard before, and Hot Love is just one reason why Visconti is rightly one of the most famous producers of all time.
The second half of Hot Love shifts into a ‘La-la-la-la-la-la-la’ Bolan, Kaylan and Volman singalong, akin to Hey Jude, but faster and weirder. It’s a real earworm, and no doubt helped it to number 1, but I find it goes on a bit too long, and I prefer the first half personally. Having said that, it really does show up the previous number 1, Baby Jump, as lumpen and turgid by comparison. A much-needed breath of fresh air in the charts, to put it mildly.
Released on 12 February on Fly Records, Hot Love rocketed up the charts, in part thanks to those famous Top of the Pops appearances. Bolan displayed star material in spades, and was perhaps the first musician since Elvis Presley to prove that image could be a vital ingredient in pop. Looking every inch the rock star with his glitter and guitar, he made glam rock about appearance as well as the sound, and other acts like Slade and friend/rival Bowie were watching and taking notes.
The 70s were often a drab, moribund decade. Glam rock may have been a peculiarly British phenomenon that didn’t catch on elsewhere in the way Beatlemania did, but in the UK it was sorely needed, and brought about some of the best number 1s of the next four years. Bolan was integral in this.
T. Rex would prove to have a formula that Bolan couldn’t advance much from, and his star burnt out quick, but in the early 70s he gave pop the kick up the arse it needed. There are better T. Rex songs. However, Hot Love is one of the most important number 1s of the decade.
Written by: Marc Bolan
Producer: Tony Visconti
Weeks at number 1: 6 (20 March-30 April)
Scottish actress Kate Dickie – 23 March TV presenter Gail Porter – 23 March Scottish racing driver David Coulthard – 27 March Cricketer Paul Grayson – 31 March Scottish actor Ewan McGregor – 31 March Cricketer Jason Lewry – 2 April Conservative MP Douglas Carswell – 3 April Liberal Democrat MP John Leech – 11 April Actress Belinda Stewart-Wilson – 16 April Scottish actor David Tennant – 18 April
Actor Cecil Parker – 20 April
1 April: All restrictions on gold ownership were lifted in the UK. Since 1966 Britons had been banned from holding more than four gold coins or from buying any new ones, unless they held a licence.
11 April: 10 British Army soldiers were injured in rioting in Derry, Northern Ireland.
15 April: The planned Barbican Centre in London was given the go-ahead.
18 April: A serious fire at Kentish Town West railway station meant that the station remained closed until 5 October 1981.
19 April: Unemployment reached a post-World War Two high of nearly 815,000.
27 April: Eight members of the Welsh Language Society went on trial for destroying English language road signs in Wales. Also on this day, British Leyland launched the Morris Marina, which succeeded the Minor.
The devil doesn’t always have the best tunes. Dana’s old-fashioned All Kinds of Everything was booted from the top by one of the most memorable one-hit wonders of all time. Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky heralded a new decade with its fuzz-guitar sound and could be considered a forerunner to the glam rock that was to come. This one-hit wonder, combining a riff you’d sell your soul for with holier-than-thou lyrics, was so good, two different versions have been number 1 since. Not bad going for an unassuming, enigmatic Jewish dairy farmer.
Norman Joel Greenbaum was born in Malden, Massachusetts on 20 November 1942. He was raised in an Orthodox Jewish household, and as a teenager in the late 50s and early 60s he fell in love with southern blues and folk music. In high school he began performing in bands and went on to study music at Boston University, but dropped out and moved to Los Angeles in 1965.
In 1966 he formed the psychedelic jug band (think a less intense and more wacky The 13th Floor Elevators) Dr West’s Medicine Show and Junk Band and he penned their novelty single The Eggplant That Ate Chicago. They split in 1968. Clearly, Greenbaum was a unique talent.
Going it alone after signing with Reprise Records, Greenbaum set about writing a religious rock song, getting inspiration from country singer Porter Wagoner and enjoying westerns as a child. There was something in the air in the late 60s, with lots of songs moving away from references to drugs and turning to religion instead. Despite being Jewish, Greenbaum opted to sing about Jesus, because he knew it’d be more marketable then Jehovah. In an interview years later, he said it was ‘the spirit in the sky’ people should be taking notice of in his song, not ‘Jesus’. He took the phrase from a greetings card.
The music took a lot longer than the lyrics (which he claimed were done in 15 minutes), but it was worth the wait, with Greenbaum coming up with a laid-back yet fiery boogie groove in a San Francisco studio. The music provides a stark contrast to the holy lyrics and is so strong, it’s seen the song used in countless films and on TV. When Spirit in the Sky was mixed, he says it was optimised to sound good on car stereos without dynamic range, giving it an earthy, primitive quality.
Joining Greenbaum on the sessions were lead guitarist Russell DaShiell, bassist Doug Killmer from Crowfoot and drummer Norman Mayell, formerly of Sopwith Camel. The backing singers adding the gospel touch were The Stovall Sisters trio from Indiana. Before joining Earth, Wind & Fire, Philip Bailey was their percussionist.
The song became the title track of Greenbaum’s album, but Reprise were unsure this strange, lengthy track would make it as a 7”. Two other singles came out first, and they got nowhere, so they took a punt on Spirit in the Sky, released in the UK in December 1969.
And what a punt. I must have heard Greenbaum’s original a million times and yet I love it as much as ever. It’s a hell (pun intended) of a groove and I love the juxtaposition between the raw production and guitar effects and happy-clappy lyrics. It’s easy to get enveloped in it, and I could happily listen to a 10-minute version, and always feel it’s a shame it fades abruptly as the guitar stretches out. Future glam stars were certainly paying attention, for example Alvin Stardust’s My Coo Ca Choo is pretty similar.
Greenbaum may have never had another hit but some acts could take years to come up with one this good. He didn’t disappear straight away though – this was followed up by the bizarre Canned Ham, and he recorded two further albums – Back Home Again later this year, and the all-acoustic Petaluma in 1972.
Eventually Greenbaum’s music fizzled out, and he went to work in a friend’s café around the start of the 80s. Then in 1986 Doctor and the Medics released their cover, which took everyone by surprise when it reached number 1. The renewed interest sparked its use in films, and Greenbaum never needed to work again.
The one-hit wonder made headlines in 2015 when he was the passenger in a car accident that killed a motorcyclist and left him in a coma for three weeks. With perhaps a new-found appreciation of life, Greenbaum, now 77, returned to performing.
And yes, Spirit in the Sky went to number 1 yet again in 2003, with a version for Comic Relief by Gareth Gates with The Kumars, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. I’m in no rush.