Words by Nahum Gale
Art by Olivia Mannella
Picture this. Great Britain. Early 1970s. The music scene.
The Summer of Love, that brought with it the notorious British Invasion of bands, has long since greyed and turned the once vibrant and colourful land of English rock monochrome. In the wake of this psychedelic hippie rock, music was missing a crucial ingredient that gave it it’s oomph. That ingredient being identity.
Enter glam rock (or “glitter rock” in the United States), a fresh subgenre of rock which saw the diverse and the obscure bubble to the surface. Beyond combining art rock, cabaret, 1950s rock and roll, bubble-gum rock and even science fiction, glam became best known for its revaluation of music identity by playing with gender roles and subverting gender norms. Taking the once overly masculine male rock star persona and donning him with loud costumes, make-up, hairstyles, platform shoes and, of course, glitter, glam promised to push the boundaries of rock long after the British Invasion’s departure.
Glam redefined musical identity and, to celebrate that fact, we have decided to recall a few of these ultra-theatrical rock icons to understand their success, their style and, most importantly, their identities in an ever-evolving music scene that champions the flamboyant.
Perhaps where it all started, Marc Bolan and his band, T-Rex, surfaced come the concluding chapters of the 1960s British music scene and, seemingly, changed rock entirely by the turn of the decade. The dandy sounding vocals of Bolan and the band’s inherent oozing of coolness led them to pioneer status in the newly labelled genre that was glam rock. Their 1970 hit, Ride a White Swan was enough to land them a place in the zeitgeist, but it was not until their next single, Hot Love (which, by the way, was written in 10 minutes) that they truly shaped the genre. Soon came Get It On and, well, the rest is history…
Bursting from their plainer 1960s personas, Slade’s 1971 chart topper, Cuz I Luv You, erected the band as glam icons with their silky style and truly memorable hairstyles. It was the rock star characteristics that Slade emulated that pushed them close to the top; their riffs, their energy and, of course, their horrendous and complete disregard for the English language with cooky titled hits like Cum on Feel the Noise. Between the latter single and their holiday hit, Merry Xmas Everybody, Slade knew how to craft a unique identity in a genre that was already dripping with unique identities all around… I just doubt their English teachers would have been that proud.
Speaking of glam rock bands tied specifically to Christmas, Wizzard arises most notably in reference to their single, I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday. And it just so happens to be the band’s Father Christmas lookalike lead, Roy Wood, who truly cemented the band in the glam rock history books. Previously a member of Electric Light Orchestra, Wood brought over his experience to Wizzard, injecting orchestral soul and sweet vocals to a fantastical band. Though most notably, Wizzard is where the make-up side of glam really began to take form with Wood becoming one of the most visual male performers of the decade.
You would know them from Ballroom Blitz, but The Sweet was more than just a single song. A band known for continuously producing hit after hit, until their eventual release of the notorious Fox on the Run, The Sweet was just one of those bands who came to define the 70s, specifically in terms of style. The Sweet heightened the fashion game in glam and did it all whilst being a major hit machine.
Although his most popular work rides the lines of pop more than rock, Elton John’s early days in music were in clear flirtation with glam. First appearing on the scene mid-glam era, Elton’s music, like Crocodile Rock, ticked all the boxes of a glam artist, including his appeal to a 50s rock and roll sound, his sci-fi persona of Rocket Man and, of course, his outrageous fashion looks, what with the feathers, the heart-glasses and the glitter. It was no doubt Elton commanded his stage and audience. He made for a true glam rock star. He was kind of perfect. Whether Elton continued his glam persona, who knows maybe the performer could have been the king of the genre… but we seemingly already have a glam king…
He may have not started it, but he certainly defined it. The legendary David Bowie blasted glam rock to the mainstream within the embodiment of his youthful space boy persona, Major Tom, to his cosmic creature character that was Ziggy Stardust. A performative poet of science fiction who blended art rock sensibilities through his Andy Warhol inspirations, Bowie had it all. Contorting gender with his androgynous appeal, the avant-garde identity of Bowie would go onto carve the face of glam. With songs such as Starman, Queen Bitch and Suffragette City transcending classic and rather fulfilling anthem criteria, it was Bowie’s popularity that kept the genre alive and later made it transatlantic, influencing American artists like Iggy Pop and Lou Reed.
Bowie effortlessly represented what glam will always be remembered as: the genre that prioritised identity. Glam teaches us to embrace our glittery and flamboyant sides, reject gender norms and reevaluate the basic structures of identity to understand who we truly are as people – as individuals.
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