Clap Your Hands & Stamp Your Feet: The Joy of Glam Rock
Last Saturday evening, I happened to be in Co-Op when Metal Guru by T. Rex came on over the public address system, followed a few minutes later by Slade’s Mama Weer All Crazee Now. As I walked the aisles, I realised that I was delaying my trip to the checkout to see what else they might play, as well as checking the other customers in the shop to see if they’d had the same glimmer of recognition that I had, but there was nothing. In some respects, this was hardly surprising. Both of these songs were released in the year that I was born. They’re part of somebody else’s childhood, not mine. Glam rock, however, is a part of our musical heritage, and there’s considerably more to it than meets the eye.
Children Of The Revolution
A quick thought experiment. Close your eyes and think of “glam rock.” What springs to mind? If it’s the music itself, it’s probably a little more diverse than you might at first expect, from the art school sophistication of Bowie or Roxy Music to the unashamedly backward looking rock & roll revivalism of Wizzard or Mud, the single-entendre nursery rhymes of The Sweet or the full-throated roar of Noddy Holder. But even all of that’s nowhere near its totality. When we think of glam rock, we think of something approaching an entire sensory experience. The visual aesthetic of the clothes and hair were as radical as anything that punk could muster, while the sheer breadth of influences meant that, if it can be counted in any way as a movement, then anybody from the cerebrally-minded to would-be football hooligan could find something to match their mood.
This was likely a reflection on the origins of those who came to define the genre during its period of pomp. There wasn’t a single, unified glam rock “scene.” There was no central geographic location around which its progenitors mixed, more a ballroom of the mind, in which different acts and styles congregated in different areas. If glam rock did centre around London, this was primarily because many of its most influential acts had already been knocking around for a few years. There are plenty of references to such things as “children of the revolution”, “teenage dreams” and “rock-a-billy parties” within glam rock, but there were few teenagers involved in the actual making of this music. In an industry already known for an obsession with youth, glam rock wasn’t performed by “the kids” themselves. Its acts were a little older than that.
It is commonly assented that glam rock arrived into the consciousness of the nation, fully-formed in February 1971 with T. Rex performing Hot Love on Top Of The Pops. There is no question that this performance, Bolan resplendent with his corkscrew hair and a striking silver jacket, was the first example of a fully-formed glam rock star to be seen on the television, Bolan didn’t miraculously materialise from another planet. He’d been knocking around folk and prog rock circles since the middle of the previous decade and it’s partly from here that we can trace the origins of glam rock from a musical standpoint.
By the start of the 1970s, pop music was for the first time starting back as well as forward. Tin Pan Alley, or the concept of songs being the end result of a production line process, was considerably older than rock and roll itself and glam rock took some of its stylistic cues from its most recent incarnation, the bubblegum fad of the late 1960s. It was also, however, a reaction against much of what had preceded it. Prog rock had become the dominant “serious” genre to emerge from the counter-culture of the the previous three or four years. Hair was grown out. Beards replaced the clean shaven look of the early to mid sixties. Clothes were understated. “Authenticity” became the orthodoxy. It’s not difficult to see the appeal of rejecting this new seriousness in favour of something that aspired towards fame and glamour.
To characterise all glam rock bands as having the same musical agenda would be plainly ridiculous, but the extent to which there was an overlap can be surprising. Two of the most fondly remembered songs of the era, for example, are David Bowie’s Jean Genie and Blockbuster by The Sweet, which, despite the acts coming from quite different areas of the artistic spectrum, both have a hook built from an identical guitar riff (both acts have consistently claimed that the similarity was a coincidence, and The Yardbirds’ version of I’m A Man has been suggested as the likely influence on both.) Both of these songs, as well as much of the early output of T. Rex, seem to take their stylistic cue from Spirit In The Sky, which had been a surprise hit single for Norman Greenbaum in 1970, whilst a further form of proto-glam, in terms of being an outrageous onstage presence, might be seen in Fire, which had also been a surprise hit single in 1968 for The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
Gonna Make You A Star
Both Brown and Greenbaum, however, had suffered the fate of ending up as one hit wonders. To build a steadier foundation than either of these two had managed would require something extra, which is where the need for the involvement of extremely talented song-writers and producers starts to become clearer. From a production perspective, Bowie stuck with Ken Scott, a sixties veteran, through Space Oddity and The Man Who Sold The World as an engineer and then as co-producer on Hunky Dory and The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars. Marc Bolan, on the other hand, worked with Tony Visconti, who’d produced The Man Who Sold The World for Bowie and would go on to produce him until Blackstar, which was released just two days before Bowie’s death in 2016.
At the bubblegum end of the spectrum, meanwhile, the undisputed kings of the backroom were song-writers Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, and producer Mickie Most. Chinn and Chapman first met in 1970, setting themselves up as a song-writing duo which would come to define the genre for those who preferred their glam light and frothy. Most had set up RAK Records in 1969, and Chinn & Chapman (who became known as the contraction “Chinnichap”) were hired as song-writers for his label. They worked with Mud and Suzi Quatro at RAK, but also with The Sweet, all of whose hit singles up until 1975 were written by them until the band grew weary of being given bubblegum to perform when they wanted to move in a rockier direction and Chapman’s control freakery in the recording studio.
Perhaps the most curious coming together of songwriter and performer of the era, however, was that of Peter Shelley (not the recently-deceased Buzzcocks singer) and Alvin Stardust. Bernard Jewry had been working as a roadie for the band Shane Fenton & The Fentones in 1961 when their singer died shortly after the band had sent an audition tape to the BBC. A couple of days after his death, the BBC replied to the band offering them a second audition for their Saturday Club radio show. After consulting with Fenton’s mother – who confirmed that it was what Shane would have wanted – Jewry stood in, the band successfully completed their audition, and went on to release a handful of singles before splitting up in 1964.
Almost a decade later, Jewry was working in music management when Shelley came up with his leap into the bandwagon with a character loosely based on Ziggy Stardust – which was in turn a caricature based upon early 1960s rocker Vince Taylor – called Alvin Stardust. Shelley reluctantly performed his single, My Coo Ca Choo, as Stardust on the Granada TV show Lift Off With Ayshea despite having no particular interest in performing live or making public appearances (“I dressed the part — a glitter-suited recluse who had been living in Spain — and to my surprise it went on the charts the next week” was Shelley’s own comment on his sudden, unexpected, and not entirely welcome fame), and when it became clear that further live appearances would be required, Jewry was roped in to take on the Stardust persona.
Shortly before his debut live appearance on Top Of The Pops, however, near-disaster struck for the newly-christened Stardust. Realising that he needed to reinvent himself somewhat considering the small amount of success that he’d had with the Fentones, he decided to dye his hair black, only to find, once he’d finished black streaks down the side of his face and purple stains all over his hands, which he found impossible to scrub off. The following morning, he had sideburns stuck on at a theatrical wig-makers to cover up the marks on his face, whilst the purple stains on his hands had to be covered up with black gloves. That night’s performance, however, would go on to become one of the defining of the era. My Coo Ca Choo reached number two in the charts and its successor, My Jealous Mind, would go one better the following year. Jewry would retain the Stardust persona for the rest of his musical career.
For Your Pleasure
The list of aesthetic influences upon glam rock is, of course, as long as the number of people who performed it. From a perspective of pop stars themselves, Little Richard’s sharp suits, flamboyant stage act and cat-like yelps (one might even suggest the fact that he was a 1950s rock & roller) make him an obvious candidate for glam’s patron saint, but influences were as likely to come from outside of music as inside it. A huge constituent part of the glam rock was theatricality. Oscar Wilde and Noël Coward – whose ‘sense of personal style, a combination of cheek and chic, pose and poise’ was noted by Time magazine – are natural stylistic influences in terms of attitude. Literature and culture also have to be taken into account, though.
Science fiction left a clear mark on both Bowie and Brian Eno, the keyboard player and composer whose stay with Roxy Music would turn out to be brief but explosive. Andy Warhol had been a considerable influence on Bowie, and the pop art movement of the 1950s and 1960s may in a broad sense have been an influence upon the extent to which glam rock was prepared, in reaction to the seriousness and growing pomposity of prog, to treat itself as deliberately artificial and disposable, when it suited to do so. The Ziggy Stardust character, for example, was retired by Bowie as soon as the summer of 1973, allowing him to move on to artistic pastures new.
The other big theme that ran through the glam rock aesthetic was, of course, gender ambiguity, sexual ambiguity, and androgyny. Possibly the definitive image of the whole glam rock era is that of Bowie on Top Of The Pops in July 1972, casually and affectionately throwing his arm over the shoulder of guitarist Mick Ronson during their performance of Starman and playfully waving his finger at the camera as he sings the line, “I had to phone someone so I picked on you.” Bowie had come out in an interview with the Melody Maker’s Michael Watts six months earlier, but these were, in media consumption, very different times. With just three television channels in the UK and no video cassette recorders, catching an appearance by any particular act on the television was difficult in a way that people growing up these days might not even be able to understand.
Homosexuality had been decriminalised in the UK in 1967, but while this country remained a wildly homophobic place throughout the 1970s (and beyond), glam rock was just one manifestation of a change that was inevitable once this legalisation had occurred. The Stonewall riots had occurred in June 1969 in New York and the first Gay Pride march followed on the first anniversary, a year later. London followed suit, in 1972. With the lyrical content of much glam rock being broadly apolitical, little was said on the subject explicitly, but this shifting vista of gender and sexuality was clear from the moment that Marc Bolan took to the stage with Hot Love in 1971.
The make-up and glitter was obvious, as were the platform heels and feather boas, but ambiguous hints were everywhere, even at the schlagery end of the spectrum. Alvin Stardust’s My Coo Ca Choo found the singer inviting a “Tom cat” back to “my flat” (there’s a whole book to be written deconstructing the words to this particular song), whilst Mud had guitarist Rob Davies and his penchant for ballroom gowns on Top Of The Pops and Sweet had bassist Steve Priest and his distinctive vocal interjections (“We just haven’t got a clue what to do!”), coquettish winks, waves and kisses to the camera, and, it often felt, deliberately parent-baiting outfits. Lou Reed’s 1972 album Transformer contained Walk On The Wild Side, with its references to prostitution, transsexuals, drugs and oral sex.
The other big influence on glam rock in the UK may well be the launch of colour television. Having started on BBC2 in 1967, it took two years for colour broadcasts to percolate through to all three available channels, with BBC1 making the switch in November 1969 and ITV starting to do the same the following month. It wasn’t until 1976 that sales of colour television sets started to finally out-strip sales of black & white sets (the prohibitively high cost of colour sets being the biggest reason for this), but upon launch broadcasters were immediately keen on showing off the new technology, and it seems unlikely to be a complete coincidence that, shortly colour television moved onto the country’s two mass audience channels, a generation of new artists would become the first to actively seek to break free from the monochrome of the past and embrace a future that came in all the colours of the rainbow. The music of the future, it was already apparent, would be an audio-visual experience.
20th Century Boy
It is tempting to think that, as a devotee of Bob Dylan, Marc Bolan might even have been quietly pleased when some of his older fans were outraged by his decision to turn electric. Echoes of the Electric Dylan controversy may well have been in his mind. By the time that Hot Love was released, though, there had already been clues that this might be the direction that he would be taking. Forming Tyrannosaurus Rex as an acoustic folk act in 1967 had brought him minor success, but his previous work had started to show signs of experimentation with electric sounds, particularly King Of The Rumbling Spires, which utilised a full rock set-up when released in the summer of 1969.
Hot Love, though, topped the charts, as did Get It On (which was renamed Bang A Gong in America in order to avoid confusion with a recently-released record of the same name there), which further ironed the folk out of T Rex’s sound – the band had shortened its name on the advice of producer Tony Visconti – and the success would continue until the end of 1973. Up to the end of 1972, five further singles – Jeepster, Telegram Sam, Metal Guru, Children of the Revolution, and Solid Gold Easy Action – all made either number one or number two in the charts, while two albums, Electric Warrior and The Slider, were also released over this period. Publicist BP Fallon coined the phrase “T. Rextasy” describe the hysteria which surrounded the band throughout 1971 and 1972, but the release of 20th Century Boy in 1973 turned out to mark the end of an era. It reached number three in the charts, possibly because it hadn’t been included on that year’s album release Tanx, but T. Rex would never get so high in the charts again. Within twelve months, Bolan’s single releases couldn’t even reach the top ten in the UK charts.
By 1970 David Bowie, was starting to gain a reputation as being something close to a novelty artist, with the only two of his singles released during the previous decade to have charted being The Laughing Gnome and Space Oddity. The release of the album The Man Who Sold The World that year, however, began the process of his reinvention into a pop star cum performance artist, and the subsequent releases of Hunky Dory in 1971 and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars the following year saw strong sales, which were reflected in his single releases from Jean Genie on. While he wouldn’t top the singles chart until Space Oddity was re-released in 1975, though, Aladdin Sane did so in the album charts in 1973, the year that he retired the Ziggy Stardust character at the end of a show at the Hammersmith Odeon. In 1974, he relocated to the USA, staying first in New York and then California, and that year also saw the recording of the documentary Cracked Actor, which documented his slide into cocaine addiction as much as that year’s Diamond Dogs tour, which was what it had been supposed to be featuring above everything else.
The perpetual reinvention of Bowie was likely what kept his career so effervescent as the other giants of glam started to fall from favour after 1975. So much has been written and said about his musical career that there’s little else to be said about that, but there’s little question that he was the most influential artist that you’ll see here. It is a reflection upon his ability and imagination that he was able to make such radical artistic moves whilst maintaining commercial success of any sort. Plenty of other bands and singers have been considerably more conservative yet failed to engage the interest of the public to the extent to which Bowie did. He wasn’t the most commercially successful glam rock artist during its brief period of peak popularity, but his career was surely the greatest in both scope and length.
Love Is The Drug
Another band who would have members who would remain in the A list for decades was Roxy Music. Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno both remain rock loyalty, and as of February 2018 Ferry told an interviewer that, “I’d like to do some more stuff with him again… he’s such an interesting character and such fun to work with.” and that, it comes down to “finding a window of opportunity for both of us.” They’ve worked together since reconciling some years ago, and have worked together several times since. Roxy Music were founded by Ferry at the end of 1970, first as a two-piece band, with Eno part of the expansion, several months later. Their entry into the charts in August 1972 was as bold as they come. Virginia Plain wasn’t on their debut album, which had come out earlier that year, and with Eno’s electronics and organ all over it and Ferry’s unique voice slathering over the top, nothing else quite sounded like it.
Under the surface, though, things were getting tense within Roxy Music. After a series of arguments – it is said that Eno took issue with the degree of control that Ferry held over the band – Brian Eno left Roxy Music. Leaving at the end of a promotional tour for Roxy’s second album, he would go on to become the Mozart of electronic music – constantly perfecting, constantly searching for new ideas. His involvement with them was much of the glam in the band, renowned as he was for his onstage outfits. His first solo album, Here Come The Warm Jets, featuring the exquisitely weird Baby’s On Fire, was the first step on the way to a solo career of perpetual innovation. His departure was a large factor in Roxy Music’s fade away from glam rock, increasingly becoming an extension of Ferry’s persona and, increasingly, his personality.
Get Down And Get With It
Arguably the biggest commercial juggernaut of the glam rock era came from the other end of art to cabaret spectrum. Slade had been knocking around since the middle of the 1960s in various forms, building themselves a small reputation as The ‘N Betweens before changing their name to Ambrose Slade in 1969, contracting it to Slade shortly afterwards. After a flop of a debut album, the band briefly allied themselves to the skinhead movement of the time, before unwelcome associations with football hooliganism pushed them to grow their hair out and change direction again. A cover version of Little Richard’s Get Down & Get With It got into the top twenty in the summer of 1971, but it was the release of Coz I Luv You later in the year that propelled the band to number one for the first time, beginning a run of hit single success not seen since The Beatles. Over the next three years, Slade would have five further UK number one singles, three of which would enter the charts in the top spot.
By the end of 1973, the Slade experience was familiar to millions. The deliberate misspelling of their song titles was primary school transgression, enough to irritate teachers and make the band beloved by a younger audience, whilst their sound – best characterised Noddy Holder’s barrage balloon lungs, guitarist Dave Hill’s heavy guitar riffs, drummer Don Powell’s shuffling paradiddles, and a cacophony of hand-claps – matched songs which continued the football terrace feel their brief spell as a skinhead band, a further nod to which could be found in Hill’s famous “Super Yob” guitar of 1974. Designed by a Scottish teacher by the name of John Birch, this extraordinary looking instrument was by all accounts considerably more fun to look at than to actually play.
If Slade did what they could to colonise the number one position in the UK charts between the end of 1971 and the end of 1973, then it might be said that The Sweet did the same to the number two position between 1973 and 1975. Formed as Sweetshop in 1968, it took three years and three non-charting singles before they made their UK television debut in December 1970, as Peter Shelley did some years later, on Lift Off With Ayshea, performing Funny Funny, which reached number thirteen in the UK charts. It wasn’t until the 1972 release of Wig Wam Bam that the bands transition from bubblegum to glam rock took its most significant stylistic turn, with Steve Priest singing the line “try a little touch, try a little too much” in the chorus – Priest’s vocals would go on to become one of their trademarks – and a move towards a more flamboyant onstage appearance.
What followed was a run of singles to rank in quality alongside any produced by a single act throughout the entire decade. Blockbuster! hit the number one spot in January 1973, a shimmering dream-like three minutes of pop perfection, and this was followed by Hell Raiser, Ballroom Blitz, Teenage Rampage, The Six Teens and Turn It Down. By the start of 1975, however, it was clear that the band was pulling in different directions to their song-writers, producers and managers. The 1974 album Desolation Boulevard marked a significant move towards the hard rock style that the band was playing and one of the tracks, Fox On The Run, had to be glittered up for release as a single at the start of 1975. Described by the fanzine Bomp! as “a definitive hard-rock bubblegum record” and “one of the last glitter classics”, it was the first single release written by the band themselves rather than Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, it hit the number one spot in three countries, number two in the UK and, the following years, reached the top ten in the USA, their best-selling single there since Ballroom Blitz, three years earlier.
Roll Away The Stone
It would be a little unfair to say that pop music was becoming middle-aged by the end of the 1960s, but the new “maturity” of the generation that followed the “Summer of Love” certainly did a good job of fostering that impression. Formed as the Doc Thomas Group in 1966 with members from Hereford and Ross-on-Wye, they changed their name in 1969 and released two albums, one of which became a cult hit and the other of which flopped, leading to the band being on the point of splitting up by the end of 1971. Fortunately for them (as things turned out), though, they had at least one very influential fan. David Bowie – that man again – had been a fan of the band for some time, and persuaded them to stay together, first offering them Suffragette City and then, when this was turned down, writing All The Young Dudes for them.
Released as a single in the summer of 1972, All The Young Dudes reached number three in the UK charts. Stylistically compared to Bowie’s Rock & Roll Suicide, interpretations of the song’s meaning have been many and varied, with the NME describing it as “one of that rare breed: rock songs which hymn the solidarity of the disaffected without distress or sentimentality”, while Lou Reed described it as “a rallying call to the young dudes to come out in the streets and show that they were beautiful and gay and proud of it.” Two further singles followed, but by the end of 1973 the membership of the band was starting to change considerably, and the last hurrah for the original incarnation of Mott came with Roll Away The Stone, which features the last involvement of guitarist Mick Ralphs (he was leaving to form Bad Company) and all-female backing vocalists Thunderthighs – who’d previously performed the backing vocals for Walk On The Wild Side – with Lyndsey de Paul providing the spoken word lines in the song’s bridge.
Curiously, singer Ian Hunter later claimed that the song was almost snatched from them by The Hollies, a member of whom was alleged by Hunter to have approached the publishing company to record the song and, when informed that this was a Mott The Hoople song, claimed that the band had given permission for his band to use it. Roll Away The Stone reached number eight in the UK charts at the start of 1974, but Hunter, who was thirty-five years old by 1974, left the band by the end of that year. Mott The Hoople’s other major contribution to rock music culture came with Hunter’s book Diary Of A Rock & Roll Star, which was brutal in its depiction of the unglamorous nature of the band’s 1972 US tour. A failure to reprint it made it a cult classic, and it remains one of the most highly-regarded songs ever written about rock music. Mott The Hoople might be considered a meta-rock band in some respects.
See My Baby Jive
Coming at the retro angle from a somewhat different angle to Mott the Hoople were Mud, who wore their Elvis influence on their collective sleeve to such an extent that they ended up spending Christmas at number one with a cover of one of his songs at the end of 1974, as glam rock generally started to wither on the vine. Formed in Carshalton, Surrey in 1966, they had several failed singles behind them before teaming up with Mickie Most, Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn at RAK in 1973, eventually puncturing the top ten with the outstanding Dyna-Mite in the autumn of 1973. While the following year was a slightly disappointing one for some of glam’s previously most successful bands, though, Mud had a hugely successful 1974, with the stomp-a-long Tiger Feet becoming 1974’s biggest-selling single, its follow-up The Cat Crept In getting to number two and Lonely This Christmas ending the year as the Christmas number one.
Another perspective on the past came courtesy Wizzard, who were unique amongst the glam rock bands in having been formed by an established star in the form of Roy Wood, whose profile was already high as a result of his previous involvement with The Move. Wizzard came about in 1971 as a result of musical incompatibility with Jeff Lynne (following Wood’s departure, The Move would morph into ELO). Being an established star conferred certain advantages upon Wizzard. They made their live debut at Wembley Stadium, for example, at The Rock & Roll Show in August 1972, whilst Wood’s relationship with “Lift Off With” Ayshea Brough ensured them a television debut shortly afterwards.
Drawing on early rock and roll as a primary influence, they reached the number one spot with See My Baby Jive and Angel Fingers, both of which employed a pastiche of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound effect, but despite this success they were done by 1975, beset by health issues brought about by a heavy touring schedule which were required on account of financial difficulties caused in no small part by high studio costs and the group’s lavish live shows. Never one to shirk putting on a show, Wood’s live performances would frequently end with instruments being smashed to pieces. With the band being unable to earn a regular wage, Wizzard’s shelf-life was always likely to be somewhat limited.
Life On Mars?
Glam rock wasn’t exclusively a British phenomenon, of course. Suzi Quatro moved to London from California in 1971 after having spent much of the previous decade trying and failing to establish herself in the USA. She teamed up with Mickie Most, who had been looking for a female voice to fill a gap in the market left by the death of Janis Joplin, and after an unsuccessful debut single and a spell supporting Slade and The Sweet on tour, Most hooked her up with Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, who supplied her with a series of songs that burst to the top of the charts across Europe, including 48 Crash, Devilgate Drive and the magnificently nonsensical Can The Can, the song for which she is probably best-remembered to this day. Her recording career was starting to stall by 1975, but her elevated status opened doors and she subsequently pursued a career in acting, most notably featuring as the Fonz’s girlfriend Leather Tuscadero in the hit sitcom Happy Days. It’s probably the role for which she remains best known in America to this day.
There might be semantic debates to be had over the dividing line between glam rock and shock rock, but in the early 1970s Alice Cooper certainly looked like glam from the macabre end of the spectrum. Cooper arrived in the UK with a degree of infamy as a result of what came to be known as the “chicken incident.” At a festival in Toronto in 1969, a chicken which was being used as a live prop was killed, resulting in a media frenzy. Frank Zappa called Cooper to ask if the most lurid story, which reported that Cooper had bitten off the chicken’s head and drunk its blood on stage, was true and, when Cooper denied it, telling him, “Well, whatever you do, don’t tell anyone you didn’t do it.” When his single School’s Out was released in the UK in the summer of 1972, the religious television clean-up campaigner Mary Whitehouse persuaded the BBC to ban the song. When it subsequently reached number one in the charts (during, but of course, the school holidays), Cooper sent her a bunch of flowers in gratitude for the publicity. Later in the year, Elected featured one of the very first promotional videos with a narrative. By the early 1990s, Cooper was worthy of being told that “we’re not worthy” by Wayne and Garth in Wayne’s World.
If Alice Cooper was the bridging point between glam rock and heavy rock, then The New York Dolls were the same for punk. Formed in 1971, they were first invited to the UK by Rod Stewart to open for him, but whilst on a British tour in November 1972 drummer Billy Murcia died of asphyxiation following a drug overdose. After being signed by Mercury records, their eponymous debut album received poor reviews by a music press that quite possibly didn’t understand them, but whilst their second album, Too Much Too Soon, had a slightly more refined sound and was critically better received, it didn’t sell again and the band were dropped by their label soon afterwards. The New York Dolls might not have sounded like any of the other glam rock bands, but their influence on the punk bands that followed them is clear and the glam rock influence in their look and stage performance is undeniable.
At the artistic end of the spectrum, meanwhile, were Sparks. Their second album, released in 1971, had led to a tour of the United Kingdom, including a residency at the Marquee Club in London, and the success of this led in turn to the band starting to grow a following, and relocating to the UK in 1973. A string of startling television appearances off the back of the release of the album Kimono My House – including the single This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us – showcasing the Mael brothers, Russell with long hair, cavorting wildly and Ron sitting almost stock still at his keyboard with a toothbrush moustache, eyeing the audience and cameras as though he had plans for them as soon as the song ended, propelled them into the public consciousness. This performance art rock increased the band’s following, and they would remain an occasional presence in the UK singles chart for some years.
Europe was a fertile market for glam rock sales, but less so for artists. Possibly the most thriving scene came in the Netherlands, a previously socially conservative country which underwent considerable social change during the 1960s, in no small part on account of counter-cultural groups such as Provo. Shocking Blue were the first Dutch group to break through in the UK and the USA, with their 1970 single Venus reaching the number one spot in the USA and the top ten in the UK. Venus would be brought back to public attention when covered by Bananarama in 1986 while another of their songs, Love Buzz, achieved long overdue recognition two decades after its original release when it was covered by Nirvana as their debut single in 1988. In 1974, meanwhile, rock band Golden Earring reached the number six position in the USA and the number seven position in the UK singles charts with the mildly unsettling Radar Love.
Nederglam – there were sufficient Dutch glam artists for it to warrant a name of its own – followed in their footsteps. Its two most memorable artists were Bonnie St Claire, who had a minor hit in 1972 with Clap Your Hands Stamp Your Feet and, even more noteworthily, Pantherman. A 1974 creation of producer Frank Klunhaar inspired (somehow) by seeing Roxy Music play live in Rotterdam, Pantherman was an androgynous character in a black PVC costume accompanied at all times by a toy panther held in one hand. He only managed two EPs, neither of which were commercially successful, but it’s undeniable that he was one of the more striking acts of the era. “I am your Pantherman, I’ll show you my paws, I am your Pantherman, I’ll show you my claws” is clearly a lyric that deserves further consideration.
Merry Xmas Everybody
Considering the glitter, the tinsel and the booze, it should probably come as no great surprise that the race to have the Christmas number one single should have been pretty fierce in 1973. That winter, with fuel rationing, power cuts and a government apparently now perpetually at war with trade unions, was an extremely difficult one in the UK. Slade bassist Jim Lea’s mother-in-law suggested to him at the end of 1972 that the band record a song “like White Christmas”, the idea stuck in his head, even though he’d at first dismissed it to himself as a stupid idea. In July 1973, drummer Don Powell was involved in a serious road accident (which killed his fiancee and left Powell with two broken ankles, five broken ribs, and unconscious for six full days), and the band flew out to New York to help him recover – it wasn’t known whether he’d even play the drums again for a while – and ended up recording the song, which Holder had ended up writing at his parents’ house after a “night on the ale”, in the heat of a sweltering New York summer.
Shortly before the release of the single, though, it became apparent that there was a rival for that coveted number one position. It had been kept under wraps, but Roy Wood had also written a Christmas song (which, due to its production, could almost pass for something from the Phil Spector Christmas album) for Wizzard. As things turned out, though, it wasn’t that much of a contest. Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day has become a Christmas standard, of course, but Slade sold 500,000 copies of Merry Xmas Everybody on pre-orders alone, then added another 400,000 on its first day of release and somehow stayed at number one until the 19th January 1974. It’s estimated that Holder and Lea still earn between £500,000 and £1m per year in various royalties per year, whilst I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day is believed to being in around £180,000 a year. The following year, Mud sat at the top with their cover of Lonely This Christmas.
Boogiest Bands In Town
There’s something fundamentally British about the entire concept of “light entertainment.” It’s a broad area and more difficult to define than it feels it should be. It’s safe. It’s family-friendly. Designed to appeal to a mass audience. But it’s something else, too. It’s a comedian in a bow tie, an exchange of words with a band leader, a series of visual cues And there’s nothing wrong with it, in its own way. There are different tastes and different markets. Not all culture can or should come from art colleges. Light entertainment is a set of principles as much as anything else, though, and those principles permeated through much of our popular culture. It wasn’t all bad, either. Chicken in a basket glam had plenty to commend it.
Good production was important. Consider Do You Want To Dance? by Barry Blue (danced to here by Pan’s People.) the song has an eerily dislocated, remote, and icy sheen to it. It’s dance music for people without a soul, but it’s unsual enough to catch the attention and propel itself along. The black hole at its heart gives it life. But compare that version of the song with this re-recording by the Top Of The Pops Orchestra. The margins can be fine, and they’re not easy to get right, and the corrective alchemy of the producer was necessary to bring some songs to life. Son Of My Father by Chicory Tip, for example, is no more than a moderate song, but the production skills of Giorgio Moroder (who also wrote it) give it an other-worldliness that lifts it out of the mire.
And the weird and the curious is around every corner. Here are Kenny performing Fancy Pants, a song which combines a troubling amount of insight into the mind of the young man of the 1970s (“One night stands and boogie bands is all she wants to know” – oh, is that right, Super K?) with some proper shouting and the bold move of combining both falsetto and basso profundo vocals within the same chorus, all whilst wearing amongst the worst outfits adorned for Top Of The Pops. In much better-dressed on TV territory, David Essex might only have lightly brushed against the concept of glam, but songs of the era such as Rock On, Gonna Make You A Star, and Streetfight all have something of the unsual about them.
Remember Me This Way
So, Gary Glitter, then. On the one hand, it is an open and shut case. Gary Glitter is a paedophile. In 1999, he was sent to prison for four months and placed on the sex offenders register after admitting downloading 4,000 child pornography images, and in 2006 he was sentenced to three years in prison in Vietnam on charges of committing obscene acts with two girls, aged ten and eleven. In 2012, he was convicted on one count of attempted rape, four counts of indecent assault, and one of having sex with a girl under the age of thirteen. It’s not very nice to be reminded of this, but it’s important that we remember the gravity of what he did.
On the other, though, the binary nature of ending the conversation there is unsatisfactory. This shutting down of discussion concerning the merits or otherwise of his music doesn’t take into account that we should have the option to seperate the art from the artist, should we wish to. In the case of Gary Glitter, he’s barely even there at all on some of the records and, taken entirely on their own merits, some of the music has merit. Rock & Roll Part Two is a solid burst of noise, neither improved or worsened for his cursory involvement. I Love You Love You Me Love is basically stripper music with a half-baked fifties ballad trowelled on top of it. Hello Hello I’m Back Again is single-mindedly stomp-a-long to the point of being primal.
It is understandable in a way that the BBC should wish to cut him from episodes of, say, Top Of The Pops. They have to pay a performance fee with every repeat, and whether right or wrong, “BBC Payments to Gary Glitter” isn’t a strong newspaper headline in comparison with just snipping him out. It’s to be hoped, however, that they have at least kept copies of the full versions. These performances and these songs are cultural artifacts and they have a right to exist in and of themselves, and people have the right to appreciate them. After all, it’s hardly as though his name can sink much lower in the public’s estimation than where it already resides.
Whatever Happened To The Teenage Dream?
Marc Bolan, of course, was killed in a car crash in 1977. David Bowie died at the age of sixty-nine, just over three years ago. Johnny Thunders, guitarist with The New York Dolls, died in 1991, and Mick Ronson of the Spiders From Mars followed him two years later. Brian Connolly, singer with The Sweet died in 1997 whilst drummer Mick Tucker passed in 2002. Les Gray and Dave Mount, half of Mud have also died, as have Lou Reed and Alvin Stardust. A familiar mixture of hard living and bad luck. On the flipside of this coin, however, there are plenty who are still going. Alice Coooper is still touring – he tours the USA this summer – whilst Bryan Eno and Bryan Ferry are still working, even if they haven’t collaborated for a while, now. The Roy Wood Rock & Roll Band still gigs, whilst Ian Hunter scraped the lower reaches of the charts with his last album, which was released in 2016.
Glam Rock, however, will outlive all of its protagonists, because music usually does. The next incarnation of the rebelling young person after glam rock was punk, with bands such as The New York Dolls and The Only Ones bridging that divide. Punk took some of its cues from glam, not least a strong interest in provoking older generations. The hedonism of the movement was absorbed into disco (Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn would work their production magic on Blondie, adding a disco sheen in places to their 1979 album Parallel Lines), whilst the peacockery found a home with the new romantics. In the USA, Quiet Riot took an obviously inferior version of Cum On Feel The Noize into the top ten, and glam metal would appropriate some of the stylistic cues from the 1970s. Its peak may have only lasted for three years or so, but it’s left a long vapour trail behind it.
And it was both necessary and inevitable, all of this. Pop music culture has become so stultified in the twenty-first century that a time when culture and fashion could change so radically and so quickly almost feels like a phantom memory. Glam rock was a musical style that could aspire to high art, but was just at home on Top Of The Pops, blaring out from the jukebox of a pub, or inflaming passions in breathless glossy magazine articles. The pace of its evolution meant that its original form was always likely to have a limited shelf-life, but it breathed life into a rock and pop world that was becoming stale after just a decade and half of its existence. It provoked, and it did so with a wink and a smile. The revolution, it turned out, was televised, after all.
So, I wasn’t going let this pass by without creating one of these,was I? This playlist isn’t quite chronological, but it does include most of the songs talked about above. So, strap on some six inch platform heels, liberally cover your face in potentially carcinogenic glitter, and take in the sound of the early 1970s.