The platform shoes to-die-for were Frank N. Furter’s in The Rocky Horror Picture Show - those bejeweled white heels made Tim Curry’s first appearance as the sweet transvestite the epitome of glam. And gorgeous he was too.
Elton John may arguably have had the best platform shoes, but his tended to veer into stage props, eventually leading to those sky-high Doctor Marten boots in Ken Russell’s Tommy. And of course, there was David Bowie, Twiggy, and a host of pop stars sashaying around London on pairs of ankle-breakers. Like Oxford bags, bell bottoms, high-waisters, and bomber jackets, the platform shoe epitomized the androgynous nature of seventies fashions. Originally devised as stage shoes in Greek theater, platforms have been in and out of style through the centuries, at various times used by prostitutes to signal their availability and profession (to literally stand out from the crowd), and were popular in the 18th century as shit-steppers, used to avoid effluent on the road. However, their greatest impact was in the 1970s, when they were the boot of choice for seemingly everyone under 30.
I had a pair of 5 inch heels, blue patent leather, divine to walk in, impossible to run in, and not the expected school uniform. This British Pathe featurette takes a look at the trend of platform shoes from 1977.
Last year, DM colleague Marc Campbell started a series of posts on one-hit-wonders, with the mysterious J. Bastos and his hit “Loop Di Love”. Now, I’d like to add Lieutenant Pigeon, who were more of a 2 (or even 3, depending on your country) hit wonder, who topped the U.K. charts with their bizarrely catchy instrumental “Mouldy Old Dough” in October 1972.
Lieutenant Pigeon consisted of Stephen Johnson (bass), Nigel Fletcher (drums), Robert Woodward (keyboards, guitar, tin whistle), and his mother, Hilda Woodward (piano). The band was a side-line project for Woodward (who fronted the experimental music group Stavely Makepeace), and their musical style was greatly influenced by his mother Hilda’s rag-time piano playing.
Written by Woodward and Fletcher, “Mouldy Old Dough” was number 1 for 4 weeks in Britain in 1972, and was the second highest-selling single in the U.K. that year (after the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards with “Amazing Grace”). This was in a year that offered such wealth as Roxy Music “Virginia” Plain”, David Bowie “Starman”, “Jean Genie”, Marc Bolan “Metal Guru”, “Solid Gold Easy Action”, Slade “Mama Weer All Crazee Now”, Alice Cooper “School’s Out”, and even “Pop Corn” by Hot Butter.
Hilda Woodward died aged 85 in 1999, but Lieutenant Pigeon still carry on making their own particular type of music.
If John Cleese hadn’t gone into Monty Python, then he would “have stuck to his original plan to graduate and become a chartered accountant, perhaps a barrister lawyer, and gotten a nice house in the suburbs, with a nice wife and kids, and gotten a country club membership, and then I would have killed myself.”
Ah well, the best laid plans of mice and men. Sensibly, Cleese opted for plan B, and all the success that entailed. It was therefore a surprise when Cleese quit Python in 1973, after its third TV series, and joined up as a supporting player to stand-up comic called Les Dawson, in his comedy sketch show, Sez Les.
Dawson and Cleese could not have been more dissimilar - Dawson short and plump, Cleese tall and skinny. Dawson was working class and self-educated, who had worked a long apprenticeship of stand-up in the working men’s clubs in the north of England, while maintaining his day-job as a Hoover salesman. Cleese was middle class, university educated and was upper-middle management, white collar material.
Dawson had originally wanted to be a writer, inspired by Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, he had hitched the highway to Paris, where he found work as a pianist in a brothel. Unable to find a publisher for his poetry, Dawson returned homewards, and inspired by his experiences as a pianist, tried his hand as a comic. Though he made his name with mother-in-law jokes, Dawson was a clever and verbally dextrous comedian, who dismantled jokes, only to recreate them in a funnier form. Cleese described Dawson as “An autodidact, a very smart guy who was fascinated by words.”
After a winning run on the talent show Opportunity Knocks, Dawson earned his first TV series, Sez Les (1969-1976), and fast became one of Britain’s best loved comics. In 1974, Cleese joined Dawson on the series, and the pairing (like a hybrid Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) proved highly successful. Both men had great respect for each other, and more importantly had a genuine affection which came over in their performances together.
Cleese eventually left to make Fawlty Towers, but for 2 series of Sez Les in 1974, Dawson and Cleese were top drawer comedy entertainment.
Forget The Beatles and The Stones, the sixties was really about “Two Ton” Tessie O’Shea vs. Sing-a-Long Pianist Mrs. Mills.
These two giants of British Music Hall slugged it out during the 1960s and 1970s, each selling shed-loads of records, making top-rated TV shows and performing sell-out concerts across the globe - from Las Vegas to The Wheel-Tappers and Shunters Club - in a bid to be top Light Entertainment Star.
Celebrated ukelele and banjo-player, Tessie O’Shea debuted with The Beatles on the same legendary Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 - their appearance drew the largest audience in the history of American television at the time. It also made both international stars over-night. Though Welsh-born O’Shea was already a star of stage and screen back in Blighty (cast in plays by Noel Coward), her performance on the Sullivan Show guaranteed her a highly successful career on US TV and in Hollywood, making such films as The Russians Are Coming and Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
Mrs Mills was signed to the same label as The Beatles, Parlophone, and rubbed shoulders with the Fab Four at the Abbey Road Studios, where they both recorded. Mrs Mills was also for a time under the same management as The Stones. While Mrs Mills was arguably a bigger star in the UK, with a dedicated following across Europe and Australia, she never took off in the States as Tessie O’Shea did. However, Mrs Mills did release over 50 albums in 20 years, all of which were best-sellers. No mean feat.
I liked Mrs Mills, but preferred Tessie, who had an infectious twinkle and jolly sense of glee. Here, then, is “Two Ton” Tessie, decked out in a Dolly-Parton-wig and what looks like the living-room curtains, serenading an audience (that looks straight out of Michael Caine’s Get Carter) with a paper bag. From the bizarre Wheel-Tappers and Shunters Club.
Even back then, Freddie Mercury looked like a rock star. Brian May, Roger Taylor and a young John Deacon looked as if they wanted to be rock stars. Almost forty years on, this video of Queen from 1973 is still impressive, and shows why they were so successful.
“Liar” was Queen’s second US single release in 1974, taken from their eponymous 1973 debut album release. Originally titled “Lover”, the song was written by Freddie Mercury in 1970, when he was still Farrokh Bulsara. The track was a favorite of Queen’s early live shows, is noted for its use of Hammond organ and its backing vocals from bass player Deacon.
This footage of Queen was shot at Brewer Street, along with a version of “Keep Yourself Alive” for promotional purposes in 1973, but a different version, shot at BBC studios, was used instead.
Charley says… was a series of Public Information Films, shown in the UK during the 1970s and 1980s, in which a talkative cat, Charley, advised a young boy, Tony, about everyday safety issues. Along with my fellow generation of young things, I learnt not to go off with strangers, never play with matches, and beware the dangers of tables. Sadly, these days charlie usually advises me to do all of the above.
The voice of the incomprehensible ginger tomcat was supplied by Kenny Everett, while the boy was voiced by the child of one of producer Richard Taylor’s neighbors. The Charley says… animations were so popular that they were voted the UK’s favorite Public Information Film, and came in at number 95 in Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Cartoons in 2005.
More miaows of wisdom from Charley, after the jump…
I hated Kate Bush the first time I heard her voice warbling “Wuthering Heights” on the radio, early one cold, winter morn. It was exam time, and in my annoyance suddenly understood why old people hate the music of the happy-go-lucky young. You see, I was prematurely middle-aged. It didn’t last, of course. A week or so later, and I was, like every other schoolboy, smitten by this delicate, pre-Raphaelite beauty, with the powerful, ethereal voice and her wayward, drama school dancing. I became a fan and her records were added to the collection and played with the reverence of a love-sick Montague.
Alas, I never saw her one and only tour On Stage in 1979, by then I was writing poems for undeserving girls, who preferred boys in leather with B.O. and bikes and a liking for Gong. Therefore I’ll always be grateful Kate’s performance at the Hammersmith Odeon, London, was recorded for posterity on May 13 1979. O, what joy is that?
Find out for yourself, and check the track listing:
02. “Them Heavy People”
04. “Strange Phenomena”
05. “Hammer Horror”
06. “Don’t Push Your Foot on the Heartbrake”
08. “Feel It”
10. “James and the Cold Gun”
11. “Oh England My Lionheart”
12. “Wuthering Heights”
The lovely Dan Aykroyd runs through a selection of voices in search of a punchline, in his screen test for Saturday Night Live from 1975. It’s an impressive turn, showing his considerable talent, versatility, and a mustache that made him look older than his twenty-two years of age.
Those lucky enough to grow-up in Blighty during the 1970s will remember the joys of The Kenny Everett Show (aka The Kenny Everett Video Show), with its mix of anarchic comedy, essential music, and heavily suggestive dancing from those naughty bods, Hot Gossip. The show was a must for those of a punk sensibility, who were bored with Top of the Pops and its hideous preference for anodyne, day-time television music from The Nolans, 5000 Volts and Paper Lace.
Everett’s show was outrageous, unpredictable and guaranteed to delight. A comedy genius and a brilliant radio DJ, Everett started on Pirate Radio before being chosen by The Beatles to cover their US tour. He joined the newly formed Radio 1 in 1967 and became famous for his incredible radio shows, where he multi-tracked himself in sketches and songs, creating his own distinct and unforgettable comedy.
In the 1970s, Everett helped launch Queen’s career by pushing for the release of “Bohemian Rhapsody” when he played a demo of the song 14 times on one program. Indeed he had a very close friendship with Freddie Mercury, until they fell out over cocaine. Everett, as radio pal Paul Gambaccini once said, lived an interesting life with his drugs, bondage, 2 husbands, classical music and hoovering. But it was his unforgettable TV show which I will certainly always be grateful.
One of his most memorable guests was David Bowie. Here the Thin White Duke performs “Boys Keep Swinging” and “Space Oddity”. Now how fab is that?
“Boys Keep Swinging” from The Kenny Everett Show 1979
It was art out of chaos. Pop art. The Sweet‘s “Ballrooom Blitz”, Glam Rock’s catchiest, trashiest, most lovable song, came from a riot that saw the band bottled off the stage, at the Grand Hall, Palace Theater, Kilmarnock, Scotland, in 1973. Men spat, while women screamed to drown out the music. Not the response expected for a group famous for their string of million sellers hits, “Little Willy”, “Wig-Wag Bam” and the number 1, “Block Buster”.
Why it happened has since led to suggestions that the band’s appearance in eye-shadow, glitter and lippy (in particular the once gorgeous bass player Steve Priest) was all too much for the hard lads and lassies o’ Killie.
It’s a possible. Priest thinks so, and said as much in his autobiography Are You Ready Steve?. But it does raise the question, why would an audience pay money to see a band best known through their numerous TV appearances for their outrageously camp image? Especially if these youngsters were such apparent homophobes? Moreover, this was 1973, when the UK seemed on the verge of revolution, engulfed by money shortages, food shortages, strike action, power cuts and 3-day-weeks, and the only glimmer of hope for millions was Thursday night and Top of the Pops.
Another possible was the rumor that Sweet didn’t play their instruments, and were a manufactured band like The Monkees. A story which may have gained credence as the band’s famous song-writing duo of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, preferred using session musicians to working with artists.
The sliver of truth in this rumor was that Sweet only sang on the first 3 Chinn-Chapman singles (“Funny, Funny”, “Co-Co” and “Poppa Joe”). It wasn’t until the fourth, “Little Willy” that Chinn and Chapman realized Sweet were in fact far better musicians than any hired hands, and allowed the band to do what they did best - play.
True, Chinn and Chapman gave Sweet their Midas touch, but it came at a cost. The group was dismissed by self-righteous music critics as sugar-coated pop for the saccharine generation. A harsh and unfair assessment. But in part it may also explain the audience’s ire.
In an effort to redefine themselves, Sweet tended to avoid playing their pop hits on tour, instead performing their own songs, the lesser known album tracks and rock covers. A band veering from the songbook of hits (no matter how great the material) was asking for trouble. As Freddie Mercury proved at Live Aid, when Queen made their come-back, always give the audience what they want.
Still, Glam Rock’s distinct sound owes much to Andy Scott’s guitar playing (which has been favorably compared to Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck), Steve Priest’s powerful bass, and harmonizing vocals, and Mick Tucker’s inspirational drums (just listen to the way he references Sandy Nelson in “Ballroom Blitz”). Add in Brian Connolly’s vocals, and it is apparent Sweet were a band with talents greater than those limned by their chart success.
So what went wrong?
If ever there was a tale of a band making a pact with the Devil, then the rise and fall of Sweet could be that story. A tale of talent, excess, fame, money, frustration and then the decline into alcohol, back-taxes, death and disaster. Half of the band is now tragically dead: Connolly, who survived 14 heart attacks caused through his alcoholism, ended his days a walking skeleton, touring smaller venues and holiday camps with his version of Sweet; while the hugely under-rated Tucker sadly succumbed to cancer in 2002.
The remaining members Priest and Scott, allegedly don’t speak to each other and perform with their own versions of The Sweet on 2 different continents. Priest lives in California, has grown into an orange haired-Orson, while Scott, who always looked like he worked in accounts, is still based in the UK, and recently overcame prostate cancer to present van-hire adverts on the tube.
This then is the real world of pop success.
I doubt they would ever change it. And I doubt the fans would ever let them. So great is the pact with the devil of celebrity that once made, one is forever defined by the greatest success.
Back to that night, in a theater in Kilmarnock, when the man at the back said everyone attack, and the room turned into a ballroom blitz. Whatever the cause of the chaos, it gave Glam Rock a work of art, and Sweet, one of their finest songs.
Bonus ‘Block Buster’ plus documentary on Brian Connolly, after the jump…