The Roy Wood Story


Roy Wood: McLuhanite purist or elaborate joker?

"When you’re number two, you try harder."

That used to be the slogan of Avis the car hire group. (Most of you will probably be aware of this, unless, of course, you've been in suspended animation or hiding out in a Tibetan monastery with James Dean on account of your hideous disfgurement).

For a long time it also seemed to be the slogan of Roy Wood. For a long time, he always seemed to be in hot pursuit of Pete Townshend for the title of Premier British post Beatle/Stone songwriter.

I remember being at the Roundhouse on New Year's Eve 1966/7 and watching The Move achieve the same excitement as The Who had maybe an hour or so earlier. The only problem was that, in order to reach this peak, they had to expend about twenty times the energy.

What Townshend did simply by hurling himself bodily into his stacks, The Move bad to do by smashing up busts of Hitler, dozens of T.V. sets and an entire 1956 Chevy.

The same kind of overkill effort was put into the creation of their early singles, particularly "I Can Hear The Grass Grow", "Fire Brigade", and that marvellous, psychotic masterwork "Night Of Fear".

Each one of them was a splendid addition to the catalogue of great British pop. It always seemed that Wood and The Move had to really bust a gut to get what they wanted while The Who appeared to dash off their hits with consummate ease.

Wood also showed an early tendency to pastiche. Of course, he only took from the best and, on "Blackberry Way" he managed to catch The Beatles' "Strawberry Fields" sound more successfully than any other imitator.

The end of the '60's saw a sad decline in the fortunes of The Move.

It was the age of the guitar heroes, and it began to look like Wood's complex little songs didn't fit in with the current demands of public taste.

Tunes like "Brontosaurus" and the whole "Shazam" album had a massive amount of loving care lavished on them, but they hardly set the corporate balance sheets on fire.

Next came Wood's short lived association with E.L.O.

By now Townshend had wandered off to be Gilbert and Sullivan and the entire songwriter title fight was a thing of the past.

Roy Wood had set course in a new direction. Using the established bopper media he appeared to be attempting to turn crass pop into a weird art form.

He rejected the usual route of the rock and roll artist, monster double albums and the cover of Rolling Stone.

Like some kind of McLuhanite purist he centred his creative push on "Top Of The Pops" and nifty three minute singles. The medium was definitely the message.

Adolescent enthusiasts all over the country seemed to want nothing more than the pastiches of the '50's and early '60's that Wood served up with alarming regularity. From "Ball Park Incident", "See My Baby Jive" the now green-haired and absurdly painted Wood gave the kids exactly what they wanted and that little bit more.

It was as though Andy Warhol had signed on with Marvel Comics and was producing peculiar variations of Captain America.

There was virtually no part of the rock and roll archives that was safe from Roy Wood's eclectic pillaging.

Fats Domino horns turned up on "See My Baby Jive", the Phil Spector Wall of Sound was reproduced on "Angel Fingers". On the "Eddie And The Falcons" album he managed to duplicate just about every recording mannerism of rock's golden age.

So that's the Roy Wood story for you. Even after listening to it a few times there is still a certain mystery. Is it soap opera, an elaborate joke, sell-out or the true function of pop? Let me know if you come up with an answer.