Thursday, September 22, 2016

3, 2, 1: Mud: "Rocket"

And so we return to the increasingly awkward subject of the Glam Slam.*  I say awkward as it is coming towards its natural end here in August 1974, when Mud's "Rocket" only gets to #6 in the UK charts (it is here as a Radio Luxembourg entry).  Yes, there's more of the Glam Slam to come, and Mud do keep having hits - but if you look around the charts, things are starting to change. 

The awkwardness of Glam rock is not a problem in Mud's time - back to that in a moment - but now.  I have already written at length about its most notorious figure, and that put together with other people's even more notorious behaviour has put a damper on the fun.  I will let Stewart Lee, of all people, explain, from this blog entry on Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars

"I don’t really like this whole album much.  I have a quite visceral response to it. It makes me feel physically sick throughout and I’ve not enjoyed living with it. It’s not Bowie’s fault, but because of all that Jimmy Savile Top of the Pops footage that whole early 70s glam rock guitar sound now just makes me think of children being harmed.  That’s what it reminds me of, and I can’t get past it, which is awful, but people get a similar thing with Wagner. Something becomes associated in your mind with something and you’re stuck with it, sadly. There’s not much you can do about it. It’s pavlovian."

That is what the revelations have done; they have made the ears close, the eyes wince, the whole body revolt.  Please note this is after Bowie's death, and that I don't think he's alone in feeling awful in listening to something that happened to be Glam, which was, to say the least, a time when some men thought they could get away with anything. 

Meanwhile, it's August 1974 and this thing called dance music is starting to appear - it's fresh, it's sensuous, and it will soon be called disco and once it does, it becomes the new glamorous music. Soon whatever Glam Slam heroes that are left will be making disco music, or at least trying, including Mud.

But to the song!  It is pure Chinn/Chapman cheese, melting in the Elvis-isms of Les Gray's voice, rocking away while the story of Abigail Rocketblast (so she named herself; I wonder if the unseen teenager in Abigail's Party is named after her).  This Abigail wants to be a movie star, and the narrator talks of her going out to Hollywood - "this here's the story" says Gray at the beginning.  At sixteen she is ambitious, and she rejects her blue jean past for the world of fancy restaurants minks and fast-talking agents.  "Second verse" says Gray, fourth-walling the whole way...

Does Abigail become famous?  No, alas, she doesn't, and the narrator, who remembers her from back when, says they were using her, and now she's just in a regular diner, hanging out, and guess who is there to remember her?  Who is there to launch her now?  He calls her Rocket and is going to "launch" her soon.  Along the way are odd Russian-monks style background vocals, a straight-ahead guitar solo and a breakdown at the end of Elvis hip-swinging doo-waaaah, as if the word "launch" actually stands for something else.  She's a rocket alright, going straight to the moon.  It's cheese, like I said, but for Mud it's relatively sexy cheese. 

The Wedding Present, in their gallant attempt to destroy the charts in 1992, did their own version of this song as a b-side, and it's done in their rough Leeds style, with more "come on, come on" and less Elvis.  It's a faithful version, and it's odd to hear Gedge sing a happy song (there is no breakdown at the end; it stops, after a few more impassioned "come on COME ON"s).

So what to make of the Glam Slam era?  With Bowie now held even higher, it is hard to see how it could be seen in hindsight as nothing but a launching pad for him, while it was fun-while-it-lasted for everyone else, who did what they could before disco and then punk superseded it as sources of glamor and even shock.  Mud still exist, with no original members; Les Gray is gone, and guitarist Rob Davis went on to write songs done by Kylie Minogue, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Rachel Stevens. (They are all really good, too - Come And Get It by Rachel Stevens being better than you'd expect.)

Something as infectious as Glam can never really go away, but besides being the subject of Simon Reynolds' next book, it has mutated into other things, with the come-on-cheer-up-Britannia aspect having curdled into something indigestible, unless you are able to separate those men from the Chinn/Chapman fromage that some can still remember with great fondness, despite everything. 

Next up:  Philadelphia, here we come.

*Please note I was using this term before the untimely death of Prince; a man who certainly was glamorous himself.