gary glitter

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Gary Glitter & plotting history: An introduction

Even before torrents and Mediafire and legitimate, non-Russian online retailers sent the likes of Doc Corbin Dart, Black Randy and William Onyeabor to the front of my thoughtspace, I had a keen interest in canon. Whether editorial or personal, it didn’t matter, and neither did the un-creative presence of ordinal numbers, sussing out the relative weights of aura that put The Idiot over Heart Food. And, honestly, I wasn’t really bothered by all the reoccurrences, the candidates any mildly-dedicated rock fan could free-associate. Because at its worst, the album/singles list is just a shopping checklist, a place where personal reflection and taste go to die, a place to nod at the selection of Double Nickels on the Dime and Nevermind and Giant Steps and the token Aretha Franklin, Dr. Dre, and Slayer picks. But at its best, the list is an impressionistic snatch at a century’s gemstones, a breathless survey of the enchanting. We love lists, because we love plotting the history. If you want an infusion of bloghits, post the top 100 albums of the post-Elvis/post-Sex Pistols/post-Nirvana era. I hear it’s magic.

But whose history are we plotting? Nearly every magazine list - and a fair number of personal ones that I’ve come across - favors the “innovators,” the Great People of history who put something on a platter that hadn’t been heard before (or were, of course, fortunate to have invaded the public’s consciousness first). Once you’ve acclimated yourself to the consensus movers and shakers, it’s not a particularly fun approach. It’s certainly hindered the appreciation of first-class compositional and/or performance talents like Sam & Dave, Game Theory, and Subhumans UK. And Gary Glitter.

For Americans, as well as non-Americans under a particular age, the name Gary Glitter bears images of a pandering, chubby performer sweating under BBC stagelights, that Hey! song that stadiums used to play before they discovered hip-hop, and (perhaps most of all) a sexual predator and convicted possessor of child porn. None of these images or concepts are inaccurate, but they are incomplete. At his artistic peak (and for sharp flashes during the decline), he was a diabolically compelling presence, a persona of untrammeled confidence and boundless craving for affection. Largely under the guidance of producer/arranger Mike Leander, the erstwhile Paul Gadd released a couple dozen tracks confounding in their demand for attention of the teen kind. Goonish, stomping, melodically horizontal, magnetic rock ‘n’ roll tracks. One might have thought that Mr. Gadd grew up with the conviction that a robust fan club is the highest ideal for a singer, and crafted his persona accordingly.

To be a fan of Gary Glitter in 2011 is to recognize that not every genre reduction and retool is considered equal, that the weight of sins can (but will not always, as history suggests) trump our reception of a single, that sometimes there’s nothing more important than a wicked backbeat and a reminder that performance is already a desperately selfish act.

My name is Brad, and my personal canon may not interest you at the moment. I haven’t undertaken a project like this in probably ever, so I’m begging your indulgence as we make this fun. I can be judged on a daily basis at The Singles Jukebox.

"Rock and Roll, Part 1"

One of the peripheral pleasures of music is the refraction of history. Your perspective on, say, the decade of the 1980s could be found in hardcore’s anti-Reagan, anti-nuclear concerns, the racial and stylistic alliances of 2-tone, acid’s communal trance, freestyle’s electrifying amateurism, the weightless professionalism of corporate pop/rock, rap’s party rocking (first-wave), or rap’s limit-erasing kineticism (Golden Age). (Of course, each of those styles can be further subdivided into varying expressions of anger, joy, protest, sorrow, etc.) 

It’s safe to say that Gary Glitter never really shook his formative ’50s. Born and raised in Banbury, a market town about 60 miles north of London, the man born Paul Gadd spent his childhood as the only Protestant boy in a Catholic school, living with his mother and grandparents, who ran a bed-and-breakfast that frequently entertained American guests. “The Americans who were around the guest house all the time were to me, with my bumpkin accent, very theatrical,” Glitter notes in his autobiography, Leader. “The loud, expansive ‘Hi, how ya doin’?’ and the huge gestures were like nothing else that we had seen or heard. We kids would listen to them from upstairs and try to imitate them.”

After a couple years spent with his brother in a London children’s home - by this time, his mother was running the business largely on her own and had hoped to relocate her family in just a few weeks’ time - Gadd turned onto that litany of first-gen rock & rollers and part-time schmaltz merchants, the names you’d find in a McCartney, Lennon or Davies biography: Elvis, Gene Vincent, Tommy Steele, Bill Haley. A personal favorite was Vince Taylor and the Playboys; Glitter cheerfully admitted Vince was “actually quite an awful singer, but his presentation was fantastic.” Glitter added, “He believed you shouldn’t let the public see you as your real self, because you’d never appear special to them again.” 

After a busy few years in the late 1950s and early 1960s playing coffeehouses and clubs (keeping with his childhood conviction that, regardless of circumstance, he was born to be a leader, he always played under appellations like “Paul Russell and the Rebels” or “Paul Raven and the Bostons”), serving as the warm-up on Ready Steady Go!, meeting Mike Leander, and getting married, Glitter joined the rock diaspora and headed to Germany. He apprenticed there (and across the world) for over three years, losing some of the more obvious Vincentisms, discovering his German audience’s tolerance for whatever antics he could cook up, and essentially missing key British musical developments like folk, psychedelia, and the drug ingestion all that implied.

(Glitter’s removal from rock’s more serious progressions sets him apart from his ostensible British glam peers. T. Rex began with four albums of elfin rock. Slade’s debut included a Zappa composition and leaned heavily on hard rock and psych. Bowie’s early interests included folk and the dramatic arts.)

In 1972, the immortal David Essex canceled on some studio time, and producer Mike Leander (an arranger and producer at home in both pop and progressive camps; his highest-profile gig was arranging the Beatles’ preciously empathetic “She’s Leaving Home”) called in his old friend Glitter. A novice writer, Glitter took inspiration from, wonderfully enough, rock journalism: a Melody Maker retrospective titled “Rock ‘n’ Roll, Parts 1 & 2”. A guitarist of modest talents, Leander strung everything (save the bottom E) to A, birthing a sort of denatured brass sound, a sheet-metal whine. Inspiration for the percussion came from “Neanderthal Man,” a Kinks-ish goof from three future 10cc members: Glitter and Leander undertook a series of mixdowns of handclaps and woodblocks. The tape was riddled with imperfections, but Glitter rationalized it as a common occurrence in some of his favorite soul sides. Also, as a pudgy rocker - a seasoned 28 in an age of Bay City Rollers and Osmonds - he knew he didn’t have the luxury of waiting for ideal conditions.

Though he’d cooked up a potent rock reduction, a wickedly malleable modern sound, the accompanying text was a nostalgist’s carnival bark, an invocation of characters and situations that were up to 20 years out of date and kind of American to boot. There are references to Little Queenie and Jerry Reed’s U.S. Male; high school hops and blue suede shoes; pony tails and “far off days”. Thematically, it resembles one of my personal favorites, 1974’s “Beach Baby” by British studio concern First Class: a keening lament for what has passed, and a shaken fist at what dreams were promised. These were Glitter’s 1950s as well, a decade he aimed to correctly conquer this go around.

So the template is laid: a thudding, thuggish guide to a disappeared youth culture, marketed at the current kiddos, with Gary established as experienced tour guide. In one of those beautiful marketplace twists, it was the flip side - the same beat overlaid with nothing more than hooligan shouts and hollers - that became the bigger hit, a bit of an annoyance for Glitter, but one more than offset by the fact of his first Top Ten hit. No matter. Within seven years, he will have teased out some potent strains of nostalgia, fraternity and rock ‘n’ roll’s democratizing promise of stardom. To the past we go…

The boys

"The whole purpose of glam was to reintroduce a sense of theater to rock and to have some fun by exaggerating certain elements of pop music presentation - Bolan and Bowie were the masters of the art. It was a reaction against the low-key concerts of the previous years, when groups made out that they were just being themselves - the ‘Hey kids, we’re just like you’ approach. That too was an act, but a less obvious act than glam and so it wasn’t questioned."

Right, so, Gary picked up the pace after “Rock and Roll” (both in terms of single production, and of song tempo, as the Glitter Band took over construction duties), and I ought to do the same.

The days of strict band/artist hierarchies seems to be behind us for now; I don’t feel it’s necessary to make a judgment on the matter. It simply is. The days of mailing a few bucks to KISS Headquarters or the Beatle bunkers and receiving a few exclusive tokens has been supplanted by Facebook info pages with favorite artists listed, band-blog RSS feeds, and Twitter accounts to follow. The music-mag favorites that roam the land these days are a far cry from those mythic arena-rock dinosaurs, or even the American punk pioneers that seeded far-flung outposts with hardcore converts. Impressive as the feats of tour-or-die warriors like Black Flag or Hüsker Dü were, though, they furthered the notion that entertainment and arts are no one’s exclusive realm, to the point that acts operating now are viewed more like creative peers, compatriots that check in every so often with a new project for everyone’s discussion. 

Pop is another beast, though, what with Gaga’s Little Monsters, Justin’s Beliebers, and a delightful constellation of Korean fan clubs. Gary geared his image toward attracting a different constituency: a Gang made of young, working-class men. “The lads want heroes and aren’t ashamed of it, and they need a bit of escapism,” he noted in his autobiography. “I’ve always understood that, so Glitter had enough aggression and glamour to give them both.” And so his concerts became an unholy combination of masculine identity play and football terrace chants. That weird fraternal spirit, that combination of camaraderie, glamour and masculine posturing manifested not just in Glitter’s all-important live shows, but as explicit subjects in some of his biggest hits.

"I’m the Leader of the Gang (I Am)" was Glitter’s first Number One. Gaze upon him for a bit - he’s a chubby kabuki demon, running down a series of barely-connected chants with a little back-and-forth rocking and a whole lot of stares (instilled, supposedly, by his grandmother’s insistence that he look alert at all times). He’s Little Richard’s reveries made manifest: gleefully tossing off nonsense, likening himself to both a drug and a possessive, supernatural force. The secret weapon is the background chanting (which I’ll dig into later), a testimonial akin to the live-on-record crowds that spurred sales for Frampton and Cheap Trick. It’s dreadfully simple, and wickedly participatory. The tempo quickens from hovering hooligan stomp to Oi!-style pogo twice: once to rev the single up, and once to close the proceedings on a dizzying note.

1975’s “Doing Alright With the Boys” shows Glitter and Leander’s mastery of form. No longer content with inchoate recruitment pitches, he’s added piano, a fuller brass section, internal rhyme, and malt-shop BGVs. Just like KISS’s immortal “Beth” - to be released the following year - “Doing Alright With the Boys” tries to arrange a compromise between a lover’s persistent advances and the call of the bros. “Hey, you, what you gonna do/Now I’m back with the boys again?” he asks: partly a shrug, partly a taunt. The taunts continue during the verses, as the music shifts from damp drum thuds and chilling gang chants to something a bit more trad rock ‘n’ roll. “Ain’t no doubt that I’ve been missing out/On someone’s kissin’” grins Gary, as the backing singers cheerfully “wop” in the middle distance. Cue the second verse: “Ain’t no doubt that time is running out/Now you must chase me…” It’s quite coquettish, certainly not very age-appropriate, and his last Top-Ten hit until the 1980s.

I understand that all this implies a very personal interest. I bought albums furiously in high school, had my favorite artists, my giant numbered list of favorite songs, but I never made the leap to “true” fandom: the accumulation of artist knowledge. I couldn’t be arsed to keep the three lead singers in Gomez straight, let alone iron a Minor Threat patch on my backpack. If it didn’t involve a Beatle, my allegiance tended to stop at the songs, at the glimpses of weird or grand or banal expressions of the human experience. And whenever it was I came to Glitter, I was stunned at the darkness of it all: the cult of personality, the astounding group shouting, the mesmerization he seemed to be casting with every pounding, needy single.

By the release of 1984’s Boys Will Be Boys, Glitter had essentially exhausted the limits of his patented sound, and aside from the odd Christmas hit, the charts had stopped responding. The live shows were still a reliable draw, and as evidenced by the video above, Gary had perfected a winning formula of kinetic band members, fist pumps, preening, repulsive sexual posturing and chest hair. Reflecting the predictable shift in pop fortunes, the title track finds him waxing didactic on the sexes - there’s not much teasing, and ultimately, he aligns himself with “the boys”. His voice, never the most reliable of tools, was now utterly reduced by overwork and alcoholism to loagy wails that threatened to crack at any moment. The song is a similar mess: the chants are great as always, and the guitars still have that jigsaw buzz, but the handclaps and drumwork have been electrified, and thus tamed. Comparisons to late-period concert Elvis are unavoidable. 

But it didn’t matter. One thing every revered act becomes, no matter their aim, is an idea. And so it was with Gary. Had his sins not come to light, I imagine he’d still be at it, playing to British or Israeli or Vietnamese crowds that have shrunk him down to an experience, a two-hour time machine ride. I don’t think he’d mind.


And Then She Kissed Me


Gary Glitter


The Ultimate Gary Glitter

Gonna pivot from boys to girls here, via a shimmering take on the Crystals’ undying “Then He Kissed Me”. Unlike faithful covers by the Beach Boys (who sheepishly take control under the title “Then I Kissed Her”) and KISS, who honor the blueprint down to the castanets*, Glitter outfitted his version with upfront disco hi-hat and a whistling, whimsical counter-riff that gets relieved by the light-stepping strings. With these, he took what was held as a holy pop document and added pure, glorious giddiness.

*Honorable mention goes to the Hollywood Brats, whose listless 1979 punk-rock cover is redeemed by a reading that preserves the original pronouns**.

If this were Stylus Magazine, I’d probably single out the modest melodic leaps Glitter employs (as when he sings “shining bright” and “wanted to let her know”), leaps that really sell the wonder of a three-act, conflict-free romance. But perhaps the most interesting bit - depending on your tolerance for alternate readings - is the breakdown at the end, when he pulls back a bit, boosts his register and sobs, “Someday soon/Someday soon/I’ll meet her mom/Her mom and her dad…” Is it a final-act twist, a la “Just My Imagination”? Would that explain why such a manly man like Gary Glitter is continually awaiting her action? After years of singing like an uncle to teenagers, did he finally inhabit those more innocent times?

**Which reminds me, I was thinking about posting his cover of “The Clapping Song,” for which Glitter keeps the lines “My auntie told her/I kissed a soldier/Now she won’t buy me/A rubber dolly”. But something similar was undertaken by the Light Crust Doughboys in “Little Rubber Dolly”. Anyway, I couldn’t figure a way to stretch my credibility by drawing a line from the Doughboys to Shirley Ellis to Glitter to Tom Waits to Radiohead. Plus I can’t follow the damn dance. At least we got this bit of indie WTFery from Andrew W.K.


You Belong To Me


Gary Glitter


Silver Star

Issued as a single before the release of 1977’s disco-tinged Silver Star, “You Belong to Me” is perhaps Gary Glitter’s greatest creation; despite its parking just inside the Top 40, he reckoned it was the best track he and Leander had ever put together. You’ve got a fair bit of the bigheartedness he could occasionally muster, a fair amount of implied danger, and those dog-whistle appropriations of a bygone pop era.

"My daddy is sleeping/And Mama ain’t around," Hank Ballard winked in 1959’s "The Twist," a boast whose residence on the charts a few years prior would have been unthinkable. What factored into the change are well-known: a postwar boom in the standard of living, more affordable cars, the American spirit of adventure, and Elvis Presley confounding standards of decency by having sex with Steve Allen on live television. (As an aside, check out the astounding teen concertos concocted by Lou Christie and Twyla Herbert.) By 1967, Tommy James and his girl burst out of the living room in "I Think We’re Alone Now" - Lester Bangs’ "bubblegum apotheosis" - and it’s this kind of freedom that Glitter refracts in "You Belong to Me"… with a, erm, twist.

The minor-key verses are concerned with a disapproving community, but the stakes are inexplicably high: “After all their lies/You and I still survive/Much to their surprise/Here we are still alive”. He immediately pivots into the language of the tabloids: scandalized, victimized, criticized. The implication is the same as “Hello, Hello, I’m Back Again,” where a picture (perhaps poster?) of the singer is supposed to ward off other boys: at least one half of this relationship is famous. The raised stakes are suggested by the track, too. The handclaps are forceful, menacing in their rigidity. The Glitter guitar hacks out long-draping chords, and a bassy, harpsichord-like figure hovers in stasis. But when that chorus comes, it’s total release. At the top of his tenor, Glitter makes his triumphant declaration: “Cos I belong to you/And you belong to me”. Though the melody itself is flat, he’s off his heels with the effort; those giant chords harmonize with his carefully-measured phrasing, and the trap kit settles into a big, hi-hat-riding groove. It’s disco ecstasy.

The final touch is the guitar solo, an infrequent guest on Glitter records. (Though the Glitter Band was assembled for live shows, he claims that “Love Like You and Me” was the only song written with the participation of the Glitter Band, who had their own, concurrent recording career. Everything else is believed to be the work of Gary and Leander, with the occasional brass musicians. I can’t say for sure, though, who knocked out that solo.) Called into being with a joyous “oh!”, it’s a twin-guitar solo, a glistening ball of string that’s expertly unwound for the final minute of the song, as Glitter shouts “I belong to you! My heart belongs to you! My love belongs to you, and my life belongs to you and” - he leaps to falsetto here - “you belong to me!”

I think it’s one of the Seventies’ best singles in any arena, chockablock with meaty hooks, extratextuals to ponder, deep-cutting feeling, and straight-up weirdness. Wikipedia has it placing at number 40; Glitter’s autobiography has it hitting the Top 30. In any event, its disappointing showing convinced Leander that Glittermania was on the wane. Glitter’s expressed desire to possibly reinvent his persona was shot down in favor of a bizarre retirement story that found him “marrying” the Glitter Band’s hairdresser after a farewell tour.

always yours.

As I noted this week, one of Glitter’s explicit aims with his sound was to upend an agreed-upon narrative among rock fans: that musicians and fans were one and the same. As the 1970s advanced, the expressions of psychedelic solidarity gave way to hard rock’s solipsism. In Performing Glam Rock, Philip Auslander traces the tension inherent in live performance: “Because the hippie counterculture sought to resist this separation of performer and audience in favor of an imagined social collective, rock musicians were constrained to perform in ways that stressed their identity with their audiences.” Auslander dates the shift in this thinking to Phil Ochs’ April 1970 Carnegie Hall performance, for which he wore a Presleyesque gold lamé suit, drawing boos from the audience. But this was the future: kinship would be a badge to be worn by consumers, but excepting canny bands like KISS, it wasn’t something typically offered by the acts themselves. Glitter, of course, then tried to repair the breach somewhat with his homosocial invitations, but he left no mistaking who was the wide-eyed Pied Piper. He brought fans along on the escape, but he was still the guide.

There’s a narrative we’ve had in our minds since punk: that of a person or persons deciding on a musical course, woodshedding it in practice spaces, recording it in a self-contained manner, and earning our attention with a series of live performances that support the vision. Collaboration can occur, but generally, it’s drawn from an amorphous collective (Elephant 6, the BSS/Feist/Metric/Stars axis, Odd Future), rather than prole craftspeople. Pop, or major-label music as a whole, is a different beast: interchangeable industry lifers eternally bringing to market expedient offerings. Vitality is restored to the charts only when they adapt - or swipe, if we’re being pejorative - elements from the subculture: Nirvana’s dynamics, punk’s brittle energy, house’s hedonistic pulse.

Within that idea, though, there are a host of carefully-reasoned exceptions. The Beach Boys - an appreciation for whom was as late in arrival as it was for the infamously critically-loathed Led Zeppelin - for instance. Brian Wilson was held up as an exemplar of the subculture’s values: a self-contained creator bringing personal visions to life, even as his band was firmly enmeshed in Capitol’s system. (It’s always good to remember that many of the Boys’ recordings contained studio musicians - Dennis was a particularly erstwhile performer - and Pet Sounds' lyrics were a collaboration between Brian's concepts and the actual words of advertising copywriter Tony Asher.) Despite their brutally efficient, assembly-line production, Motown and Stax's place in right-thinking listeners' hearts is secure, even as Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder's records of musical emancipation are cheered for their idiosyncrasy. Revered “outlaws” like Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, and Merle Haggard sang others' songs as often as not. And though even hip-hop's most commercial offerings have lately gained acceptance by indie tastemakers, no one really seems to fault the production/lyric division of labor (to say nothing of pervasive ghostwriting).

Even so, today’s “important” music - the albums we place in our year-end lists, the “voices of a generation” we’re forever nominating - is implicitly understood to be self-contained works, profound ideas, and the like. But like I said in my intro, where’s the fun in that? How many times do we have to read about Kid A (a great record, no doubt) giving voice to our “disaffected, uncertain times”? Were your 2010s really that wracked by war-induced paranoia? Mine weren’t. I found jobs, made friends, fell in and out of beliefs, found love, got drunk, made costumes, followed elections, went dancing, and bought a synth. And I wasn’t unique in this.

Hearing someone record a mood and calling it a summation of an era - something that’s quite unfair to the complexity of history - doesn’t interest me nearly as much as, say, finding recordings that have a bunch of people in a room, shouting or singing with harmony as an afterthought. Recordings like the Big Boys’ “Fun Fun Fun,” the Tremeloes’ “Here Comes My Baby,” the Mekons’ “Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem,” and Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa and Bruno Mars’ brotastic “Young, Wild & Free”. And, to name just one example from Gary Glitter’s catalog, “Always Yours”.

A hard-charging, boogie-woogie number with internal rhyme and rapid cadence masking his vocal shortcomings, “Always Yours” is a sorta terrifying declaration of love, tempered by the usual caveats. “I’m a scream/A teenaged dream/But I’m always always yours/That’s me, that’s me/Your sneaky, cheeky boy…” Note that he can’t resist starting a line with the loaded phrase “don’t be cruel” - he’s forever incarnating himself. The clinching detail, though, is the shouted, melodic descent of the titular phrase, taking Glitter’s madcap teen-idol persona (he was an old 30 at this point) and wrenching its demands into an existential realm. The adolescent dread of “I Think We’re Alone Now,” by comparison, is small stakes.

At the risk of boring you, this is much of what I get out of Glitter in one place: the outsized teenage gestures, the biting guitar slashes, the sheer energy, and Gary’s sheer force of will in making his bizarre showbiz dreams a very real thing. As much as I like to say the songs are the all-important atomic components of music, I can’t deny that biography and history - those confluences of location, social climate, and workmanship - give everything heft. Music is more than artist credits. Thousands upon thousands of men and women in millions of combinations have brought us the pleasant, weird, energetic, influential, and forgotten compositions that reflect and inform our individual cultural values. Paul Gadd needed the British recording industry, the connections he made through endless revues, coffeeshop gigs, TV presentations, and one-off, stage-managed recording sessions. In return, he became Gary Glitter, took the pop cult of personality to weird new places, and made the perceived threat of his beloved rock’n’roll manifest in a series of simplistic, vital, snarling recordings. With his glam peers, Glitter is also credited with giving punk permission to constitute new personalities, and to reach back to those first amateur three-chord bashers in chasing away the fog of self-serious rock.

But really, he made a bunch of great tracks, and that alone is enough.


When I'm On I'm On


Gary Glitter


The Ultimate Gary Glitter

In 1997, Gary Glitter took his Toshiba laptop to PC World in Bristol for repair. Upon discovering over 4,000 pornographic images of children on the hard drive, the technician alerted the police, who were present to arrest Glitter when he returned to pick up his computer. Two years later, Glitter pleaded guilty to 54 charges of downloading child porn between January and November 1997, and was sentenced to four months in prison. He served two months before his release in January 2000. (He was also declared not guilty on a charge that he had had sex with an underage girl who’d met him at a concert in the early 1980s; it was revealed that the girl had accepted a £10,000 payment for her story from News of the World, with an additional £25,000 due upon his conviction.) Upon release, he conducted a brief press conference in which he expressed “deep regret,” adding, “I have served my time. I want to put it all behind me and live my life.”

From there, he embarked on a worldwide voyage with a girlfriend, possibly on the yacht he purchased with royalties from a co-writer credit on Oasis’ “Hello,” which appropriated the introductory chant from his “Hello, Hello, I’m Back Again”. In 2001, he released On, which sold 5,000 copies through his website and non-British retailers. Banned from Cambodia on unspecified charges, he ended up in Vietnam. In November 2005, he was arrested in Ho Chi Minh City while attempting to board a plane to Bangkok and charged with child rape, stemming from his relationship with a 10-year-old and 11-year-old girl. Medical tests on the girls indicated evidence of intercourse. The charges (which carried a penalty of death by firing squad) were eventually lessened to two counts of engaging in obscene acts with a child. For his part, Glitter maintained a conspiracy that included the British press, and insisted in a police interview that he did nothing more than share his bed with the 11-year-old.

In a closed-door proceeding, Glitter was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison, an intentionally lesser sentence in light of his “compensation” payments of $2000 to each girl’s family. He was required to pay an additional $320 to each family, as well as court costs. He was released in August 2008, and subsequently deported to the United Kingdom. “I have an incomplete album that I want to finish,” he told a Vietnamese newspaper towards the end of his sentence, which was cut short by three months due to good behavior.

One of rock and roll’s sacred emissions is a sense of danger, a sense that the old order is being challenged. “Danger” is a relative term, of course; those famed German riots at Bill Haley concerts seem to be an inexplicable relic. One has to squint to pick up on the anarchic implications (if not the energy) of Little Richard, Johnny Burnette et al. Time will tame any musical transgression, turning it into fodder for parties and commercials and museums. Those that cross from offering a dark energy to providing actual horror are shifted to the margins: your GG Allins, your Absurds, your Charles Mansons.

Glitter’s dark energy was viewed as a joke during his lifetime; he was constantly derided by the press for his pudgy physique, his ample chest hair, always on display, and his ludicrous (even for glam) costumes - costumes inspired by a chance viewing of the Genet play The Balcony. He was always aware of the ridicule that would greet him for being a man in his thirties, courting the youth with primal, showy rock ‘n’ roll. But he soldiered on, satisfied with loyal audiences and his ever-present need to be “the leader” - in his case, an entertainer always in the public eye. Not even the revelation of his evils slowed him down; at this moment, he may very well be recording that comeback album.

Glitter’s horrors have nothing to do with the gonzo threats at the heart of his work, but they are every bit a part of him as “Always Yours” or “Rock and Roll Part 2”. He is not alone in his evil, of course. Chi-Ali shot his girlfriend’s brother during an argument in 2001. When Alan Lomax first recorded Lead Belly, it was at the Angola Prison Farm, where Lead Belly was serving a sentence for attempted homicide; he had previously earned a pardon (for good behavior which included frequent performances for the prisoners and guards) for the crime of murdering a relative. Lauded producer Joe Meek shot his landlady, then himself, in a 1967 murder-suicide. In 1984 Vince Neil wrecked his car while drunk, causing brain damage in the occupants of the car he struck, and killing his passenger, Nicholas “Razzle” Dingley. (He served 15 days.) Slick Rick pleaded guilty to, and served time for, the attempted murder of his cousin and a bystander; he was pardoned in 2008 by New York Governor David Patterson. To cite just one famous, non-musical example, William S. Burroughs began his literary career after shooting his partner, Joan Vollmer Adams, during a drunken game of William Tell. He wrote, he said, as a way to overcome the “Ugly Spirit” he had confronted after the shooting.

We ask that our artists reflect the world as it is, or point to its possibilities. Unlike athletes, they generally aren’t expected to be moral as such. But some acts are beyond the pale, and some people will want nothing to do with the creative expressions of the people who commit those acts. And that’s good. At a certain point, “raising questions” ought to cease, to be replaced by conclusions. Personally, when I listen to Gary Glitter, or Lead Belly, or Drunkdriver, I keep the associated vile deeds in the realm of biography. Or rather, I try. I’m not always successful. But it’s an indulgence I’ve afforded myself for the moment, and it’s possible that that indulgence will one day succumb to overriding disgust. For now, as Gary sings, “nobody else can take my place,” which for me means that long after his bones powder into nothing, ages after his victims have hopefully found peace - if not justice - these eager, dark documents of rock ‘n’ roll showmanship will still hold their power. And maybe, maybe someone will remember me for counteracting evil with good.

As a postscript, something just came down the newswire out of Penn State. It turns out that ESPN’s cameras caught students singing “Rock and Roll Part 2” while turning out in protest of Joe Paterno’s dismissal. The song was part of the repertoire of the school’s Blue Band, which plays at football games. It has now been removed from their songbook.

let’s get together again

If you’ve enjoyed the posted songs and linked clips, here’s a list of 20 tracks that are worth investigation. I’ve never had much luck finding Glitter’s studio albums in secondhand shops, but Rock and Roll: Gary Glitter’s Greatest Hits contains all the usual suspects on one disc. For further investigation, I recommend finding a used copy of the two-disc The Ultimate Gary Glitter: 25 Years of Hits; the prices on Amazon are exorbitant, but I found a copy for less than 15 bucks in Austin about four years ago.

1. “Always Yours" - an unrelenting declaration of bound love, backed with some of the scariest chanting in a chart hit until the KLF (who recruited Gary for "Doctorin’ the TARDIS”). His final Number One.

2. “And Then She Kissed Me" - a stunningly ecstatic disco update of the Crystals’ immortal hit (which was produced, of course, by fellow moral black hole Phil Spector).

3. “Baby Please Don’t Go" - rutting, detuned rhythm guitar backed with insistent six-string flashes. Originally recorded by Big Joe Williams, and one of the more adult things Glitter recorded. From his debut Glitter.

4. “The Clapping Song" - fantastic drum recording on this one, a driving singalong that gains power with Glitter’s insistence on singing from the perspective of a teenage girl.

5. “Do You Wanna Touch Me? (Oh Yeah!)" - another in a long string of unfortunately-titled singles, famously covered by Joan Jett (one of two Glitter/Leander songs she recorded for 1981’s Bad Reputation). The guitars sound like yawning jets; he also uncorks a monster line-ending rhyme: “There? Where? There? Yeah!”

6. “Doing Alright With the Boys" - a wicked terrance chant, his homosocial ode to having the affection both ways.

7. “Hard On Me" - a fascist bluesy clapper with the usual Elvis insinuations.

8. “Hello, Hello, I’m Back Again" - nicked by Oasis for (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? He’s testing his girl’s fidelity as the lads welcome him back, a teen-idol Odysseus howling against the ever-present low-end. The guitars are kicking like caged animals in this one.

9. “I Love You Love Me Love" - finally, a ballad. The title was inspired by Elvis’ "I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone," and likely because Leander and Glitter were still figuring out how to record as a two-man operation, the tempo is super slow. Very John-Lennon-at-his-most-dependent. Touching in its neediness.

10. “I’m the Leader of the Gang (I Am)" - crawls to life, eldritch horror-style, after a "Leader of the Pack"-style motorcycle rev. Gary takes applications for membership. At least three people respond.

11. “It Takes All Night Long" - the Silver Star version is a full five minutes; the compilation versions are generally shorter. Go for the condensed take; it’s a lovely little tale of two people swaying on the dancefloor, arranged in a spare, TK Records manner. A cruise ship classic, I’d assume.

12. “A Little Boogie Woogie (In the Back of My Mind)" - if there’s a hidden gem on this list, it’s here, as Gary Glitter summons his finest carnival barker impression, backed by some genuinely sly singing. The ad-libs are great, the delivery louche, the chorus towering.

13. “Love Like You and Me" - an utterly incompetent ballad, complete with acoustic guitar and a first-glance-at-the-sheet reading. Pretty magic.

14. “Oh What a Fool I’ve Been" - a full-fledged Presley-style shuffle, down to the spoken middle eight. Trademark internal rhyme and a restrained performance; would have been a hit in either of the previous decades.

15. “Rock and Roll Part 1" - they’re gonna come split, but they’re gonna be together. Glitter’s debut, his attempt to wedge himself into the timeline. Like "Beach Baby," a lament for a generation that hadn’t yet made the singer famous, but without the impotent rage of the First Class single.

16. “Rock and Roll Part 2" - if you’ve finally heard the first part, perhaps this will be funny, instead of direly worn out.

17. “Rock On" - his guitars never sounded more like brass, but what the hell, let’s throw some saxes on it too. Now established, Gary tries to invoke a lifelong reign with references to good vibrations and balls of fire. The backing vocalists would be punk if they weren’t so rock.

18. “Sidewalk Sinner" - lot of back and forth between brass and guitar on this one; Gary declaims some kind of poser to a martial beat. Again, he sounds a bit like Lennon during the heroin period.

19. “When I’m On I’m On" - the re-recorded version that turns up on The Ultimate Gary Glitter, preferably. Rouses to life like the middle-aged man Glitter had long been at that point. “I didn’t come prepared/For such a love affair,” goes his best opening couplet. It’s all about the crowd proving their love for the performer. Like Toby Keith’s “As Good As I Once Was,” it’s also about Glitter’s ability to summon his old will for brief stretches. Around the three-minute mark, the band goes half-time as he howls a heartbreaking note of uncertainty. “Nobody else can take my place,” he warns as the stringy synths mince about, and he’s been right so far.

20. “You Belong to Me" - at once his most paranoid and joyful work. Glitter keeps the anti-parent, anti-tabloid verses and major-key, ecstatic disco refrain together with sheer force of will. The brief twin-guitar solo at the end is one of the sweetest recorded moments of the 1970s. 

That’s it for me, as I’m now off to find some kind of job. Thanks go to Hendrik for letting me unpack my own peculiar obsessions for a bit. Thanks go as well to my compatriots at The Singles Jukebox, whose insight and smartassery shames the best out of me on a daily basis, as well as my erstwhile editors and fellow contributors at the late Stylus Magazine. Thanks to all of you who checked out an entry this week. If you ever want to chat, I can be found.