The Intentionally Bad Song That Accidentally Worked
Picutred above, as stated by their shoes, are the Bay City Rollers. The band was a trendy teen idol band in the 1970s, and you’re almost certainly familiar with their 1976 song “Saturday Night,” which opens with them clapping, spelling the word “Saturday” and then yelling the word “night!” a few times before going into the rest of the lyrics. (If not, click here to give it a listen.) You may not be able to quickly think of another one of their songs but they’re hardly a one-hit wonder; at their peak, the Scottish boy band was all over the airwaves in the UK and, really, the world.
And for one English songwriter, that seemed like an opportunity to get out of his music contract.
But it didn’t quite work out the way he had hoped.
Nick Lowe is a British singer-songwriter whose work you may not be familiar with. His most memorable song is “Cruel to Be Kind,” released in 1979. (You can listen to that one here.) He’s well-known in the music industry, though; he’s collaborated on many songs and albums and is generally seen as a very talented and creative songwriter. He got his professional start in the late 1960s with an English pub rock band named Brinsley Schwarz, which you’ve probably never heard of and isn’t really important for our story today, except for the fact that Brinsley Schwarz was successful enough to land a deal with United Artists (or “UA”), a record label.
In 1975, Brinsley Schwarz split up, and it wasn’t clear what Lowe’s next steps were. As Songfacts explains, “Lowe was established as an inventive songwriter and producer” and, therefore, sought after by the music industry.” Lowe didn’t want to just write and produce music for others, though; he wanted to continue creating his own works. Unfortunately, per Songfacts, “United Artists were keen on keeping him under contract, but Lowe desperately wanted to leave so he could pursue his own projects.” He needed a way to get UA to fire him.
The easiest way to do that? Turn in awful work. In the book “Punk Diary: The Ultimate Trainspotter’s Guide to Underground Rock, 1970-1982,” Lowe explained his idea:
Lowe recalled “I couldn’t be obvious about it by turning in Country & Western songs with sitars [not a bad idea!] … so I decided to make one of those fan type records like in the ‘60s …. at the time there was no escaping the Bay City Rollers they were everywhere! So I wrote this stupid little song. … I recorded it and it was actually the very first thing I’d done all by myself.
The song was titled “Bay City Rollers, We Love You,” and the lyrics are as stupid as you’d expect. The chorus fawns over the band and its members, stating “Derek, Alan, Eric, we love you / Les and Woody, do you feel the same way too? / You’re making all our dreams come true / Bay City Rollers, we love you.” You’d have to be a huge Bay City Rollers fan to ever sing that song, and Lowe couldn’t imagine that UA would ever release such a thing, particularly given that the Bay City Rollers were signed to another record label.
To Lowe’s surprise, though, his artist representative, Andrew Lauder, really liked the song — and saw a business angle for it. The Bay City Rollers had a huge fanbase and while the song was written as a joke, no one had to know that. UA ended up releasing the song, crediting it to “The Tartan Horde,” the unofficial name for Rollers fans in the UK. (The Rollers were Scottish and often wore tartan/plaid patterns, as seen in the picture above.) And it turned out that the Tartan Horde spread well beyond the British Isles. In a 2007 interview with Canada.com, Lowe explains:
It actually was a hit in Japan. [ . . . ] It was a hit simply because the Rollers were so huge in Japan. The Japanese kids who were all Rollers fans, they had no idea I was taking a rather sort of jaundiced view of their heroes, you know. They just heard ‘Rollers’ in the title and heard the kind of guff that it was and all thought it was very worthwhile [laughs]. Yeah, it was a sizeable pop hit. For a couple of weeks, I think [laughs].
You can listen to “Bay City Rollers, We Love You” here. It’s not half-bad if you think it’s genuine, I guess. And plenty of people in Japan bought it, so much so that UA kept Lowe under his contract and even had him record a follow-up song, titled “Rollers Show.” That song flopped.
Lowe didn’t last much longer at UA; he continued being more, say, experimental than the labeled wanted and, in his words, the higher-ups said to Lauder “look, we can’t keep this idiot on the books, let’s get rid of him.” Lowe was free to pursue his own musical path, one he is still on today. None of his subsequent works, though, were very popular in Japan.
From the Archives: The Fake 80s Song That Became an Accidental Hit: A song that wasn’t supposed to exist, and then it became a smash.