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Glam rock (also known as glitter rock) is a style that developed in the UK in the post-hippie early 1970s that was "performed by singers and musicians wearing outrageous clothes, makeup, hairstyles, and platform-soled boots." The flamboyant costumes, and visual styles of glam performers were a campy, theatrical blend of nostalgic references to science fiction and old movies.

Largely a Britishmarker phenomenon, glam rock visuals peaked during the mid 1970s. According to many researchers, the most famous exponents of the fashion were David Bowie, Marc Bolan and T. Rex, Gary Glitter, and Slade. Other influential British and American performers include: Queen, Sweet, Wizzard, Roxy Music, Mud, Mott the Hoople, The Glitter Band, Elton John, and Suzi Quatro.

Visual style

Glam fans (usually referred to in the contemporary music press as "glitter kids") and performers distinguished themselves from earth-toned hippie culture with a deliberately "artificial" look. This is derived in large part from a fusing of transvestism with futurism. Evoking the glamour of 'Old Hollywood' whilst consciously wallowing in 1970s drug and sleaze success, the stars of Andy Warhol's films and his stage play Pork were crucially influential to the nascent glam movement. The Warhol coterie were provocatively camp, flamboyant, and sexually ambiguous. Mid-1960s Warhol Superstar Edie Sedgwick cultivated an androgynous, ultra-hedonistic image.

With recent homosexual reforms in the United Kingdom and the militant Stonewall Riots for gay rights in the US, sexual ambiguity was briefly in vogue as an effective cultural "shock tactic". David Bowie caused a media uproar in 1972 when he told the UK press he was bisexual. While glam rock denied traditional gender-representation, genuinely gay glam rock musicians were rare. The late Jobriath was amongst rock culture's first openly gay performer, while Queen's Freddie Mercury stayed mostly "in the closet".

Science fiction imagery was a core strand of glam rock's stylistic weave. Themes of spaceflight and alien encounters were prevalent at the more cerebral end of the glam rock spectrum. Glam style strongly referenced this anticipated era with silver astronaut-like outfits, multicoloured hair and allusions to a new multi-gender social morality. This trend was often musically represented with science-fiction-oriented lyrics and music tinted with early synthesizers such as the Moog. Glam performers and fans combined nostalgic, "decadent" and "space age" influences alike into a uniquely "glam" synthesis of Victorian, cabaret, and futuristic styles.


While makeup and androgyny had featured in rock culture before the 1970s (most notably in the work of Little Richard, Pink Floyd, The Kinks, and The Rolling Stones), glam rock proper is generally agreed to have first been synthesised by Marc Bolan. During the late 1960s, Bolan performed psychedelic-folk music with his two-piece band Tyrannosaurus Rex, with limited commercial success until their song "Ride a White Swan" became a UK hit single. "Ride A White Swan" was released in October 1970, but topped the UK charts early in 1971. For the band's radically reworked T. Rex incarnation, Bolan simplified the music, using elements of 1950s and 1960s styles, and loud, distorted guitars. This approach was realized in full on the album Electric Warrior released in 1971. Bolan also changed his professional image by wearing makeup and glitter, first seen during an appearance on Top of the Pops in late 1970. This appearance laid the foundation for early glam rock's 'faux gay space alien' image. Bolan's 'futuristic' stage outfits further distinguished him from his old 'hippie' persona, and the combination of loud pop songs with camp visuals appealed greatly to a large younger-teen audience. By 1972, Bolan and T. Rex boasted a fanatical popularity amongst British teenagers not seen since The Beatles, which the press dubbed "T. Rextacy".

In Bolan's wake, previously existing pop-rock bands and artists such as David Bowie, Slade and Sweet would emerge and consolidate their commercial success over 1971-72. Pure pop artists like Gary Glitter and Alvin Stardust would also rise to fame in 1972-73, making glam a national music phenomenon in the UK.

Bolan may have hit upon the crucial synthesis of 'bisexual' glam image with a 1950s-futurist hard rock-pop sound, but the image was further explored by David Bowie, albeit with less commercial success. Despite having a hit in 1969 with the song "Space Oddity", Bowie's albums The Man Who Sold the World and Hunky Dory did not gain much recognition in the British mainstream. Though nominally a hippie in appearance, Bowie experimented with androgyny during the late 1960s, as evidenced both on album covers and his public image.

Following Bolan's successful change of image, in April 1972 David Bowie altered his own professional persona to fit the new concept character for his new musical project named Ziggy Stardust. Strongly influenced visually by Stanley Kubrick's movies A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey, the music was harder-sounding and more aggressive than his previous work. Encompassing the rock and roll of the late 50s and early 60s, various literature, esoteric philosophy and other influences, the 'Ziggy' concept extended beyond the vinyl album and spilled into real life. When the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and its attendant singles were released, Bowie experienced great commercial success in the UK.

Both Bolan and Bowie's images became more extreme over the years 1971-74, as did those of their fans. Their musical scope also widened to include American soul and funk influences (as represented by Bolan's Tanx and Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow and, to a lesser extent, Bowie's Diamond Dogs, both artists fully abandoning glam for "plastic soul" with their following albums: Bolan's Zip Gun and Young Americans, respectively). In addition, Bowie promoted and collaborated with Lou Reed and Iggy Pop - two then-obscure American artists who both took on some glam influence in their music and image - as well as British band Mott the Hoople, for whom Bowie produced the album All the Young Dudes, for which he also contributed the title track. In 1972 Bowie produced The Stooges album Raw Power and Reed's album Transformer, which (along with Bowie's own work of the era) were influential in the history of hard rock music in general, but particularly glam and punk.

English band Roxy Music belonged more to the art- and progressive rock end of the glam rock spectrum than most of the others, yet they had a run of successful chart singles and four top ten albums during the period. These were Roxy Music, For Your Pleasure, Stranded and Country Life. Roxy Music were one of the few bands to have been formed during the glam period itself, first performing publicly in late 1972.

Also from England, Slade's remarkable series of successive UK number one singles over the mid-1970s rivaled the Beatles', and the Sweet also became a strong 'singles band'. The pure-pop 'show business' side of glam included many artists with already-long careers who brought themselves up to date with a few sequins and a raunchy guitar riff. Gary Glitter amassed a wide popularity during the early 1970s. His backing ensemble the Glitter Band began to release their own material in 1973. Similar 'updated' pop acts included Suzi Quatro, Mud and Wizzard, all of whom had great UK success during this time.

Though primarily a UK-centred genre and of somewhat nebulous impact in the US, glam rock rapidly influenced popular culture to the point where acts as disparate as The Osmonds and the Rolling Stones wore some glitter or makeup. Even though their sales-oriented work had little if any connection to science fiction, sexual ambiguity or high art, the genre's pop stars also wore makeup and 'futuristic' garb. However, as the genre progessed, it became stylistically diluted and commercialised.

In America, glam rock was much less successful as a commercial genre. The New York Dolls formed in 1971, and over the next three years they became the premiere American glam rock band. They were based musically in Rolling Stones raunch and girl-group pop.

In 1973 the New York Dolls released their debut album and American Graffiti hit the screens. In the US, the Dolls' album attracted uniformly low sales, whilst the 1950s-60s 'Rock and roll' soundtrack to "American Graffiti" was a phenomenon, outselling any and perhaps all glam rock albums put together. The Dolls' debut was another heavily-influential album on hard rock, and indeed Malcolm McLaren, who later went on to engineer the career of the notorious punk band Sex Pistols, briefly managed the Dolls. Although the band were actually in the process of imploding, McLaren rallied them and insisted they switch from glam outfits to politically provocative red leather and Communist symbolism, but this pre-Pistols experiment in outrage failed and the Dolls folded soon afterward.

Over 1974, a surge in nostalgia for the 1940s and 1950s and the rise in popularity of Reggae and Disco music supplanted Glam in music culture. Science fiction, perhaps because of the recently-completed series of NASA moon missions, was also falling from favour as a mass concern. However, some notable bands appeared during this twilight period, the most enduring being Cockney Rebel and Queen. Although presenting a classically 'camp' glam image at the time, Queen's four musicians were all adaptable pop songwriters and eventually their run of hits exceeded that of Slade.

Although lacking a crucial 'political' core (in contrast with that of punk), by 1974 Glam had become a quasi-subculture. However, the social upheavals of the 1960s had produced a fertile post-hippie era in which not only "futuristic" glam rock could flourish, but the undercurrent of nostalgia which had run throughout the 1960s (after all, 1950s celebrants Sha Na Na had performed at Woodstockmarker amongst the hippies and blues-rockers) could surface and become a mainstream interest. As it unfolded with a disconcerting slowness, the "space age" gradually fell from popular culture currency, and by 1975 the future was out of style, and glam rock itself subsided in popularity. Though much of glam rock and pop was intended to be dance-friendly, the dancefloor-specific new soul and disco music dominated both American and British sales charts.

Bowie officially announced his retirement of the 'Ziggy' character in July 1973, with a "farewell concert" at the climax of which he announced (somewhat ambiguously) that "this is the last show that we'll ever do". With Ziggy in 'retirement', Bowie went on to create the album Diamond Dogs, which many interpreted as his farewell to the glam movement. As evidenced by his new 'soul crooner' look and his following albums David Live and Young Americans, he had again fundamentally changed his musical style, this time to a combination of soul and funk.

Likewise, Marc Bolan made a move toward soul music, though less successfully than Bowie. Over the years, Bolan had continually failed to build in America the same sort of commercial success he enjoyed in England. A combination of this lack of success, substance abuse, and internal strife all helped derail the career of Bolan and T. Rex, as well as alienating fans with a rapid change of styles: a brief change to a more hard rock style (heard in singles such as "20th Century Boy") followed less than a year later by a strong leaning toward soul music in 1974's Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow (a sound he first began experimenting with in 1973 with Tanx, which began his commercial descent). The band quickly faded from the musical mainstream as their album sales and popularity collapsed. Before his death, though, he had partially returned to mainstream popularity as he had cleaned up, hosted his own TV show Marc and toured with new punk bands such as The Damned.

Slade and the Sweet had hits well into the mid 1970s, but when punk arrived, both bands eventually became passé. In 1977, the Sweet changed their image and sound to be more 'progressive,' while Slade carried on as they were, at club level until they found more commercial success (albeit sporadic) in the 80s.

Roxy Music carried on until their 1976 split, although a reformed band experienced their greatest period of commercial success in the New Wave movement of the early 1980s. Former keyboardist Brian Eno released a few albums of glam leanings before becoming a pioneer in ambient music and a popular producer.

In the United States, the New York Dolls split in 1975, with the most visible results being singer David Johansen's decidedly non-glam, basic rock solo career.


Some examples of movies that reflect glam rock aesthetics include:

Subsequent influence

Even after glam's immediate mark on mainstream music, the performers' decadent aesthetic styles, unusual clothes and behaviour, and hard pop-rock sound were a major influence upon the punk rock movement of the late 1970s. Bowie, Bolan, and the New York Dolls influenced early punk bands such as The Heartbreakers (which included two ex-Dolls), Ramones, Sex Pistols, Voidoids, Dead Boys, The Damned (with whom Marc Bolan toured during 1977) and Siouxsie & the Banshees, who covered T-Rex's '20th Century Boy' as well as material by Roxy Music and Sparks. Post-punk bands would even take a bigger influence, especially bands such as Joy Division and The Cure. Germanmarker 1980s New wave/Post-punk artists often had a glam-oriented image: German Nina Hagen and Klaus Nomi, Bosnian Lene Lovich and others.

Gary Numan became hugely popular in the UK during the late 1970s, strongly influenced by glam in both image and sound even though his music was synthesizer based, making synthpop popular. The Gothic rock movement spawned from post-punk associated with the Batcavemarker club in London (such as Specimen) took cues from glam, in particular Roxy Music and David Bowie. Bauhaus took a large amount of influence from Bowie and covered his hit Ziggy Stardust, and T. Rex with a cover of the hit "Telegram Sam". Some bands and artists of the early 1980s such as Adam and the Ants, ABC, Culture Club, Depeche Mode, Ultravox, Japan, Duran Duran, and Soft Cell were strongly influenced by glam rock in both image and music, some even starting out as glam bands. New Wave united these artists of post-punk, gothic rock, synthpop and blue eyed soul under one banner and both Roxy Music and David Bowie played and would play a large part in shaping its sound. Both used the genre and their retrospective influence to gain large commercial success in the early 1980s.

Hanoi Rocks was formed in 1979, widely regarded as one of the first glam punk bands. The American glam metal movement would at first take huge influence from glam rock bands like the New York Dolls. Quiet Riot had their first huge commercial success by covering Slade's "Cum on Feel the Noize" in 1983, which peaked at number 5 on the Billboard chart. Mötley Crüe also took a huge amount of influence as most of the members were in glam rock bands beforehand. However as time went on there was less of a pure glam rock sound in glam metal and it began to be more influenced by a number of different styles of 1980s pop music. Nonetheless, the Los Angeles music scene spawned many glam metal bands, including Poison, Ratt, Warrant and many others who had a vaguely glam-influenced appearance, coupled with metal attitude and sound that dominated MTV for several years. Waves were also being made in the U.K. with bands such as The Quireboys, Tigertailz and many unsigned acts such as Spoilt Bratt and City Kidds.

Alternative rock would be influenced somewhat by glam, particularly in the UK. In the 1990s, Britpop referenced glam rock, with bands like Oasis using Slade and Mott the Hoople as primary influences. Placebo, Suede, Manic Street Preachers, Spacehog, and Morrissey's album Your Arsenal also had glam rock leanings.

In 2000, American band Cherry Poppin' Daddies (best known for their smash swing revival hit Zoot Suit Riot) attempted a glam rock revival with their follow-up single, the Tony Visconti-produced "Diamond Light Boogie". Despite critical acclaim, the single failed to chart. In 2003, the Daddies' lead singer started the glam/hard rock side project White Hot Odyssey.

In Japanmarker, Kenji Sawada was the pioneer of glam in the mid 1970s. Later he was crowned "Pioneer of visual kei" after the term "visual kei" was identified. Visual kei would come to prominence in Japan in the early to late 1990s, influenced strongly in appearance by glam and New Wave or goth but usually playing a blend of many different styles, from heavy metal to pop rock. Some representative bands are X Japan, Luna Sea, Kuroyume, Malice Mizer and Glay among many others.

Bands like Italymarker's Dope Stars Inc, Sweden's Deathstars, Francemarker's Undercover Slut and America's Deadstar Assembly are also strongly influenced by glam in their appearance, combined with aggressive Industrial-oriented music. Finnish dark rock bands like HIM and The 69 Eyes mention glam rock as influence. The 69 Eyes started as a glam punk band, moved to a goth-like Sisters of Mercy sound, and then to a glam/hard rock style in later works.

Although glam rock's outrage value has long passed in the eyes of the mainstream, Swedenmarker's The Ark, Finlandmarker's Negative, Private Line and Canadamarker's Robin Black and the I.R.S. are continuing the glam style.

Glam rock acts

Further reading

  • Philip Auslander, Performing Glam Rock: Gender and Theatricality in Popular Music Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 2006 ISBN 0472068687
  • Rock, Mick, Glam! An Eyewitness Account Omnibus Press, 2005 ISBN 1.84609.149.7

See also



External links

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