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"I AM THE LEADER OF THE GARY GLITTER GANG, ACTUALLY..."
By John Battles


(From Roctober #13, 1995)

There are many theories as to why Gary Glitter, despite his international hitmaking prowess, never really broke in the states. However, most of what's said about Gary falls short of comprehending the long-term impact of his sound and style, and of appreciating the excitement and FUN he brought back to Rock n' Roll (HEY!). His is hardly a classic overnight success story; As Paul Gadd (his real name), then as Paul Raven, he'd been knocking about for twelve years before he struck paydirt. In retrospect, Glitter's star shines as that of a hard luck hero who made good through perseverance and a willingness to take chances

His ascent to fame is comparable to that of one of his early musical idols with whom he worked in the sixties, Mr. Bill Haley. In their respective decades, both artists seemed unlikely to be heroes to legions of teens. Both men were somewhat overweight, both were pushing thirty and both had kids of their own. Gary, despite all his foppishness, shared another attribute with Bill Haley; they both carried themselves in a way that said, "This is how I am, if you like it great, if not I won't cry at night about it." Gary's outward image may have been prefabricated, but the man was not.

Gary Glitter eventually forged a new sound from the compound elements of fifties Rock n' Roll (HEY!), with one foot in the primitive arts wing and one extended towards the future. He had to go back to go forward. And that sound!! The resilient soccer game/beer hall chant (England wouldn't be ready for the bully boy call of "You're-Gonna-Get-Your-Fuck-ing-Head-Kicked-In" for quite a few years, so "Hey-Hey", "Yeah-Oh-Yeah" and "C'mon-C'mon!" had to suffice), the guitar and saxophone combination,(like a phaseshifter nightmare transmitting the battle cries of ancient Rome to alien satellites circling Mars and Saturn. "Chariot of the Gods?" You better believe it!)(C'mon, C'mon), the multi-layered double drum sound that reverberates throughout his better known recordings and his patented "Glitter" sound was born overnight as a result of an experimental recording in a studio lock-in that resulted in Gary's first international (and only U.S.) hit, "Rock and Roll Pt. 1 and 2". Only "Part. 2" charted in the states, leaving subsequent generations to believe the song had no lyrics except for "HEY!", and for it to become known as simply, "That song." "Rock and Roll part 2"s over-saturation through American sporting events is another story entirely.

The Gary Glitter sound was hit upon by just goofing in the studio, not unlike the way Elvis, Scotty and Bill found the "new sound" Sam Phillips was after by improvising an Arthur Cradup song. Gary's producer, manager and friend Mike Leander, like Sam Phillips, was also looking for a "new sound." Leander had been studying African Burundi rhythm patterns, as well as the recordings of Dr. John, the New Orleans band Exhuma and the white South African John Kongos' experimentation with tribal rhythms and electronic discordia which resulted in "He's Gonna Step On You Again," arguably one of the finest hard rock singles of the early seventies. It's possible that Leander may also have been listening to The Troggs 1970 single "The Raver", which has all the earmarks of a prototype to Gary's sound. Gary himself had been doing a good bit of research on his own time. After working the grueling Beat club circuit in Germany, and as an off camera "warm up" act on Britain's "Ready, Steady, Go!" TV show, and cutting the odd single here and there (many of these sides, like "Tower of Strength" and "All Grown Up" are actually quite good), he had yet to arrive at the formula for success, and had all but given up trying. But try he did, and the decision to turn this studio jam into a single and to beef up his working band with more drums and horns and the stellar guitar sound caused Lindsay Hutton of "Next Big Thing" to remark, "What are they putting in the water?" when he included Gary in his 10 most Underrated artists column.

Gary chose his new stage name ("Vicky Vomit" was among the rejected ones) and decided to stop co-opting American Rhythm and Blues and concentrate on the Rock and Roll thing, after being enthralled by the visual and musical super nova of the great Little Richard who he saw when he worked two shows with Richard (One being the Wembley stadium Rock'n'Roll revival, which boasted the stellar lineup of Richard, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Haley, Screaming Lord Sutch and the MC5, who had earlier kicked down the door in the U.S., but were now being shown it.) The Wembley concert was his first major platform to (quite literally) try out the emperor's new clothes, and he went over considerably well. But Gary wanted no part of the Rock'n'Roll revival. Nostalgia wasn't his bag, and the way he saw it Rock n' Roll (HEY!) wasn't a thing of the past..."Time's are changing fast, but we wont forget, though the age is past, well be rockin' yet!" (from "R&R pt1".) Wisely though, Gary took cues to reinvent himself from Little Richard's high octane mix of over the top vocal and visual insanity, breakneck tempos, proto-glam rock flamboyance, and calls for audience participation to be reckoned with ("LET ALL THE WOMEN FOLK SAY 'WOOO!' LET ALL THE MEN SAY 'UH!').

1972 was not exactly a banner year for FUN in Rock n' Roll (HEY!)...Lethargy was "In". Glam, like Punk five years later, went down as a minimal footnote in Rock history. People tend to remember David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust persona and the (admittedly brilliant) Alice Cooper Group more than Gary and his contemporaries. History doesn't smile upon the fact that Glam Rock represented extroversion from both artists and audiences alike, and a return to three minute songs that you didn't need a music degree or a bong to enjoy. With his good friend, the late, great Marc Bolan of (T Rex), Slade and The Sweet, Gary and Glam Rock lead the way in the U.K. T Rex and Slade toured the states (in fact, a bad performance by Bolan is what convinced Lux Interior that he could sing better than this guy, and thus was born The Cramps), and received nominal airplay, but didn't leave enough of a dent to keep Glitter and Leander from putting his U.S. tour plans on ice. Other popular acts like Mud, Wizzard and Alvin Stardust were virtually unknown in the states. Suzi Quatro had to direct her energies to England to make hit records, while the New York Dolls, far more dangerous and uncompromising than the whole lot, had a stronger following on the continent than back home, where they barely cracked the Top 100. "T Rex never made it in America . . . nor have Slade, and Glitter won't make it, cos Americans don't really go in for all that crap," said record exec Dave Dee, late of Dave Dee, Dozy, Bea Ky, Mick and Tich, but then, who in the U.S. remembered THEM?

Still, Dee wasn't the only one stepping on Gary's powder blue lamé platform shoes. Critics in England gleefully took shots at Gary's outrageous stage clothes, ("What is this? Liberace's son?", exclaimed one journalist. I think we all know the answer to that one), his recurring weight problems (though he didn't always look heavy Gary admitted he easily put on one stone-about 15 pounds-when he didn't watch what he ate. One critic called him "200lbs of fatback cabaret artist wrapped tightly in aluminum foil..."), has age (critics often suggested he was forty or even fifty) and of course, his music. It was too raw and too good natured for the average writer to say anything favorable about it, even if they secretly enjoyed it. Gary was enough of a professional to not internalize these remarks. He knew his sometimes awkward attire (platforms he could barely support himself on, mylar trousers that would rip on stage, etc.) was the source of much amusement. Gary could laugh with the best of them, even Paul McCartney, who couldn't believe Gary actually dressed like that when he wasn't working. Take a look at his standout performances in the "Glam Rock" video and you'll see how Gary Glitter carries off what could have been handicaps for a lesser performer and makes it all shine like a star. The fact that he IS human has endeared him to fans of all ages and all walks of life.

One could even speculate that even today Gary Glitter has as good a time or better than his audience. "I'm there to see them as much as they're there to see me." Gary told "Kerrang!" magazine a few years back. And how many performers can you think of that give their audience top billing? "The Gang, The Band, The Leader" was the name of his triumphant 1988 Scotland concert, which featured the members of Girlschool in his backing band, and received rave reviews. (The show is available on Griffen Video and Receiver Records.) One look at the video and you'll see the Guv'nor has more fun than the law should allow. "Gary's an extremely gay gentleman," commented Eric Burdon on VH1, "I don't mean he's GAY, I mean he's HAPPY." But he wasn't always.. In 1976 the hits were behind him and he was forced to file for bankruptcy and publicly retire. Though he later took smaller jobs, doing cabaret, it was actually the Punks who recognized his greatness, and called for his return to the stage. The New Romantics later took a direct cue from Gary's sense of style and showmanship. Adam Ant and Marco Pirroni will be the first to testify to his influence. The Clash made reference to him in "Clash City Rockers" and Rat Scabies went so far as to say, "I wasn't brought up on formula when I was a baby, I had Gary Glitter!" After breaking with a Glam-Pop hit by the group the Arrows, Joan Jett had a sizable hit with "Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)", which paled next to Gary's original, but has an excellent dynamic by being sung by an empowered woman. Earlier on, Brownsville Station had their second biggest hit covering "I'm The Leader Of The Gang (I Am)", which rocked like hell, but didn't beat the original. Other artists may have borrowed from his style and had hits, but there's no mistaking the Leader!

COVERS INCLUDE:

"I Didn't Know I loved You (Til I Saw You Rock n' Roll)"-Shrapnel, Date Bait

"I Love You Love"-Tommy James

"I'm The Leader Of The Gang (I Am)"-Brownsville Station, Girlschool (with Gary Glitter), Hulk Hogan

"Do You Wanna Touch Me (Yeah, Oh Yeah)"-Tommy James, Joan Jett, Phantom Rockers

"Rock and Roll Pt.2"-Bongwater, Bollock Bros., Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet (about 15 seconds), Head Cheese, KLF (renamed "Doctoring The Tardis"), Girl Trouble

"Hello!Hello! (I'm Back Again)"-Cheap Trick (about 15 seconds)

Recommended listening:

"Rock and Roll-Gary Glitter's Greatest Hits"-Rhino

"Glitter"-Bell

"Touch Me"-Bell

"Remember Me This Way"-Bell

"The Leader"-Epic

"The Gang, The Band, The Leader-Live"-Reciever

Recommended Viewing:

"GLAM ROCK"-Jeepster Video

"The Gang, The Band, The Leader"-Griffen Video