by Greggory Paul
Every generation since the birth of rock and roll has had one. At least one. One band that was more than a band. A band that was a band, a television show, poseable dolls, trading cards, comic books. In short, a band that was a band and a marketing extravaganza at the same time. First, it was the Beatles; for my generation it was undoubtedly the New Kids on the Block. The in-between? Why that's easy, the Bay City Rollers!
The first time I heard of the Bay City Rollers was when I spotted a TV commercial for one of the many "70's greatest songs" compilations that are sold on TV. The song that was being advertised for those four seconds of the commercial was "Saturday Night." I raised up from the pool of my own drool that I was lying in at 2 o'clock that morning and stared at the TV like a deer caught in headlights. "Why!" I exclaimed. "That's the same song Ned's Atomic Dustbin did on the soundtrack for So I Married An Axe Murderer!" I'm so proud of that moment....
The Bay City Rollers are currently out on tour with a new album. They will be at Smil'in Jacks tonight. The show starts at ten o'clock. Tickets are only five dollars. WCIL morning man John Riley remembers full well the impact the Bay City Rollers had, an impact that is still visible today. In order to win tickets that he was giving away, people had to bring in memorabilia from the days of "Rollermania." He was shocked by how much he received. He showed me everything that was brought in to him. "If you're into pop culture at all," Riley said, "I forgot how much fun old Tiger Beat Magazines are. Most of the Bay City Rollers stuff in here are pull-outs." Mixed right in with photos of Willie Ames, Parker Stevenson, John Travolta and Donny Osmond. Advertisements abound. "Giant-sized kissable posters!" "One hundred stickers for one dollar!" The marketing blitz didn't stop there. "I've got Woody's Puzzling Puzzler right here." Riley points out. Pictures of the Bay City Rollers are all over, with the favorite of Riley's the one in which all the members are holding White Sox baseball hats. "This is awesome!" he laughs.
It was twenty years ago (1974, so that some of you don't have to count backwards) in Edinburgh, Scotland, that the Bay City Rollers that the world would come to know came together. Brothers Alan and Derek Longmuir on bass and drums, group songwriters Eric Faulkner, and Stuart "Woody" Wood on guitars and Leslie McKeown on vocals. They released their first British album Rollin'. It produced four British top ten hits. The next year they released their second album, and it gave them even more top ten hits. By the end of the year, they were Europe's top selling group for the second year in a row. Their American debut album, The Bay City Rollers, was released in September. Shortly after that, they appeared on the much publicized premiere of the short lived ABC variety show Saturday Night Live (no, not that one.) "Saturday Night" became their second U.S. and their first American number one.
Rollermania swept over North America in 1976. In the U.K., the hysteria over the band was so high, they were banned from performing. Another album did much like its predecessors, churning out hits, and adding fuel to the Rollermania fire. At the same time, Alan Longmuir, founding and oldest member at 26, quit the group citing mental and physical exhaustion. Fans mourned the loss, but also welcomed with open arms his replacement, Ian Mitchell. Mitchell left after just seven months, tired and overwhelmed. He was replaced by Scot (oops) McGlynn.
McGlynn dropped out after only 6 months (if someone notices a theme here,
let me know, I may not be catching on) and the revolving door continued to
twirl. They released more albums, and had their third and final American
top ten hit: "You Made Me Believe In Magic." They toured the U.S. and Canada
and even enjoyed Bay City Rollers Day in Bay City, Michigan, where Derek,
Eric, Woody and Leslie were presented with keys to the city. They released
a Greatest Hits collection in time for Christmas 1977. The next year Alan
Longmuir returned, restoring the Rollers to their original line-up. They
release another album, Strangers in the Wind, which doesn't produce a single
hit Stateside, due mostly to a lack of promotion. (This despite their regularity
on the cover of 16 Magazine and on the TV show Midnight Special.) Late that
year, they became the stars of a Saturday Morning children's TV series. It
lasted from September 1978, until January 1979. In 1979, Les McKeown quit
the band. They recruited Duncan Faure for vocals. The band released one more
album that went nowhere, and even shortened their name to "The Rollers" in
order to escape their teeny bopper past. (Remember when New Kids on the Block
did that? It didn't work for NKOTB either.) The record was a dud. Still,
they tried it once more and released one more dud before calling it quits.
Now riding the retro wave that is sweeping the nation, the Bay City Rollers
survive in two different incarnations. Eric Faulkner, Alan Longmuir, Woody
Wood and Eric's girlfriend Kass are recording and touring as the Bay City
Rollers (also knows as Eric's Bay City Rollers).
Leslie McKeown, Ian Mitchell, and Pat McGlynn are touring as Les McKeown's 70's Bay City Rollers. (That name had to be contrived after a lawsuit from his former band mates.) It is this latter incarnation that will be performing tonight. Derek Longmuir has retired from music and Duncan is performing as a solo artist. Rollermania didn't die, it merely went into remission, as Riley witnessed first hand when it came back to life on his show over the last few weeks. "This whole thing got rollin', so to speak, pardon my pun, by Smil'in Jacks, who booked the Bay City Rollers. They gave me some tickets to give away, and the first day I started doing Bay City Rollers trivia, and people went nuts. All these middle aged women were going nuts!" Riley went on to explain some of his encounters with the first wave of Rollermania. "In between junior high and freshman year in high school, they were the thing. They had their radio friendly pop tunes, and a bunch of cute young guys that little girls went ape over every one of these magazines." he said, pointing at the Tiger Beats. Riley showed an early write-up in the Tiger Beat when they weren't established in the U.S. yet, telling the readers to write to the band if they liked them and the magazine would forward the letters to the band. "All these millions of American girls wrote to the Bay City Rollers and they had no idea about it. All these sacks full of letters start showing up and they said `Gee maybe we've got something going here." And the rest they say is history." "These guys really were a band. That was what made them different than the other bands that were `created' like New Kids on the Block. They actually were a band and played their instruments." Rollermania came in many forms, from the average to the die-hard fan. Riley remembers one die hard fan in particular. "There was a girl in my health class in high school, we'll call her Betty, she was a little left of center. One day in class we were having mouth-to-mouth with Resusci-Annie, the giant plastic mouth-to-mouth resuscitation doll. For many high school kids, it was their first kiss. She was brilliant. Anyway, Betty used to have pictures of the Bay City Rollers taped all over her notebook. I mean, full sized pictures of them. When they showed a film in health class, she would put her head down and we noticed that she would be kissing these pictures." "She went up to do Resusci-Annie and another guy drew mustaches on all the Bay City Rollers, and when she went back to her seat, she blew a gasket. I mean, she went insane. She started screaming, and crying, and sobbing. The teacher ended up taking the girl down to the nurse, and disciplined the defendants." You could probably go high school to high school during that phase and find Betty's all over, with Bay City stuff plastered to their textbooks. Giant Sized Kissable Posters! One Hundred Stickers For One Dollar! The Bay City Rollers Private Photo Album! The advertising was endless. "They were an industry, that is for sure." Riley said. "It was a marketing thing. Once they got a hold of this stuff, and America said "the little girls want them" then they went on this little girl marketing blitz, and the rest, as they say, was history." Rollermania still exists with some people. Take a look on the World Wide Web. On one website you can fill out the Second Bay City Rollers Internet Survey with questions such as "How did you become a fan again, what brought the fever back to you?" "Who is your favorite Roller?" "Do you find it hard to stay loyal to all the Rollers when it appears obvious that some of them want us to be loyal ONLY to one of them?" "Could you understand why they are fighting each other?" and many more. Another website advertises "Rollerfest 1997 in Las Vegas this August." Want to go? Check out <http://www.baycityrollers.com/fest.htm>. Still another lets you "Send a personalized Bay City Rollers postcard to a close Net Friend." All are chock full of fan clubs and information for the die hard Rollermaniak. Betty, I hope you're hooked up to the web. Les McKeown's 70's Bay City Rollers roll onto the stage at Smil'in Jacks Thursday, March 20, at 10 pm. Put on your plaid and sing along with me.
S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night! S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night!