Cockney Rebel were one of those bands that I read about long before I actually heard any of their material.
Signed by EMI in 1973 after only five gigs, the band were hyped by the London-based music press who once counted band leader Steve Harley as one of their own before he pursued a career in music, initially by showcasing his early Cockney Rebel material as a busker in Leicester Square.
Based on the hype and Harley’s chutzpah I already had preconceived ideas about these poseurs, but then I heard the first single – Judy Teen, and much to my disappointment it was really rather good.
I then heard another couple of tracks from their debut album “The Human Menagerie”, which I also liked, but I still had reservations. You see there were a glut of Bowie impersonators in the mid 70s and I suspected Harley could be one of them – slightly androgynous, plenty to say for himself and a sharp dresser.
Still, I was intrigued enough to buy the second Cockney Rebel album “The Psychomodo” on its release in the summer of 1974, featuring the catchy Mr Soft, and the cult of the Rebel was on the rise
Harley had got off to a pretty impressive start with two critically acclaimed albums in the space of six months but his magnum opus was just around the corner.
I first heard Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me) in my dads car in January 1975, we were making our way home from Harrogate, in the middle of a snow storm. Just as the song was cooking my dad switched to another station in search of a traffic update, unbelievably he was more concerned about getting us home safely than savouring Jim Cregan’s incredible guitar solo.
Next thing I knew, Neil Diamond was on the 8-Track, and that was the day I learned about drivers privilege – whoever’s steering has control of the music.
Nonetheless, the song had made an impression and next payday I headed to the record shop, evidently I wasn’t the only one, as a couple of weeks later the song was top of the UK hit-parade, replacing Pilot’s aptly named January.
Forty eight years on, I still love the song, it’s a prime example of 70s pop at its best, and as a 4 minute pop song it’s up there with the best – Bowie, Rod, T-Rex, Roxy or 10cc.
Sonically, it’s a great sounding track which is no surprise as it was recorded, engineered and produced at Abbey Road by Alan Parsons – who’d worked on “Abbey Road” for the Beatles and was fresh from engineering Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of The Moon”.
Consumed by the catchy chorus, I misinterpreted the lyrics at the time, assuming they were an open invitation to a young lady, who Harley wanted to come up to see him – so she could make him smile!
As it turns out, I couldn’t have been wider from the mark – it was actually a bitchy ‘f*ck you’ to the original Cockney Rebel line up (drummer Stuart Elliot, apart) who had left Harley in the lurch by demanding more money and more involvement in the writing process just before 1974’s Reading Festival…. quitting the band when he refused.
“You’ve done it all You’ve broken every code And pulled the rebel to the floor You spoiled the game No matter what you say For only metal, what a bore“
Far from being a siren song, the chorus was a taunt aimed at his former bandmates, beckoning them to come hither with their tails between their legs, so they could witness what they’d left behind….
“Come up and see me to make me smile Oh, or do what you want, running wild”
With the next album already written, Harley recruited a new band featuring Jim Cregan on guitar who would play the fabulous flamenco guitar solo on Make Me Smile, before becoming Rod Stewart’s right hand man for many years.
Make Me Smile, is one of those songs that an artist can probably live off for the rest of their career,either through touring – in the knowledge that every evening, the majority of the audience have bought a ticket to hear that one iconic song so they can singalong.
Or, through royalties….. the song’s been used by brands as diverse as Viagra and Marks & Spencer for TV campaigns, and when you think of it “come up and see me, make me smile” is a pretty smart tagline for the treatment of erectile dysfunction!
It was a surprise to find that there are over 120 cover versions of the song, as I don’t recall hearing many.
Steve Harley’s favourite rendition?
As Harley says, it was written as a bitter, bitchy recrimination, so The Wedding Present’s raspy, indie delivery conveys the sentiment of the song perfectly.
The Lone Ranger, Sherlock Holmes, Batman, Dorothy… fictional characters I grant you, but all universally feted and admired.
But they didn’t do it alone, and although we all know who their sidekicks were, no one talks much about them, because at the end of the day, they’re the flunky’s, and who’s really interested in the support act? Unless its Queen supporting Mott the Hoople at the Apollo…. and that was nearly 50 years ago!
The sidekick’s are the perennial betas to the main event’s alpha’s… the show-stoppers who always seem to have greater powers, more charisma, and most importantly, bigger ego’s, than the supporting cast. Like a beloved pet the sidekick’s greatest attributes are typically noted as being devotion and loyalty.
Spare a thought then for the Tonto’s, Doctor Watson’s, Robin boy wonder’s and Scarecrow’s. In other words, the Diddy Kong’s of the world…..
There’s an old (and now probably, un-PC) saying that ‘behind every great man there’s a great woman’ and the same can be said with sidekick’s, think about it for a second…. as great as he was, would Bowie have been as good and as cocksure in the Ziggy era without Mick Ronson? Likewise, would Ricardo Montalban’s, Mr Roarke have been as suave and sophisticated without Herve Villechaize’s Tattoo ringing the bell tower whilst bellowing “The Plane, The Plane!” in Fantasy Island?
As this is predominantly a 70s blog the aim of the exercise is to identify the most impressive 70s sidekick, fictional or otherwise, so I’ve listed 5 nominees below which you can vote for on our Facebook page as well as putting forward any of your own nominations….. https://www.facebook.com/groups/onceuponatimeinthe70s
1) Kenickie Murdoch (Jeff Conaway) –Grease, (sidekick to Danny Zuko)
In Grease, the movie, Kenickie was played by Jeff Conaway of Taxi fame and was part of the original Broadway cast of Grease – where incidentally he played the lead role of Danny Zuko whilst his good mate Travolta played Doody, one of the putzy T-Birds.
Although Kenickie was cast as the sidekick it could be argued that he was cooler than Zuko… borne by the fact that not only was he the proud owner of Greased Lightnin’, but he also didn’t mope about a kids swing-park greeting about getting chucked by someone who must have repeated 4th year 5 times!
Plus with a name like Murdoch he obviously came from good Scottish stock!
2) Igor (Marty Feldman)– Young Frankenstein (sidekick to Dr Frederick Von Frankenstein)
Played by the brilliant Marty Feldman, Igor was the hunchbacked, bug-eyed servant who when asked by the good doctor why his hump kept changing sides, answered “what hump?”.
‘Eye-gore’ as he liked to be known was Dr ‘Fronkenshteen’s’ hapless assistant and was responsible for the mayhem that ensued by collecting a brain labelled ‘Abnormal’ rather than the brain of the revered and brilliant historian, he was sent to secure.
If his star turn in one of the funniest movies of the 70s wasn’t enough, Feldman’s further claim to fame was that his ‘Walk this way’ line from the film was adopted by Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, who saw the movie, went back to the studio and wrote a song…. the rest as they say is history.
3) John Oates– Singer/musician in Hall & Oates (sidekick to Daryl Hall)
Hall & Oates were often described as….. ‘the tall, blonde, good looking one with the unbelievable vocal range and the wee guy with the curly hair and moustache’.
There’s no doubt then that Oates played second fiddle to Daryl Hall, but as sidekick’s go it was a pretty decent fiddle.
Oates wrote or co-wrote many of the pairs big hits including She’s Gone, Sara Smile, You Make my Dreams and I Can’t Go for That, and whilst he didn’t have Hall’s vocal range or stage presence, his harmonies, co-vocals and guitar playing were key to the band’s success (see clip below).
Hall & Oates may not have been equals in terms of talent and their partnership wasn’t as egalitarian as Lennon & McCartney, but Oates was certainly no Art Garfunkel.
4) Dennis Waterman– Perennial sidekick: to Jack Regan in The Sweeney and Arthur Daley in Minder.
A seasoned thespian who performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company at 13. Waterman was 27 when he appeared in The Sweeney as Detective George Carter, the hard-drinking, brawling, womanising, good-cop to John Thaw’s caustic Regan.
Waterman’s next big role in Minder, as a brawling, womanising ex-con who becomes a personal bodyguard wasn’t too much of a stretch then.
In a cruel twist of fate, Minder was actually devised post-Sweeney as a star vehicle for Waterman who relished the chance to shine after three seasons of playing the sidekick in The Sweeney. Cole’s part as Arthur Daly was meant to be a secondary/supporting role, however after a few episodes it was evident that Daly’s character was playing big with the audience, so the scripts and storylines were revised, leaving poor Dennis to fall back into his customary role as a sidekick once again.
5) Chewbacca– Wookie (sidekick to Han Solo)
Enforcer, body guard and loyal soldier, Chewie is Han Solo’s co-pilot and best buddy.
The character was inspired by George Lucas’ dog so it’s no surprise that one of Chewie’s greatest attributes is the talent most associated with sidekick’s – loyalty. Although he enjoys bringing the cocksure Solo down a peg or two every now and then, prompting the “Laugh it up fuzzball” retort, he is a faithful companion and would lay down his life for Solo…. a true sidekick!
Why are there no female sidekicks on the list?? I tried really hard to think of some but in almost all cases…. Sonny & Cher, Ike & Tina Turner, The Krankies, it was the bloke who was the sidekick!
I did think of one….. Peter Pan’s Tinker Bell but that was made in 1924.
If you’re a Bowie fan you probably have a selection of his albums, tapes, cd’s and downloads in your music collection…. hit-after-hit stretching across six decades from 1969’s Space Oddity to 2016’s Blackstar.
For a few years though, until his WOW moment on TOTP in 1972, as implausible as it sounds, Bowie was on course to be a one-hit-wonder…. just like Thunderclap Newman with ‘Something in the Air’ or Norman Greenbaum with ‘Spirit in the Sky’
Then along came Ziggy Stardust and the rest as they say is history. Bowie went on to become arguably the most influential artist of the 70s…..continually reinventing his sound and persona and influencing the tastes of a generation along the way.
As an example of the latter, on October 1974 David Live was released, it was a decent album showcasing Bowie’s transition from Glam to Soul with a great version of Eddie Floyd’s ‘Knock on Wood‘, but what captured my attention as much as the music was the powder blue suit DB wore on the cover.
Up until this point Bowie’s wardrobe had consisted of elaborate Japanese jumpsuits, kimonos and leotards.
Distinctive, perhaps, but not the kind of thing you could buy in Top Man and wear to Shuffles night club on a dreich Saturday night in Glasgow!
Bowie’s cool new look was something we could relate to on the other hand, so on our next pay-day, a few of us travelled to Glasgow city centre to Jackson the tailors to order our own made to measure version of the tin-flute Bowie sported on the David Live record sleeve.
After a few weeks the suits were ready and when we hit the town that Saturday night we all felt ‘gallus’ in our high-waisted trousers, and double breasted jackets, as did half the male population of Glasgow, who seemingly all had the same idea!
I was pretty much hooked from the minute I saw Bowie perform Starman on TOTP in 72 and stayed a fan all the way through his career. I loved his 70s personas and of course the music, particular the Thin White Duke period which frustratingly he never talked much about… owing to the fact that he had absolutely no recall of making the Station to Station album!
In fact he was so bonkers and strung out during this period (75-76) that he reportedly kept his own urine in a fridge. This in part was due to a falling out with Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page….. Bowie became paranoid that Page (well known for dabbling in the occult) would engage some form of black-magic against him if he got hold of his bodily fluids.
Based in LA and weighing in at a meagre 7 stone, his diet at the time consisted of milk, peppers and heaps of Colombian marching powder. It’s well documented that Bowie fled this life of excess to regain health and sanity in Europe, specifically Berlin, and by the release of Heroes in 1977 he was in a much better place, both physically and mentally
I actually came into The Starman’s orbit very briefly in 1983.
I was working at Levis and we were developing a campaign to promote our 501 Jeans, which at the time, we couldn’t give away in the UK, in fact the only European country who sold them in any volume was Sweden.
UK retailers didn’t want to stock them as they were more expensive than regular Levis jeans and they reasoned that consumers didn’t like the American fit (low waist, straight leg).
Nonetheless, our chiefs in San Francisco had planned a global strategy around the 501. It was the original 5 pocket jean and the main point of difference for the brand in the US, where Levis was coming under threat from designer brands like Calvin Klein…. so we had no choice but to try and make it work in Europe.
A team was put together tasked with coming up with innovative ideas to support the 501 campaign in Europe and as a first step we came up with the simple idea of getting contemporary icons to wear 501’s by highlighting the fact that it had been the jean of choice for James Dean & Brando in the 50’s and guys like Springsteen were now wearing them.
It was a classic ‘seeding’ strategy which more or less consisted of gifting product to opinion leaders (musicians, actors, sportsmen, models, etc), in order to get the product seen on the right people.
It’s a concept that can work pretty well if all the planets align.
As an example…
In early 1983 we sent some Levis denim jackets to an up and coming band coming out of Dublin called U2. The lead singer Bono cut the sleeves off his jacket and wore it relentlessly. The band released the albums War and Under a Blood Red Sky and 83 became U2’s big breakout year hence Bono was everywhere… wearing his self-customised, sleeveless Levis jacket
As an example of seeding at work – around this time met I Charlie Nicholas in a Glasgow bar as we had a mutual friend, when Charlie heard I worked for Levis he asked me if I could get him a Levis denim jacket “to cut the sleeves off… same as Bono“.
Charlie wasn’t the only one with the same idea and within months, retailers started selling out of our denim jackets, sales tripled and we eventually had to increase our jacket production and develop our own sleeveless version.
The other avenue we explored was official sponsorship… ‘let’s get influential artists to wear and promote Levis by sponsoring their tours’. Everyone does this now but it was a new concept back then.
This was trickier than you’d think… some people in the room actually thought it would be a good idea to approach the gods of double-denim, Status Quo and there were a couple of Gary Numan fans in there as well… however to most it was clear we needed someone with gravitas, credibility and a wide appeal.
After some debate and research we discovered that Bowie was scheduled to launch his Serious Moonlighttour in support of his new album – Let’s Dance, so after some discussion he became the prime candidate.
To be honest we weren’t over optimistic that he’d go for it as he wasn’t big on commercial ventures but he liked the brand and the sponsorship helped to finance the tour… so the mighty DB came on board.
The concept worked so well that we repeated it over the next few years with tours and one-off events, but the tipping point for the brand in Europe came when we launched the famous 501 Laundrette ad with Nick Kamen in 1985, which also propelled ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’ to number one in the charts.
Ironically, the same retailers who claimed they couldn’t sell 501’s in 1983 were now begging for as much stock as they could get their hands on….
One of the conditions of most tour-sponsorship deals is for the acts to meet customers post-gig however we knew Bowie was never going to do meet and greets. Sting and Ultravox on the other hand were contracted to meet customers and prize winners briefly after their gigs, which they mostly did with good grace, particularly Midge Ure who was extremely affable.
My brief Bowie moment came when he popped into our London office to pick out some jeans and shirts, he looked incredibly healthy and was friendly and charming. He signed a few bits and pieces for some of us including a tour programme and the Let’s Dance album (pics below ) before making his exit.
In truth, I struggled a bit with the 90’s Bowie, particularly the Tin Machine period but I got back on board in the noughties…. a return to form, spring-boarded by his stellar Glastonbury performance in 2000 when he decided to give the people what they wanted…. a set-list made up of his best songs.
Although I’d been a big fan in the 70s I had never seen Bowie live and the first time I saw him perform was when we took some customers to see his Serious Moonlight gig at Murrayfield in Edinburgh in June 83.
The next time I saw him perform live was the most memorable. It was at the Hammersmith Odeon in October 2002, his first return to that venue since the shock July 1974 retirement announcement when he ‘broke up the band’ live on stage…. to their complete bemusement.
“Not only is it the last show of the tour, but it’s the last show that we’ll ever do. Thank you.”
It helped that we had fantastic tickets for that show, centre stage, six rows from the front. I’ve no idea how long Bowie was on stage for but it must have been close to 3 hours… he played 33 songs starting with Life on Mars, finishing with Ziggy Stardust and included a song he’d only ever played live once before… the majestic Bewlay Brothers from Hunky Dory.
I also saw Bowie the following year at Wembley arena on his last live date in London. He seemed so fit and healthy at 56 but six months later whilst still on the same gruelling ‘Reality’ tour he had a heart attack on stage in Hamburg and that proved to be his last ever gig.
He released an album in 2013, The Last Day, which raised hopes that he was fit and well but it all went quiet again, and then out of nowhere a new album – Blackstar dropped 3 years later on his 69th birthday, this was the encouraging news we’d all been waiting for… maybe we would even see him play live again?
He died two days after its release on the 10th of January.
There was much outpouring of grief when the news broke, he meant so much to so many people and it’s probably the only celebrity that I’ve ever felt sustained grief over. I had grown up with Bowie from age 13, my kids had grown up listening to him, he’d been a fixture in my life for 45 years, and suddenly he wasn’t there any more.
But even in the end Bowie did the most Bowie thing ever, bowing out on his own terms with an innovative, out-of-the-blue, jazz-infused album that we knew nothing about until the day of its release.
If you listen to the lyrics it’s an album made by a man who wasn’t ready to leave us but knew he wasn’t going to be with us for long. To this day I still find it hard to listen to that album…….
‘Something happened on the day he died Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried’ “I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar”
All hail the Starman, we’ll never see his like again…..
My Bowie top 20 changes all the time, but for anyone who’s interested here’s this weeks selection….