You can imagine how hilarious it was when I was a schoolboy to discover there was a rock group called Fanny. Adding to the overall hilarity, they were GIRLS.
They were also a fantastic rock band as well as being anomalies and outliers at the time: for being female, for being Asian and (in one case) for being gay.
Back in 1970 Fanny were billed by their label, Warner Bros, as “the first all-female rock band,” which wasn’t quite true – but no one remembers Goldie & The Gingerbreads or blink-and-you-missed-them fly-by-nights like The Daughters of Eve, The Freudian Slips, The Moppets, The Bombshells, and The What Four.
More to the point, later in 1970 Fanny, having changed their name first from The Svelts and then Wild Honey, became the first girl group to put out a major-label album.
Formed in California by June and Jean Millington, two teenage Filipina sisters who played guitar and bass, the group was completed by keyboard player Nickey Barclay and drummer Alice de Buhr.
Far more influential than their reputation and brief career suggests, they made five albums in five years and were cited as an influence by The Runaways, The Go-Go’s and The Bangles – all of whom guested on their 2018 comeback album Fanny Walked The Earth.
They also attracted famous fans including Beatles (George Harrison), Kinks, Lowell George and David Bowie, who once called them “One of the finest fucking rock bands of all time in about 1973.”
Speaking in 1999 to Rolling Stone, he added: “They were extraordinary: they wrote everything, they played like motherfuckers, they were just colossal and wonderful, and nobody’s ever mentioned them. They’re as important as anybody else who’s ever been, ever; it just wasn’t their time.”
Speaking of the Thin White Duke, Fanny’s biggest near-hit was Jean Millington’s song Butter Boy about Bowie (opening line: “He was hard as a rock, I was ready to roll”), with whom she had had a brief fling while touring the UK in 1973. It reached a modest no.29 in the Billboard chart two years later.
In another coincidence, Jean Millington ended up marrying Bowie’s guitarist Earl Slick while sister June came out as gay and started the Institute for Musical Arts to promote women in music.
Over the course of four albums, and several line-up changes – including the addition of Suzi Quatro’s sister Patti – they covered Cream’s classic Badge, Marvin Gaye’s Ain’t That Peculiar and, on their fourth album produced by Todd Rundgren, Hey Bulldog by The Beatles.
In between, in an odd move for a hard rock band, Fanny were hired as session musicians by Barbra Streisand when she wanted a rockier sound for an album called Barbra Joan, including a raunchy cover of Carole King’s Where You Lead.
At the height of their modest fame, Fanny toured the UK with Jethro Tull, The Kinks and Humble Pie. But not at the London Palladium, which banned them for being “too sexy.”