A middle-American recording studio resonates to Bobby Vee and Rick Nelson recording their latest hits. Pure Californian fascism-of-sunshine, Johnny Generic spreading his identikit lifestyle across the world. A young Englishman, retreating from his day job as a BBC sound engineer, has worked his way inside.
"I wanted to work with Joe Meek, but I couldn't get on his side. He lives in a world of his own, in Holloway Road ... my ambition is to create an imaginary rock'n'roll singer, to animate a personal fantasy, and then allow this fragile semi-human to lurk his way around the business, and see whether he survives."
The genes are allocated. Del Shannon suddenly exists. A harsh flourish, a melodic rumble, and the fantasy is away. There may still be an overtone of "authenticity" to the piano on "Runaway", but there's something pulling it along, a propulsion unknown outside that Holloway Road flat and the nascent Radiophonic Workshop, that makes it stand out. The musitron solo in the middle, of course, might as well have come from a different planet to anything else in this year of sun-dappled Kennedy / Macmillan complacency. It excites and jumps, designed to activate us at a time when most other music seems to have been created to send us to sleep.
"That's not enough. I need another song that keeps you in everyone's consciousness, makes sure you are remembered. When I've let go, it will never be this easy. And I cannot guarantee that this music will never be misappropriated by unashamedly racist composers of West End musicals."
"Hats off to Larry" is the second creation. Each chord change is even more immaculate, sounding like it was engineered from space. The closing flourish really does sound like a fragile electronic rocker, losing his drive to continue.
The fade-out is enough. John Baker gently winds down his creation. Left to drift through the industry, he is soon immaculately absorbed into his surrounds. When he records a song written by Roger Miller, it is clear that this artifactual rock'n'roll singer has effectively ceased to exist. For years he lurks around as a walking shell, a man whose body neglected to die with his humanity (although 1965's "Keep Searchin' (We'll Follow The Sun)" is a tantalising display of what might have been). Some of the spirit was pushed into unlikely places by Pierre Henry and Michel Colombier, and by the Mael brothers, but it languished mostly unnoticed.
Some years later, another spirit of the same name was unleashed. He sang many of the same songs on nostalgia tours with the people recording in the next studios when his predecessor had first been brought to life, and recorded new material with Dave Edmunds, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne. When told of the death of this impostor, John Baker was philosophical:
"I think it was the same man, underneath. There was something of me left in my creation. He died before he could be forced into the Travelling Wilburys."
Robin Carmody, January 2000
The return trip: