Working Their Way Up That Hill

Godmothers of Chick Rock

FANNY’s second offering, 1971’s CHARITY BALL, received a much warmer reception from the rock press, with the LP even eliciting some predictions of superstardom. The title track hit the singles charts in the US, peaking at number 40 on the Billboard singles charts in November, and FANNY toured extensively to support the breakthrough. Thousands of punters on several continents came to laugh at what was expected to be a “freak show” and came away as true believers. The band was given further credibility through becoming the favored support act of a number of the biggest bands of the era, but at the same time they became headliners in their own right at large concert venues.

Prior to the arrival of Fanny, no all-female band in any genre of modern music, playing their own instruments and writing most all of their own material, had ever known true success; Fanny was the first. And in the music business – then as now – success breeds imitation. Other labels saw a new market niche to exploit and began promoting all-female bands. If one wishes to point to any one moment in time when the doors were truly kicked opened for female rock bands, one need look no further than the release of FANNY HILL, Fanny’s third LP in 1972.

FANNY HILL, recorded at the Beatles’ Apple Studios in London, was hailed by the leading rock press of the day as being their best yet. The album features some of the band’s finest studio moments and showed the musical maturity of what was now several years of recording and touring; when Rhino Records decided to release a FANNY retrospective CD set in 2002, they tellingly named the collection FIRST TIME IN A LONG TIME, after one of the most memorable tracks on FANNY HILL.

By now FANNY was a name to conjure with. They were no longer a laughing stock but were acknowledged and admired as a serious rock band. They even passed the rock-cred “test of fire” by having one of their singles, Young and Dumb, banned by BBC Radio 1 (and by being banned from playing live at the Albert Hall – for being “too provocative”!). They continued to tour almost constantly throughout North America and Europe, stopping only to record yet another album, their second release in ten months. Todd Rundgren replaced Richard Perry as producer on FANNY’s fourth album, 1973’s MOTHER’S PRIDE, which is probably the band’s “hardest” rock LP and was also the only one of their five albums not to feature a band photo on the cover. “Working with Todd was far more soul-satisfying than working with Richard [Perry] ever was,” Nickey said. “He treated us with much more respect and gave us our heads more when it came to creative input and production.”

The women of FANNY were coming to terms with, and learning to balance, their roles as both women and rock musicians, but the strain was beginning to take its toll within the band. Shortly after the release of their fourth album, FANNY collapsed temporarily as a result of what writer Barbara O’Dair** called “internal tensions, accumulated strains, and the ordinary occupational hazards of making it in a man’s world predicated on sex, drugs and rock and roll.” In the wake of increasing discord, Alice and June left the group one by one. June was replaced on lead guitar and vocals by Patti Quatro, big sister of pop sensation Suzi; Alice was replaced on drums by former Svelte Brie Brandt. Nickey and Jean elected to stay on, and it was this line-up which recorded the final FANNY album, ROCK AND ROLL SURVIVORS. Having completed their deal with Reprise Records, ROCK AND ROLL SURVIVORS saw the band move to Casablanca Records – home of several huge ’70s acts including Donna Summer, KISS, Parliament and the Village People – and take on a new producer, Vini Poncia.

ROCK AND ROLL SURVIVORS would turn out to be the band’s final effort. It included the single Butter Boy, which peaked at number 29 on the Billboard singles charts in February, 1975, but by the time the single became a hit there was no band left to promote it.

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