“It was on my head, on my head, a rock’n’roll chicken sitting on my head…” - Rock En Roll Chicken
The smartest thing Heavy Metal Records ever did was come up with the name Heavy Metal Records. Everything else was a fucking disaster. The eye of the storm during the NWOBHM blitz, HM Records calmly and methodically scooped up now-legendary bands, released their seminal albums with zero publicity, and then moved on. They were responsible for glam-shockers Wrathchild, for doom-gods Witchfinder General, for Cloven Hoof, Quartz, punk-metal juggernauts Broken Bones, crust pioneers Amebix, and many more, including this week’s peroxided blunderers. As a young and voracious flash metal enthusiast it was always a grand mystery stumbling on one of their releases. I mean, who the fuck are the Handsome Beasts, and what do they want from me?
And so it was with The Babysitters. 15-20 years after their debut-and-final self-titled album was released, a tidal wave of “glunk” (glam-punk!) crashed across Europe and the USA, groups like Turbonegro, the Backyard Babies, The Dragons, The Black Halos, Electric Frankenstein, The New Wave Hookers, Trash Brats, D Generation, The Candy Snatchers, etc. Self-aware and pop-culture savvy, many of the glunk bands added a healthy dose of humour and self-deprecation to their warmed-over Pistols/Thunders riffs and dimestore leopard-skin outfits, creating an inclusive, DIY. we’re-all-in-this-together vibe. These bands helped keep the flames of rock’n’roll alive during its darkest days in the nu-metal saturated 00s, and all of them owe some debt to The Babysitters, even though they probably never even heard of them. Glunk was the result of punk rock kids digging through their roots and discovering the New York Dolls. The Babysitters did that back in 1985. And no one – aside from a handful of music journalists and the coolest kids in London – knew what to do with it.
I bought the record when it was released because I bought every record that Heavy Metal Records put out. As the Babysitters never got a line of press in the US, I had no idea who they were, but they sounded like Hanoi Rocks after somebody hit them in the head with a frying pan, and that was ok with me. Aside from the enduring Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead (this article proves it!), the album’s high/lowlight was surely Rock En Roll Chicken, a direct and silly remake of the NY Dolls’ classic Pills. 80s glam had always been campy, but outside of outright parodies like Bad News or Spinal Tap, this was the first time it verged into outright slapstick. And the cover – a bunch of thrift-store glitter-goofs in diapers – only compounded the absurdity of the whole thing. The Babysitters record did not conform to anyone’s standards. It was exotic and strange, like something from another planet. I loved it and hated it at the same time. I think I might’ve even been a little afraid of it. And if that’s not punk, I don’t know what is.
The story, it turns out, is pretty by-the-books. A snaggle-toothed punk rocker by the name of Buttz (he borrowed a lot of cigarettes) drops the safety-pin routine after seeing his buddy Razzle’s new band Hanoi Rocks and forms The Babysitters with a guy who showed up for auditions on a motorcycle with a coffin sidecar. They put on the wildest show in town, the press calls them the best/worst band in the world, and they end up touring with Hanoi and Johnny Thunders. Heavy Metal Records releases their album in ‘85 and then leaves them to die. Buttz and Spike from the Quireboys open an all-metal club to accommodate the second-wave glam scene exploding all around them. The Babysitters tour with Hawkwind, of all people. The 80s wear on, and they still haven’t gotten their big break. The Quireboys and the Dogs D’amour snatch up all the London glam-rock glory. The band starts to think that the guy who formed it is the dead weight, so Buttz is out. They play the Reading Festival in 1987 without him, and then get the grand fucking idea to move to LA to make it big six months before flash metal began crashing and burning into dust. Buttz laughs at those idiots, forms Last of the Teenage Idols, and lives (relatively) happy ever after. The end.
Listening now, you can sorta see why the Babysitters never jumped the hurdle past local legend status. I mean, holy smokes. Most of the album is an absolute shambles. Buttz can’t really sing, the band can’t really play, and the whole thing is basically riding on sheer enthusiasm. But they had the right idea. No one can argue that. And for the people who were there at the time, the Babysitters represented everything that was good, noble and true about rock’n’roll. Thirty years down the road, and I tend to agree with Sounds or whoever the fuck it was: they really were the the best-worst band in the world.
Next week: Be my slave