344. Suzi Quatro – Devil Gate Drive (1974)

1973 had been a great year for the songwriting/production duo ‘Chinnichap’, but 1974 was even better. Tiger Feet became the year’s biggest-selling single, then after four weeks it was usurped by another Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman single. US singer and bassist Suzi Quatro was back at the top of the charts with another glam-pop-rock showcase for her skills. And there was certainly more stability in the charts than there was in Downing Street (see ‘Meanwhile…’).

Quatro had remained a presence in the UK charts since her first number 1, Can the Can, a year previous. 48 Crash, the opening song on her eponymous debut album, climbed to number three, and Daytona Demon, a standalone single, number 14. She also played on Cozy Powell’s Dance With the Devil, a number three hit in January 1974, written by their record label owner Mickie Most of Rak Records. Devil Gate Drive was the first fruits of her second album Quatro, although it didn’t appear on that LP’s original UK tracklisting. Like Can the Can, it featured Len Tuckey on guitar (he and Quatro were married between 1976 and 1992) and Alastair McKenzie on keyboards, but Dave Neal replaced Keith Hodge on drums.

Devil Gate Drive is Quatro’s most famous song, very similar in style to Can the Can, but more pop-friendly. It’s more overtly indebted to rock’n’roll – Chinnichap’s favourite era, clearly. The Devil Gate Drive in question seems to be the actual gates to hell, and Quatro points out how humans start sinning as young as the age of five. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is an insightful look at the human condition, but it’s cleverer than it appears, as Quatro knows that sinning can make us ‘come alive’. Quatro, you leather catsuit-wearing temptress. It makes a very nice change to hear her imploring everyone to get behind her, and hearing a load of burly male voices shouting back, rather than the screaming girls you’d have heard in pop most of the time. There’s some nice piano work from McKenzie too. It’s no Tiger Feet, but not bad at all.

A couple more hits followed for Quatro in 1974 – Too Big reached number 14 and The Wild One went to number seven, and then the law of diminishing returns began to apply. Critics of Quatro argue she was a mere novelty rather than a female role model, and was given substandard material by Chinnichap all along and her own material wasn’t good enough either. However in 1977 she not only had her first top 30 hit in three years with Tear Me Apart, she finally got noticed in the US thanks to her role as Leather Tuscadero in hugely popular nostalgic sitcom Happy Days. She appeared several times and was even offered a spin-off, such was the popularity of her character, but Quatro declined for fear of being typecast. The following year, If You Can’t Give Me Love showcased a more mellow sound and was her biggest hit since Devil Gate Drive (number four), and She’s In Love With You reached number 11 in 1979.

In 1980 Quatro’s contract with Most expired and she moved to Chapman’s Dreamland Records, but it marked a decline in her fortunes. It folded a year later, and she was without a label.

For much of the 80s Quatro could be found in more acting roles as well as releasing music. She starred in ITV comedy drama Minder in 1982, and crime drama Dempsey and Makepeace in 1985. The following year she featured alongside Bronski Beat and members of The Kinks on a cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” for the BBC’s Children In Need. Then in 1987 she (sort of) returned to number 1 thanks to her appearance on the Ferry Aid cover of The Beatles’ Let It Be, which raised money for the charity set up in the aftermath of the Zeebrugge ferry disaster.

Since then, Quatro has continued to release albums, which continue to sell to the fans who grew up in those heady glam rock days. Back to the Drive in 2006 saw her return to her heavier rock roots, and was her first charting album since Rock Hard in 1980. Andy Scott from The Sweet was the producer, and the title track was written by Chapman. Her autobiography, Unzipped, was released in 2007, and the most recent Quatro album, No Control, was released in 2019.

Written & produced by: Nicky Chinn & Mike Chapman

Weeks at number 1: 2 (23 February-8 March)

Deaths:

Radio sports commentator Raymond Glendenning – 23 February

Meanwhile…

27 February: As the country went to the polls, controversial Conservative MP Enoch Powell announced his resignation from the party in protest against Edward Heath’s decision to take Britain into the EEC.

28 February: Heath’s plan backfired badly. The General Election results in the first hung parliament since 1929. The Tory government held 297 seats, Labour, 301, and the largest number of votes. Heath made plans to form a coalition with Jeremy Thorpe’s Liberal Party in order to cling on to power.

4 March: Heath failed to convince the Liberals to form a coalition and therefore announced his resignation as Prime Minister, paving the way for Harold Wilson to become Prime Minister for the second time with Labour forming a minority government.[5]

6 March: An improved pay offer by the new Labour government results in the end of the latest miners’ strike.

7 March: The Three-Day Week came to an end. For now, with Labour back in power, things began to stabilise and improve with the unions.

331. Suzi Quatro – Can the Can (1973)

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)

Deaths:

Actor Roger Delgado – 18 June