Classic Songs of my Youth Revisited #2

Bay City Rollers – Saturday Night

I was always more than a little bit embarrassed by my love of the Bay City Rollers. Their outfits were ridiculous: not the respectable jeans and t-shirt of a real band. Much, much worse was the idea that there was something not very masculine about liking what was essentially a boy band, whose marketing, in Tiger Beat (which I read religiously) and elsewhere, was aimed at girls. I didn’t want to be the Rollers – again, those stupid tartans – and I sure didn’t want to sleep with them (I don’t recall wanting to sleep with anyone at that age – though Ian Mitchell was confusingly pretty in the first photo the magazine printed of him after he joined the band). I just loved their music.

In April 2021, after the death of the band’s lead singer Les McKeown, John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats wrote a lovely Twitter appreciation of the Rollers that hit home. I assume it was different for girls, but being a boy in a small community I don’t remember having anyone to share my love of the band with. John, it seems, had better luck.

“Saturday Night” was the way they first came to my/our attention, and I am happy to say it is still a perfectly-constructed pop song. The spelled-out chant at the top draws you in, followed by drums and fuzzy guitar, then Les’ gentle voice, with that accent that offers up the mystery of the foreign. The chant keeps coming back, firing you up, the “S-S-S-Saturday” of the chorus so fun to sing along with. Then, right before the end, the chant gets more intense, the S-S-Ss carry you out, and you’re calling the local radio station to ask them to play it again, or moving the needle back to the beginning.

It’s pure bubblegum: a boy has a big date and can’t wait to have fun with his girl and tell her how he feels about her. It’s mostly innocent (though I wonder now about those “little things I’m gonna do” in the second verse), and completely relatable to a pre-teen or early teen, thinking of sock-hops (Friday night at the local church hall for me) and first loves. Listening to it takes me back to a time that wasn’t even a little bit innocent – I’m saving those stories for my inevitable therapist (should probably get on with that) – but was maybe a lot more fun.

As Darnielle also pointed out, the story of how the Rollers were screwed over by their manager (read here for a pretty good accounting of his malfeasance in business and otherwise) is sad, but not atypical of business in general and the music industry specifically. Les was the third member from the glory years to pass on, but the band still seems to exist in some fashion. I still don’t much care for tartan – though, yes, I do own some plaid shirts (I contain multitudes within my contradictions) – and I still think the Rollers are pretty awesome. It’s nice to not have to feel awkward about that.

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