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The Bay City Rollers were a Scottish pop band of the 1970s. Their youthful, clean-cut image, distinct styling featuring tartan-trimmed outfits, and cheery, sing-along pop hits helped the group become among the most popular musical acts of their time. For a relatively brief but fervent period (nicknamed "Rollermania"), they were a worldwide sensation.
Bassist Alan Longmuir, his younger brother Derek Longmuir, a drummer, along with school mate, lead singer Gordon "Nobby" Clark founded the group in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1967, as The Saxons. Shortly afterwards, seeking a less English-sounding moniker, they chose a new name allegedly by throwing a dart at a map of the United States. The dart landed on the map in the state of Arkansas, but since "Arkansas Rollers" did not sound quite right, and might also lead to problems with pronunciation, they tried again and this time the dart landed near the community of Bay City, Michigan.
The Bay City Rollers were managed from early on by the imposing and controversial Tam Paton, himself a former big band leader. Paton was notorious for his rigid control over all aspects of the band's career, including the shuffling in and out of group members at a very high rate. Short term members from this period include David Paton (member 1969-1970) and Billy Lyall (member 1969-1971), who went on to be founding members of another successful Edinburgh band, Pilot.
The Bay City Rollers received their first break when prominent record executive Dick Leahy caught their act by chance in an Edinburgh club. After signing with Leahy's Bell Records, the band's first hit was "Keep on Dancing" (UK #9, 1971), a cover of a 1965 Gentrys hit, recorded at the suggestion of pop impresario and producer Jonathan King. (Singer Nobby Clark was backed on vocals on "Keep on Dancing" by King himself.) Upon this release's success, they made guest appearances on BBC-TV's Top of the Pops. The group then won a Radio Luxembourg-sponsored song contest with the tune "Mañana", which was later popular in parts of Europe and in Israel.
Several non-charting singles were released over the following two years. This period did see the addition of long term members Eric Faulkner and Stuart "Woody" Wood.
In late 1973 they narrowly missed the UK chart with "Saturday Night", one of many singles written and produced for the band by the highly successful songwriting duo of Scotsman Bill Martin and Irishman Phil Coulter.
By the end of 1973, Nobby Clark had become disillusioned by the band's lack of success and decided to move on. He was replaced as lead singer by Leslie McKeown.
The five members at the very end of 1973 - the Longmuir brothers, Faulkner, Wood and McKeown - are generally referred to as the "classic line-up". In early 1974 McKeown hastily re-recorded lead vocals of the group's forthcoming single, "Remember (Sha La La La)", which became a sizable hit and a lead in to a series of UK chart hits.
Beginning with "Remember" (UK #6), the Rollers' popularity exploded, and they released a string of very successful hits on the British charts. Following in succession were "Shang-a-Lang" (UK #2), "Summerlove Sensation" (UK #3), and "All of Me Loves All of You" (UK #4).
By early 1975, they were one of the highest-selling acts in Britain. That year saw a successful UK tour (which prompted newspaper headlines about "Rollermania"), and a 20-week UK television series, Shang-a-Lang.
A cover of the Four Seasons' "Bye, Bye, Baby", stayed at #1 in the UK for six weeks in the spring of 1975, selling nearly a million copies to become the biggest seller of the year, and the subsequent single "Give a Little Love" topped the charts that summer, their second #1 hit. At the peak of their popularity in the UK, comparisons were even made to The Beatles.
By this time, BCR fans had a completely distinctive style of dress, the main elements of which were ankle length tartan trousers and tartan scarves which they had copied from another Tam Paton Band "Bilbo Baggins".
As the group's popularity swelled to superstardom in the UK, a concerted effort was made by Arista Records (the record company that evolved from Bell) to launch the Rollers in America. New Arista head Clive Davis was instrumental in grooming and overseeing the project. His work paid off as in early '76, the Rollers reached #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 with "Saturday Night", the song which had missed the UK chart completely two years earlier. A second US hit came with "Money Honey" which hit #9, and finally reaching a lackluster 62 with a cover version of Dusty's love power. Prior to that, they made their American TV debut on Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell singing Saturday Night.
The dark side of the band's unending schedule of tours and appearances was the great amount of stress the band members felt. By early '76, the strain of success (and the discomfort of a mature man in a teen band) had taken its toll on bassist Alan Longmuir, who decided to leave the group. He was replaced for 7 months by 17 year old Ian Mitchell - the first band member born outside of Edinburgh, Scotland (he was from Northern Ireland). With Mitchell, the group released an album titled Dedication, and hit the charts with a cover version of the Dusty Springfield song "I Only Want To Be With You", which reached US #12, as well as "Yesterday's Hero" and "Dedication".
As the Rollers' popularity waned, the shuffling of personnel continued: Mitchell quit the band, replaced by Pat McGlynn. The group's commercial success began to decline towards the end of the 1970s. In 1977, they covered an unsuccessful 1973 single by String Driven Thing, "It's a Game" to give them their final UK Top 20 hit (#16 in the spring), but "You Made Me Believe in Magic" could only make #34 in the summer. It managed to just crack the top ten in the United States, but this would be their final major success there too. Summer of 1977 saw the group release the It's a Game album and world tour as a four-piece group - McKeown, Wood, Faulkner and Derek Longmuir.
In 1978, Alan Longmuir reunited with the band for the recording of Strangers in the Wind. The release of this LP was timed to coincide with the debut of the Rollers' US television show "The Krofft Superstar Hour" later renamed "The Bay City Rollers Show" on the NBC network. The show was a poor match for the band. Their time in the teen-idol spotlight was slipping away and their music had matured and become more sophisticated compared to the bubblegum hits they had released in '75-'76. The show and album were each dismal failures.
Les McKeown left to pursue a solo career after an on-stage fight with Faulkner in Japan.The Rollers fired Tam Paton in 1979. South African-born Duncan Faure was hired to replace McKeown as lead vocalist and the band shortened its name to The Rollers. Three albums were issued under this name, including Voxx (1980) and 1981's Ricochet, before the group disbanded.
During the 1980s and 1990s, there were various short-lived revivals featuring some of the original members, including a New Year's Eve 1999 concert. Interest was rekindled in Britain by television documentaries about the group and a television-advertised compilation of greatest hits, which entered the UK charts on release in 2004 at its #11 peak.
Currently, there is one touring version using the group's name: Les McKeown's Legendary Bay City Rollers.
Alan Longmuir died on 2 July 2018 in an Edinburgh hospital after contracting an illness while on holiday in Mexico. He was 70. Read more on Last.fm
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