Finally, a woman! The early-70s weren’t a great time for female-fronted number 1s. Most were either relegated to providing sweet harmonies in male-dominated groups or performing sickly solo ballads. US singer and bassist Suzi Quatro proved women could be rock stars too.
Susan Kay Quatro, born 3 June 1950, was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. Her family name was actually ‘Quattrocchi’ (four eyes) but was shortened by immigration authorities (her paternal grandfather was an Italian immigrant). Quatro’s father Art was a semi-professional musician inbetween his job at General Motors. Her mother, Helen, was Hungarian. She was born into a large family, with foster children also thrown into the mix. One of Quatro’s sisters, Arlene, is the mother of Twin Peaks star Sherilyn Finn, and another sister, Patti, later joined one of the first all-female rock bands in the US, Fanny.
Quatro’s eureka moment for her love of music came when, aged six, she saw Elvis Presley performing on TV. She later said she had no direct female role models in music, although she did admire Billie Holiday and thought Mary Weiss of the pop group The Shangri-Las looked hot in tight trousers.
Quatro had formal training in playing classical piano and percussion, and she was still under 10-years-old when she joined her father’s jazz band, The Art Quatro Trio. She went on to teach herself the guitar and bass.
In 1964, inspired by The Beatles, Patti formed an all-female garage rock group called The Pleasure Seekers. She became Patti Pleasure, and Suzi joined too, as Suzi Soul. Arlene was later part of the group, and another sister, Nancy. Bedecked in miniskirts and wigs, they initially attracted attention purely on their looks, but people stayed for the music. By 1969 they had changed their name to Cradle.
The following year, Cradle were performing to an audience that included Mickie Most, who had been invited to attend by Suzi’s brother Michael, who was their manager. Most had founded RAK Records in 1969 and was on the lookout for acts to sign, particularly a strong woman who could fill the void left by Janis Joplin’s death. She left Cradle and moved to London in 1971.
Her debut single, Rolling Stone, was co-written by Quatro with future Hot Chocolate singer Errol Brown, and Phil Dennys. It failed to chart anywhere apart from Portugal, where it went to number 1. Most decided that to achieve UK success, Quatro needed the help of one of the hottest songwriting teams in the country – Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn. They became the perfect match, with Chinnichap’s marriage of bubblegum pop and glam rock fitting Quatro to a tee. She also got herself a proper backing band at this time – Len Tuckey on guitar, Alastair MacKenzie on keyboards and Dave Neal on drums. They all wore dark vests and had matching long dark hair, looking like grumpy labourers next to Quatro, squeezed into a leather catsuit and rightly getting all the attention.
Can the Can is a fiery, rocking pop stomp set to a pounding beat. Quatro shrieks the words so high you can barely understand the verses, but that’s fine, because this song is a showcase for Quatro’s energy and personality, and the lyrics don’t stand up to much scrutiny anyway.
It makes slightly more sense when you learn that Chinn once stated the chorus and song title refers to the impossible. That is, you can’t put a can inside another can if they’re the same size, just as you can’t make a man commit if he has no intention of doing so. Hmm, it sort of works. But it never pays to pay much attention to Chinnichap lyrics, just enjoy the sound. Can the Can does slightly outstay its welcome though, and would have been more effective had it ended before becoming too repetitive.
Nonetheless, Quatro was established as a star in the UK, if not her own country (it took her Happy Days role to make it in the US), Chinnichap notched up their second number 1 of 1973, and there was a female rock star for young girls to aspire to be, at last.
Written & produced by: Mike Chapman & Nicky Chinn
Weeks at number 1: 1 (16-22 June)
Actor Roger Delgado – 18 June