Glam Rock originated in the UK in the early 1970’s and for about five years it was both a prevailing musical genre and a fashion statement, borrowing from 50’s rock/doo wop, 60’s bubblegum pop, cabaret, art rock, and science fiction. Its exponents favored flamboyant, often androgynous or camp costumes, comprising satin, glitter, platform shoes, teamed with outrageous makeup and hairstyles. In the UK T Rex front man Marc Bolan, David Bowie, Mott the Hoople, Sweet, Slade, Mud, Roxy Music, Suzie Quatro, and Gary Glitter were leaders of the glam rock pack, while the few exponents of the genre in the USA included Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, the New York Dolls, and Iggy Pop. In Australia the local scene could boast the Skyhooks, Supernaut, Hush, Taste, Rabbit and William Shakespeare. Below L-R – Hush, Skyhooks, Supernaut.
The latter was really John Stanley Cave, whose stage names included Johnny Cave, Johnny Cabe, Johnny Shake, and ultimately, at the suggestion of his mentors, Vanda and Young, he adopted the sobriquet of the greatest literary figure of all, William Shakespeare.
John Cave (1948) was born in Sydney and grew up around the inner western suburb of Dulwich Hill, his parents Stanley and Elizabeth ran a family greengrocery business, and after dropping out of school Cave combined a day job as a car detailer with performing as vocalist for the Amazons, a beat music group who performed on the Sydney dance and clubs circuit, releasing a single Ain’t That Lovin’ You in 1966, which stiffed, after which John went solo. Below John Cave and the Amazons, circa 1966, John is centre back row.
In 1974 Johnny was in the Alberts recording studios when Vanda and Young recorded the backing track for a song called Can’t Stop Myself from Loving You for another singer who was struggling to hit the high notes in the song, which seemed to be custom-made for Cave’s falsetto, and he was promptly signed to the Alberts label.
What prompted Vanda and Young to choose William Shakespeare as John Cave’s stage name is unclear, but given that such fetching names as Gary Glitter, Alvin Stardust, Elton John , and Barry Blue had already been taken, and Johnny’s alternative suggestions had included the less catchy Chico Runt and Erx McGlerx, Shakespeare would have seemed positively inspirational.
Johnny was convinced that he was the pop reincarnation of the Bard, as he postulated in the Real Thing by Toby Cresswell and Martin Fabinyi (1999) – “What we’re getting at is if Shakespeare the poet had been alive today in the rock & roll age, those are the sort of things he would have done…George and Harry write my stuff at the moment, that’s because I’ve been pretty busy with the costumes, and all, and haven’t got around to writing anything yet. But I thought up the name William Shakespeare and built up the character…” so far, all’s well that ends well as The Bard might have said, although history tells us that there is nothing more dangerous than an ego in search of talent.
The George and Harry to whom Johnny referred were Alberts Music songwriting royalty Vanda and Young, who had written Can’t Stop Myself from Loving You, and would also provide Shakespeare with second hit record, My Little Angel as well.
The diminutive pop star was subsequently taken down to Kings Cross to be kitted out by a shop which specialized in dressing drag queens. They kitted him out in a gaudy green suede medieval outfit replete with puffy sleeves, fake costume jewelry, platform boots and all topped off with a damson-hued bouffant, he made quite a sight as he teetered around the Countdown set much to the adulation of his army of mostly pre-pubescent female fans.
His debut hit was a classic slice of glam rock, a low-key semi-spoken-word intro segues to a bombastic sing-a-long chorus, with drums, guitar, bass, and orchestration driving along in a stomping, swaggering anthem to unrequited love, while Shakespeare’s oddly androgynous falsetto trilled along in unison. It was a substantial hit at #2 in July 1974, occupied the charts for 32 weeks, and was covered in the UK by Billy Shake and Tina Charles , and in Canada by Octavian.
An album entitled Can’t Stop Myself from Loving You comprising nearly all Vanda/Young compositions climbed to #27 in November 1974 and then Alberts released his biggest hit in time for Christmas. My Little Angel was another Vanda /Young composition with a “jingle bells’ accompaniment and seasonal setting, it told the story of a little girl who comes home from school upset because someone has told her that angels do not exist, it must have been my old school.
Shakespeare plays the role of the doting father who seeks to placate his little daughter and assure her of the existence of angels, lyrically it was trite, banal, cheesy and also a smash hit, went straight to #1 and stayed on the charts for 23 weeks. It has been voted one of the daggiest songs written in Australia, and often features on “Worst Of” and “Most Embarrassing” compilations, but its cloying sentimentalism ensured that Shakespeare would have a second consecutive hit song.
(Note: 4TR reader alert of future Shakespearean puns and cliches). But what had been Johnny’s Midsummer Night’s Dream of success, was merely the calm before The Tempest that would engulf the glam rocker, when an incident, that initially appeared to be Much Ado About Nothing, and which the pop star claimed was a set-up, became a Comedy of Errors; when he was found guilty of having carnal knowledge of one of the members of his Melbourne fan club, and placed on probation for two years. In a classic case of Love’s Labor Lost his next two singles, Just the Way You Are and Last Night, stiffed, something about which Johnny could relate.
A growing problem with alcoholism combined with clinical depression forced John to submit himself to Dr. Harry Bailey and others, at the Chelmsford Private Hospital (Syd), where Bailey was falsely offering hope to vulnerable people with addictions, and trumpeting the efficacy of a highly dangerous course of treatment known as “deep sleep therapy”, which became better known as “permanent sleep therapy”, after many of his patients died, or subsequently committed suicide. This quackery entailed heavily tranquilising patients and then subjecting them to repeated electro-convulsive shock treatments, often without their knowledge or permission, other “deep sleep” patients included former Easybeats front man Stevie Wright and Toni Lamond (Helen Reddy’s half-sister). All of these patients suffered brain damage, and 27 actually died. Thereafter John’s career trajectory nosedived, he commenced living rough, his life continued to spiral downwards, until he was found sleeping in the toilets opposite the St. George’s Leagues Club, in Kogarah. Below John Cabe in 2009.
In 2001 former Go-Betweens drummer Lindy Morrison arranged accommodation and financial assistance for John through the charity Support Aid Limited, which assists members of the music industry who have fallen on hard times. John Cave sadly passed away in October 2010 as a result of alcohol abuse, he was 61.