#50: Roxy Roller by Sweeney Todd

Peak Month: April 1976
12 weeks on Vancouver’s CKLG chart
Peak Position #1
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ #90
YouTube.com: “Roxy Roller
Lyrics: “Roxy Roller

In 1951 Nick Gilder was born in London, England. In his childhood he moved to Canada and grew up in Vancouver. In the summer of 1973, when he was 22 years old, vocalist Gilder and fellow former high school classmate and guitarist, Jim McCulloch, founded a band called Rasputin. John Booth on drums, Bud Marr on bass and Dan Gaudin on keyboards rounded our the band. Shortly afterward they took the name Sweeney Todd. Their name was inspired by the stage play of the same name by Stephen Sondheim.

The Broadway play is based on the fictional character Sweeney Todd in a serialized penny dreadful featured in 18 installments of the The People’s Periodical and Family Library in London, England, between November 21, 1846, and March 20, 1847. The series was called The String of Pearls: A Romance. In the serial Sweeney Todd is a barber who dispatches his victims by pulling a lever as they sit in his barber chair. His victims fall backward down a revolving trapdoor into the basement of his shop, generally causing them to break their necks or skulls. In case they are alive, Todd goes to the basement and “polishes them off” (slitting their throats with his straight razor). In some adaptations, the murdering process is reversed, with Todd slitting his customers’ throats before dispatching them into the basement through the revolving trapdoor. After Todd has robbed his dead victims of their goods, Mrs. Lovett, his partner in crime, assists him in disposing of the bodies by baking their flesh into meat pies and selling them to the unsuspecting customers of her pie shop.

In 1975 Sweeney Todd got a contract with London Records. Their self-titled debut album was released that summer. It featured the release of “Rock and Roll Story” as the first single. They followed it up with “Sweeney Todd Folder” released while the band was in the middle of a cross-Canada tour. Their next single was “Roxy Roller”.

Roxy Roller by Sweeney Todd

Nick Gilder and Jim McCullouch co-wrote “Roxy Roller”. In an online discussion about the song, one poster named Seeker57ca discusses the context of the song. There was a club in Los Angeles called the Roxy. Back in the mid-70s if men wanted to see pornography, they could go to a live show or watch an adult film at a sleazy theatre. Roxy Roller is a nickname for a very foxy woman who men seek out in this setting.

Seeker57ca writes “Into such a scene comes the foxy Roxy Roller. The men who come to the Roxy really like her for some obvious reasons. …the ‘Roller’ in Roxy Roller indicates she was providing sexual services at the Roxy theatre. It’s dark in the theatre, so it’s a bit of a “flashlight dream” to see this woman and when you get a glimpse of her. She’s got that “peaches and cream” look of the girl next door…. Her “five-bob job” refers to her giving blow-jobs to the patrons for cash… “Bob” was a term for cash in the UK. Nick Gilder was born in London before his family moved to Vancouver. “Bob” has also been used as a slang term for oral sex, especially if the person giving it also plays with the recipients balls. Doing this in a skuzzy theatre, she’s going to end up with bubble gum and other disgusting sticky stuff on her knees. So you know what she was doing down between the seats at the Roxy. If you were ‘lucky,’ sometimes she’d pass you the keys – as in turn you on, get your motor running…” Seeker57ca adds that the reference to “daddy le commissioner” is not in reference to her biological father. It’s a nickname for her pimp. “When it comes to her money, he took more than his share. So the woman known to the theatre pervs only as Roxy Roller, left the jerk because it wasn’t fair. Instead, she joined “the syndicate” – perhaps an escort agency operated by other hookers who decided to run things their way.”

So “Roxy Roller” wasn’t just a song about a woman who liked to go roller skating.

“Roxy Roller” peaked at #1 in Vancouver (BC), Ottawa (ON), Hamilton (ON), London (ON), and Peterborough (ON), #3 in Cleveland, #6 in Toronto, and Lindsay (ON), #7 in Windsor (ON), and Montreal, and #16 in Flint (MI).

“Roxy Roller” went on to win a Juno Award for “Best Selling Single” for Sweeney Todd in 1977. “Roxy Roller” was covered by Susie Quatro in 1977.

The band caught the attention of Chrysalis Records in the ‘States. But as it turned out, were more interested in the writing talents of Gilder and McCulloch than they were in Sweeney Todd. Chrysalis lured the two out of the band, bringing them to LA. Gilder’s departure led to the hiring of Clark Perry as a replacement and new guitarist Skip Prest in 1976. The band re-released “Roxy Roller” with Perry on vocals. Despite it’s success in Canada, the song stalled at #90 on the Billboard Hot 100. At the same time, Perry wasn’t really working out so he was replaced with a 16 year old Bryan Adams. Next, Sweeney Todd recorded a third version of the song with Adams as lead vocalist. In both cases of the remake the song was simply the new vocalist’s overdubbing the same music. Adams’ version identical to the original. When Sweeney Todd was awarded a  Juno in 1977 for Best New Group, it was Bryan Adams who went on stage to accept the award.

Unable to secure a new deal for the band, Sweeney Todd disbanded in the spring of 1978. South of the border, Gilder’s second solo album spawned the hit “Hot Child In The City”. The single went to #1 both in Canada’s RPM chart and the Billboard Hot 100. It also earned Gilder two more Juno Awards: “Single of the Year” and for Most Promising Male Vocalist of the Year in Canada. He also won a People’s Choice Award in the US. “Hot Child in the City” stalled outside the Top 40 in the UK. Gilder had subsequent singles, but with only minimal success in Canada and none that cracked the US Top 40. Gilder has gone on to write songs recorded by Bette Midler, Joe Cocker, Pat Benetar, Herbie Hancock, Susie Quatro and others. In 1984, Gilder co-wrote “The Warrior”, which became a Top Ten international hit for Scandal. Over his career Nick Gilder has released 28 singles and eight studio albums.

March 27, 2023
Ray McGinnis

Nick Gilder, “Nick Gilder bio,” Canadian Bands.com
Nick Gilder, “Sweeney Todd bio,” Canadian Bands.com
Prest, Thomas Preckett and Rymer, Malcolm James. The String of Pearls: A Romance. The People’s Periodical and Family Library, London, 1846-47.
Steve Newton, “30 years ago: Nick Gilder on his new LP and his “ironic” replacement in Sweeney Todd,” Georgia Straight, Vancouver, BC, October 16, 2015
Nick Gilder, “The Warrior“, Wikipedia.org.

CKLG Top 30,” CKLG 730 AM, Vancouver, BC, April 20, 1976.

For more song reviews visit the Countdown.

2 responses to “Roxy Roller by Sweeney Todd”

  1. Dustin says:

    This is still a big hit in the small town bars. I had no idea that this seemingly happy sounding song was so filthy ; )

  2. Matthew Asher says:

    ‘Back in the day’ – We use to see Nick Gilder every now and then when he lived near Confederation Park in North Burnaby. Remember when Sweeney Todd played SFU (1976). There were some sound issues and they asked the audience if anyone can play keyboards. Rob Bailey (now a member of Strange Advance) volunteered and played for the duration of the gig.

Leave a Reply

Sign Up For Our Newsletter