When the subject of glam rock comes up, naysayers will usually point with some level of scorn to the pop-metal bands of the ‘80s, stuff like Poison, Cinderella and Bon Jovi. But glam is a many-headed beast and goes beyond just one decade or sub genre. While the 1980s did produce its share of bona fide mascara-clad deviants obsessed with the theatrical and flamboyant aspects of rock ‘n’ roll—like Hanoi Rocks, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Dead or Alive, Girl and others—much of what came out of the decade was pretty standard hard rock embellished with heaping doses of Aqua Net and acid wash.
To the uninitiated, it may all seem the same, but there was a difference. The more underground and offbeat acts viewed their personas as an extension of their art, whereas the copycats and bandwagon chasers were not only late to the party but also in most cases, lacked the insight and finesse to really pull it off. Like with punk, metal and other genres, a true fan can usually spot the fakes, no matter where they fall within the spectrum.
British glam was an early ’70s phenomenon, ushered in by spiritual leaders David Bowie and Marc Bolan. David Bowie took glam in a dramatic, arty direction, seeing it as an opportunity to manipulate his persona and create alternate characters, such as his alien alter ego Ziggy Stardust. Bowie viewed himself as a blank canvas reliant upon makeup, glitter and hair dye to make a statement. He also had the good sense to get out of the glam game early enough before it became a full-on parody—reinventing himself as the “Thin White Duke,” the plastic soul singer. Even though he jumped ship earlier than many of his contemporaries, Bowie’s influence on glam is massive.
Marc Bolan and T.Rex are often credited with bringing the fun back to British rock, which was largely dominated by progressive rock and novelty singles at the time. Bolan’s basic Chuck Berry riffs and offbeat lyrics, coupled with a dash of eye shadow and his signature strut rejuvenated the music scene and spawned hordes of followers—many of whom in the first wave of punk rock—who borrowed his penchant for 1950s song structures and primal beats. The term “Glitter Rock” was often applied to diehard followers of Bolan, who took the flashier, pop side of his style to its extremes, making it louder, campier, bigger and dumber. Bolan would try to distance himself from his followers at all costs, and for good reason, he was light years ahead of the rest.
While different on the surface, the two camps did share common ground: the love of spectacle. Both the pop and arty factions desperately craved face time, and reveled in creating provocative looks and outrageous stage shows. Both yearned for stardom, wearing their lust for fame on their sleeves. And, both camps embraced sexual liberation—and the freedom, deviance and ambiguity surrounding it. To celebrate the spirit, ace UK retro label Cherry Red has released a slew of reissues from a few of glam’s lesser-known’s of the ’70s UK scene when glam rock first took shape.
The best of this batch is by far The Hollywood Brats. Formed in 1972, the band harnessed the New York Dolls’ trashy punk aesthetic and cranked it up to 11. Decked out like a pack of tacky trannies, the band played street rock ’n’ roll, with a twisted sense of humor. The Brats’ look was pop metal way before the likes of Mötley Crüe, while their sound was straight-up punk filtered through the feedback of garage guitars. With the strength of their live set, and the patronage of The Who’s Keith Moon, the band struck a deal and recorded its eponymous debut in 1973. But when things went awry behind the scenes, the finished product wouldn’t get put out until 1975, when Mercury Records Norway released the material as Grown Up Wrong. Cherry Red would later issue a single “Then He Kissed Me” in 1979, then eventually, the entire album years later.
Sick On You is the ultimate reissue of the band’s debut. The opening track “Chez Maximes”—with its ironic piano intro, is as dirty as they come. “Another School Day” is an ode to the 1950s via trashy guitars and a sneer. “Sick On You” is driving punk rock some three years too early, which in essence is the story of the Hollywood Brats—bad timing. The band would implode somewhere around 1976. But all was not lost—keyboardist Casino Steele would soon go on to form punk pioneers The Boys among other sordid activities, while Brats singer Andrew Matheson would pen the recent critically lauded book Sick On You: The Disastrous Story of Britain’s Great Lost Punk Band.
Silverhead’s main claim to fame centered on its front man Michael Des Barres and the fact that it was signed to Deep Purple’s label imprint, Purple Records. The band would release two studio albums during the early ‘70s, plus a live record. Silverhead’s sound was a dodgy mix of hard rock and the bluesy stylings of the Stones and the Faces, all with a bit of exaggerated swagger for good measure.
The band’s self-titled debut stands as its strongest offering, with such as “Ace Supreme,” and “Silver Boogie” being standout cuts. Produced by future Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden producer Martin Birch, sonically, it’s a pretty serious offering. Follow-up 16 and Savaged (1973), featured an updated lineup, but a fairly consistent sound, with numbers like “Cartoon Princess,” and “More Than Your Mouth Can Hold” leading the pack. Not too long after its second release, the band would split, with the label issuing Live at Rainbow after the fact in 1976. Each album has been reissued in its full glory with remastered sound, bonus tracks, rarities and expanded liner notes.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect is what some of its members went on to do after the break-up. Bassist Nigel Benjamin would eventually make his way to Blondie, scoring massive fame and hits in the process. Guitarist Robbie Blunt would join Robert Plant’s band during his successful post-Zeppelin career. Des Barres has become a bit of a celebrity over the years, as an actor, host and musician, most notably as a stand-in from Robert Palmer in new wave super group Power Station, and before that, obscure ‘70s band Detective.
Signed to Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song label, Detective’s sound was somewhat of a departure from the heady days of Silverhead. Des Barres’s antics were slightly more subdued, and this band had more musical muscle, in the form of former Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye. The sound was harder and more anthemic, not a million miles away from Led Zeppelin, but with more conventional song structures and obvious hooks. While glam was dead for all intents and purposes, the band still had a bit of showiness, in spite of the fact that Des Barres had toned down the flash a few notches.
Detective’s second LP It Takes One to Know One (1978), is one of the best late ’70s records you’ve never heard. Rife with dirty rock riffs, Des Barres’ vocal antics and hooks for days, its arena rock was laced with a snotty punk attitude, as evidenced in songs like “Dynamite” and “Fever.” While out of print for several years, now you can experience the seamy sounds of both Detective studio albums, plus a previously unreleased Live From the Atlantic Studios —all in remastered sound with bonus tracks.
Completing the series are two anthology releases from latter ’70s acts Hello and The Glitter Band. Both would fall into the aforementioned “Glitter” category, taking their cues from the likes of Slade and Gary Glitter, but amping up the camp factor a decibel or 20. For those looking for the artful nuance of Bowie or the effortless cool of Bolan, you won’t find much of it here. This was loud, stomping pop rock with no regard for art or originality; it was all about the primitive hooks and disposable fun.
Hello’s biggest achievement was its minor 1975 hit “New York Groove.” A swaggering little burner with a traffic-stopping chorus, the song would achieve global fame when Ace Frehley from KISS would cover it on his celebrated solo album. The band would release three albums in the UK to marginal success over seas. Each can now be had along with a fourth disc of rarities and a booklet in the Hello: The Albums box set.
If Hello was a bit on the cheap side, The Glitter Band was even tackier still. The former backing band to now-convicted child molester Gary Glitter, the band struck out on its own under the supervision of ace producer Mike Leander. Scoring a few hit singles in the UK, the band would attain minor success with singles like the pop-stomper “Angel Face” in 1974. The Glitter Band would put out several albums and even be cited later on as an influence on early UK punk, but even with that, its ultra-campy take on glam came across a bit boorish and goofy. You can now own the band’s first three albums, plus a later release under the truncated name of The G Band, in the new release, The Glitter Band: The Albums, which also includes a 20-page book.
For questions, comments or something you’d like to see, drop me a note at Retrohead77@yahoo.com. Cheers, Kaz.