We are pretty worldly-wise and sceptic about manufactured pop groups these days. Post Milli Vanilli we don’t necessarily expect a lot in terms of authenticity from our hit makers, who cares if they can’t play and cant sing!. The concept of the manufactured group goes back to the days of the greatest mock band of all time namely the Monkees. It’s still considered a matter of importance that they didn’t play on many of their greatest hits but it wasn’t that unusual, neither did the Beach Boys (all the time) and even the Byrds were studio session heavy for ‘Mr Tambourine Man’.
Time is money in the studio and producers were usually keen to draft in session players, especially drummers, when band musicians weren’t up to the task in two takes. It happened to Ringo Starr, and talking of Ringo, he had to make a few hard choices about his personal appearance before joining the Beatles, even Topper Headon needed to be prepared to go out and buy a pair of bondage trousers (and then change his name) before he would be admitted into the Clash.
Authenticity can be as false as any band identity but its fair to assume some musicians are more malleable than others, especially where there is a Svengali producer involved. In the 70’s however music needed real musicians so here are four manufactured bands who turned out to be surprisingly competent musicians, and lets face it most of them weren’t chose for their looks!
The band whose name was Mud had been in operation since the mid 60’s playing dance halls, polytechnics and working men’s clubs (if such a thing exists in their native Surrey). Moving from pop covers to pop psychedelia ,the height of their fame has been an appearance on the Basil Brush Show before they were picked up by RAK records and songwriter/producers Micky Chinn and Mike Chapman. The band went on to have 14 top 20 hits. Why RAK picked them is a bit of a mystery, they were competent and versatilemusicians and presumably were willing to record whatever Chinn/Chapman threw at them. One suspects they were happiest with a bit of old style rock and roll as evidenced by the likes of ,Dyna–Mite,’The Cat Crept In’ and the mighty ‘Tiger Feet’.
Inevitably the hits dried up, singer Les Gray spent the rest of his life fronting ‘Les Gray’s Mud’ and the drummer became an insurance salesman. Bassist Ray Stiles joined the Holliesbut it was guitarist Rob Davis who was to have the most musical success becoming involved in dance music and co writing ‘Cant get you out of my Head’ for Kylie Minogue.
The Glitter Band
It was producer/writer/arranger Mike Leander who played most of the instruments on Gary Glitter’s early hits but when live shows beckoned he contacted trombone/sax player John Rossall who in turn summoned the Boston Showband for whom he was musical director. The Showband were old fashioned entertainment playing various styles and covers in dancehall up and down the country as well as on the continent. The band grew from the Glittermen to the Glitter Band who were developing their own identity. Any band with two drummers is bound to be interesting and the Glitter Band’s records have fared better than those of their earstwhile paedophile paymaster. Drummer and multi-instrumentalist Pete Phipps went on to a full musical career with the likes of the Eurythmics and XTC
Songwriting team Wayne Bickerton and Tony Waddingham cemented their song writing alliance while paying in ex-Beatle Pete Best’s band. Having had a full and varied career with everyone from Robert Fripp to Tom Jones the pair had written and recorded an idea for a rock musical called ‘Sugar Baby Love’ with a group of session players. Unable to make anything of the recording they eventually offered it to the session band on the agreement they become a proper group and wear white hats and stupid caps. All apart from the singer agreed, he was replaced by Alan Williams and the Rubettesbecame a huge band in the UK and an even bigger one on the continent.
Theres not a huge amount to mark the Rubettes out as class musicians but they had been session players and even the drummer, who just appears to be dicking about on their performances, had played on ‘Kung Foo Fighting’ by Craig Douglas. Their natural inclination seemed to be away from rock and roll nostalgia and towards country based material, they even tackled homophobia on one of their later records ‘Under One Roof’.
They are still big in Europe
Starting life as Unit 4 (snappy name!) and metamorphosising through the 60’s into Wainwrights Gentleman, the Sweet had, at one early point included future Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan. That’s not entirely insignificant and the band were pretty impressive hard rocking musicians. It was songwriters Chinn and Chapman who along with record producer Phil Wainman who decided they should be some strange half arsed version of the Archies. Early singles ‘Funny Funny’’Co-Co’ and Poppa Joe’ were very much in the vein of ‘Sugar Sugar’, there wasn’t a lot of imagination being wasted here. The weird thing was that these records were all made with session musician who almost curtains weren’t as good as the people they had replaced. Mick Tucker was a world class drummerbut bass player Steve Priest and Guitarist Andy Scott weren’t far behind and they were also great singers. The band’s purple period was around ‘Hell Raiser’ and ‘Ballroom Blitz’ by which time they were playing on their own records but still keeping a pop sensibility.
Unfortunately they were determined to prove they were great musicians by going down a heavier route. It wasn’t really my cup of tea but it had a lot of potential especially in the USA where Kiss and Motley Crue are still considered credible.
Their rise in instrumental prowess mirrored a decline in singer Brian Connolly’s voice after damaging his throat in a fight. Connolly went into alcoholic decline and the rest continued as a three piece which just scraped into the 80’s. In a decade the band had travelled from bubblegum to hard rock and are probably the best musicians ever to have appeared on Top of the Pops in full make up and a German helmet.