"Rock & Roll," parts one and two the first time around, parts three to six a decade later, is the tribal war cry of the last quarter century. Forget its absorption into American sporting iconography, and the fact that Hollywood can't even dream of filming a sports scene without "Rock & Roll" pounding in the background. Forget, too, the fact that its composers built a five-year career at the top of the British charts, simply from recycling that same organic formula. You can even forget that almost every time you buy a new Gary Glitter record, "Rock & Roll" will be included on there somewhere.
"Rock & Roll" is important because of its lyrics. And those lyrics, the most joyful, meaningful, and utterly, defiantly, triumphant lyrics in the entire history of modern music, go "Rock & Roll, Rock & Roll, Rock & Roll, Rock & Roll." That's part one, anyway. Part two is even better. That one goes "hey, hey, hey, hey, hey." Who needs "awopbopaloobop"? Who cares for "since my baby left me"? And who can even understand half of what Bob Dylan writes? Talk about "Rock & Roll," and you only need to say one thing. "Rock & Roll." Parts one, two, three, four, five and six. Hey!
It was Mike Leander, Glitter's producer and co-writer, who conceived the song, basing it around an earlier, failed, recording called "Shag Rag, That's My Bag." With that track playing behind them, Glitter, Leander and a constant stream of visiting friends simply began jamming along with it, ad-libbing lyrics, twisting the beat.
"We built from there," Leander recalled, "and suddenly it all came together. We had produced something that was like all the records we had ever heard before, and yet were different to them all. We were writing and making the sort of record that we had both loved to listen to when we were 14 and 15 years old, yet it wasn't preconceived. We had not planned it that way. But when we played the tapes back the sound we heard was a revelation" -- a primeval Mogadon stomp which might just be the most heart-stoppingly pure sound ever committed to pop vinyl. Trimmed to 15 minutes, they called it "Rock & Roll." Edited down to an even more manageable length, they renamed it "Rock & Roll (Pts. 1 and 2)," and launched Gary Glitter as one of the brightest stars on the entire glam rock firmament.
An ever-present in Glitter's live set, the song was thoroughly revitalized in 1987 when Glitter linked with producer Trevor Horn to record four further versions of "Rock & Roll" for release as his latest single. The following year, the song was granted an even fresher lease of life -- and a roost at the top of the U.K. chart -- when the Timelords took the rhythm and chorus as the basis for their "Doctoring the Tardis" hit. Other covers and tributes have been delivered by the Undertones, Executive Slacks, and, opening their "Motorcycle" club smash, Love and Rockets. None, however, truly capture the sheer joyful innocence of Glitter's original; and none, in all honesty, have really tried. Perfection is a virtue in all walks of life. But Godliness remains inviolate.