Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Myth Of Glam Rock

What is 'Glam Rock'? Was it really a musical genre?

The Complete Oxford English Dictionary states:

glam-rock n.a. style of rock music (typically of the early to mid-1970s) characterized by male performers dressed in glamorous clothes, with the suggestion of androgyny or sexual ambiguity; c.f. glitter rock...

Although the OED says that 'glam-rock' was around in 'the early to mid-1970s', they give no evidence of the term existing pre-1974 in their examples of its published usage:

1974 Music Scene Jan.
There was also nothing to say that he was the 'King of Glamour Rock'.

1974 Music Scene Mar.
Many bands started resorting to gimmicks in their acts... Thus was born the age of 'glam rock'.

1984 Melody Maker Oct.
ref... Wrathchild glam rock album.

The fact that the first OED quote is from as late as 1974, and refers to 'Glamour Rock' rather than 'Glam Rock' or 'Glam' is interesting. If these terms were being commonly used to define a musical genre from the early-1970s onwards, we might expect Music Scene magazine not to have used the alternative term 'Glamour Rock' in early-1974. And, why could the OED not find earlier published uses of 'Glam Rock'?

In fact, a search of British press archives reveals that - before 1974 - glam/glam rock terminology was used in reviews and articles by certain journalists, and that a single relevantly-titled book was published. Here are some pertinent quotations from 1972-1973:

September 2nd 1972 | The Guardian

Lucky Glam Rock

MARTIN WALKER on the rock revival and superstar David Bowie.. who opens Manchester's new rock arena tonight...

..But Glam Rock is fusing these disparate groups back together, Jagger, diabolic superstar, had always pointed this way. But other followed the path on - and perhaps back - to Glamour, to Showbiz. Elvis himself appeared this year in Las Vegas, white jump suits on skin-fitting black leather... 

January 22nd 1973 | Daily Mirror | Deborah Thomas


..The Glam Rock idol has an image as camp as a row of tents on stage but he's just plain Mr. David Jones back home in Beckenham, Kent, where he lives with his wife, Angela, and their baby son, Zowie.


The rock and rouge artist shook the pop world last year with his million-selling space album "Ziggy Stardust and the Spider From Mars"...  

June 5th 1973 | Daily Express | Judith Simons

AMERICAN singer-composer Lou Reed, "father" of what is politely called Glam Rock, or, in the case of exponents like Alice Cooper, "kinky" rock has his first British success...

October 5th 1973 | Daily Express | Judith Simons

WAYNE COUNTY is the sort of name you remember. Much as you may very shortly prefer to forget it.

He is the American singer who has taken the "glam-rock" to its ultimate with a horrifying act on stage parodying a plain woman doing her best to look attractive...

[There are further references to Mick Jagger, Alice Cooper, Bowie, before the article returns to Wayne County]

...Finally, the man who stands 6ft. 2in in his high heels will be the death of "glam-rock". Nobody could take the fashion further.

Why boys will be girls...

But after play-it-for-laughs Wayne, this crazy pop cult can't drag on much longer.

November 26th 1973 | Daily Express | Judith Simons [?]

New York Dolls, glam-Rock group from America appear at Biba, Kensington.

December 10th 1973 | Daily Express | Judith Simons

SATURDAY: The New York Dolls, glam rock at its most repulsive at London's Rainbow Theatre.

1973 | New English Library | Richard Allen


[Paperback book. From cover: 'Johnny Holland fights to stay idol of a million fans']

From those examples, we can deduce that:

* At least four writers used the term 'glam' or (more-or-less) 'glam rock' during the years 1972-1973.

* Although the publication of a work of fiction titled 'Glam' might suggest that there really was a genre of music with this name existent at the time... The sometimes equally-emphasized terms employed by the journalists quoted e.g. "kinky" rock, and "rock and rouge", suggest that those now hugely-emphasized terms - 'Glam' and 'Glam Rock' - were really not all that prominent in the general musical vocabulary of the early-1970s, in Britain.

Nevertheless, we cannot say that the use of them by writers was so uncommon as to be completely unworthy of historical note. As these quotations show, the glam terminology continued to be wielded in print during the years 1974-1976:

January 28th 1974 | The Guardian

T.REX in Manchester by Barry Coleman

..early exponent of glam rock and of course immensely successful as a bump and grind teeny glitter idol...

May 14th 1974 | Daily Express | Judith Simons

..Alan Williams is on the threshold of a career as a pop idol... with his name on every teenybopper's lips.

His group The Rubettes has jumped to No.1 in the hit parade with their record "Sugar Baby Love"...

For, with his clean-cut looks, wide smile and dimples he has crystalized a mood for a new type of idol - a sort of antidote to the style typified by the glam Rock of David Bowie...

August 8th 1974 | Daily Express | Judith Simons

..Then came Wizzard, with Wood painting his face in a comic parody of glam rock...

January 28th 1975 | Daily Express | Judith Simons

AFTER spending most of the year in America and France, Marc Bolan, originator of Glam Rock, is back - ego undimmed and full of enthusiasm...

November 18th 1975 | Daily Express | William Hickey

..Bolan, Britain's first glam rock king (that means a rock star who wears make up)...

December 2nd 1975 | Daily Express | Judith Simons

..the band Queen are now Britain's latest show business rage...

At one time, due partly to their name, they simply seemed a successful part of the Glam Rock era. But they have outgrown gimmicks. For "glam" now read "theatrical" with an intellectual flavour...

December 6th 1976 | The Observer

Not everyone is choleric about punk rock. Laurie Taylor, Professor of Sociology at York University said: "Rock music cults always start off with something outrageous. But in a very short time they become refined and acceptable. David Bowie's Glam Rock cult, of which these kids are the heirs, started the same way. So did the Rolling Stones."...

Without looking more widely at the music scene in the early to mid-1970s, it would be possible for someone to selectively use some of the quotations I've provided here to support the notion that a genre of music existed during that time called Glam / Glam Rock. More realistically viewed, these examples only show that some journalists of the time were inclined towards using the 'Glam' label. I've (so far) not been able to find any evidence that the general public of those years followed those journalists down the 'Glam' road.

* Apart from one fictional book, published in 1973, I've found no other music-related book, magazine or fanzine from the years 1971-1975 with the word 'glam' in the title. Almost all of the music-related literary and other commercial exploitation of the word(s) seems to be restricted to the years after when the supposed style of music is said to have been thriving.

* I don't know of any TV shows, or TV/film documentaries from 1971-1975, when 'Glam (Rock)' was supposed to have been so prominently popular with the public, that are dedicated to this purported style of music.

* I'm not aware of any song titles or album titles from the period 1971-1975 that include the word 'glam'.

During the years 1976-1979:

There were books, magazines and numerous fanzines dedicated to a musical movement known as 'punk' or 'punk rock'.

There were many people who defined themselves as 'punks', 'punk rockers' or (maybe) 'punkettes'.

There were TV shows and TV/film documentaries made and shown about the phenomenon of 'Punk'.

Here are the titles of eight different 1970s songs that contain the word 'punk' or something very close:

The Ramones JUDY IS A PUNK (1976)

The Ramones SHEENA IS A PUNK ROCKER (1977)

Bob Marley & The Wailers PUNKY REGGAE PARTY (1977)

Cherry Vanilla THE PUNK (1977)

The Clash ALL THE YOUNG PUNKS (1978)

Generation X ONE HUNDRED PUNKS (1978)

Television Personalities PART TIME PUNKS (1978)

The Art Attacks PUNK ROCK STARS (1979)

The evidence that a music movement, genre or phenomenon known as 'punk' and 'punk rock' existed and was seriously recognised during the years 1976-1979 is very strong. The evidence that a musical style known as 'glam' and 'glam rock' existed and was seriously recognised during the early to mid-1970s is weak. Those who persist in pushing the idea that 'glam' existed - beyond the limits of a few (mostly 'hack'?) writers - ought to provide any substantial evidence to support their view.

If convincing information is forthcoming, I am willing to change my mind on this; but, as things currently stand, I'm close to certain that 'Glam Rock' is largely a product of historical revisionism or, in other words, 'Glam Rock' is a myth.