Bye Bye Baby – The Bay City Rollers
…she’s got me so I’m not free so….
It’s early 1975, I’m 17 years old with faintly ridiculous long-ish hair, I’m living in Hailsham East Sussex with my mum two brothers and a young sister and I travel 25 miles on a bus to Polegate and a train to Lewes each day for school. I’m probably wearing selected items of my mum’s wardrobe to school – flowery tops and the odd satin blouse. Glam rock you see. The upper sixth – my final year – I’m taking three A-levels in English, Economics and Geography. I am obsessed with being acceptable, and with luck perhaps, being cool. There was a Velvet Underground faction at Lewes Priory, but I wasn’t friends with any of them, so never really checked for that band (I’m not a fan even now). There was a Stevie Wonder faction made up largely of 5th-form and lower-6th form girls, and this was my gateway to the living genius (and girls) via Innervisions and Talking Book. By now I was playing in a ‘school band’ and the idea of cool music and not-so-cool music was a constant and essential nightmare. Which LP cover would you allow people to catch a glimpse of as you stalked the corridors in your platform heels and flared patched jeans ? You would be judged ! Dark Side Of The Moon and Abbey Road were probably the top two in evidence, more daring and brave souls would have The Yes Album, Roxy Music or Elton John, really pretentious types would display 12 Dreams Of Dr Sardonicus, The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get or Pawn Hearts. I was one of the latter.
My best friend Simon had defaced Jimi Hendrix graffitti with “Eddie Kendricks”. We were musical snobs. We liked Spirit. Not The Grateful Dead so much. We called Caravanserai – the new Santana LP – “Caravan Site”. We held Pink Floyd (after Syd left) in complete disdain. We were proud of our taste – in clothes, in girls, in music. We were the cognoscenti – the winners of the cool competition. Self-anointed.
But of course I had a running dripfeed junkie relationship with Radio One which stretched back to before Radio One even existed. We had the radio on in our house from dawn to dusk, which is when the TV took over. We – my family – knew all the songs in the charts, whether we held them in disdain or not. And where would we hear a new single ? On the radio. Or – religous imperative – Top Of The Pops. New albums would be heard in the common room, or round someone’s house smoking a joint, nodding sagely to each flanged chord change & tolkeinesque lyric. But singles were the radio’s arena. I was raised on singles. I was addicted to singles. They were in my bones. They were, despite those LP covers parading around the school corridors, the pinnacle of the art. I knew that, even then as a callow youth.
So one morning, making a cup of tea to take upstairs to Mum (I was always first up, still am) and switching the radio ON there it was in all it’s confectionary – a new song, a new single. I didn’t know it. I turned on the kettle, waiting for it to boil, warming the pot, spooning the tea leaves into the stained brown teapot. I liked it. But – wait – was it cool ? I felt brave for some reason, or else some higher power was at work. As the kettle started to whistle, I thought – Fuck It – I don’t care who this song is – I LIKE IT. I’m not going to wait for Tony Blackburn to tell me who it is before I decide upon its merit, my ears have already decided – it’s cheesy but magnificent and yes YES. I like it.
“…and that was the Bay City Rollers there with their new single Bye Bye Baby, and this is Gilbert O’Sullivan….”
I was horrified. I wasn’t cool. I was beyond uncool. The Bay City Rollers were the absolute heighth (as mum would say adding a joyous extra ‘h’) of of crap music, teenybopper crud, not groovy, not ‘proper music’, cheesy bouncy fluffy shallow shit. And – there were rumours – scandalous rumours later proved correct – that they didn’t even play their own instruments ! This marvellous clip from Top Of The Pops would seem to confirm that – the lead guitarist is playing his instrument as if it’s a bass – but anyway – we hated them. They were the epitome of who we were NOT. And I liked their new single. Not Cool. Not only that – proof that I wasn’t cool. I’d just proved it to myself – my cool act was just that – an act. At some deep point I accepted it, and my love of pop music has slowly centred itself in my being, but I never bought the 45rpm single, and I never told Simon, or anyone at too-cool-for-school Lewes Priory. Are you kidding ? These matters were life and death. Worse. Friendships were broken, public mockery was administered, girls would avoid you, shame would descend. Some folk carry this fear into adulthood – actually I believe most people do. This whole “Guilty Pleasures” thing. I’ve always denied the guilt part – if I like it, I don’t feel guilty about it – but I get it.
Many many many years later, the cast of The Assets, a TV show about the Cold War went en masse to see Jersey Boys in London’s West End because one of our gang Stuart Milligan was in it. Apart from being a perfectly-realised poprock musical, it contained the song Bye Bye Baby and it was only then – in 2014 – that I realised that Bob Gaudio & Bob Crewe had written it, and that Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons – the Jersey Boys – had sung the original. I love all the Four Seasons songs that I’ve heard, (including Can’t Take My Eyes Off You which I had only ever known as an Andy Williams song) this was a band ripe for unearthing and enjoying, from Rag Doll through to The Night (see My Pop Life 112). The key to a Broadway/West End musical hit is to realise this fact before the general public. And me – I’m still acting cool. And it’s still an act. But maybe – just maybe – in 1975 I wasn’t so uncool after all? Ha! Below, the Bay City Rollers on Top Of The Pops in 1975 – please check out the drummer ! – The Four Seasons in 1965, and Frankie Valli two years ago.