Wednesday, 20 February 2008


Why don't we get tribute songs to pop groups any more? I do not mean the loving indie tribute, but mainstream affairs in the manner of "All I Want For Christmas Is A Beatle" - or is it simply that groups such as Kasabian or Bloc Party are immune to such intimations of sun?

I have never really worked out whether Nick Lowe came to praise or bury the Bay City Rollers with this tender tribute; now again made available as one of many useful tracks on the new CD reissue of Jesus Of Cool - another reason to feel warm about early 1978 - it was more than likely always somewhere halfway between. On one hand Lowe, in 1976 sorely in need of finances, hoped to make some reasonable money out of a fading bandwagon; on the other I recall the publicity photos of the period featuring a grinning, boyish Lowe next to an uncertain Rat Scabies from the Damned - these were the celebratory smiles of the imminent assassins, key players in the punk surge which would ultimately bury the Rollers.

Not that the Damned had anything to do with "Rollers Show"; the backing band, as on Costello's My Aim Is True, was Clover, later to mutate into the News (as in "Huey Lewis and the..."). But the most remarkable thing about the song is its near-complete lack of subtext; certainly Lowe sounds a little too old to be so enthusiastic about his hard-won ticket, even with adroit speed tweaking of his lead vocal, but the music is a faithful yet mischievous angular relation to the basic Rollers template with complete understanding of the peaks and troughs of a pop single, with anthemic key changes, extended singalong fadeout and a tone which alternates between worshipful and knowingly cynical ("Ian's packed it in but we've got McGlynn/So we love long as he's a Roller"). That latter reference puts the record firmly in late '76/early '77, when the Rollers were indeed falling apart in the sweaty television studios of Hollywood, wishing they were on the King's Road. Still, "Rollers Show" is so clearly in love with pop - as are the various faces and costumes of the songs on the album proper - that it's a shame it didn't hit; two years earlier it might have caused a stir, but this is as firm a testament to the power of pop as Lowe's production of "New Rose." Did someone say "Chapel Of Love" at the back?