Er… glam what?
If you’ve looked at my book, Dead in Time, you may have the sneaking suspicion I’m a fan of ’70s glam and classic rock.
But, you might be asking, what is this peculiar musical phenomenon?
Glam rock gripped the world for a few brief, shiny years in the early 1970s. Musically characterised by zippy pop/rock numbers with driving bass and 4/4 beats, big, fat guitar sounds and frequently ridiculous vocals, it was unashamed, flamboyant… and paved the way for the stripped-back approach to music that, later in the decade, would see punk bursting out onto the scene.
Of course, safety pins and torn denim were the complete antithesis to the quintessential glam outfit.
It’s often claimed that glam ‘started’ with Marc Bolan, who would find astronomical fame with his band, T. Rex. The zenith of their popularity in the UK led to the term ‘T-Rextasy’ to describe the three years in which they dominated the charts… and made it almost acceptable for men to wear hot pink feather boas and large amounts of make-up on national TV.
Diminutive musical chameleon Bolan (a former Mod, teen model, folk-rocker and member of mod-art/pop outfit John’s Children) certainly remains synonymous with glam rock, and though T. Rex were one of a number of bands who embraced the glitz and outrageousness of glam, it’s their hits – Hot Love, Ride a White Swan, Get It On (Bang a Gong on US release) and Telegram Sam, to name a few – that perhaps best illustrate the genre.
Other acts – including Mud, West Midlands blues-rock supergroup-turned-commercial-pop-success (The) Sweet, Mott the Hoople (best known for their hit All the Young Dudes, written by David Bowie), and Bowie’s own creation, his Ziggy Stardust persona – scored their own massive hits and, in Bowie’s case, found enduring worldwide fame.
In the US, an American version of glam – normally known as ‘glitter rock’* – emerged, broadly encompassing artists such as New York Dolls, KISS, and Iggy Pop,** although, to the English mindset, possibly the only true US glam rock band was the commercially unsuccessful Angel.
Glam’s star was waning by the mid-’70s, though its influence continued to be felt in the years that followed, most notably in the high-octane scenes of glam and hair metal, and the gender-bending, theatrical androgyny of Culture Club and the New Romantic movement. And, of course, just think: without Suzi Quatro, there would never have been The Runaways.
**Interestingly, the first incarnation of T.Rex, then styled as folk-rock duo Tyrannosaurus Rex, comprising Marc Bolan and Steve Peregrin Took, foundered after Took was drawn increasingly into the anarchic, anti-conformist ‘UK Underground’ movement centred on Ladbroke Grove, and – during the last, ill-fated US tour the pair did – Took memorably drew from Iggy’s repertoire, stripping to the waist and flagellating himself mid-way through a concert on the Sunset Strip.
Right, that’s it. History lesson over, kids.
If you’re still unclear, here’s T. Rex, live at Wembley Empire Pool in 1972. The first video (slight delay on loading, bear with it), showcasing Hot Love, is from the 5:30pm concert that day, while the second comes from the later show, which was filmed by Ringo Starr for Apple Films, and turns up in his cinematic rockumentary Born to Boogie.
My advice? Take ten minutes and watch Marc Bolan, Mickey Finn, Bill Legend & Steve Currie take Get It On down to the floor, Hendrix-style. Ouch. Also, Marc apparently used to do that thing with the tambourine quite a lot.