Styles & Forms | Seventies Pop
The early 1970s music scene saw rock and pop continue to separate, with the latter usually aiming for not only an ever-younger audience, but also an increasingly middle-aged one. Three major strands of new pop defined both this process and pop’s increased preoccupation with different forms of escapism.
Glam rock was a peculiarly English phenomenon, signalling a return to Beatlemania-style scenes of teen hysteria after the late-1960s move towards the seriousness of roots revivals and rock opera. Its two inventors were both ‘swinging London’ veterans in their early twenties who had enjoyed minor success, firstly as psych-mod pin-ups and then as hippy-folk troubadours.
Marc Bolan (born Mark Feld) became an overnight Britpop sensation at the tail end of 1970. His extraordinary blend of stomping rhythms, a pre-grunge guitar style, abstract sex lyrics, reverberant sound plucked from 1950s rock’n’roll, flamboyant glitter clothes and make-up, as well as androgynous beauty framed by a cascade of corkscrew hair, introduced British teenagers to the delights of both adolescent sexual confusion and joyously daft rock’n’roll fun. An inability to develop this trademark sound precipitated a fall from pop grace before the Electric Warrior died, tragically, at the age of 30, when his soul vocalist girlfriend Gloria Jones crashed their car into a tree near their home in south London.
As Bolan hit big in 1970–71, his south London friend and rival David Jones looked on in interest. Having already changed his name to David Bowie, the art-loving dance student transformed into an even more beautiful and sexually ambiguous figure than Bolan, teamed up with hard-rock guitarist Mick Ronson, and, influenced not by 1950s rock but by American cult-rockers Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, invented an iconic glam-rock character. His 1972 concept album, The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, established Bowie as the pop phenomenon of the age. Of course, unlike Bolan, Bowie became a master of pop reinvention, switching from nihilistic rock to blue-eyed soul, to electronic introspection and mainstream pop, all the while remaining one of both pop and rock’s most iconic and influential figures.
For the first four years of the 1970s, glam was the dominant language of UK pop. While Roxy Music further represented the intelligent side of this gender-bending exuberance, the likes of Gary Glitter, The Sweet, Mud and Suzi Quatro offered pure, infectious bubblegum and knowing slapstick. The genre had less impact in the US, although satirical horror-rockers Alice Cooper and Kiss forged a more overtly theatrical connection. As the 1970s moved on, Scotland’s Bay City Rollers took glam’s three-minute anthems and sartorial madness (feather cuts and tartan flares, in this case) into the early boy-band genre, causing hysteria among teenage girls on both sides of the Atlantic. Meanwhile, Freddie Mercury’s Queen fused the flamboyant androgyny of glam with the musical excesses of progressive rock. The epic meaninglessness of their 1975 No. 1 hit, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, effectively brought a fitting end to glam...
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