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.

264. Fleetwood Mac – Albatross (1969)

Fleetwood Mac are one of the biggest-selling acts of all time. Like Pink Floyd, they started out in the 60s and overcame losing their chief songwriters to become hugely successful in the 70s with a very different sound, selling millions of records.

Also like Pink Floyd, they’ve only ever had one UK number 1 single. Peter Green’s classic balmy instrumental Albatross, which conjures up images of waves lapping against a sun-kissed beach, must have come as welcome relief during the winter of 1968/69.

Green had been Eric Clapton’s replacement as guitarist in John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers. Early in 1967, drummer Aynsley Dunbar announced he was leaving the group, and Green suggested to Mayall a former bandmate of his called Mick Fleetwood. The new version of the band consisted of Mayall on vocals, Green, Fleetwood and bassist John McVie. During their next recording session they named an instrumental after their new rhythm section, Fleetwood Mac.

Soon afterwards saw the debut of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, consisting of Green, Fleetwood, slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer and temporary bassist Bob Brunning, who was only there until McVie could be tempted away from The Bluesbreakers. It didn’t take long. No matter what has happened within the band since, Fleetwood and McVie have always remained.

Fleetwood Mac’s eponymous debut LP, a no-frills, bluesy affair, was released in February 1968. Not long after they entered the singles chart for the first time with Black Magic Woman, which became more famous via Santana’s version in 1970. Second album Mr Wonderful swiftly followed, featuring Christine Perfect on keyboards.

Around this time, Green had become impressed with a young guitarist called Danny Kirwan, and when his band Boilerhouse split, he invited him to join Fleetwood Mac. Green was unhappy with Spencer’s lack of willingness to help contribute to original material, but Kirwan was keen.

Among the material Green asked Kirwan for help with was Albatross. The song was said to have been inspired by Santo & Johnny’s Sleep Walk in 1959, though there is a more close resemblance rhythmically to Chuck Berry’s 1957 track Deep Feeling.

I love the lush sound of Albatross. This simple composition is for me one of the most atmospheric chart-toppers so far. From Fleetwood’s deep, muted drumming, played on timpani mallets to sound like rolling waves, to the languid guitar work of Green and Kirwan (Spencer is absent), there’s no wonder this gorgeous, tranquil tune has been used on TV and films so much over the years whenever a gorgeous scene of paradise is needing an appropriate piece of music. Apparently, the reason this single topped the charts is because it was used by the BBC on a nature documentary, and captured the public’s imagination.

The success of Albatross marked the first change in Fleetwood Mac’s sound, as they began to move away from pure blues during 1969. They signed with Immediate Records and Man of the World was a hit. Oh Well was a heavy rock classic, particuarly the first part, featuring a riff Led Zeppelin would be proud of.

Unfortunately, by the time of the dark psychedelia of The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Prong Crown) in 1970, Green’s mental health was rapidly dimishing. He had taken LSD at a hippy commune in Munich and had become erratic. Following an argument in which Green announced he wanted to give all the band’s money to charity, he left Fleetwood Mac in May. After an uncredited appearance on their 1973 album Penguin, he disappeared into obscurity. When he did resurface in the 90s, he was a shadow of his former self. I wonder what he made of his old band’s enormous success?

Fleetwood Mac struggled once their principle songwriter had gone. Perfect, now married to McVie, became a full-time member that August. In February 1971 Spencer went out to buy a magazine. He never returned. After several days searching they discovered he had joined a cult known as the Children of God. Kirwan was the next to leave, in 1972, having become a full-blown alcoholic. After his last solo album in 1979 he left the music industry for good. Their was to be no comeback for Green’s protégé. He spent much of the 80s and 90s homeless, and divorced, and had an estranged son. He died in June 2018, aged 68.

After numerous line-up changes, success finally beckoned when guitarist Lindsay Buckingham and his partner Stevie Nicks joined up in 1975. They released their second eponymous LP, which sold millions. Despite their new-found commercial success, the new line-up was mired in personal problems. The McVies and Buckingham and Nicks all split up, and the relationship turmoil resulted in one of their most famous albums. Rumours is one of the most famous pop-rock albums of the 70s. They ended the decade with the more experimental Tusk.

For much of the 80s, Fleetwood Mac were on sabbatical, with solo careers taking up most of the time. This most famous line-up regrouped in 1987 for another huge-selling album. Tango in the Night was their biggest since Rumours, and featured the hit singles Little Lies and Everywhere.

I have to confess to not really getting the massive fame of the soft-rock 70s and 80s incarnation of Fleetwood Mac. I like Rumours, and Little Lies transports me back to my childhood, but they’re a bit too safe for me. Albatross is in my opinion their best single. Even the Beatles loved it, and would pinch the sound on their similarly gorgeous Sun King from Abbey Road (1969). Its soothing tones would also drift in and out of The KLF’s influential ambient Chill Out album from 1990.

Buckingham and Nicks left after a fight in 1987, and the next Fleetwood Mac album, 1990’s Behind the Mask, recieved mixed reviews. The 70s/80s era line-up reformed to perform at Bill Clinton’s inauguration as US President in 1993 to perform his campaign’s theme song, Don’t Stop. In 1997 they reformed again, and a year later Fleetwood Mac were entered into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As well as the current line-up, Green, Spencer and Kirwan were also inducted.

Fleetwood Mac’s last studio album to date was Say You Will in 2003. Buckingham left for (to date) the last time in 2018, and was replaced by Neil Finn from Crowded House and Mike Campbell from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The current line-up still perform Albatross, and their sole number 1 always appears on any greatest hits compilations.

Green passed away in his sleep in 2020, aged 73.

Written by: Peter Green

Producer: Mike Vernon

Weeks at number 1: 1 (29 January-4 February)

Deaths:

Actor Boris Karloff – 2 February