22
Aug 07

GARY GLITTER – “I’m The Leader Of The Gang (I Am)”

FT + Popular99 comments • 8,306 views

#335, 28 July 1973

A question I’m honestly unsure of the answer to: if Michael Jackson had been found guilty of child molestation, what would have happened to his songs? Would “Billie Jean” or “Beat It” have emptied party dancefloors? Would “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” or “Human Nature” suddenly have become harder to like? And if Pete Townshend’s ‘research purposes’ hadn’t kept him out of legal trouble, would The Who’s old tracks have fallen from grace?

My hunch is that – after the news story had died down – the music would’ve been largely unaffected: already worked deep into pop history, it could be separated from the putative crimes. But in Gary Glitter’s case this didn’t happen – his music has been infected by his convictions for sex offences. His hits – so emblematic of seventies pop when I was growing up – have vanished from all that era’s compilations (Alvin Stardust seems to have been the main beneficiary here). Glam rock CDs occasionally feature the Glitter Band but leave Gary out. A couple of foreign Greatest Hits CDs surface on Amazon from around 2001, and then nothing.

It’s worth asking why this has happened. One reason, of course, might be that my hunch is wrong and that a child sex conviction of any kind means erasure from rock history. Another sensible inference would be that Glitter’s records weren’t good enough to survive exposure to his exposure. You could also argue that, even if they were good (and “Rock And Roll Part 2” is really good), their upfront party pop couldn’t bear the weight of darker associations in the way some records could.

Whatever the cause, listening to “I’m The Leader Of The Gang” and putting Glitter’s downfall out of my mind isn’t really an option. But is there anything in the record itself that makes the link so inescapable? This is a question I ask myself quite a lot when dealing with art by people who have done awful things. Take William Mayne, for instance, a children’s book writer of immense imaginative and empathic skill, and also convicted of serially abusing fans of his books. Is the thing that makes Mayne an excellent writer for children – his ear and head for how they talk and think – also what made him an effective paedophile, able to win and exploit their trust? An unpleasant thought, but that gift is also his art’s possible salvation: it’s not Mayne’s voice you’re hearing when you read his books. Whereas Gary is in your ear, informing you that he’s “the man who put the bang in gang”.

Hearing that, some kind of nervous chuckle is about the best he can expect. But it’s worth remembering that Glitter was never remotely a sinister figure before his conviction: he was always a largely comical one. My initial memories of him are of his eighties career, endless comebacks mocked in Smash Hits, and a Young Person’s Railcard advert with Gary in a facepack, supposedly trying to pass for under-26. A lame – but loveable – duffer who gave good show and was desperate to be young – this was his profile during his long twilight.

It probably wasn’t far from his profile back in his heyday – Glitter was a jobbing rock and roller who had seized hungrily on glam as a way to stardom, and maybe as a way to capture the remembered verve of rock and roll before the art school boys got hold of it. “I’m The Leader” kicks off with motorcycle noise lifted from the Shangri-Las but it has none of their sass, humour or emotion – it’s pure marching bludgeon, big on energy but doing nothing with it, leading the gang in tiny, repetitive circles. (It is to rock and roll what Calvin Harris is to eighties pop, you might say). It’s a cult-of-personality track made bearable because you know “the Leader” is a clown (“Who’d ever believe it?” he chirps, giving the game away) – and when suddenly he wasn’t a clown any more it couldn’t survive.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    DV on 22 Aug 2007 #

    I’m mad for Gary Glitter. OK, I only really remember Rock & Roll Part II and assume all the others must sound exactly like it, but I am a total sucker for that two drum attack and tribal action.

    Was Glitter convicted of anything more serious than Townshend? I know Glitter is on trial or something for actual kiddy fiddling in Cambodia, but his reputation collapsed when he had been convicted for the same thing that Townshend was caught at – downloading paedophilic images from the internet. I reckon that it was Glitter’s loveable chancer image from previously that led to him falling so far: the tabloids hated one of their darlings turning out to be a bad one.

    But I don’t really care about the convictions when I hear the music. For me, Glitter equals stomping music and KLF-associations, not squalid crimes.

    btw Tom, both William Crump and I have been e-mailing you about a very important matter… maybe you have received our mails, or maybe you have not.

  2. 2
    Tom on 22 Aug 2007 #

    The others basically are nowhere near as good as Rock N Roll Part 2 – “I’m The Leader” wouldn’t have got much more than 4 anyway.

    He got convicted of child abuse in Vietnam – over here it was the images yes.

    I have got the emails DV – I am crossing my fingers I can do something about them before the deadline.

  3. 3

    […] partly through listening to Luke Haines’ song ‘Bad Reputation’ a lot, then reading this on Popular: I’m The Leader Of The Gang (I Am) what do you make of Gary Glitter’s music? Can you engage with it separately from Glitter’s later […]

  4. 4
    Rosie on 22 Aug 2007 #

    I don’t much care for either Gary Glitter or Michael Jackson. I’m not sure how far you can equate their legal experiences. One a multi-squillionaire operating in the American system with the best lawyers money can buy, the other a rather faded has-been in the UK court system. I was living in Bristol when the news broke locally that he’d been caught after taking his computer to PC World for repair. My first thought was “God, is he still alive?” and my second was “he must be pretty stupid to take a computer to PC World for repair, dodgy images or no.”

    It’s part of my function in one area of my life to be able to detach myself unpleasant aspects of the individual I’m working with, and that’s something I take in my stride. What I know about the private life has no bearing on that person’s creative work. So, for example, I can enjoy the music ow Richard Wagner even though the man was a complete shit.

    Would I leave a dancefloor when a Gary Glitter record came on? Yes, no doubt. But I’d have done that before I knew about the unsavoury side of his life anyway, because I never much cared for his style. I was never a big fan of Glam any way but plainly there was good Glam, bad Glam, and Gary Glitter. The neanderthal terrace-chanting did nothing for me, however tongue in cheek. It still leaves me cold.

    Michael Jackson, now, that’s another matter. I’ll have more to say about it when we get there, but even at my age Billie Jean is one of those tracks that would get me on my feet and on to a dancefloor. His unsavouriness has nothing to do with it.

  5. 5
    Doctor Casino on 23 Aug 2007 #

    Both Glitter and his conviction are virtually unknown here in the states; “Rock & Roll Part Two” is a perennial for football game soundtracking, but it would be quite a trivia catch in most circles to be able to name the song, let alone its performer. I picked up his Greatest Hits a little over a year ago, having heard “Part One” on some rock compilation playing in the kitchen at work. It’s mind-numbing and exhausting to get through in one sitting, but taken individually, the tracks are all good. “I’m The Leader” is one of the better ones. Mostly I think these songs suffer by comparison to other, better explorers of similar ideas – I was told I would love Glitter because I loved Andrew WK, and I think it’s safe to say that Andrew WK is a lot better at this type of fist-pumping schtick, mainly because he doesn’t sound so distant from the material. Granted, the thin, nasal fogeyness of Glitter gives the songs a distinctive weirdness. I keep wanting to compare him to that other Gary, Mr. Numan, who conveyed much the same sweaty sonic creepiness, and presumably intended to. Glitter always sounds like he’s really trying hard to make a smashing glam record, and when he acknowledges this, as on “Part One,” which basically admits that he’s cut out for the fifties but stuck in the seventies, he strikes gold.

  6. 6
    Marcello Carlin on 23 Aug 2007 #

    Once again I have to consider this thing I call Larkin’s Law – admiring the art and forgetting about, or overlooking, the flaws of the artist as a person. I’m not sure whether this can apply in all cases. But where exactly do we draw the boundaries, or do we only choose to do so when it comes to children? After all we’ve already had a number of very highly rated number ones – one of which is my favourite number one single of all time – which were co-written and/or produced by a murderer.

    Michael Jackson survives because, regardless of the legal and financial resources available to him, he was found not guilty and his music (or some of it anyway) is strong enough to transcend whatever he might be like as a human being.

    But to apply Larkin’s Law to a song which includes the line “I’m the man who put the ‘bang’ in gang” followed by a horrendous cackle is stretching it. I don’t agree with Stalinist whitewashing of history; I think his music should continue to be available in shops so that people can make up their own minds (as Jonathan King’s is, for instance, but JK’s a more complicated matter, as Mark S outlines elsewhere on FT), and I think Dale shouldn’t daintily skip over his records when they inconveniently happen to be at number two or three in whatever POTP chart he’s running down – without so much as mentioning the titles, or only mentioning them in part (e.g. “Doing Alright With The Boys” was announced as “Doing Alright”). You can’t pretend things didn’t happen when they demonstrably did, and between 1972-4 he was one of the biggest selling singles acts in Britain.

    If “Rock ‘N’ Roll Pt 2” is his masterpiece it’s because there are no discernible words and the record is practically ahuman; the drums and guitars are echoed and stretched out so much that they do not appear to be played by human beings, and the cavernous grunts provide a direct parallel with dub; Glitter was quoted at the time as citing Brando’s “We don’t need words” routine from Last Tango In Paris as a comparison. Then again the genius of that record was largely down to Mike Leander as co-writer and producer.

    There is more than a touch of Leonard Sachs and The Good Old Days about the “Come on, come ON” accelerando and the ingenious double-drum deployment – one kit solidly on the beat, the other skating quarter-accents around it, thereby forming rhythmic ambiguity with no real centre – was subsequently expanded by the Ants, the Hex Enduction Hour-era Fall and Denim (the latter using the actual Glitter Band). So Glitterbeat looked back to Max Miller and forward to the Aphex Twin.

    Still, it worked best on “Rock ‘N’ Roll” and diminishing returns of repetition and watering down occurred with each subsequent release. The vaudeville bonhomie of “Leader Of The Gang” would in other circumstances (i.e. the intervening quarter century) just about have passed on a Dr Demento level, but just as we can’t pretend it didn’t happen, nor can we go back and view it in the same way; we can’t pretend the rest of it didn’t happen either.

    Then again, as far as Larkin’s Law goes in this context – what about choirboy-loving Benjamin Britten?

  7. 7
    Tom on 23 Aug 2007 #

    The Jackson qn is a hypothetical of course, as I said. But an interesting one – certainly in my office the overwhelming consensus, before he was found not guilty, was “he did something but will get away with it”, much tut-tutting, but the overwhelming dancefloor consensus among the same people was “MUST DANCE TO BILLIE JEAN NOW”.

  8. 8
    Rosie on 23 Aug 2007 #

    Ah, I’ve just realised where Marcello got ‘Larkin’s Law’ from! Of course, Philip Larkin placed the blame for his shortcomings on his parents, which is about the one thing everybody knows about him (but how many can complete the stanza, never mind the rest of the poem.)

    The truth is, Larkin’s poetry was the same, before and after the revelations about his poetry, because once it’s left the author’s pen or typewriter it’s out of the author’s power and recreated – differently each time – in the mind of each individual who reads it. In the same way, you can in the light of what has been revealed put a new interpretation on Gary Glitter’s songs, but that is a construction of our time, not of 1973.

    And hey, if you took away all art created by people with unsavoury personal habits, there wouldn’t be much left would there?

  9. 9
    lex on 23 Aug 2007 #

    “But it’s worth remembering that Glitter was never remotely a sinister figure before his conviction: he was always a largely comical one”

    My reaction to this is something you mention yourself at the end – GG’s comedy was in his clownishness, which is kind of sinister by default, and the clownishness is in the music too, which is why I’ve never liked it (though I think I only heard it AFTER he was convicted, my reaction to the news was “who?” haha it transpired he lived in a village v nearby my house though).

    I think your hunch about MJ is right, not least because a lot of people (maybe inc me! I don’t know) who assume, rightly or wrongly and completely despite the outcome of his trial, that he DID fiddle with those kids, or at least that his behaviour was the wrong side of creepy, and who still dance to ‘Billie Jean’. Also MJ is clearly so screwed up that I think these days most people think of him as some sort of alien rather than an evil human being, and his own history of being abused is quite well documented.

  10. 10
    Marcello Carlin on 23 Aug 2007 #

    And I put it to you that you are in no position to know how “screwed up” MJ is or isn’t, and that by speculating wildly and frankly libellously about it you reveal a lot more about your own fixations.

  11. 11
    intothefireuk on 23 Aug 2007 #

    Let us not forget these were the days of the football terrace and all that entailed. Terrace chants, gang violence, hooliganism etc. Tapping into the zeitgeist were lads bands like Mott, Slade & of course, Glitter. The pounding rhythms and anthemic nature of the music were perfect to punch the air and indeed your enemy to. Leader of the gang with its come on, come on was perfect terrace material.

    Unfortunately my particular memory of this song has an element of shame attached to it. My school in their wisdom decided to show a taped TV programme about what we now refer to as ‘special needs’ children as part of a social studies class. During the programme these unfortunate children were shown punching the air and attempting to sing along to LOTG. Cue hoots of derision and unsavoury mimicking by my fellow pupils. Forever after, whenever the record was played at school discos (when every song invariably had an action associated with it) the mimickery was repeated. It’s not a great memory but children can be very cruel.

    Glitter’s conviction, had it stopped at the PC world incident, possibly in time would have been, if not forgiven, then perhaps brushed over. Unfortunately his subsequent behaviour and further revelations have made it impossible to disassociate his behaviour from his music. The underlying thought now when listening to his music is – was he always like this ? – was his music a trojan horse for more nefarious activities ? It’s a pity because the music is pretty good – RnR pt2, IDKILYTISYRnR, Hello Hello, Leader – all great singles featuring the trademark Leander/Glitter beat and unison Sax/Guitar riffs.

    I have in fact attempted covers of Glitter material over the years to varying degrees of success but it became obvious when we last played one (about 18 months ago) and it fell flat on its face, that it was no longer a viable option. Whether we like it or not Glitter was a major part of Seventies culture – maybe one day he will be hailed as a troubled genius – I think not though.

  12. 12
    Tom on 23 Aug 2007 #

    A hunch I ws pursuing before my home internet failed yesterday was whether or not some compilations are crediting old GG hits to The Glitter Band in order to escape the implications. I am not sure any are however if I were an unscrupulous Mitteleuropan repackager of Disky style compos this is a trick I might try and pull.

  13. 13
    Marcello Carlin on 23 Aug 2007 #

    As an avid consumer of said Disky/BR-style compos I can confirm that the tracks labelled as The Glitter Band are in fact The Glitter Band.

  14. 14
    Erithian on 23 Aug 2007 #

    Funnily enough I’ve taken my kids to a couple of children’s parties over the last couple of years where the parents have stuck on a compilation evidently released before GG’s little IT difficulties, and when a Glitter track came on no-one skipped to the next track or indeed turned a hair. Which just suggests that with a partyload of 6/7 year olds, no-one’s taking much notice of the music anyway (unless it’s used for pass-the-parcel).

    Marcello’s right about the airbrushing – when Channel 4 broadcast their definitive all-time Top 100 best-selling singles to mark 50 years of the chart, every other entry was covered in some depth, many complete with interviews; GG’s (not the one under discussion) was cut short after about ten seconds, the voiceover saying “This man used to be one of the most popular entertainers in the country. Not any more.”

    I’ll keep away from the subject of MJ (suffice to say I’ve never danced to Billie Jean and don’t intend to) and we can hopefully avoid m’learned friends reading postings on this blog. But re ITFU’s question about whether the music was a Trojan horse, it’s perfectly possible I guess – after all Jonathan King’s certainly was (thinking of his unlikely link with Jimmy Pursey). In the context of activities that are legal, every band that ever wanted to get rich, famous and laid, and every manager who ever had below-the-belt interests in his act (no names, but arguably the biggest act of them all) could be said to have used music as a Trojan horse, so why wouldn’t this be the case?

    I’m reminded of a choice quote in Q magazine a few years back – a major star talking about how his band once shared a bill with Gary Glitter and found him pretty objectionable. “If I’d known what he was into I’d have punched his lights out,” the star said. With a delicious touch of irony, the man saying this was Roger Daltrey!

    BTW Marcello – sorry to sound stupid, but who’s the murderer/writer/producer you’re thinking of?

  15. 15
    Marcello Carlin on 23 Aug 2007 #

    Not at all, Erithian – it was Joe Meek, who not only shot himself but also his poor landlady.

  16. 16
    Pete on 23 Aug 2007 #

    And we’re waiting on Phil Spector…

  17. 17
    Alan on 23 Aug 2007 #

    “I’ve never danced to Billie Jean and don’t intend to”

    b-but that’s impossible!

  18. 18
    Marcello Carlin on 23 Aug 2007 #

    Furthermore it is impossible not to dance to Billie Jean without attempting to do the moonwalk (see average student disco clientele of pale Smiths/New Order/Sisters of Mercy fans circa ’83-4).

  19. 19
    Tom on 23 Aug 2007 #

    “Despite the name, it would be very difficult to do the moonwalk on the moon, due to its low gravity.”

  20. 20
    Tom on 23 Aug 2007 #

    erm yes sorry that was Wikipedia speaking.

  21. 21
    Erithian on 23 Aug 2007 #

    I did say I wanted to keep off the subject of MJ, at least until we get to 1981 (and that song wasn’t bad at all) – but I thought he was hugely overrated even when he was black! (sorry, poor taste gag)

    On GG’s music, yes I was partial to it back in the day, although it wasn’t stuff I went out and bought. As I recall he was the last act I saw at our student union circa 1984, when he was having his big-with-students phase. As is commonplace, this might be his signature tune (hence the nickname “The Leader” before he became known as something else entirely) but far from his best record.

    There is, if not a book, at least an essay, in the subject of what Glam stars were doing before they were famous, because a lot of them were no spring chickens. Glitter, aka Paul Raven, was plugging away before Merseybeat, wasn’t he? (as was Alvin Stardust with rather more success).

    Phil Spector – yes, like I said we don’t want m’learned friends on this blog. Wait for the verdict!! Thanks for the info Marcello – somehow taking someone with you when you’re mentally unstable yourself doesn’t attract the same condemnation.

  22. 22
    Tom on 23 Aug 2007 #

    Erithian if you look at the related articles you will see “Jonathan King’s Theory Of Pop Greatness” – obviously JK has cropped up in this comments thread for other reasons but that link has info on one of his old ideas which relates to the “Where were they then?” qn.

  23. 23
    Tom on 23 Aug 2007 #

    (Incidentally ‘good’ call by the related article goblins including “The Bad Touch”!!) (The RAs are automatically generated by some kind of secret WordPress algorithm)

  24. 24
    Alan on 23 Aug 2007 #

    that secret algorithm in full: “gang”

  25. 25
    Erithian on 23 Aug 2007 #

    Tom – yes, we’ve discussed JK’s sneering viewpoint before on these pages and given it short shrift. Thing is, a lot of future stars were paying their dues in the 60s and working their way to prominence which came later – doesn’t mean they weren’t any good. Members of Sweet in Wainwright’s Gentlemen, members of Queen in Smile, Chas and Dave in various bands, Jeff Lynne in the Idle Race, even young Neville Holder writing that song about a rocking chair in 1967 – the story should be told.

  26. 26
    Tom on 23 Aug 2007 #

    ALAN WHY YOU REVEAL SECRET :(

  27. 27
    mike on 23 Aug 2007 #

    In stark contrast to what MC accurately nails as the dehumanised proto-dub of “Rock & Roll Part 2”, the appeal (or otherwise) of “I’m The Leader Of The Gang (I Am)” is wholly centred around the personality of Mr. Glitter, and its only function is as a vehicle for that personality. If you bought into GG (as I most assuredly did at the time, aged 11), then you’d have bought into “Leader”.

    When GG morphed into an overtly self-parodying pantomime act/Queen Mum style “national treasure” (early 1980s – late 1990s), so did “Leader” morph from flashy pop thrill to corny old showtune. And since his disgrace, all its remaining stock value has been wiped clean.

    On the other hand, if MJ had been found guilty, then I reckon we’d still be enjoying “Billie Jean” with clear consciences – because its greatness transcends its creator, whereas “Leader” is shackled to it.

  28. 28
    Waldo on 23 Aug 2007 #

    Despite the frivolity expressed by me in the last entry in anticipation of this artist in general and this record in particular, I have nothing whatsoever to say on this person’s carryings on with children in a far off land or indeed his trip to PC World. And for this, I do not expect a Simon Templar halo to appear over my righteous daily. I myself once bought a GG single (it wasn’t this one) and back in the day considered him to be self-effacing and fun. I must also admit to seeing him live about fifteen years ago, long before his fall from grace and the evening was not unenjoyable. I was going to quantify the “stones in glass houses” effect by mentioning Daltrey’s comment about Glitter but Erithian broke the tape ahead of me. “Delicious irony” is indeed a perfect discription of Roger’s remarks.

    “Leader of The Gang” must have been adopted as the signiture tune by every street urchin on my high-rise estate in Stockwell, which was never a subtle environment (mind you, at least in 1973 you could climb aboard a tube without getting sent to the promised land in a hail of police bullets – certainly not rubber, this time). I’m sure that the song’s mantra was similiarly taken up in more affluent and pleasant quarters. There were thus lots and lots of “Leaders” but nobody was led. And there’s the rub. This record was entirely childish and although I was a child myself, I make no apology for claiming to be a thoughful child, who considered Glitter’s vainglorious boasting quite absurd and nowhere near as credible as Dave Barker’s “magnificent” self-embellishments from two years earlier. No, mate. Indeed I do NOT want to be in your gang. And you’re not joining my gang either. So that’s fifteen-all.

  29. 29
    Erithian on 23 Aug 2007 #

    Just to clarify that Daltrey’s comment about Glitter was made some time before Townshend’s own IT-related difficulty…

  30. 30
    Waldo on 23 Aug 2007 #

    That is correct.

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