POP GOES THE 1970’s- Part 2- THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW

rocky horror1

The Time Warp – (R O’Brien/ R Hartley) – Rocky Horror Picture Show Cast 1975

The Rocky Horror Show had its humble beginnings in the early 1970’s when unemployed actor Richard O’Brien channeled his love of science fiction, B-horror movies and Steve Reeves sword and sandal epics into the creation of a musical show with the working title They Came From Denton High. O’Brien wanted to combine the elements of the unintentional humor of B science fiction movies, with the portentous dialogue of schlock-horror, the naïve enthusiasm of fifties rock and roll and the garishness of the then contemporary glam rock.Below L-R – Richard O’Brien in character as Riff Raff, original cast version at the Royal Court Theatre, Director Jim Sharman.

In early 1973 O’Brien showed an unfinished script to Australian director Jim Sharman who had just directed Jesus Christ Superstar for Andrew Lloyd Weber, Sharman decided to stage the show at a small experimental space in the 60-seat Royal Court Theatre (London). A full production team was then brought on board, Sharman had changed the name to The Rocky Horror Show, and by November ’73 popular demand had pushed the show into the 500-seat King’s Road Theatre, where it ran continuously for the next six years. The Sydney and Los Angeles productions commenced in 1974 and by then Lou Adler had purchased the US theatrical rights and the movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show went into production and was released in 1975. Jim Sharman directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Richard O’Brien, Sydney girl “Little” Nell Campbell was cast in the role of Columbia the groupie, other performers included Tim Curry (Frank – N – Furter) Susan Sarandon (Janet), Meatloaf (Eddie) and Charles Gray (The Narrator, who had recently appeared as the villain Blofeld in the James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever). Below L-R Little Nell, Tim Curry and Brad and Janet, The Narrator Charles Gray.

The Time Warp” was part of the original score for the 1973 rock musical  and in its subsequent 1975 film adaptation The Rocky Horror Picture Show, it also featured in a 2016 TV production of the show. The song is both an example and a parody of the dance song genre in which much of the content of the song is given over to dance step instructions. The dance is one of the major audience-participation activities during screenings of the film and performances of the show. It became a popular song beyond the reaches of the film and show, and is often played at dances, weddings, fan conventions, and participation screenings of the movie where patrons are encouraged to bring along water pistols, toilet paper, toast, confetti and other items to simulate special effects throughout the screening.  Below – Typical audience participation screening of the film. 

rocky horror3

It was the fifth song in the original show after Science Fiction/Double Feature, Dammit Janet, Over at Frankenstein’s Place, and Sweet Transvestite. The song consists of verses sung by alternating characters, serving as the introduction to two of them, and choruses sung by the chorus of “Transylvanians” (Movie) or “Phantoms” (Musical), and the Criminologist/Narrator (played by Charles Gray in the movie). The characters that sing the verses are, in order, Riff-Raff (Richard O’Brien) in the movie), Magenta (Patricia Quinn in the movie), and Columbia (Little Nell Campbell  in the film). After the second full chorus, Columbia launches into her tap dance routine which really anchors the whole performance. The song is a riotous, campy, kitschy, rollicking number and generates audience participation – “It’s just a jump to the left/And a step to the right/ With your hands on your hips/You bring your knees in tight/ But it’s the pelvic thrust/ That really drives you insane/ Let’s do the time-warp again/ Let’s do the time-warp again.”

Little Nell Campbell hams it up with glitter, glitz, and glamour, Riff Raff did his own version of the dance – The Hunchback.

Columbia’s costume for this scene is best described as Busby Berkely meets the Zeigfield Follies and comprised a gold -sequined top hat, gold-sequined swallow-tail coat with pink-sequined double bow tie, a sequined bustier, black satin shorts with metallic striping, light blue bobbysoxer socks, and silver-sequined Mary Jane – style tap shoes.   

The song’s chart fortunes tended to reflect those periods when the stage show was having a successful run locally, consequently Time Warp charted #12 in South Africa in 1976, #3 in Australia in 1980 and #7 in the UK in 1989. Below -Extreme left LIttle Nell at 16 in Sydney, and extreme right performing in later years.

Laura Elizabeth Campbell (1953), known professionally as Nell Campbell or Little Nell, is an Australian actress, singer and club owner, and is best known for her role as Columbia in the original stage show and movie versions of the Rocky Horror Show. She arrived in Britain in the early 70’s with her family and earned a living busking, running a clothes stall at the Kensington Market, and working as a soda jerk at an American-themed 50’s restaurant, where she performed impromptu tap dance routines, which helped her to be cast as Columbia in the original productions of the show and the movie. After The Rocky Horror Picture Show, she also appeared in the films Shock Treatment, Jubilee, Lizstomania, and Pink Floyd’s The Wall. She subsequently signed a recording contract with A&M REcords, her debut single was Stilettos and Lipstick backed with Do the Swim, released in 1975.

She also created a disco version of the song Fever in 1976 which was again backed with Do the Swim, the B-side of both of these releases became better known, perhaps helped by a performance on British television in which she accidentally (and repeatedly) exposed her breasts, in a celebrated wardrobe malfunction. While edited out of the original broadcast in 1975, the unedited version was shown worldwide on bloopers shows (beginning with the British show It’ll Be Alright On The Night in 1977).

You really have to admire her determination to finish the song, the Australian Crawl never looked more bizarre!

Following this notoriety, another effort was made to promote her recordings made in 1975 and 1976. In 1978, a “triple B-side” titled The Musical World of Little Nell (Aquatic Teenage Sex & Squalor) was released which featured both Do the Swim and Stillettos and Lipstick along with the track Dance That Cocktail Latin Way (also known as Tropical Isle) which originally appeared as the B-side of her second single from 1976. Following some success with the EP, the other two tracks, singles Fever and See You Round Like a Record, were released as a single but that was to be her last release on A&M. A final single, Beauty Queen from the film The Alternative Miss World, was released on PRE Records in 1980, but did not chart, and Nell briefly pursued a career in adult rnovies.   

rocky horror21

In 1986 she opened Nell’s night club in New York which for ten years was one of the hippest late night clubs in town, open from 10.00pm-4.00am, seven days a week, along with CBGBs, and Danceteria, it was the twilight haunt of the hip and famous and regular patrons included Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, Deborah Harry, and Sting. Nell revelled in the role of the “hostess with the mostest”, and she extended her interests there with the venues The Kiosk and E&O in 1995. In 1998 she sold Nell’s night club and in 2005 returned to Australia where she now lives with her daughter Matilda. Below L-R – Nell and daughter Matilda, Nell’s Club NYC, Inside the club Nell flanked by Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s