Styles & Forms | Glam Rock & Glitter

A largely British movement, glam rock and glitter were highly popular in the early 1970s – so popular that one artist, Marc Bolan, was given his own TV series. Inspired by early rock’n’roll and bubblegum pop, glam rock was fun, catchy and melodic, played with crunchy, distorted guitars, with the musicians dressing up in outrageous and androgynous costumes.

While Britain has a long history of pantomime dames and drag queens, America was slightly wary of glam rock’s blurring of gender identity, which partly explains why it never took off as strongly in the US. Similarities can be found between the British glam rockers and American hard rockers Kiss, especially in the dressing-up and make-up department. Kiss started their career with flamboyant costumes and theatrical face-painting in the mid-1970s and famously didn’t reveal their faces, at least not to the wider public, until the Lick It Up album in 1983. For the glam rockers, almost as much effort and creativity went into the appearance as the music, and while contemporary artists such as Elton John and Paul McCartney & Wings may not have been influenced by the music, they were certainly inspired by the fashion.

Starting out as folk rockers, T. Rex, largely Marc Bolan’s group, set the glam rock ball rolling with Electric Warrior (1971) and The Slider (1972) – fun, trashy rock’n’roll with catchy hooks and often inane lyrics, with T. Rex refusing to take themselves too seriously. Although glam rock and glitter are essentially the same thing, the ‘glitter‘ bands are generally the more glitzy, trashy and throwaway bands, as inspired by T. Rex – Slade, Sweet, Suzi Quatro and Gary Glitter.

After flirting briefly with a skinhead image, Slade’s Slayed? (1972) established them as bona fide glam rockers, complete with foot-stomping beats and rousing, anthemic choruses. Slade’s gimmick was to mis-spell song titles, such as ‘Mama Weer All Crazee Now’, thus endearing them to the nation’s schoolkids, much to the horror of their teachers. For better or worse, Slade still get airplay in Britain every year by unimaginative DJs who insist on playing ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ come Christmas time, their saving grace being singer Noddy Holder who possessed one of the classic British rock voices.

Grannie’s Old Clothes

Sweet adopted the glam dressing up, but, with the possible exception of the singer, ended up looking like bricklayers dressed up in their granny’s old clothes – not a pretty sight, it must be said. Fortunately, they sounded better than they looked and after ditching the songwriting team who penned their early hits, Desolation Boulevard (1974) is the band at their peak and includes the hit ‘Ballroom Blitz’. Sweet were a significant influence on the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal band Def Leppard.

Despite all the experimentation with sexual identity, glam rock was very much a male-dominated genre, with one notable exception – Suzi Quatro. Singer and bass player Quatro is seen by some admirers as a proto-riot grrrl,...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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