My Glam Rock assignment. Want to read it?

I've finished my Glam Rock assignment at last. What a bloody time it's taken! Of course, I'm a perfectionist and I'm naturally compelled to spend hours reading and re-reading it and finding things I want to change after about the fifteenth re-reading. Anyway, time for a sneaky wee can of Guinness, I think...

Introduction

For the purposes of this assignment I have chosen to discuss Glam Rock, as I gained my passion for music via a classic of the genre: Blockbuster by The Sweet, which was a #1 single in 1973 when I was nine years old. I have chosen David Bowie as a key contributor to the genre as he is generally acknowledged as one of its key instigators, and, unlike some other Glam Rock bands, he wrote his own material and developed his own visual style.

History

Glam Rock was a genre which came to prominence during the first half of the 1970s. It emerged around 1971, reached a peak around 1973 and faded around 1975, and was followed by a particularly dull, stale period in pop music which persisted until the Punk Explosion of 1977. It was contemporary with Progressive Rock and Heavy Metal, but can be regarded as more singles-orientated (most of the main players had several top-ten singles but released only one or two albums at the height of their popularity), and with a much greater emphasis on visual style. In fact, it was largely the visual style of Glam Rock that defined the genre.

Chronology

First Top Ten singles
October 1970: T. Rex: Ride a White Swan: #2
June 1971: The Sweet: Co-Co: #2
October 1971: Slade: Coz I Luv You: #1
March 1972: Gary Glitter: Rock and Roll Parts 1 & 2: #2
April 1972: David Bowie: Starman: #10
August 1972: Roxy Music: Virginia Plain: #4
October 1973: Mud: Dyna-Mite: #4

Last Top Ten singles
June 1973: T. Rex: The Groover: #4
February 1974: David Bowie: Rebel Rebel: #5
March 1975: The Sweet: Fox on the Run: #2
May 1975: Slade: Thanks for the Memory (Wham Bam Thank You Mam): #7
June 1975: Gary Glitter: Doing Alright with the Boys: #6
September 1975: Roxy Music: Love Is the Drug: #2
November 1976: Mud: Lean on Me: #7

Origins and Context

Troubled Times

Glam Rock emerged in the early 1970s and its leading players were mainly UK-based, though certain US bands, e.g. Alice Cooper, the New York Dolls and Kiss, also adopted a similarly-flamboyant image to that of UK bands such as The Sweet and Slade. However, these American bands didn't form such a cohesive movement and never achieved the chart-dominating impact that Glam Rock made in the UK. The genre emerged immediately following the 'Flower-Power' era, and against a bleak backdrop of increasing inflation, unemployment and industrial strife which intensified throughout the decade and culminated in the 'Winter of Discontent' of 1978-79. For this reason, it has often been described as an 'escapist' movement: cheerful entertainment for troubled times. There was undoubtedly a strong 'pop' element to much of Glam Rock, particularly the music of those bands (The Sweet, Mud and Suzi Quatro) whose songs were written for them by the production team of Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn. The lightweight, sugary, manufactured Pop music of the time is often referred to as 'Bubblegum Pop'.

Post-Beatles Vacuum

However, I would argue that another important factor in the development of Glam Rock was a perceived need to fill the vacuum left by the break-up of The Beatles, and the increasing orientation of other major bands of the previous decade such as the Rolling Stones and The Who towards albums rather than singles. In this context, there was a demand for pop stars who appeared not to be mere ordinary mortals, but larger-than-life, other-worldly, untouchable 'superstars'. So, although the music of UK Glam Rock bands ranged from Rock'n'Roll pastiche (Gary Glitter, Mud) through Bubblegum Pop to Heavy Metal (Slade, The Sweet), what really unified them was their strong emphasis on provocative, outlandish visual presentation. Long-haired men wearing glitter, make-up, stack-heels and outrageous costumes were seen as dangerous and shocking at the time; something the older generation couldn't comprehend.

Space-age Sci-Fi

A third factor which I believe provided part of the context and influence for Glam Rock was the lunar missions which were taking place at the time. This was particularly evident in the visual image and lyrical themes of David Bowie; notably his pre-Glam Rock single, Space Oddity, and his later 'Ziggy Stardust' stage-persona. It could also be argued that pop stars wearing stack-heeled boots and shiny metallic outfits resembled astronauts, or at least sci-fi 'space aliens'.

Rock'n'Roll Nostalgia

Finally, throughout the 1970s there was an undercurrent of nostalgia for 1950s Rock'n'Roll. Many bands, notably non-Glam acts such as Showaddywaddy and Darts, had chart-success with pastiche Rock'n'Roll and Doo-Wop songs, and this 1950s influence was also frequently evident in Glam Rock, notably in the music of Gary Glitter, Mud and Wizzard. Another example is David Bowie's Hang On to Yourself, the main riff of which is strongly reminiscent of Eddie Cochran's Summertime Blues.

Musical features

Musical Style
Musically, Glam Rock drew from a number of influences, and although all of the bands had a musical style that could be loosely described as 'Rock', there was a considerable diversity of styles within the genre. Glam Rock's musical influences included 1950s Rock'n'Roll (David Bowie [see above], Gary Glitter, Mud), late-1960s Psychedelia (T. Rex) and Heavy Rock (Slade and The Sweet), and contemporary pop (the Chinn/Chapman-produced bands).

Instrumentation

The instrumentation used was generally the standard rock format of vocals plus electric guitar, bass and drums. However, certain Glam Rock bands included other instruments, notably saxophone (Gary Glitter, Mott the Hoople), piano (Mott the Hoople, Roxy Music) and keyboards and violin (Roxy Music). David Bowie’s music often employed acoustic rhythm guitar overlaid with highly-amplified electric lead guitar, a good example being John, I'm only Dancing.

Composition and Structure

Song-structures ranged from the basic, repetitive riff-based formats employed by T. Rex and Gary Glitter, to more complex arrangements incorporating Heavy and Progressive Rock features. For example, The Sweet's Hell Raiser, although composed by the pop song-writing team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, contains numerous stops, build-ups and lead-breaks which build the tension within the song and give it a dynamic that is closer to the music of Deep Purple or Jimi Hendrix than to the typical Bubblegum Pop of the era.

Lyrics

Lyrically, Glam Rock was largely concerned with the usual romantic and sexual themes of Pop and Rock music. However, other important lyrical themes included Rock'n'Roll nostalgia, e.g. Rock and Roll Parts 1 & 2 (Gary Glitter), Rocket (Mud), and The Golden Age of Rock'n'Roll (Mott the Hoople); celebration, e.g. Mama Weer All Crazee Now and Cum On Feel the Noize (Slade); and science-fiction, notably Starman, Ziggy Stardust and Drive-In Saturday (David Bowie).

A key contributor: David Bowie

David Bowie, born David Robert Jones in Brixton, London, on 8th January, 1947, is notable not only for his contribution to the Glam Rock genre, but also as a musical and stylistic innovator throughout his career. Inspired to perform as a child by 1950s Rock'n'Roll, he sang in various R&B and Mod bands and later as a solo performer between 1962 and 1969. In the latter year, he had his first hit single with Space Oddity, a song about a fictional astronaut, 'Major Tom', which was released to coincide with the first US moon-landing and reached #5 in the UK singles chart. It was reissued in 1973 at the height of Bowie's success, when it reached #1.

Also in 1969, Bowie formed his backing band which later became known as 'The Spiders from Mars'. This consisted of Mick Ronson (guitar), Trevor Bolder (bass) and Mick 'Woody' Woodmansey (drums). Their playing-style was tight and powerful, and was notable for Ronson's distinctive overdriven Gibson guitar sound and use of vibrato and controlled feedback. This band initially featured on Bowie's third album, The Man Who Sold the World, which was released in 1970. During a promotional tour of the USA, Bowie saw performances by Iggy Pop and Lou Reed – relatively-unknown performers at the time who would profoundly influence Punk Rock in the later 1970s – and began to develop the concept for his 'Ziggy Stardust' stage-persona: "a character 'who looks like he's landed from Mars'".

Bowie and his band began performing as 'Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars' in 1972, and met with immediate success. The visual aspect was crucial: Bowie combined outlandish clothes, make-up, unfashionably short, dyed hair, androgynous appearance and ambiguous sexuality, with a deliberately-theatrical style of performance. It was undoubtedly like nothing that had been seen before. The album of the same name was released that year, and contained Bowie's first Top Ten single of the Glam Rock era, Starman, thus continuing and developing the space-age/sci-fi theme which began with Space Oddity. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is a concept-album which tells the story of 'Ziggy Stardust', the human manifestation of an alien being who attempts to present humanity with a message of hope through the medium of Rock music during the last five years of its existence.

The Ziggy Stardust album was followed by Aladdin Sane in 1973. This album featured a heavier sound, and songs inspired by Bowie’s experiences on tour in the USA. It contained two hit singles, The Jean Genie and Drive-In Saturday, which reached #2 and #3 respectively. The Jean Genie is a song about Iggy Pop, who was little-known at the time but is now regarded as amongst the most famous and influential figures in Rock music. Bowie gave his last performance as 'Ziggy Stardust' at the Hammersmith Odeon, London, on 3rd July, 1973, stating that he feared he was losing his sanity due to his inability to separate his 'Ziggy Stardust' persona from his own personality. Glam Rock had reached a fever-pitch of hype and hysteria at the time, with moral outrage in the newspapers and on TV about 'teenyboppers' and the antics and attire of pop stars.

Not only was David Bowie one of the main initiators – along with Marc Bolan – of Glam Rock, but he had a profound musical and visual influence upon subsequent developments, particularly Punk Rock in the late 1970s and the New Romantics and Futurists of the early 1980s. His musical influence can be detected in artists ranging from Be Bop Deluxe in the mid-seventies, through punk and power-pop bands such as The Skids and The Rich Kids in the late-seventies, to classic 1980s bands such as Ultravox and The Associates. In fact, many bands of the early 1980s were virtually Bowie-imitators in terms of sound and image.