22
Aug 07

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

FT + Popular102 comments • 8,514 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. 31
    Billy Smart on 23 Aug 2007 #

    Ah, here’s another one that I really like. I think that this is a record that is designed to polarize opinion in a way unlike most of the others up to this point. The lopsided twin drumming rhythm and call-and-response structure requires the listener to enter into the spirit of the thing – if you don’t want to, or feel disinclined to, then you’re liable to find it quite irritating (I find lesser Glitter discs tiresome, and I can’t imagine being pleased to hear this when I was unhappy – unlike some other equally silly songs).

    As for the question of what it was like to listen to GG before we knew what we do now… well, it really was all there already in the work, wasn’t it? Not only the famous ‘bang in the gang’ line here, but also I always found the promise that “I can take you over the hill/ Ooh! What a thrill!’ rather indelibly seedy. (And IIRC doesn’t the singer ask “Did you miss me/ when you were at school?” in It’s Good to be Back?) I find this song to be menacing, but in a ludicrous, wobbling, sort of way.

    For an piece that articulates all of the good things about Glitter’s performances, there’s a good 1980 NME profile by Paul Morley reprinted in ‘Ask’. Now that nobody – understandably! – has much of a good word to say for him, it’s instructive to revisit a time when they were prepared to.

    Incidentally, do you suppose that the first series of Not the Nine O’Clock News and The Thick of it now won’t be broadcast again, either?

  2. 32
    Al Ewing on 24 Aug 2007 #

    I know at least one person who can’t bring himself to watch ‘The Thick Of It’ on account of the terrible knowledge.

  3. 33
    Pete Baran on 24 Aug 2007 #

    What about the Muppet Show.

    I some ways I think Help! is the bigger loss. The Thick Of It will clearly continue.

    Was Gary Glitter bald at this point (clearly he worked with wigs but I remember the shock of seeing him completely bald, and it also allowing me to distance creepy Gary from pantomime Gary).

  4. 34
    Marcello Carlin on 24 Aug 2007 #

    You never actually saw Langham in the Muppet Show though (ditto People Like Us).

  5. 35
    Rosie on 24 Aug 2007 #

    Chris Langham is a very talented actor (was a very talented actor as it’s unlikely that he’ll work again) and as far as I’m concerned, his deeply-flawed character doesn’t detract from his existing oevre. I must admit that People Like Us made me wince and reach for the Radio 3 button but all the same there’s lots of his work that I can remember with great pleasure.

    I find it harder to make a case for Gary Glitter because I never actually liked his work but what applies to Chris Langham applies to him too. It’s all very well going back over the lyrics and finding stuff that could be construed as indicating what was really going on, but I suspect that anything could be found if you tried hard enough. Child abusers (for that’s what they are) are notorious for self-justification and going to great lengths to cover up their crimes, so why should Gary Glitter run this particular flag up the flagpole? “Look at me, I’m a child abuser if only you knew it?”

    If Gary had gone on to shoot somebody, not that anybody who ever made the charts would ev er do that would they???) then the “bang of the gang” line could be cited as a premonition.

  6. 36
    Pete Baran on 24 Aug 2007 #

    Not true Marcello. Langham was the special guest star on one episode (519) as a last minute replacement for Richard Pyror!
    http://muppet.wikia.com/wiki/Episode_519:_Chris_Langham

  7. 37
    Marcello Carlin on 24 Aug 2007 #

    Blimey!

    I believe Langham was found guilty of downloading child porn and that the active child abuse charges against him were thrown out.

  8. 38
    Waldo on 24 Aug 2007 #

    Yes, Marcello. Quite right. Langham was indeed acquitted of the child abuse charges, which makes, I suggest, comparisons between him and Mr Gadd disingenuous.

    I can only repeat my point, which Rosie reiterates, that interpreting lyrics in retrospect of subsequent behaviour is entirely meaningless, which is why I would hope that we should get all the kiddy-fiddling rererences to Glitter out of our system with “Leader of the Gang” rather than continuing on when his other chart toppers appear on our radar.

  9. 39
    Lena on 24 Aug 2007 #

    I remember that Muppets episode – it was funny! I read his wikipedia bio and oh dear, oh dear…

    I don’t have much to say on this song or on Glitter in general, save that I first ‘heard’ him via Joan Jett.

  10. 40
    Marcello Carlin on 24 Aug 2007 #

    I can only repeat my point, which Rosie reiterates, that interpreting lyrics in retrospect of subsequent behaviour is entirely meaningless

    Curiously I can still listen to wifebeater Phil Spector making Ronnie sing “I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine” because the record and performance are so great that you forget about the backstory, or at least consign it temporarily to the back of your mind. Were Glitter’s records of equal aesthetic quality then there would be a similar quandary. However they are not, so there isn’t. As far as listening to a known convicted child abuser sniggering about being the man who put the ‘bang’ in gang, I find I have better things to do with my ears in 2007, just as I did in 1973, when I found him a tiresome novelty, as previously noted.

  11. 41
    Waldo on 24 Aug 2007 #

    Surely none of us would listen to Gary now for pleasure?

    Was Spector actually ever convicted for smashing Ronnie up? I have no idea.

  12. 42
    Marcello Carlin on 24 Aug 2007 #

    Ronnie was too scared and/or imprisoned to report him. See her Be My Baby autobiography for full and gruesome details.

  13. 43
    Waldo on 24 Aug 2007 #

    Yes, so this means that Spector has been found guilty of nothing in this regard and I suggest to comment further to the contrary in an open forum would not be wise. In the same way, we must refrain from making suggestions against Michael Jackson, as we I think all appreciate, since this man was brought to trial and acquitted. These are basic legal realities, which cannot be gainsayed.

    Further to Spector’s more recent difficulties, has his trial been adjourned or it it simply coasting just now?

  14. 44
    Izzy on 24 Aug 2007 #

    Gary Glitter hasn’t entirely disappeared from popular culture. A mate of mine spotted ‘Leader of the Gang’ on the song list of a karaoke bar in Blackpool and decided to give it a bash. He wasn’t thinking of how provocative it might be, he just really loves this song and (for him at least) Glitter’s convictions haven’t infected the music.

    You can imagine how badly it went down. I remember one hatchet-faced middle-aged woman in particular, having to be hauled down off the bar as she went to attack the singer. It was quite a punk rock moment, actually.

  15. 45
    intothefireuk on 24 Aug 2007 #

    It should not be overlooked that Glitter’s early sound was quite unique and innovative. While Gazza gradually moved away from this sound over the next few singles – the Glitter Band used it quite successfully for their run of chart singles. In fact Angel Face is a particular favourite of mine and it doesn’t carry quite the same guilt. There was also of course The Human League’s own synthesised cover of Glitter’s rock n roll in 1980 and somewhat less successfully dance troupe Shock’s electronic version of Angel Face round about the same time.

    Oh and one more thing we have Gary Glitter to thank for is of course some rhyming slang which hopefully I don’t need to elaborate on.

  16. 46
    Waldo on 24 Aug 2007 #

    Ah! Threatened violence at a Karaoke night… I remember in the very early days of this phenomenon (Karaoke, not violence) when I found myself alas in a pub in Hemel Hampstead, probably one of the most boring towns in Britain. This impression was confirmed when the songs offered to the middle-everything clientele that night included “Gentle on My Mind”, “Born Free”, “Oklahoma” and the Alisons’ “Are You Sure?”, which is a supposed to be a duet but was put on offer by one single guy with such a high-pitched voice, he made Alan Ball sound like Paul Robeson. It was this last one, which pushed some young bloke standing close to me over the edge:

    “What the f*** was that, you squeaky c*** ?!” he rasped as the singer walked past him.

    “Are you sure,” squeaked the singer.

    Of course, the Karaoke star was answering the question literally but this not how his interceptor interpreted it, the expression “Are you sure?” nowadays broadly meaning “I beg your pardon?” or “What did you say?” and thus representing a challenge. This, I’m afraid, was more than enough for the reasoned critic, who then aimed a punch at the singer, which began almost as far back as the bar, where he had clearly spent most of the day. The singer evaded this attack easily and the young thug fell on his face. As someone moved in to clear up the mess, I asked the Karaoke man if I could do “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting”. He saw straight through me and told me to piss off, which indeed I did.

    Happy Days!

  17. 47
    Snif on 25 Aug 2007 #

    >>In the same way, we must refrain from making suggestions against Michael Jackson, as we I think all appreciate, since this man was brought to trial and acquitted. These are basic legal realities, which cannot be gainsayed.

    Good thing Liberace doesn’t have any Number Ones coming up.

  18. 48
    emmersonladypalma on 25 Aug 2007 #

    The UK libel laws have yet to pick up random blog posters, and I fear they will not in this case either.

    There are a couple more GG’s to come, I think, which makes this a prelude I think.

    Hello, Popular!

  19. 49
    DV on 25 Aug 2007 #

    Surely none of us would listen to Gary now for pleasure?

    why not? good music is good music. This of course assumes you liked his music in the first place.

  20. 50

    yes i am not sure i would terribly want to discuss music w.someone who’d hated GG’s music before, then had their eyes opened to its excellence by the courtcase and aftermath

  21. 51
    Mark G on 28 Aug 2007 #

    .. and if you think the “gang” line’s bad, check out “Happy Birthday” from his “touch me” album, where he’s in bed w/ a 15 r old, awaiting the stroke of midnight and her 16th birthday.

  22. 52
    Marcello Carlin on 28 Aug 2007 #

    See also: “She’s Too Young” by John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers from the album Bare Wires as played by Dale on POTP ’68 a few weeks ago; fell into his “well it was a big selling album” category.

  23. 53
    DV on 28 Aug 2007 #

    Who is this Dale fellow?

    Does anyone remember when Gary Glitter joined The Timelords on Top Of The Pops? That was great.

  24. 54
    Marcello Carlin on 28 Aug 2007 #

    *SPOILER ALERT: we may be remembering that at some unspecified stage in the future*

    This is Dale…

    Good profile, that.

  25. 55
    Billy Smart on 28 Aug 2007 #

    Oh, nobody’s mentioned it yet – at number 2 for two weeks during the Glitter reign at the top, Yesterday Once More by The Carpenters. Now that really is a work of deathless genius.

  26. 56
    Lena on 28 Aug 2007 #

    And the US #1 was “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” by Jim Croce.

  27. 57
    Waldo on 29 Aug 2007 #

    Jim Croce was brilliant if virtually unknown this side of the pond. “Time in a Bottle”, a massive number one in the US, gets me every time.

  28. 58
    Marcello Carlin on 29 Aug 2007 #

    Poor old Jim Croce. His songs were played all the time on the radio over here (Luxembourg in particular had a thing about him but then I think they had an ongoing airplay ratio deal with Phonogram) and continue to be played on Radio 2, but none of them charted in the UK.

  29. 59
    Waldo on 29 Aug 2007 #

    Did anyone hear Dale’s show over the BH? He did a retro-sixties show and interviewed Andy Fairweather-Low and Mike D’Arbo amongst others. The funniest part was when he spoke about Sandy Shaw. He said that whilst he remained “a fan”, he remembered interviewing her in the seventies and “for some reason she didn’t appear to like me”. He certainly can get a bit scratchy at times, that lad…

  30. 60
    Marcello Carlin on 29 Aug 2007 #

    Didn’t hear that, nor Sunday’s POTP which, from the evidence of the playlist, did its best to make 1981 sound like the most boring year ever when I know for a fact that it wasn’t. Including “(Si Si) Je Suis Un Rock Star” by Bill Wyman, and I’m not sure how he continues to get a free pass where GG doesn’t.

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