Les McKeown, the boyish Scot who was the lead singer of '70s teen-rock act the Bay City Rollers, died suddenly at his home Tuesday. Ready to feel even older? He was 65. It can be hard to remember, sometimes, that parts of the '70s were 50 years ago.
McKeown was a founding member of the band, his tenure lasting from 1973-1978 and picking back up in 2015. His first stint encompassed the band's peak years of success, including when they enjoyed the iconic #1 hit “Saturday Night” (1976). Basically, any BCR song you know, he was the lead singer.
The band, a cynical descendant of the Beatles and a precursor of many more to follow — NKOTB, Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, One Direction, BTS — the Bay City Rollers were teen-mag dreams, but were consistently marketed with the changing attitudes of the '70s in mind. Read: Skips the shirts, don't skip the skintight, religion-revealing jeans and a rockier feel, even when the tunes were bubblegum. In fact, it's jarring to listen to their biggest hits today and remember they were '60s remakes, literally or in spirit.
After years of hits, especially in Europe, the band's popularity cooled. A 1978 attempt at children's TV, The Krofft Superstar Hour Starring the Bay City Rollers (1978-1979) ran only four months, and McKeown bolted for the greener pastures of a solo career.
Going solo led to awkward attempts to embrace a New Wave look.
Though the Rollers had been huge, McKeown observed in a 1983 interview that the venture had not made him rich so much as it had “our accountants.” Flash-forward to 2015, and McKeown was still making the point that their nostalgic reunion was for the cash. Sadly, at the time of his death, McKeown had been excitedly hyping a forthcoming 49-city tour with the band.
In 2009, McKeown — who had been with his wife Keiko since they met in 1978 — shocked fans on the U.K. reality series Rehab by opening up and candidly discussing his sexuality, admitting he'd cheated on his wife at least a dozen times with men:
I've been a bit of a George Michael, meeting people, often strangers, for sex. Not in public toilets — I'm not big on the unhygienic side of things. These days, you'd meet online and figure out a place where to meet: Your place or mine?
He confirmed the hookups were anonymous, saying he didn't think the men he slept with knew him as a pop idol.
He wenton to say his first sexual experience came at 19, and it was date rape — a man gave him Quaaludes to loosen his inhibitions:
I actually enjoyed it at the time. And the fact that I felt pleasure from that was the biggest shameful thing in my whole life. The knock-on effect of feeling pleasure out of the event is that I found myself attracted to men every now and again.
He seemed to be saying his gay impulses were simply the product of having been raped, which is an assertion I'd say is opportunistic, considering what he had to lose (his wife and family, what was left of a career).
His was not the band's only post-peak years scandal — founding member Derek Longmuir was sentenced to community service in 2000 when it was revealed he had possessed and made child pornography. The group's manager, Tam Paton, was fired in '79, had an affair with a member of the band Rosetta Stone, was arrested in 1982 on gross indecency charges for his conduct with boys aged 16 and 17, was accused by Bay City Roller Pat McGlynn of attempted rape (dating to 1977) before his death in 2009.
McKeown — the second Bay City Roller to die in the past year, after short-time member Ian Mitchell, who died at 62 last year — is survived by his wife Keiko and their son Jubei.