Glam rock (also known as glitter rock) is a style of rock and pop music that developed in the United Kingdom in the early 1970s, which was performed by singers and musicians who wore outrageous clothes, makeup, and hairstyles, particularly platform-soled boots and glitter. The flamboyant costumes and visual styles of glam performers were often camp or androgynous, and have been connected with new views of gender roles.
Glam rock peaked during the mid-1970s with artists including T. Rex, David Bowie, Sweet, Roxy Music and Gary Glitter in the UK, and the Alice Cooper group, New York Dolls, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Jobriath in the US. It declined after the mid-1970s, but had a major influence on other genres including punk, glam metal, New Romantics and gothic rock and has sporadically revived since the 1990s.
Musically glam rock was very diverse, varying between the simple rock and roll revivalism of figures like Alvin Stardust to the complex art rock of Roxy Music, and can be seen as much as a fashion as a musical subgenre. Visually it was a mesh of various styles, ranging from 1930s Hollywood glamour, through 1950s pin-up sex appeal, pre-war cabaret theatrics, Victorian literary and symbolist styles, science fiction, to ancient and occult mysticism and mythology; manifesting itself in outrageous clothes, makeup, hairstyles, and platform-soled boots. Glam is most noted for its sexual and gender ambiguity and representations of androgyny, beside extensive use of theatrics. It was prefigured by the showmanship and gender identity manipulation of American acts such as The Cockettes and Alice Cooper, the latter of which combined glam with shock rock.
Glam rock emerged from the English psychedelic and art rock scenes of the late 1960s and can be seen as both an extension of, and reaction against, those trends. Its origins are associated with Marc Bolan, who had renamed his folk duo T. Rex and taken up electric instruments by the end of the 1960s. Often cited as the moment of inception is his appearance on the UK TV programme Top of the Pops in March 1971 wearing glitter and satins, to perform what would be his second UK Top 10 hit (and first UK Number 1 hit), "Hot Love". In 1973, a few months after the release of the album Tanx, Bolan captured the front cover of Melody Maker magazine with the declaration "Glam rock is dead!" T. Rex's following albums attempted to branch into different styles of music, a move that found him fall out of favour with the British public.
From late 1971, already a minor star, David Bowie developed his Ziggy Stardust persona, incorporating elements of professional make up, mime and performance into his act. Bowie in a 1972 interview while noting that other artists described as glam rock were doing different work said "I think glam rock is a lovely way to categorize me and it's even nicer to be one of the leaders of it". These performers were soon followed in the style by acts including Roxy Music, Sweet, Slade, Mott the Hoople, Mud and Alvin Stardust. While highly successful in the single charts in the UK, very few of these musicians were able to make a serious impact in the United States; Bowie was the major exception becoming an international superstar and prompting the adoption of glam styles among acts like Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, New York Dolls and Jobriath, often known as "glitter rock" and with a darker lyrical content than their British counterparts.
In the UK the term glitter rock was most often used to refer to the extreme version of glam pursued by Gary Glitter and his support musicians the Glitter Band, who between them achieved eighteen top ten singles in the UK between 1972 and 1976. A second wave of glam rock acts, including Suzi Quatro, Roy Wood's Wizzard and Sparks, dominated the British single charts from about 1974 to 1976. Quatro directly inspired the pioneering Los Angeles based all-girl group The Runaways. Existing acts, some not usually considered central to the genre, also adopted glam styles, including Rod Stewart, Elton John, Queen and, for a time, the Rolling Stones.Punk rock, often seen as a reaction to the artifice of glam rock, but using some elements of the genre including makeup and involving cover versions of glam rock records, helped end the fashion for glam from about 1976.
Although glam rock went into a steep decline in popularity in the second half of the 1970s it was a direct influence on acts that rose to prominence later, including Kiss and American glam metal acts like Quiet Riot, W.A.S.P., Twisted Sister and Mötley Crüe. It was a major influence on the New Romantics in Britain, acts like Adam Ant and Flock of Seagulls extended it, and its androgyny and sexual politics were picked up by acts including Culture Club, Bronski Beat and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. It also had an influence on the formation of gothic rock, which was completely informed by the make-up, clothes, theatricality and sound, and even on punk rock, which adopted some of the performance and persona-creating tendencies of the genre, as well as the genre's emphasis on pop-art qualities and simple but powerful instrumentation. In Japan in the 1980s, visual kei was strongly influenced by glam rock aesthetics. Glam has since enjoyed continued influence and sporadic modest revivals in R&B crossover act Prince, and bands such as Marilyn Manson, Placebo,Chainsaw Kittens, Spacehog and the Darkness.
Some examples of movies that reflect glam rock aesthetics include:
T.Rex's documentary Born to Boogie (1972),
David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: The Motion Picture (1973),
Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise (1974),
Gary Glitter's Remember Me This Way (1974),
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975),
Slade's Slade in Flame (1975),
Never too Young to Rock (1975),
Todd Haynes's Velvet Goldmine (1998),
John Cameron Mitchell's Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) ,
Jobriath's Jobriath A.D. (2011).
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