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Glam rock (also known as glitter rock), is a rock music style that developed in the UK in the post-hippie early 1970s which was "performed by singers and musicians wearing outrageous clothes, makeup, hairstyles, and platform-soled boots."[1] The flamboyant lyrics, costumes, and visual styles of glam performers were a campy, theatrical blend of nostalgic references to Science fiction and old movies, all over a guitar-driven hard rock sound.

Largely a British phenomenon, glam rock peaked during the early 1970s. The "most famous exponents" of the movement were "Marc Bolan, Gary Glitter and the bands Sweet and Slade." [2] Other influential performers include Alice Cooper, David Bowie, Lou Reed, Roxy Music, Mud, Queen, Mott the Hoople, The Glitter Band, Brian Eno and Suzi Quatro.

Musical and visual style

Musically, glam rock was characterised by a combination of languid, narcotic ballads and raunchy, high-energy Rolling Stones–influenced rock. Lyrically, the genre's played on standard hedonistic pop/rock themes, but other underlying key subjects including classic literature, mythology, esoteric philosophy, history, Science fiction and (apolitical) 'teenage revolution' (such as in T.Rex's "Children of the Revolution", Sweet’s "Teenage Rampage", Alice Cooper's "School's Out" and David Bowie's "Teenage Wildlife").

Glam fans (usually referred to in the contemporary music press as "glitter kids") and performers distinguished themselves from earth-toned hippie culture with a deliberately "artificial" look. This is derived in large part from a fusing of transvestism with futurism. Evoking the glamour of 'Old Hollywood' whilst consciously wallowing in 1970s drug and sleaze success, the stars of Andy Warhol's films and his stage play Pork were crucially influential to the nascent glam movement. The Warhol coterie were provocatively camp, flamboyant, and sexually ambiguous. Mid-1960s Warhol Superstar Edie Sedgwick cultivated an androgynous, ultra-hedonistic image.

With then-recent homosexual reforms in the United Kingdom and the militant Stonewall Riots for gay rights in the US, sexual ambiguity was briefly in vogue as an effective cultural "shock tactic". David Bowie caused a media uproar in 1972 when he told the UK press he was "gay." While glam rock denied traditional gender-representation, genuinely gay glam rock musicians were rare. The late Jobriath was amongst rock culture's first openly gay stars, while Queen's Freddie Mercury stayed mostly "in the closet".

Science fiction imagery was a core strand of glam rock's stylistic weave. Themes of spaceflight and alien encounters were prevalent at the more cerebral end of the glam rock spectrum. Glam style strongly referenced this anticipated era with silver astronaut-like outfits, multicoloured hair and allusions to a new multi-gender social morality. Glam performers and fans combined nostalgic, "decadent" and "space age" influences alike into a uniquely "glam" synthesis of Victorian, cabaret, and futuristic styles.


The first glam rock band was T.Rex with the song Ride a White Swan (released in October 1970 although not getting to the top of the charts until early 1971) ushering in glam rock to the mainstream. Prior to the name change from Tyrannosaurus Rex to the abridged T. Rex, Bolan had previously played psychedelic-folk music which had found limited commercial success in the late 1960s, however with T. Rex he created a more simplistic, stripped down, catchier and distorted sound than his previous bands. Bolan openly experimented with his image by wearing makeup and sprinkling glitter on his face, as well as wearing futuristic and androgynous outfits which distinguished him from the music subcultures and stars of the time. With the release of the singles Hot Love and Get It On, T. Rex rose to fame and by 1972 had a popularity amongst teenagers not seen since the Beatles disbanded. Slade and Sweet would both consolidate their commercial success in 1971. Gary Glitter would also rise to fame in 1972, making glam a national music phenomenon.

However, a massive influence on glam would also come from David Bowie, although he did not experience substantial commercial success until mid 1972. Despite having a hit in 1969 with the song Space Oddity, his albums The Man Who Sold the World and Hunky Dory did not gain much recognition in the British mainstream although they would later be regarded as pivotal influences on the genre. Even image wise Bowie experimented with glam-style androgyny at the time as evidenced on both album covers and his image of the time. Tony Visconti collaborated with both Bolan and Bowie and was an important influence upon the creation and popularity of the genre.

In 1972, Bowie changed his image drastically to fit the new concept character he designed for a musical project named Ziggy Stardust. Strongly influenced by films of Stanley Kubrick (such as A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey), the rock and roll of the late 50s and early 60s, various literature, philosophy and other influences, Ziggy extended beyond the concept album and spilled into real life. When the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was released, Bowie became famous and experienced his greatest commercial success in the UK. Over the years 1972-74, Bowie's image grew more extreme, as did those of the his fans, and his musical scope widened to include American soul and funk influences in his music. In addition, Bowie would promote and collaborate with two at-the-time obscure Americans - Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, who both took in glam influences in both their music and image. He would go on to produce the Stooges album Raw Power and Reed's album Transformer, two now influential records in the history of music and both important examples of glam and protopunk. Bowie would also create Mott the Hoople's glam anthem All the Young Dudes.

Roxy Music belonged more to the arty and progressive side of glam rock than any of the others, yet they still scored four top ten albums during the period without the mandatory many single releases usually considered a staple of glam; Roxy Music, For Your Pleasure, Stranded and Country Life. Slade became massive in popularity having successive number one singles over and over in the UK during the early to mid 1970s whereas Sweet also became strongly popular. Gary Glitter amassed a strong popularity as well, having 26 hit singles during the early 1970s. His band, The Glitter Band, would also rival him in popularity when they began to release their own material in 1973. Suzi Quatro, Mud and Wizzard would all appear during this time. Though primarily a UK-centred genre, Glam rock rapidly influenced popular culture to the point where everyone from the Osmonds to the Rolling Stones wore some glitter or makeup. Even though their sales-oriented work had little if any connection to science fiction, sexual ambiguity or high art, the genre's pop stars also wore makeup and 'futuristic' garb. However, as glam dragged on, it became more difficult to differentiate between glam bands, earlier bands who had changed their image and bubblegum pop as it was largely regarded as becoming increasingly more diluted and commercialised. In addition, many felt that most of the new glam bands were simply cashing in on the fad.

In 1973 the New York Dolls released their debut album and the American Graffiti movie hit the screens. In the US, the Dolls' album attracted uniformly low sales whilst the 1950s-60s 'Rock and Roll' soundtrack to American Graffiti was a phenomenon, outselling any and perhaps all glam rock albums put together (although later on the Dolls' album would be regarded as one of the first punk records and their brief producer Malcolm McLaren later went on to be strongly involved with the Sex Pistols). Over 1974, a surge in nostalgia for the 1940s and 1950s and the rise in popularity of Reggae and Disco music supplanted Glam in music culture. Science fiction was also falling from favour as a mass concern. However, some notable bands appeared during this period, the most enduring being Cockney Rebel and Queen. However, although having a strongly glam image at the time, Queen had a much harder sound resembling heavy metal and progressive rock at first.

By 1974 Glam had become a quasi-subculture. However, the social upheavals of the 1960s had produced a fertile post-hippie era in which not only "futuristic" glam rock could flare, but the undercurrent of nostalgia which had run throughout the 1960s (after all, 1950s celebrants Sha Na Na had performed at Woodstock amongst the blues-rockers) could surface and become a mainstream interest. As it unfolded with a disconcerting slowness the "space age" gradually fell from popular culture currency and by 1975 the future was out of style, and glam rock had subsided in popularity. These retrospective bands as well as the new soul and disco music from the US flooded the British charts until the outrage of punk became popular a few years later.

Bowie officially announced his retirement of Ziggy in 1973 with a "farewell concert" (in which he announced somewhat ambiguously that "it is the last show we'll ever do"); he then went on to create the album Diamond Dogs, which many see as a farewell to the glam movement. He had largely changed his musical style to a combination of soul, funk, Krautrock and disco music by the mid 1970s. T. Rex quickly faded from the musical scene as their album sales and popularity collapsed, partially due to internal fighting and substance abuse in the band. However, before Marc Bolan's death T. Rex had partially returned to mainstream popularity as Bolan had cleaned up, hosted his own TV show Marc and had toured with new punk bands such as The Damned. Sweet and Slade had hits well into the mid 1970s but Sweet changed their image and sound to be harder while Slade faded in popularity but carried on until they found more retrospective commercial success in the 80s and 90s. Roxy Music would carry on releasing albums and would resurface to their greatest success in the New Wave movement of the early 1980s while former keyboardist Brian Eno released a few albums of glam leanings before becoming a pioneer in ambient music. Some American acts influenced by British glam such as Kiss would go on to have strong commercial success in the face of soul, funk and disco music popular at the time, however.

Theatre and cinema

Some examples of movies that reflect glam rock aesthetics include:

  • Brian DePalma's Phantom of the Paradise;
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show;
  • T.Rex's documentary Born To Boogie;
  • Sweet's documentary All That Glitters;
  • David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: The Motion Picture (1973);
  • Alice Cooper's Good To See You Again, Alice Cooper, Alice Cooper: The Nightmare and Welcome to My Nightmare (film);
  • Gary Glitter's Remember Me This Way;
  • Slade's Flame;
  • Robert Fuest's Final Programme (1973);
  • Oz (1976);
  • Black Moon (1975);
  • Side By Side (1975);
  • Never too Young to Rock (1975);
  • KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park (1978);
  • Todd Haynes's Velvet Goldmine (1998);
  • John Cameron Mitchell's film version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001);
  • Neil Jordan's Breakfast on Pluto (2005).

Subsequent influence

Although glam rock had modest record sales, the performers' decadent aesthetic styles, unusual clothes and behaviour, and hard pop-rock sound were a major influence upon the punk rock movement of the late 1970s. Bowie, Bolan, and the New York Dolls influenced early Punk bands such as The Heartbreakers (which included two ex-Dolls), Ramones, Sex Pistols, Voidoids, Dead Boys, The Damned (with whom Marc Bolan toured during 1977) and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Post-punk bands would even take a bigger influence, especially bands such as Joy Division and The Cure. German 1980s New wave/Post-punk artists often had a glam-oriented image: German Nina Hagen and Klaus Nomi, Bosnian Lene Lovich and others.

Gary Numan became hugely popular in the UK during the late 1970s, strongly influenced by glam in both image and sound even though his music was synthesizer based, making synthpop popular. The Gothic rock movement spawned from post-punk associated with the Batcave club in London (such as Specimen) took cues from glam, in particular Roxy Music and David Bowie. Bauhaus took a large amount of influence from Bowie and covered his hit Ziggy Stardust. Another movement from around the same time was dubbed the "New Romantics" and included Adam and the Ants, ABC, Culture Club, Depeche Mode, Ultravox, Japan, Duran Duran, and Soft Cell, who were strongly influenced by glam rock in both image and music, some even starting out as glam bands. New Wave united these artists of post-punk, gothic rock, synthpop and blue eyed soul under one banner and both Roxy Music and David Bowie played and would play a large part in shaping its sound. Both used the genre and their retrospective influence to gain large commercial success in the early 1980s.

Hanoi Rocks was formed in 1979, widely regarded as one of the first glam punk bands. The American glam metal movement would at first take huge influence from glam rock, but also from the NWOBHM strand of heavy metal (particularly bands like Judas Priest) and American bands somewhat affiliated with glam such as Kiss as well as Hanoi Rocks and the New York Dolls. Quiet Riot had their first huge commercial success by covering Slade's Cum on Feel the Noize in 1983, which peaked at number 5 on the Billboard chart. Mötley Crüe also took a huge amount of influence as most of the members were in glam rock bands beforehand. However as time went on there was less of a pure glam rock sound in glam metal and it began to be more influenced by a number of different styles of 1980s pop music. Nonetheless, the Los Angeles music scene spawned many glam metal bands, including Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Twisted Sister, Poison, Cinderella and many others, who had a vaguely glam-influenced appearance coupled with metal attitude and sound that dominated MTV for several years.

Alternative rock would be influenced somewhat by glam, particularly in the UK. In the 1990s, Britpop referenced glam rock, with bands like Oasis using Slade and Mott the Hoople as primary influences. Placebo, Suede, Manic Street Preachers, Spacehog, and Morrissey's album Your Arsenal also had glam rock leanings. Although widely viewed as adversaries (largely due to it replacing glam metal), grunge would take in some influences of glam musically as it was strongly influenced by 1970s rock, punk and heavy metal in general. Green River would cover Bowie's song Queen Bitch, while flamboyant frontman of Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone (which was a predecessor to Pearl Jam) Andrew Wood was a fan of both T. Rex and Gary Glitter. Nirvana would cover The Man Who Sold the World in their MTV Unplugged concert. Most of the first grunge bands would be strongly influenced by The Stooges, Kiss and Alice Cooper.

In Japan, Kenji Sawada was the pioneer of glam in the mid 1970s. Later he was crowned as "Pioneer of visual kei" after the term "visual kei" was identified. Visual kei would come to prominence in Japan in the early to late 1990s, influenced strongly appearance wise by glam and new wave or goth but usually playing a brand of many different styles, from heavy metal to pop rock. Some representative bands are X JAPAN, LUNA SEA, Kuroyume, MALICE MIZER and GLAY, among many others.

Although glam rock's outrage value has long passed, Sweden's The Ark, Finland's Negative, Canada's Robin Black and the I.R.S. are continuing the glam style.

Glam rock acts

  • List of glam rock artists

Further reading

  • Philip Auslander, Performing Glam Rock: Gender and Theatricality in Popular Music Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 2006 ISBN-10 0472068687
  • Rock, Mick, Glam! An Eyewitness Account Omnibus Press, 2005 ISBN 1.84609.149.7


  1. MSN Encarta article for "Glam rock." Available at Accessed on March 11, 2008
  2. MSN Encarta article for "Glam rock." Available at Accessed on March 11, 2008

See also

External links

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