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Perfect 10: Glam on 45

“Gary Glitter, bless his codpiece, was no competition for Marc Bolan” – BP Fallon

What are your earliest musical memories? By virtue of the fact of my end of decade pop-out, mine are all British glam rockers on Top Of The Pops – particularly Slade, who I loathed, and Gary Glitter, who I loved. Well, I was certainly the right age for him. Anyway, it’s not about moi as our very own trusty scribe Mark Gibson has penned the Perfect 10 of Glam. Via a side helping of the Ants, Smiths, Suede, Siouxsie and Sputnik, you may just find all the great tin-foil teddy boys and girls. This list ain‘t big enough for all of them…

In a world of three-day weeks, recessions, rats on the streets, Vesta curry, white doggy doings, and the parochial promise of a tea time apparition in the shape of an Arctic Roll or if you were really feeling luxurious, the creamy cherry delight that was Black Forest gateau (Oi, Forêt-noire we call it in France. Magnifique! – Ed.) – a fledgling four year-old Mark Gibson marvelled at the display of glittery feather boa’d gender-bending coming from what turned out to be a young rapscallion and former Mod face about town by the name of Marc Bolan. 

Didn’t know what show it was, and I still don’t, but also on the tellybox was another cat laying down some get it on rock ‘n’ roll too. In a strange way he was echoing his Established London 1947 twin but soon to be rival and nemesis, because it was the other ‘B’ ….Bowie.

Of the two it was Bolan that blew my mind. Back then Bowie was frantic and transatlantic, and perhaps a little too austere for me. With his wild mutation corkscrew hair Bolan was a cute bopping elf you could pick up and put on your parents’ shelf next to the miniature Welsh dolls and that Crying Boy print that was almost as ubiquitous as the green-faced Chinese Girl that boss man Steve Pafford’s grandparents proudly displayed.

Somehow I had stumbled upon the glitzy sounds of Bolan’s group T. Rex and had my eyes opened to the euphoria it’s possible to feel through music. And the song was monumental, that much is true. I remember it was sunny, so on checking the charts I’d say it was probably Metal Guru, the fourth of four No. 1 singles that best embodied the phenomena they dubbed T. Rextasy, and later swiped by The Smiths and renamed Panic. Cue Johnny…

T. Rex captivated me in the same way they captivated Morrissey and Marr, and Marc Almond, and Adam Ant and countless others. The parallels that line up from Electric Warrior to insect warrior are obvious, too: like Adam, another unique creature who blazed a trail ten years later, Marc was a cultural icon for the first 18 months of a hitherto seen colourful new decade in music, and then, well, gone gone gone as the public moved on to something completely different. He was the spark, the wave of phase, but you knew it couldn’t last.

Like some sides of the eighties, glam rock could be a much maligned genre of popular music, the time that style forgot. The cheeky but cheesy glitter beat, the hard as painted nails guitars, the brickies in drag and the leather clad tomboys who’d spent years honing their craft on the two-shows-a-night circuits playing every working men’s club from Dunstable to Donegal, and every flea-bitten Mecca bingo, entertaining your funny uncles and aunts with their dodgy flares and Crimplene trews and pussy blouses, and that’s just Mr Humphries and Mrs Slocombe.

The history books will treat glam like the ginger wife that no one remembers, that paragon of carnal lust married and disposed of, and punk like the one that survived and built a legacy. Well, it’s rubbish, because glam and glitter was every bit as dynamic and innovative than any three-chord wonder could muster. Admittedly it didn’t have the cultural vortex punk had but songs wise it had a much better strike rate, being responsible for the majority of the most vital pop singles of the first half of the 1970s. And without further ado, here are ten of the best, or as John Lennon famously said, rock ‘n’ roll with lipstick.

T. Rex – Hot Love (1971) 

“Marc Bolan was the perfect pop star. His songs were great, his records rocked, he had attitude, he had performing skills, he looked fabulous; he dressed the part. At a time when I was still becoming Elton John, he was a great role model. I thought: ‘This guy doesn’t give a fuck, he’s just being who he is, and he’s loving every single minute of it.’ And that had a great effect on me.” – Elton John

Hot Love is every cop-a-feel good time rolling Eddie Cochran riff put through a musical mincing machine and it came at exactly the right time. This is where the 1970s began, albeit a year behind schedule.

Stuffed with novelty records, bubblegum and MOR ballads, the charts were in need of a stack-heeled reboot after the lacklustre Beatles finale Let it Be, and Jimi, Jim and Janis pegging it. Stepping into them shoes was Hackney’s Mark Feld, aka the Bolan. Like Bowie he’d been a bisexual mod struggling to get noticed, then a fey folkie rumbling on about spires while presenting himself as one half of a twee acoustic duo, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and a psychedelic hippie doing Glastonbury and all that tat. But when Marc went back to first principles and subverted two minute rock ‘n’ roll ditties with a sprinkling of glitter and the percussive fills and thrills of foil Mickey Finn he was on to something extraordinary. 

Oddly enough Hot Love is longer, not quite kissing the arse off five minutes. With an anthemic electric production by Tony Visconti, Hot Love built on the No. 2 success of 1970’s brilliantly concise Ride A White Swan by shooting up the squawky boogie riffs into the stratosphere, bathed in ’50s echo.. The space rock strings, the witchy poo lyrics, Steve Currie’s driving bass, Flo & Eddie from the Turtles on bv’s, it was sexy, muscular and playful, like the Mount Rushmore of music. Esteemed rock journo Charles Murray Shaar said Marc took the blues and turned it into pop, while the eternal 20th century boy wearing glitter and satins on a March 1971 performance of Hot Love at Top Of The Pops is generally agreed as the birth of glam. Young master Jones was looking on with green and brown eyed envy.

Alice Cooper – School’s Out (1972)

It’s the ultimate teenage rampage anthem, really. An unexpected No. 1 that mercifully kicked Donny Osmond’s toothy Puppy Love into the long grass (huzzah!) while keeping Mott The Hoople’s Bowie-penned All The Young Dudes off the top (boo!)

School’s Out was the debut British hit for Alice Cooper, then a band named after its singer, à la Toyah and Sade. It has the modal riff of a chugging Doors song but with the panto villain of Cooper, or Vincent van goth to his mom and dad. 

Alice was there at the birth of shock rock and a rocket up the stratosphere for the Vietnam plagued States in the grip of Nixon and the right wing demagoguery of ’70s America. With a coruscating opening created by guitarist Glen Buxton, Cooper said School’s Out was inspired by a line from a Bowery Boys movie and joked that the main riff of the song was inspired by a song by Miles Davis.

Whatever the provenance, School’s Out gave the rock scene a dose of double denim just when country beards were finding their feet. Just in time for Alice to come along and invent Kiss then.

Slade – Mama Weer All Crazee Now (1972)

Like most of the more tinfoil glam rockers, Slade had zero concern for credibility. Well it doesn’t pay your gas bill, as Pete Waterman once said. These Brummie brickies would do anything for a laugh, and, well, they just kept on knocking out stomping great earworms like this phonetically spelt atrocity, the second of five No. 1 hits.

Written by bassist Jim Lea and lead shouter Noddy Holder, there was even grumbling in schools that the band were encouraging bad spelling with titles like Gudbuy T’Jane and Cum On Feel The Noize. Ungrammatical they may be but in the art of the perfect 7-inch single they were grate. Even Record Mirror said Mama had “instant power and drive.” 

When drummer Don Powell was involved in a near fatal car accident which took him out of action for a bit, the stack heels retired to that great haberdashery in the sky. Dave Hill at one point considered becoming a wedding chauffeur with the slogan “Hire a pop star for your special day.” But it was OK because they swung it back with the 1980 Reading festival, which resulted in three top ten hits in the first half of the decade, which is precisely three more than this next group.

The Sweet – Blockbuster (1973)

This tune didn’t start with a riff, it started with a fire engine alarm going off, and the first No. 1 written by what would become the powerhouse production line duo Chinn and Chapman (Suzi Quatro, Blondie, Toni Basil, Tina Turner and scores more). Despite Ballroom Blitz, Wig Wam Bam, Fox On The Run and Love Is Like Oxygen, Block Buster! was Sweet’s only chart-topper, in fact. I know sacre bleur, what a fudge up.

The more bubblegum end of glam, these wee hard boys from Glasgow (well, apart from camp as Christmas but resolutely hetero bassist Steve Priest) were more like tin foil dockers in drag, a sort of real life Crème Brûlée. Block Buster! is famous for its Muddy Waters riff, which wasn’t even original when Muddy used it, nor when David Bowie purloined it for The Jean Genie at the same time, his first huge hit as Ziggy Stardust and which was deprived of reaching pole position by this Sweet confection. Ouch!

Roxy Music – Pyjamarama (1973)

The second Roxy Music single after the outrageously assured Virginia Plain, and this one was just as audacious. Some hate it, I love it. That blaring sax, the lack of a chorus, and two of the the world’s finest Geordies in lothario lounge lizard Bryan Ferry from Washington, and drummer Paul Thompson, whose home was half a mile away from where I was born.

I can see why they were interested in creating a sub F. Scott Fitzgerald vision when all they’d been used to seeing was the local gasworks and shipyards.

The verses of Pyjamarama are just sublime, and one the best moments from a band who was about to say au revoir to arch sonic synthesist Brian Eno before they went on to influence everyone from Talking Heads to Japan and Duran Duran. Is it glam ? Well yes, but with an otherworldly art-rockin’ edge. Whatever the label, it’s in and out in 2.52 and your life will be all the better for it.

Wizzard – See My Baby Jive (1973)

Another band who are a bit like marmite I suppose. Formerly co-creator of The Move and midwife of the Electric Light Orchestra, Roy Wood is a Midlands marvel who created Wizzard in 1972, and in their first year bagged two No.1 singles. No, that Christmas song wasn’t one of them (despite its annoying ubiquity it never actually danced its way to the top) but See My Baby Jive certainly was (and the suggestively titled Angel Fingers). 

In a funny way, this is yet another choice 45 were I haven’t got the foggiest what it’s about, just let the Spector-ish kitchen sink production wash over you, and marvel that the B side is curiously called Bend Over Beethoven. Sounds like a great title for a mucky movie. Alas it was the A-side that found itself as the inadvertent template for a certain Waterloo (Fittingly, Wood provided sax and backing vocals for Doctor And The Medics’ 1986 cover of the ABBA classic.) Talking of which…

ABBA – Waterloo (1974)

Volvo, IKEA meatballs ….mmmm but pop. It’s a tour de force now, but who in the world would have even noticed Swedish music if it wasn’t for ABBA? I’m not even sure I’d heard of Sweden until Eurovision 1974.

On a crisp spring evening in Brighton telly viewers got a glimpse of a band that didn’t sound like the theme to Captain Pugwash and didn’t tally the cultural stereotype of acoustic guitars and hurdy-gurdy goat slayers. Instead Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvæus cocked an ear towards Britain and had heard the emerging glitter mania and invented Scandi-glam.

Despite beating off Olivia Newton-John’s Long Live Love by a narrow margin of just six points, I fell in love with the super Swedes as most Brits did that night and scored them on my paper chart from the local Gazette a rousing full marks, unlike the official BBC jury (nil points? Putain!). Waterloo was prime kitsch but solid gold at the same time; the song that set ABBA on the road to worldwide fame and fortune as not only did it take the Eurovision title, it went to No. 1 in several countries including Blighty. 

Waterloo was the first of their nine UK No. 1s but never reached top slot in their homeland, which had a somewhat-bonkers combined album and singles chart at the time. Still, with six million copies sold, it’s one of the bestselling singles of the ’70s. Not bad for a ditty inspired by the Duke of Wellington giving Napoleon a damned-good thrashing at a Belgian farmhouse a century and a half previously. Well, sort of, Mr Fawlty.

Sung to perfection by the demi-godesses Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, it’s about a girl about to surrender to romance as tubby Old Boney had to surrender to the slim Iron Duke. Sound familiar?

David Bowie – Rebel Rebel (1974)

Ding dong, the dame is here. What hasn’t been said about Bowie? If it was floating in the ether Bowie’s superfluous musical ear would have picked it up, run with it, and made you think it was his all along. A true wizard, and the cleverest star.

By the time of Rebel Rebel it was a case of with this ‘ere hand wave goodbye to the Bowie’s glam era, with the simplest Stones-like chords (D E and A), but before that a bit more tea-leafing, because trans act Jayne County complained Bowie had cribbed the “Boy or a girl” line off her song Queen Age Baby, which was recorded a month before Rebel Rebel. 

“After one of his shows, me and Bowie were chatting. I had just signed to MainMan at the time and they took me into the studio to record Are You Boy Or Are You A Girl?, Queen Age Baby, all these incredible lyrics I had come up with. 

“So I sent him my tapes and not long after that, Cherry Vanilla is sitting at the house in Connecticut. Bowie called her up and plays her this demo. She said, ‘This sounds like one of Wayne’s songs!’ If he had never heard Queen Age Baby, he would have never written Rebel Rebel.”

David used bits of glam but he was far too savvy to be shackled to one genre, and as Bolan waned Bowie flourished, because he was hugely self aware with a marketeer’s outlook, whereas Bolan kind of wasn’t although he must have had a sense of humour to write “I drive a Rolls Royce because its good for my voice.”

Famously, self-confessed elitist Thin White Duke didn’t really rate any of the other glitter rockers other than fellow avant garde art-rockers Roxy Music. So perhaps it’s no coincide that out of all the acts on this list it was Bowie and Roxy that shapeshifted throughout the decade to weather the electric shocks of punk, disco and every sub-genre they spawned. Oh except for this next act…

Sparks – This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us (1974)

Sparks were the band that launched a thousand cries of “Mum! Dad! Adolf Hitler’s on Top Of The Pops!” But even if you hadn’t clocked LA keyboardist Ron Mael’s striking appearance, This Town … was like a three-minute warning that this was a band of brothers and their English ensemble different from any other: Russell Mael’s octave-leaping vocals, gunshots, incomprehensible lyrics and an unrelenting sense of drama. 

The Rubettes’s saccharine Sugar Baby Love prevented this from getting to number one, but it’s still a fantastic calling card. And the band are still like a sphere of two of them and others but mainly its club Mael for everything.

Are we know the machiavellian Maels go through band members at a rate Stalin would be jealous of. Though it’s probably not done cold-heartedly, but, like Bowie, they have made it their raison d’etre to constantly grow and adapt to genres and absorb everything into the great melting pot that is brand Sparks. That’s why they’re still making fresh and unconventional music while many bands of the era were already thrown on to the scrap heap Smash Hits’ Neil Tennant would later term “down the dumper” even before punk had got itself into gear. Like this next act for instance…

Bay City Rollers – Saturday Night (1975)

I feel the air is getting hot in anticipation of this finale, though Saturday Night took a while to get going. The 45 was a flop on first issue as sung by Nobby Clark, but evoking there last task of glam, at the end of 1975 a re-recorded version with the pin up of the moment Les McKeown was released. 

Taking their name from the very same Bay City in Michigan where Madonna hails from, the Tartan terrors managed something Slade never could, a number one in the US of A. By this time the Rollers were seriously on the ropes, overworked and somewhat exploited by little more than a casting couch manager who made sure they made him loads of dough, and them hardly any. It’s a tragic tale.

Saturday Night is, like all Rollers records pure bubblegum. If it was a stick of glam rock it would say pure pop, bubblegum flavour. In its purest ear worm sense, pop is the kind of music that is consumed for six weeks, then forgotten about, then reconstituted ten years later when it becomes cool again, or when you’ve allowed yourself to enjoy something in an ironic way when other varieties have gone sour.

In other words, that music’s lost its taste so try another flavour.

Mark Gibson


Couldn’t escape if you wanted to? Rock on some more to these also-rans then…

Gary Glitter — Rock N Roll (Parts 1 & 2) (1972) more

Mott The Hoople — All The Young Dudes (1972) more

Lou Reed — Vicious (1973) more

The Stooges — Raw Power (1973) more

New York Dolls — Personality Crisis (1973)

Suzi Quatro — Can The Can (1973)

Brian Eno — Needles In The Camel’s Eye (1974) more

Paul McCartney and Wings — Jet (1974)

The Glitter Band — Angel Face (1974)

Mud  — Tiger Feet (1974)

Queen – Killer Queen (1974)

Lulu  — The Man Who Sold The World (1974) more

Mick Ronson — Only After Dark (1974) more

Kiss — Rock And Roll All Nite (1975)

Arrows — I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll (1975)

Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel — Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me) (1975)

Elton John — Pinball Wizard (1976) more

Sailor — A Glass Of Champagne (1976)

Racey — Some Girls (1979) 

Siouxsie And The Banshees — 20th Century Boy more

Adam And The Ants — Antmusic (1980) more

Bauhaus — Ziggy Stardust (1982) more

Visage — Pleasure Boys more

Sigue Sigue Sputnik — Love Missile F1-11 (1986) more

Morrissey — Glamorous Glue (1992) more

Suede — Metal Mickey (1992) more

Glam ft. Pete Burns — Sex Drive (1994) more

Carter USM — Glam Rock Cops (1994)

Marc Almond — The Idol (1995) more

Boy George — Funtime (1995) more

Pet Shop Boys — The Truck Driver And His Mate (1996) more

Saint Etienne — Star (1997) more

Pulp — We Are The Boyz (1998) more

Goldfrapp — Strict Machine (2003)

Rachel Stevens — I Said Never Again (But Here We Are) (2005)

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