Often shortened to ‘glam rock,’ this musical movement in the 1970s shaped the childhoods of millions not only in the UK but around the world. Now, it’s looked back on with fondness by those who lived through it and a little confusion for those who didn’t. But what was it all about?
As the name suggests, glam rock focused on the rock star and the concert rather than the music. This isn’t to say that the music was left by the wayside, and many classic songs originated in this era. However, the rock stars themselves received more attention compared to other periods. Sometimes called glitter rock, stages would be dressed up for the evening, rock stars would walk around wearing makeup and women’s clothing, and the musicians took on personas that were theatrical and addictive for the adoring fans. If you need an example of somebody who mastered the glam rock period, look no further than the legendary David Bowie. In the early 1970s, David Bowie created Ziggy Stardust, an androgynous fictional character.
Ziggy was an alien rock star who came to our planet to deliver a message of hope. Swathes of fans bought into the interesting story and went to see Bowie perform as this character all over the UK. But, for the longest time, the music took center stage. Now, the music was almost a by-product of the persona, the characters, and the concert. People would go to concerts because they wanted the whole experience – they wanted to escape the everyday stresses for a while.
During the sixties, rock was at the forefront of everybody’s mind. Rock was in itself a rebellion; people who went to rock gigs would hide it from parents and saw it as a rebellious part of their character. Later, glam rockers were considered a rebellion of the rebellion, and could be found in front of the cameras indulging in the best glamour photography Perth had to offer at the time. But it wasn’t just Perth, the entire world was gravitating toward glam-rock and glam-photography, it revolutionized the eighties, even though it was short lived.
While the rock stars dressed up more than ever before and the concert became an experience, what happened to the music? Though glam rock still held onto the hard rock features from the decade before, it became infused with pop sounds and a heavy guitar. As the 1970s wore on, artists started putting their own heavy metal, punk, and art-rock twists on the movement.
David Bowie became a master of showmanship, but others followed suit, which led to T.Rex with Marc Bolan at the helm and Slade, Roxy Music, Mott the Hoople, and Wizzard. To some extent, Queen and Elton John dipped their toes into the glam rock movement. As you may have noticed, much of the conversation has been about the UK, and this is because the glam rock movement didn’t quite make it to the United States with the same conviction.
Artists who liked what they saw in the UK and tried to emulate the scene include Iggy Pop, New York Dolls, Alice Cooper, and Lou Reed. Although it didn’t play a large role in the United States, it did inspire much larger movements in the country. This includes new romantic, punk rock, gothic rock, glam metal, and death rock.
The glam rock era produced stunning music, tracks that are still adored to this day. Yet, it will also be remembered as a time for fashion, performance, extravagance, rebellion, glitter, and elegance. Glam rockers knew how to put on a show, and they knew how to bring people from their stressful world with lots of work deadlines to their glamorous planet where nothing mattered but that single moment in time.