374. ‘Give a Little Love’, by The Bay City Rollers

There are certain rules that all boybands need to follow. Member wise, you need the serious one, the cute one, the bad boy, the joker… And then you need the ballads. Any boyband worth their weight in hair products needs a lighters-up (or a mobile phone with the torch function on-up) moment towards the end of a concert.

Give a Little Love, by The Bay City Rollers (their 2nd and final #1)

3 weeks, from 13th July – 3rd August 1975

It’s a teenage dream, To be seventeen, And to find you’re all wrapped up in love… Here, then, is the Bay City Rollers’ chart-topping ballad. It is every bit as saccharine and as cloying as you might imagine. Give a little love, Take a little love, Be prepared to forsake a little love… (to be fair, not many teen-ballads throw words like ‘forsake’ into their choruses) And when the sun comes shining through, We’ll know what to do… This level of smarmy cheese haven’t been seen at the top of the charts since Donny O’s imperial phase.

The intro to ‘Give a Little Love’ actually promises a very of-the-moment funky soul song, but it doesn’t last. The arrival of the first verse sees things slip into the earnest plod of a proto-power ballad. That’s not to suggest it’s terrible. Bubblegum pop is always, at the very least, catchy. I admit I’m swaying along, while the hard rock guitars sound piped in from a completely different song and the backing vocals are almost, almost, Beatles-esque.

There is, inevitably, a spoken word bit. The mid-seventies are quickly becoming the age of the earnest, spoken word break. And I know, One day, I’ll find a way, To be safe and sound, Within your heart… Cue teenage girls around the country snogging their posters. Past this point, the song does start to drag. It’s just a bit too plodding. Plus, the Rollers’ voices aren’t quite strong enough to carry it.

Of course, as I wrote in my post on their first #1 – ‘Bye Bye Baby’ – it is unfair to reduce The Bay City Rollers to a mere ‘boyband’. They were a ‘proper’ band, ‘proper’ musicians, to start with. But, by the time this was released, they, or their management, were aiming squarely for the screamy teeny market. For the US, ‘Give a Little Love’ was re-recorded with extra strings, because the original just wasn’t drippy enough…

As with most pop groups, the Rollers burned brightly but briefly. In 1976 they took the US by storm, and were causing tartan-waving riots around the world, but by the late seventies several of the members had had enough. They became the Rollers and went New Wave, although this all took place far from the top of the charts. They would reform and tour in various guises in the decades that followed.

To finish, a story that shows just how manic Roller-mania was at its height: a friend’s mum went to school in Edinburgh, in the mid-seventies, and one August was given her maths textbook for the year. Casually glancing at the names of the students who had used the book before her in the cover, she spotted Stuart ‘Woody’ Wood’s name (the cute one). She maintains that she was lucky to come out of the scrum alive; while the textbook wasn’t so fortunate…

368. ‘Bye Bye Baby’, by The Bay City Rollers

Our last number one, Telly Savalas’s ‘If’, caused us to wonder if a song can be simultaneously very good and yet very, very bad. Our next number one raises similar queries…

Bye Bye Baby, by The Bay City Rollers (their 1st of two #1s)

6 weeks, from 16th March – 27th April 1975

Let’s start with the positives. I like the nod towards ‘Do You Love Me?’– #1 twelve whole years ago! – in the spoken word intro. I love the disco-ish beat that drives the whole thing along. I like the fried guitar solo that comes out of nowhere. ‘Bye Bye Baby’ pushes all the bubblegum buttons that I am powerless to resist, and culminates in an earworm of a chorus: She’s got me but I’m not free so… Bye bye baby, Baby goodbye… Bye bye baby, Don’t make me cry…

On to the negatives. It’s a song that doesn’t know what on earth it wants to be. It chucks all sorts of classic pop references – Motown, a glam drumbeat, disco rhythms, Beach Boys’ harmonising – and hopes that they stick. That guitar solo that I quite like sounds like it should belong to another song entirely. To be fair, and this is something I had no idea about before writing this post, ‘Bye Bye Baby’ is a cover of a Four Season’s hit from 1965, which explains the Motown references. But I can’t say they’ve improved upon the original…

Then there’s the fact that I’m Scottish, and that The Bay City Rollers come laden with cultural baggage. I’d bet most Scots my age couldn’t name a Bay City Rollers song, save for this one, or maybe ‘Shang-a-Lang’, and yet they’d know exactly who they were. They’d know the tartan, and the goofy grins, and the screaming hordes of teenage girls last seen at the height of Beatlemania. They’ve also become by-word for manufactured pop, which is unfair, as they were self-formed and had been a going concern since the mid-sixties.

They were, though, groomed and prepped for success by a Svengali figure, Tam Paton. They went through various line-up and name changes (the past members section of their Wiki page lists over twenty people). Their name comes from them throwing a dart at a map of the USA and it landing on Bay City, Michigan. And they perform this song with semi-convincing American accents. It’s a fine tradition, British acts pretending to be American, which we last heard with Mud and we will continue to hear in acts like Busted and McFly many years from now.

Look at pictures of the band and it seems amazing that they were so huge, on both sides of the Atlantic. They just look very… ordinary. They’re cute; but not globe-humping, colossally successful boyband ‘cute’. Maybe 1 Direction would have looked like that if it weren’t for modern dentistry and Photoshop…? Who knows. Anyway, the Rollers have a second number one coming up pronto, so let’s save any discussion of their legacy, and their disintegration, until then. For now just enjoy, if you can, their most famous moment, and the biggest selling single of 1975… (Seriously – six weeks is the longest a song has spent at #1 for four years!)