The weird thing about the 70s was that the teen stars just didn't look like recognizable teen stars. This was a decade when David Soul was genuinely considered a scream-idol and managed to score two #1 singles in Britain: you don't get that with pullover-wearing actors nowadays. And here in Britain we had Kenny, Slik and the Bay City Rollers, who didn't have a visible muscle between them. Maybe it's the changing fashions of gay taste: skinny little boys just aren't the stuff of gay fantasy anymore. And as John Springate points out, pin-up pop stars have always been aimed at both sections of society: 'You've got a market value there - anything that's like that, you've got 12-year old girls and gay men.'
All of which is intended to introduce the most powerful British teen-star of the 70s: Les McKeown. The appeal of the Bay City Rollers was generally put down to their boy-next-door looks, but I always thought there was something else going on with Les: he had real star quality, however crap the clothes were ('Oh God!' says Lorraine Kelly. 'Remember those skinny-rib jumpers?'). You couldn't help but fancy him. Or is that just me?
Anyway, moving swiftly on, Les joined the Rollers in 1974 just as 'Remember (Sha-La-La)' was starting to re-awaken interest in a group long considered to be chart-dead. Which made some people think of him as the Rollers' Ringo, the guy who lucked in on something huge at exactly the right moment. But arguably The Beatles wouldn't have made it anywhere near as big with Pete Best on board, and certainly the Rollers wouldn't have got the same following without Les. Apart from anything else, he sang the lead on the next three hits at a time when the musicians in the band weren't invited to play.
That string of singles in 1974, written and produced by Bill Martin & Phil Coulter, introduced a new sound that drew on the boogie-rhythms of glam but blended it with Kennedy-era high school pop; they also made the Rollers the hottest property in British pop. The glory years of glitter were past and there was evidently scope for something new; as Les points out, 'I think there was room for a younger looking guy band.'
What the Rollers didn't achieve in '74 was a #1 hit, which was one of the reasons why they left Martin & Coulter at the end of the year to try a new producer in Phil Wainman. The result was even greater success with 'Bye Bye Baby' and 'Give A Little Love' hitting #1 in 1975. The band also got to play their instruments this time round and, personally, I thought they were better records, but Les had his regrets: 'I would've preferred it if the band had stuck with the Rollers sound, which I consider was the Phil Coulter sound.'
The Rollers did two albums with Wainman, but frankly - and don't get me wrong, I'm not questioning the value of the singles here - they ain't up to much. If you want to hear a consistently brilliant Rollers album, check out Dedication, the fourth LP that was produced in America by Jimmy Ienner, which contains their superb versions of The Raspberries' 'Let's Pretend' and of 'Rock & Roll Love Letter'.
By this point, however, the success was pretty over and done with. A group who are as dependent on the teengirl vote as the Rollers were tend to fall quickly and to fall hard. The hits stopped coming, bad publicity rather than puff-pieces started to fill the newspaper columns and the line-up degenerated into ever-more rapid permutations. None of the teen-bands of the 70s produced a solo star after the demise of the group - there was to be no George Michael, no Robbie Williams - but Les at least gave it a go. I can't speak from any personal experience in Britain, but living in Germany at the time, he was far from forgotten and for a while was a major figure. Indeed the Rollers without Les continued to be popular in Germany - we were much more loyal over there, I like to think.
McKeown, incidentally, is still a fine singer - a fact for which he is seldom credited. Check out his web-site for current activities.
click for photo
click for hit singles
The Bay City Rollers work with Phil Wainman
books on the Rollers