The back story of now-obscure British singer Dana Gillespie is almost too chock full of superstar cameos to be believable. If it were a Hollywood biopic, the theater would be full of incredulous groans by the time her uncanny Forrest Gump zeitgeist radar brought her in contact with a tenth or fifteenth rock icon. There really were people situated at the eye of several overlapping cultural storms, though, and Ms. Gillespie has to rank among the most well-connected recording artists of the 60s and 70s.
As a tween she was a four-time British junior waterskiing champion, an odd tidbit that hardly explains how, at age 13, she was allowed to catch early Yardbirds gigs at the Marquee Club, let alone why it was appropriate for Eric Clapton and his manager to befriend her, offering her first recording contract. A 15-year-old London It Girl in 1964, she met Donovan through a school classmate with whom he happened to be sleeping (giving gross clarity to his "Mellow Yellow" line, "I'm just mad about fourteen"). The Scottish pervert would write Gillespie's first record's fierce Mod single, "You Just Gotta Know My Mind," which featured crisp production and huge Kinks-ish guitar riffs from Jimmy fucking Page. From there, she met and possibly dated Dylan (she's visible onstage at the Royal Albert Hall in Don't Look Back) and shared bills with The Who. She became a star of the burgeoning "rock opera" genre while still a teenager, starring in the original London stage productions of both Tommy and Jesus Christ Superstar, before fully tangling herself up with "old friend" David Bowie, who got her signed to his MainMan Management company with a contract at RCA Records. She would go on to sing soulful backup on Ziggy Stardust's "It Ain't Easy," and have an album produced by Spiders from Mars guitar god Mick Ronson.
Andy Warhol, a reissued collection of the choice cuts from her two RCA records, is a compelling document of a talented singer who just might be the degree of separation binding the entirety of early rock history together. (Christ, at one point she was even romantically involved with Pete Best!)
Andy Warhol begins with its title track, originally written by Bowie for Gillespie to sing. Of course, being a notorious songwriting Indian giver (see: "All the Young Dudes" and "China Girl"), his version hit the stores first on 1971's classic Hunky Dory. Gillespie's take might be better, though, with a smooth FM radio vocal in place of Bowie's hiccupy delivery, providing a tantalizing glimpse into what a glam-inspired Fleetwood Mac song might have sounded like. The song is a head fake for the rest of the collection, which is an odd strain of standard classic rock. Earnest, restrained, I'm-running-off-with-a-rock-band ballad, "Mother Don't Be Frightened," might break into petulant glitterball stomping at any moment. The bawdy barroom blues of "Weren't Born a Man" comes with a scene-appropriate Sapphic twist (what were the girls to do with the made-up boys all playing gay?). Her songs mirror the big stadium cock rock of the 70s, but with more lighters-aloft torch songs and far fewer ejaculatory crescendos. The softly pounded piano of "Backed a Loser" is a predictive puff of the riff that would later anchor "Feel Like Making Love," for example. If her work isn't inspired enough to match that of her famous friends and paramours, it's still an important footnote to a time and place Gillespie navigated so effortlessly. Andy Warhol's evidence that the extremely male-centric canon of British guitar rock is ripe for further revision.