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Blockbuster! British Glam Rock of the 70s

Updated on March 12, 2016
Glam Rock (Shoes)
Glam Rock (Shoes)

The 1970s: The Era of British Glam Rock

At the beginning of the 1970s, I was in my early teens, an excellent age to appreciate a new phenomenon about to hit the British airwaves: Glam Rock.

At the time Glam Rock was a joke. Those with Sweet records were laughed at by friends who were fans of "real" music: Yes, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin et al. Slade were unhip, as were T.Rex. Even the mighty David Bowie was a "pop star" laughed at for the make-up and clothes and was only rehabilitated when punk bands started namedropping him. The Glam bands, however, were to form part of the blueprint for UK punk.

The American version of the Glam Rock phenomenon related more to the Velvet Underground and the Stooges. However, just listen to Action by the Sweet or anything by T.Rex or Alice Cooper, and you can almost feel the UK version of punk bursting forth.

The history of British Glam Rock of the 1970s is documented here by its appearances in the UK charts of the time. Why use the charts as a guide? Because, if you weren't in the charts you weren't glam enough!

July 1972: Marc Bolan Interview

1970: Marc Bolan - Glam Rock's First Sighting

In late 1970, the pioneers of British Glam Rock achieved their first chart hit in that genre.

Formally Tyrannosaurus Rex, T.Rex had dented the UK Top 40 with a couple of whimsical ditties in the late Sixties, but it was Ride A White Swan (the single which marked a change from acoustic to electric guitars), that started their avalanche of Top 5 Glam hits.

The diminutive Marc Bolan fronted the band and the story goes that before an appearance on Britain's Top of the Pops TV show, he decided to add two spots of glitter under his eyes. As a result, many mark this moment as the arrival of the era of Glam (or glitter) Rock.

Where Are They Now?

Marc Bolan was killed when his vehicle, driven by girlfriend Gloria Jones, hit a tree in Barnes, South West London, less than a mile from his home. He died two weeks before his 30th birthday on September 16, 1977.

Mickey Finn, percussionist and bass player, formed a new version of T.Rex in 1997, after having left the original band in 1975. He passed away in January, 2003 at the age of 55 from liver problems.

T.Rex: Get It On (Bang A Gong)

1971: A Sweet Year For Glam Rock

While T.Rex began their domination of the top of the British charts in 1971, another band were also starting their chart career. The Sweet were soon to give Marc Bolan a run for his money.

Although they had issued previous singles, it was not until they had teamed up with song writers Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman that The Sweet were able to conquer the UK Top Ten. Their first hit Funny Funny just missed the upper ranks of the chart in March (Number 13), but their next single Co-Co took them to Number 2 and they continued to release Top 40 hits until 1978.

The earlier singles were simple bubblegum fayre and didn't reflect the band's true identity as out and out rockers. It wasn't until the release of Wig-Wam Bam, a Top 5 hit in September/October 1972, that their own sound started to emerge. This was the first A-Side under Chinn/Chapman on which they had played their own instruments, and while the song was still bubblegum orientated, it showed a harder edge to previous releases. This sound was built upon with the release of the group's next single Block Buster!, which occupied the Number 1 position at the beginning of 1973.

By 1974, The Sweet had grown weary of the stranglehold of Chinn/Chapman compositions and decided to sever the relationship and produce their own songs. They had always composed the B-Sides to the earlier singles, and these songs were really what the band was all about.

The first single released during this period was Turn It Down, which only managed to reach Number 41, due to a lack of airplay blamed on the lyrical content. However, they returned to the Top 5 in March/April 1975 with Fox On the Run, the fifth of their singles that achieved a Number 2 placing. It would be another three years before the band would hit the Top 10 again, with Love Is Like Oxygen, and this single would mark the final time the band enjoyed a British chart hit.

The Sweet were possibly one of the most underrated groups of the Glam era - their reputation tarnished early on because they did not play their own instruments on their first few singles. However, they were Glam Rock giants and often mocked their own dress sense and sound on numerous TV appearances in the early Seventies.

The Sweet are perhaps best remembered for their early Glam stage clothing - glitter, platform boots, chain mail shirts, and makeup - practically defining the camp extreme of the glam rock look.

The Sweet: Block Buster!

Slade: Kings of British Glam Rock

1971: Slade Slay The Charts

Slade were one of the most recognisable acts of the glam rock movement and were, at their peak, the most commercially popular band in the UK. During the height of its success, Slade out-performed chart rivals Wizzard, Sweet, T. Rex, Suzi Quatro, Smokie, Gary Glitter and David Bowie.

Band members during this period:

Noddy Holder - Lead Vocals, guitar

Jim Lea - Bass, guitar, violin, piano, keyboard

Dave Hill - Lead Guitar, backing vocals

Don Powell - Drums

In the UK, the band achieved 12 top five hits from 1971 to 1974, six of which topped the charts. In total, Slade had 17 Top 20 hits between 1971 and 1976 including six Number 1s, three Number 2s and two Number 3s.

No other UK act of the period enjoyed such consistency in the UK Top 40, and Slade actually came the closest to emulating The Beatles' 22 Top Ten records in a single decade (1960s). Three of the group's songs entered the charts at Number 1 and the band sold more singles in the UK than any other group of the 1970s.

Partly due to changes in music trends and the advent of punk rock and New Wave music, Slade's success faded somewhat by the late 1970s. However, a new run of chart success occurred during the 1980s, though not on the large scale of the 1970s heights. Slade had another two UK Top Ten hits in 1984, with the singles Run Runaway and My Oh My (Number 2 UK, Number 36 US). Run Runaway reached Number 7 in the UK, and would be the group's second Top 40 hit in the USA - and the first since Gudbuy T'Jane, which barely made the Billboard Top 40 in 1972.

Where Are They Now?

Noddy Holder is now the regular TV critic and reviewer for The Mark Radcliffe Show on BBC Radio 2, where the two often talk about Holder's rock star past. He also presents Dumber & Dumberest, which is broadcast in the UK on Five.

Jim Lea lives quietly out of the public eye in Brewood, a secluded area of rural Staffordshire, England. In 2007, he released a solo album, Therapy.

Dave Hill decided to carry the group on as 'Slade II'. Don Powell and singer Steve Whalley joined him, among others, and they still tour Europe. In 1997 the name of Slade II was shortened back to Slade.

Don Powell: In 2004 he moved to Denmark where he now lives with his Danish girlfriend. Continues to play with Slade, along with Dave Hill.

1972: Glitter & Glam : Gary Glitter

Gary Glitter (born Paul Gadd) arrived on the UK chart in 1972 with the glam anthem Rock And Roll (Part 2), known invariably in the US as the Hey Song.

His style blended glam rock with a driving, upbeat 1950s style rock and roll. Glitter's most popular hits included I'm the Leader of the Gang (I Am), Do You Wanna Touch (Oh Yeah) and I Love You Love Me Love. His Another Rock And Roll Christmas remains one of the UK's Top 30 Christmas hits of all time, and despite some serious personal problems, Glitter's career produced 21 hit singles in the UK, earning him a position among the Top 100 most successful British chart artists.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Glitter experienced a career revival, but this was cut short by his arrest on child pornography charges in 1997. After a lengthy investigation and trial, he was convicted in 1999 and served a short jail term.

Where Is He Now?

In November 2005, Glitter was arrested in Vietnam for committing obscene acts with two young girls. On 3 March 2006 he was sentenced to three years in prison.

On 5 February 2015 he was convicted of attempted rape, four counts of indecent assault and one of having sex with a girl under the age of 13. On 27 February he was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Gary Glitter: Rock & Roll Pt. 2

1972: David Bowie's Glam Persona

Bowie's Ziggy Stardust character paralleled the early years of Glam Rock and came to public notice with the Number 10 placing of the single Starman. This single and its parent album made Bowie a star and 1972 was a continued success with the non-album single John, I'm Only Dancing peaking at UK Number 12.

The 1973 album, Aladdin Sane, was Bowie's first Number 1 album in the UK. Aladdin Sane included the UK Number 2 hit The Jean Genie, the UK Number 3 hit Drive-In Saturday and a rendition of The Rolling Stones' Let's Spend the Night Together.

Pin Ups, a collection of his versions of 1960s hits, was released in 1973, giving Bowie a UK Number 3 hit in Sorrow and itself peaking at Number 1. This resulted in David Bowie becoming the best-selling act of 1973 in the UK.

By this time, Bowie was trying to escape from his Ziggy persona. Bowie's own back catalogue was now highly sought. The Man Who Sold the World had been re-released in 1972 along with the second David Bowie album (Space Oddity), whilst Hunky Dory's Life on Mars? was released as a single in 1973 and made Number 3 in the UK, the same year Bowie's record from 1967, The Laughing Gnome, hit Number 6.

1974 saw Bowie discarding his Glam Rock image and creating his Thin White Duke persona and his brief move into soul and R'n'B.

David Bowie: The Jean Genie

1972: Hello! Hooray! It's Alice Cooper

One of the few American bands to embrace the British Glam Rock era was Alice Cooper, later the adopted name of its lead singer, Vince Furnier.

The band's mix of glam and increasingly violent stage theatrics stood out amongst the denim-clad hippy bands of the time. Their first hit single in the USA was 1971's I'm Eighteen (not a UK chart hit), and its success together with their North American tour of 1971 - which also saw their first tour of Europe to massive success - was enough encouragement for their record label to offer them a new multi-album contract.

By mid-1972, the Alice Cooper stage shows had become infamous due to concerts which featured a boa constrictor hugging Furnier onstage, the murderous axe chopping of bloodied "dead babies", and by then, the choice of onstage execution had developed into death by hanging - The Gallows. That summer saw the release of the single School's Out. It went Top 10 in the US and was a Number 1 single in the UK. Their smash hit had arrived.

Billion Dollar Babies, released in February 1973, was the band's most commercially successful album, reaching No.1 in both the US and the UK. Elected, a 1972 Top 10 UK hit included on the album was followed by two more UK Top 10 singles, Hello, Hooray and No More Mr Nice Guy, the latter being the last UK single from the album. It reached No.25 in the US. The title track, featuring guest vocals by Donovan, was also a US hit single.

Muscle of Love, released at the end of 1973, was to be the last studio album from the classic line-up and contained Alice Cooper's last UK Top 20 single of the 1970s, Teenage Lament '74.

Alice Cooper: School's Out

A British Glam Rock Video Treat: ELO, Mott The Hoople & Roxy Music

Among the giants of Glam Rock that 1972 produced, honourable mentions must be made of the following bands that either began their chart careers under the Glam Rock banner or who came and went during this period:

ELO: The band was formed from the ashes of The Move which had actually been playing in a style very similar to Glam for years. The first ELO incarnation included The Move's Roy Wood, and their first chart hit, 10538 Overture, was a beautiful over the top meisterwork. Superstardom followed for the band under a different guise, without Roy Wood, who would embrace the Glam Rock movement with a band of his own.

Mott The Hoople were about to give up the ghost. They had made 3 flop albums and had reached an all time low. However, David Bowie saw them at a show in Croydon, England and gave them a song that became an instant and massive hit: All the Young Dudes. It's since gone on to be a rock classic, and at the same time re-launched Mott The Hoople into the bigtime. Their success was fairly short-lived, however, with their last Top 20 single appearing in 1974, ironically called Golden Age of Rock 'n' Roll.

Roxy Music: Their debut single Virginia Plain, which reached No.4 in the British charts, was a powerhouse glam rock anthem which was to exert a strong influence on the generation of musicians who became the leaders of the later punk rock movement. The band's striking visual image, captured in their memorable debut performance on the BBC's Top of the Pops, became a cornerstone for the "Glam" trend in the UK. Further hits followed well into the 1980s, but none of these reflected the early years of Glam Rock than this first hit.

1972: Wizzard...Cast Their Spell On the UK Charts

Roy Wood developed the Electric Light Orchestra out of the Move, but because of a rift with fellow band member Jeff Lynne, Wood left ELO and created Wizzard, a bizarre group which debuted in the UK charts with Ball Park Incident in 1972.

Greater success followed in the next year when Wizzard landed two chart-toppers, See My Baby Jive and Angel Fingers, (one of which can be enjoyed again in the videos below). Always melodic, Wood built his own wall of sound around these and other singles like Rock and Roll Winter and the Christmas favourite I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day.

In the centre of all this, Wood sported multi-colored beard and mane, added a star to his forehead and covered his face with warpaint or innumerable other oddities. Wizzard seemed to only maintain success with singles, however, and folded when management decided not to increase financing.

Wood also maintained a solo presence alongside his band and managed a couple of hit singles before disappearing from the charts.

Wizzard: See My Baby Jive

1973: Mud...Hits The Fan

Mention the name Mud to most Americans and the likely result will be a blank stare. In the UK, however, between 1973 and 1976, Mud were one of the hottest rock & roll acts there was, charting a series of monster hit singles. They were never a profoundly philosophical band. The group played music to have a good time, which it did for a few years.

Their musical competency and visual presentation - particularly Rob Davis' willingness to ornament himself with dangling jewelry - positioned them perfectly for the glam-rock boom, and the Nicky Chinn-Mike Chapman songs (The Sweet's writers) made for catchy singles.

Mud's ride at the top was a short one, not even three years from start to finish before they disappeared from the charts. The band never intended to have a long or lasting impact on music, just help people have a good time.

Mud: Tiger Feet: Best Selling UK Song of 1974

1973: Suzi Quatro: The Wild One

Ah yes, Suzi Quatro! The US only remembers her as Leather Tuscadero from the Happy Days TV comedy, but in the UK, Europe and Australia she was the queen of Glam Rock long before she hung out with the Fonz.

Because Suzi Quatro's first single Rolling Stone was a flop almost everywhere, RAK Records owner Mickie Most decided to introduce Quatro to the songwriting/production team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, who were behind the hits for Mud and The Sweet.

This led to her second single, Can the Can (1973), becoming a Number One hit throughout Europe and in Australia. It was followed up by three further major hits: 48 Crash (1973), Daytona Demon (1974) and Devil Gate Drive (also 1974) on RAK Records. Her first two albums were also huge European and Australian successes.

These recordings, however, met with little success in her native USA despite her tours in the mid-1970s supporting Alice Cooper.

Except in Australia, the popularity of Quatro's heavy glam rock style declined rapidly from 1975, and her fortunes did not revive until 1978 when If You Can't Give Me Love was a Top Ten hit in both the UK and Australia. Though this still failed to break Quatro in the US, she did enjoy some limited success with Chris Norman of Smokie in 1979 on the No.4 hit Stumblin' In.

Quatro has since become something of an adopted Brit. She now lives in the UK and presents a weekly rock show on BBC Radio.

Suzi Quatro: Can the Can

The Glam Rock Story

Children of the Revolution: The Glam Rock Story 1970–1975
Children of the Revolution: The Glam Rock Story 1970–1975

All of the gloriously glam artists are included in this detailed account of the glam rock era. Lots of wonderful information and contributions about the bands and the singers that put the glam back into rock..


1974-1975: The Glitter Tarnishes - British Glam Rock Goes Into Decline

While the established Glam Rock bands and singers continued to have spectacular chart success during this period, few new artists appeared with the impact of their predecessors.

Admittedly, we had Sparks and the Rubettes, as well as Cockney Rebel and David Essex, but were these truly Glam Rock artists? Well...maybe, maybe not.

Perhaps, the only group to step from the shadows was the Glitter Band - Gary Glitter's backing band - which made several stomping Glam Rock anthems.

But, by the end of 1975 and into 1976, British Glam Rock was all but dead - with only a few of the established artists keeping it on life support.

Enjoy the following performances from a selection of bands and singers that saw their glitter sparkle during this period, only to see it tarnished by the looming presence of the Punk Rock era...

Glam Rock Lives...On the 'Net

Celebrate your Glam-ness with these other glittering websites on the subject.

And Finally...Don't Get Blue Because...Here's Barry

Did you love Glam Rock? Did you enjoy going back to those glittery days of the 70s?

Thanks for stopping by and spending some of your time....And don't forget to vote for your favorite Glam Rock artist!

Your Comments Are Welcomed!

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    • profile image

      t2d2 2 years ago

      I love David Bowie, Marc Bolan, and Roxy Music.

    • Adventuretravels profile image

      Giovanna Sanguinetti 3 years ago from London UK

      I loved Bowie and Marc Bolan (when I was very young) I really didn't like the others - I think it was the music - or perhaps just the 70s in general! Great lens - more to come I'm sure!

    • Zhana21 profile image

      Zhana 3 years ago

      Great lens, but how come there's no mention of the greatest glam rock artist of them all - Elton John?

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Great list. All of these bands were a lot more than some make-up and theatrics. They could all play. BTW, I would have included Mott the Hoople, another great band.

    • profile image

      MissMalaprop 4 years ago

      LOVE it! David Bowie is my all-time favorite artist, but I love 70s glam rock in general. I watched Velvet Goldmine in high school and still have the soundtrack and listen to it. I think that was a big influence on my love of glam rock!

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