Glam Rock: Then and Now

By Brian Knight

During the early 1970s, the music world was overcome by glam rock. There were two distinct characteristics to the Glam rock era. One was the sexual flamboyance exemplified by David Bowie and the other was proto-punk aggression illustrated by Iggy Pop. In popular culture, the sexual aspect of Glam rock took the limelight for it received the most media attention and the music was more accessible to the public. The hard rockers, such as Iggy Pop and MC5, were less popular in the mainstream, but their music created a huge influence for the artists to come.

This Glam rock attack was led by the popular artists Elton John, T-Rex, Lou Reed and David Bowie. By incorporating a flamboyant stage persona into their already incredible musical approach, these musicians redefined the role of the artist in musical culture. These artists put the emphasis on the singer as well as the songs.

Correlating with this movement was a foray into sexual discovery. The 1960s were typified by sexual liberation where love was everywhere and available to all. The 1970s were characterized by sexual exploration; words like homosexuality, sadomasochism and androgyny entered everyday vocabulary. Musically, references were made to this sexual ambiguity in songs like Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side.

The flag bearers for this sexual movement were the artists and especially the British glam rockers. Coinciding with this flamboyancy were a wealth of rumors: "David Bowie lost his eye because he got in a fight with Iggy Pop while fighting over a another boy during high school"; "Angela Bowie walked in on David Bowie and Mick Jagger in bed"; and Rod Stewart had to have his stomach pumped. Although most of these stories were simply rumors, some were calculated media maneuvers. Although an unconfirmed story in itself, it is believed that David Bowie’s public admittance of bisexuality was a successful ploy to bring him more attention.

In addition, fashion was an integral part to the image. Elton John had his large glasses; David Bowie had his dresses while Iggy Pop pranced around the stage shirtless. They all wore lots of makeup, which was tremendously helpful in skewing the gender lines even further. On the musical side of things, glam rock was hard biting and lyrical. The sounds were characterized by space-age lyrics, driving guitars and an overall loudness. That was the most amazing thing about these artists is that could back up their controversial appearances and lifestyles with amazing music. During this period, tunes such as Lou Reed’s White Light/White Heat, David Bowie’s Changes and Elton John’s Rocket Man dominated both the airwaves and music charts.

It was David Bowie’s collaboration with Mott The Hoople, All The Young Dudes, that became the anthem for the Glam rock generation. The song makes references to Glam rock itself, androgyny and drug use. Lyrics such as "Well Billy rapped all night about his suicide"; "Television man is crazy saying we're juvenile delinquent wrecks, Oh man I need TV when I got T Rex"; and "Now Lucy looks sweet cause he dresses like a queen" helped the Glam youth find their identity. The song reassured they that they were not alone in the world. Similarly, Bowie’s "Oh! You Pretty Things", which was released on Hunky Dory, was a calling out to the ‘confused’ youth of the world. When Bowie first announced his bisexuality, the local British papers ran the headline: "Oh, You Pretty Thing" which forever equated the song to Bowie’s sexual identity.

There are many albums that dominated the Glam rock era: Mott The Hoople’s self titled album, Lou Reed’s Transformer, David Bowie’s Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, to name a few. Beyond the albums that successfully made the bridge to mainstream pop, there were an equal amount of artists and albums that remained in relative Glam obscurity. Thanks to New York City’s Snapper Music and their impressive collection of re-releases, we are able to look at the bare bones of glam rock.

Before the apex of the Glam, glitter and excesses of the 1970s can be evaluated, there first has to be explorations into the roots of Glam. For every musical genre and style, there is a root. Glam rock is no exception to the rule. One of the bands that were part of the embryonic stages of the glam rock movement was Britain’s The Pretty Things. Unlike the later bands, the Pretty Things did not dress up in crazy outfits, have extravagant stage setups or publicly admit sexual ambiguity. Like the later bands, the Pretty Things possessed a hard driving garage-band sound that influenced many later bands and artists. Snapper Music has just re-released The Pretty Things first three albums which all feature bonus tracks and a CD ROM multi-media disc.

The Pretty Things first began in 1963 and were considered part of the British invasion. Unlike their invading counterparts – the Rolling Stones, the Animals and the Beatles; the Pretty Things were less drawn to the rhythmic side of American R&B and more to driving power of their songs. The Pretty Things style was less refined than the typical British band and they provided an early glimpse of punk, hard rock, glam rock and heavy metal. The original Pretty Things consisted of the energetic singing of Phil May, lead guitarist Dick Taylor, bass player John Stax, rhythm guitarist Brian Pendelton and drummer Viv Prince. The four came together as a rag tag group of longhaired troublemakers who wanted to play music and have a good time.

Their first album, a self-titled release from 1965, is the first re-release by Snapper Music. As the liner notes relay, it seems pretty miraculous that an album was ever produced. After scaring their first producer right of the studio, the Pretty Things were able to record 11 songs. Among the gems found on this album were the two surprise hits – Rosalyn and Don’t Bring Me Down. In addition, the Pretty Things laid tribute to Bo Diddley with versions of Road Runner, Mama, Keep Your Big Mouth Shut, She’s Fine She’s Mine and Pretty Thing.

To get an accurate portrayal of the Pretty Things in 1965, here is a description drawn from the liner notes of their second album, Get The Picture?: "By the release of their second LP, in December of 1965, The Pretty Things were a five man symbol of Britain’s moral decay. It’s easy to forget how shockable the country was back then, but "Get the Picture?" was the work of social outcasts, who attracted tabloid outrage with almost insolent ease." During a period when the Who were smashing instruments and the Rolling Stones were mired debauchery, it is difficult to imagine the limits The Pretty Things pushed. In contrast to the two days allowed for their first album, The Pretty Things received four whole days to record Get the Picture? Ironically, the tone to Get The Picture was mellower than their debut release with songs ranging from quasi-folk to Rolling Stone-esqe rockers. However, The Pretty Things maintained their tough image on the stage as they drank and played throughout England.

By the time their third album, Emotions, came around, The Pretty Things were experiencing some changes. Three of the original band members (Prince, Stax and Pendleton) had left the band which also brought a change in the music. In an event that was happening worldwide, musicians were slowly changing their style from R&B influenced music to whirling psychedelia. Unfortunately, the recording of this album was setback by conflicts with the record producers and The Pretty Things did not put all of their heart into the album. From an untainted point of view, the album does lay down some the groundwork for what lay ahead. It was the unique combination of garage band rock and the emerging psychedelic that eventually made way for the glam rockers of the 1970s. In addition, The Pretty Things probably spent more time gracing the pages of the tabloids then they did in the studio. It was this media focus that also gave The Pretty Things their popularity. Years later, the glam rockers would use the media in a similar manner to attain musical notoriety.

The Pretty Things had an obvious impact on the 1970s Glam Rockers. The hard rocking, partying aspects of the Pretty Things were a direct impact on the lifestyle and music of Iggy Pop, while the music had an obvious influence on David Bowie. This is accurately reflected by David Bowie’s 1974 album, Pin Ups. In the middle of Bowie’s androgynous, hard rocking heyday, he released an entire album of cover tunes that he felt were his musical influences. Pin Ups featured a picture of Bowie and famous model Twiggy adorned in space-age regalia on the cover and two of the tracks were The Pretty Thing’s Rosalyn and Don’t Bring Me Down.

David Bowie may be considered the king (or queen) of the glam rock music. Bowie assumed many alter personae (Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Halloween Jack, Thin White Duke), openly discussed his sexual preferences, dressed in flamboyant clothes, had elaborate stage productions and most importantly, his music was rocking. Although Bowie was the primary singer and songwriter, he recruited a lot of help from his band – The Spiders From Mars which consisted of guitarist Mick Ronson, bassist Trevor Bolder and drummer Michael "Woody" Woodmansey. The members of the Spiders From Mars contributed to some of Bowie’s finest albums – The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory, Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, Pin Ups and Aladdin Sane. These are arguably Bowie’s finest albums during his truly amazing playing career.

Fulfilling his self proclaimed prophecy that was laid out in the tune Ziggy Stardust, David Bowie broke up the band in 1974. The remaining Spiders From Mars went there own ways. Trevor Bolder and Michael Woodmansey released an album called Spiders From Mars in 1976 but was immediately panned by the critics. As for Mick Ronson, he went off to pursue a relatively successful playing and producing career. Unfortunately, the world lost Mick Ronson to liver cancer in 1993. To celebrate the unheralded guitar work of Mick Ronson, Snapper Music re-released Ronson’s first two post Bowie albums – Slaughter on 10th Avenue and Play Don’t Worry.

For the avid David Bowie fan, 1974’s Slaughter On 10th Avenue is a must get. The album features Growing Up and I’m Fine, Music Is Lethal and Pleasure Man/Hey Ma Get Papa which are all Bowie compositions or collaborations. The opening rocking rendition of Elvis Presley’s Love Me Tender is very enjoyable. Being David Bowie’s most important and influential collaborator, there was little doubt that Bowie’s style carried over to Ronson. The music on Slaughter On 10th Avenue possesses all of the grit of Bowie while Ronson’s live shows were known for being a raucous and energetic experience. On the visual appearance side of things, Ronson kept the Bowie tradition of bizarre clothing arrangements. The CD re-issue also features 4 previously unreleased tracks including a live rendition of both Slaughter On 10th Avenue and Love Me Tender.

This trend kept on going with Ronson’s 1975 Play Don’t Worry although there is a significant absence of both Bowie’s presence and influence. What does shine on Play Don’t Worry is Ronson’s songwriting and playing. Ronson wrote ten of the songs and his adept soloing is shown throughout. Ronson played most of the instruments on the album including guitar, harmonica, synthesizers, bass, drums and vocals. The album features a cover of Lou Reed’s White Light White Heat which was a staple during the Spiders From Mars days as well as a collaboration with his wife Margaret Ronson. Ronson also covers Pure Prairie League’s Angel No. 9. The reissue features seven additional tracks including an upbeat, reggae-country version of Bowie’s Soul Love. There is also a Life On Mars which has no associations to the David Bowie classic.

If Ziggy Stardust had his Spiders From Mars, then Iggy Pop had his Stooges. Born John Osterberg in Ypsilanti, Michigan, Iggy Pop was America’s answer to the 1970s hard rock/glam rock movement. While Dave Johansson and The New York Dolls typified the sexual androgyny of American glam rock, it was Iggy pop and the Stooges who represented the hard rock, quasi-punk side of the music. Like their distant British influences, The Pretty Things; Iggy Pop and the Stooges combined garage rock, psychedelic and the mass appeal of sex, drugs and rock &roll. Iggy Pop formed the band in 1967 with brothers Ron and Scott Asheton and Dave Alexander. The band’s first gig was a Halloween show at the University of Michigan during the same year. During their career, the Stooges would be known for their live performances where the shirtless Pop would lacerate himself, cover himself in food and dive into the audiences. During the early 1970s, David Bowie and Iggy Pop met, which seemed a case of destiny more than anything else. During the following years, the two collaborated on many different projects. Once again, Snapper Music dove into the archives to produce some excellent CDs that give a great snapshot at the Stooges.

The first CD is called Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell which is a collection of studio outtakes, radio broadcasts and rehearsals from the early 1970s. Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell is representative of the Stooges before and after the recording of 1973’s Raw Power. This album, which was mixed by David Bowie, is considered the Stooge’s quintessential album and featured the new guitarist James Williamson. Coinciding with this release is Live In LA73. The concert was recorded at Los Angeles’ Whiskey A Go-Go in 1973 and captures the Stooges at their creative peak. The performance is entirely from the Raw Power era of the Stooges and signifies the last performances before the break up of the band. By no means is this album the prime live recording as it resembles a 20th generation audience bootleg. What is evident here is the raw energy that went into a Stooges performance. The music is loud, unrefined and vibrant. Since we can not get the 1990s Iggy Pop to cover himself with Peanut Butter and cut his chest with a razor blade, this recording may be the closest thing to a Stooges concert.

In all of these artists and albums, the common denominator lies with David Bowie. He was influenced by the music and media savvy of the Pretty Things; Mick Ronson was his longtime collaborator and friend while Iggy Pop served as both his American counterpart and friend. David Bowie stands out amongst the Glam rockers for he was able to combine commercial success and social controversy with masterful expertise. Bowie already gained the world’s attention through his bright orange hair, costume-like fashion, extravagant stage productions and openly discussed sexual preferences. On top of all that, Bowie’s songs were inspirational. Tunes like Changes, Space Oddity, Ziggy Stardust will get just about anybody to sing along.

The influences of these great rockers can be felt today. The glam side things found its influence on Boy George of Culture Club and Robert Smith of the Cure. Musically, the 1980s post punk outfit Bauhaus successfully embodied the spirit of David Bowie and co. The audience-diving antics of Iggy Pop have become a staple for most modern punk, grunge or hard rock performances. In addition, hard-biting seventies-style, rock and roll has continued on with 1990s British rockers such as Spacehog, Oasis and Pulp. 1970s and 1980s Heavy Metal also owe a lot to the glam rock days as bands such as Quiet Riot and Def Leppard mirrored the hard licks while Twisted Sister and Kiss put the focus on the stage performances and the band’s physical appearance.

During the late-1990s, Marilyn Manson continued with both the androgynous look and re-introduced the hard rock musical qualities. Marilyn Manson may just be the embodiment of the Iggy meets Ziggy. He possesses the sexual ambivalent qualities of Bowie as the album cover for his latest album, Mechanical Animals, will attest. There is an image of a naked Marilyn Manson with no gender defining features. There are also some slight references to a Ziggy-like stage alter-persona of "Omega & The Mechanical Animals." Meanwhile, Manson’s song style and live performances reflect a hard rocking Stooges show. The music is hard and the lyrics refer to drugs, violence and apocalyptic visions. In addition, Marilyn Manson shares Bowie’s affinity to the cosmos. Just as David Bowie spoke of outer-space in the tunes Space Oddity, Star, Starman and Moonage Daydream, Manson makes references to the galaxies in the tunes Great Big White World, The Last Day On Earth and Disassociative.

In 1998, the Glam rocks days have been glorified with the release of the movie Velvet Goldmine which is loosely based on the lives of David Bowie and Iggy Pop. The story is about androgynous superstar Brian Slade who creates the fictional character of Maxwell Demon and is supported by his band, Venus in Furs. The movie follows the career of Slade and the Furs right up until Slade fakes his own shooting on stage, thusly bringing an end of the Maxwell Demon. David Bowie also "killed" his stage persona by abruptly ending Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and heading into new musical directions.

Slade is accompanied by fellow rocker, the proto-punk Michiganite Kurt Wild. To me, the character of Wild, played by Ewan McGregor, was one of the most striking aspects of the movie. In his masterful imitation of Iggy Pop, where he dances around the stage shirtless, strips down nude and attacks his music with an Ozzy Osbourne fervor, Wild somehow gains semblance to the deceased Kurt Cobain. Although an inadvertent maneuver, the resemblance makes a chance connection between the Glam rock of the 1970s and the Seattle grunge of the 1990s. Both musical styles found their roots in the garage band sound. This relationship carries on even further with Cobain’s acoustic version of Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World. To cap it all off, Velvet Goldmine is also a rare early 1970s single by David Bowie.

In addition to the visual references that were made during Velvet Goldmine, the true impact of the Glam days on modern rock was displayed in the soundtrack. The movie featured two mythical bands: Venus In Furs, which was modeled after the Spiders From Mars; and The Wylde Rattz (no not Bill and Ted’s Wylde Stallyns), who were modeled after the Stooges. Venus in Furs featured representatives from Radiohead and Roxy Music while the Wylde Rattz contained members from the original Stooges, Mudhoney, firehose, and Sonic Youth. These bands play the tunes of Roxy Music, Marc Bolan and the Stooges with the same energy that was put into them 20 years ago. The soundtrack was also made up of tunes by the "second wave (?)" of Glam: Shudder to Think, Grant Lee Buffalo and Placebo. The most interesting presence in both the movie and soundtrack is the music of Brian Eno era Roxy Music which symbolized that Glam rock also spread its influence into the world of progressive music.

Glam rock never really died. It simply evolved into many different forms. Based on the primary fact that Glam owes it existence to the garage band, the musical genre will never disappear. One thing will never change: young musicians getting together and jamming in their parent’s garages. As long as this tradition continues, Glam rock will always be felt in music. As for the media savvy, it is much harder to stand out, but Madonna, Trent Reznor (Not to beat a dead horse, but he toured with David Bowie) and Marilyn Manson will all attest to the benefits of a little controversy.