UK Glam Rock

Glamorized in retrospect but never quite cohesive or uniform as a scene, the early to mid-1970s reign of UK glam rock had a massive impact on both the charts and pop audiences at the time. Most of its creators were unsuccessful or just lower-key veterans of various 60s musical scenes throughout the UK that found their footing in the new decade. They, often along with similarly veteran producers and/or songwriters, brought together both their hard-earned experience as well as a knack for loud, often beat-driven singles first and foremost, in what was perceived as a reaction to prog rock, singer-songwriters and other more mellow approaches. A general aesthetic of back-to-50s-rock-and-roll roots also was key, though it was less slavish recreation and more repurposing elements and imagery for newer times.

 Marc Bolan became the flagship artist for the scene as such when he steered his formerly underground acoustic psychedelic act Tyrannosaurus Rex into electric riffing and punchier singles as T. Rex, with a famed TV appearance wearing face glitter being key. Soon various acts were making a mark both visually and sonically, whether it was David Bowie’s dyed mullet and arty fashions as Ziggy Stardust, Roxy Music’s outrageous costumes and general retrofuturism, Sweet’s fancy looks and string of pop smashes or Slade’s own combination of unique outfits and shoutalong anthems. The equally outrageously attired Gary Glitter, decades before his criminal behavior earned him prison time, not only had a string of hits but his backing group the Glitter Band earned a slew as well. 

Even as acts like Bolan, Bowie and Roxy Music started to tentatively explore revamping both their images and approaches, other performers were making a mark, including (unrelated to Ziggy) Alvin Stardust, Mud, Wizzard and, via relocations from America, Sparks and Suzi Quatro. There wasn’t any sudden end date for UK glam, though arguably it perfected a certain kind of pure pop formula with the success of the Bay City Rollers in the mid-70s. The various legacies of glam went different directions soon after, with many younger acts like Ultravox and Japan soon reinventing themselves for late seventies punk and post-punk approaches. In the meantime, whether it was goth, new romantic, hair metal or much more besides, glam’s aftereffects continued to play out down through the years.

Sweet Fanny Adams cover

In 1974 Sweet achieved a near-perfect balance between their own creative chemistry and the continuing song supply of the Mike Chapman/Nicky Chinn team on their stand-alone singles, something which the exuberant and harder rocking than ever Sweet Fanny Adams demonstrated to the full. The two Chinnichap numbers here are both monsters — “AC-DC” and especially “No You Don’t” — while the album as a whole kicks off with the high-speed “Set Me Free” as other numbers like “Rebel Rouser” and “Sweet F.A.” keep up the pace.

The Untouchable cover

The debut Alvin Stardust album is as pure a piece of outrageous self-willed stardom as one could imagine from Alvin and Peter Shelley, the producer who created the concept and original single “My Coo Ca Choo” and then wanted someone else to be the public face when it started up the charts. Both that and the even bigger followup “Jealous Mind” were defining glam rock hits, pure late 50s/early 60s rock and roll hysteria revamped for a new time, and both feature on The Untouchable, the cover art of him above a sea of outstretched hands saying it all.

Wizzard Brew cover

While there were plenty of examples of glam rock stars who had killer singles but sometimes uneven albums, when it came to Wizzard it almost seemed like it was the work of two different bands that shared a thoroughly brilliant main figure. The 2006 reissue of the first Wizzard album is the best of both worlds; the original Wizzard Brew tracks were elaborate and unusual creations, but the addition of killer singles like “See My Baby Jive,” “Angel Fingers” and their immortal “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” as bonus tracks makes it a clear standout.

The Definitive Collection cover

The story of the Bay City Rollers remains one of the most fraught in 20th century pop music history, with death, abuse and further behind the scenes horrors an absolutely central part of the story of the huge wave of boy-band pop mania that swept the band to massive attention in the UK and beyond. Any number of compilations exist; the 2000 compilation The Definitive Collection is as good a starting point as any, with the late-end-of-UK glam stompalongs like “Saturday Night” and “Shang-A-Lang” among others giving a sense of the madness.

Roxy Music cover

One of rock music’s most complete and compelling debut albums, the aesthetic and artistic combinations on Roxy Music’s first release have an astonishing range, wit, wry emotion and creative edge. That impact only became even clearer with time but in the moment it was a hysterical UK glam rock masterpiece. From the careening opener “Re-Make Re-Model” to the twisted country lope shifting into hyperdramatic delivery on “If There Is Something” to the suave ballardry of “2 H.B.” and “Sea Breezes”’s fraught tension, it’s note perfect down the line.

Kimono My House cover

Sparks’s first big commercial breakthrough happened in the UK rather than in their home country, but what a breakthrough it was: Kimono My House became one of the canonical glam rock albums, a skilled set of local musicians providing the rampaging kick that transformed the Maels’ songs into anthems in spite of themselves. “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For the Both of Us” was the monster hit in particular but the merry mania of “Talent Is An Asset,” the hysterical “Here in Heaven” and the album ending wind-down “Equator” aren’t far behind.

Aladdin Sane cover

If Ziggy Stardust was David Bowie essentially mythologizing himself brilliantly, Aladdin Sane is the real glam rock album landmark, not least signalled by the album cover immortalizing his famed shock of dyed red hair and lightning bolt. The music, recorded in bursts during whirlwind touring, embraced a wide, wild range, with brawling glam monsters like the Iggy Pop tribute “The Jean Genie” and “The Cracked Actor,” the dramatic cabaret of “Time” and “Lady Grinning Soul” and the twisted 50s pastiche of “Drive-In Saturday” among the many highlights.

The Ultimate Gary Glitter cover

Recommending Gary Glitter given his imprisonment for his horrible crimes is, to put it mildly, fraught; it’s at best handwavey to say one only has to separate the music from the artist in this case. But it’s also utterly inaccurate to leave out Glitter from the story of UK glam rock so this compilation, one of many made over time that draws together hit singles and also rans, will serve. A way to think positively about it: Mike Leander’s full-bodied production, almost tactile beats at their best, dominates, and on “Rock and Roll Part 2,” Glitter is just the “Hey!” guy.

Suzi Quatro cover

Much like her fellow glam stars Sweet, Suzi Quatro had made to order danceable rock singles from the Mike Chapman/Nicky Chinn team to hand, but her albums gave her space to make her own songwriting mark in turn, while her vocal charisma and her instrumental skills on bass took the lead from there. Her self-titled debut is a great example of that, with a handful of covers, a couple of Chinnichap originals in “48 Crash” and “Primitive Love” and a slew of originals with brilliant titles like “Official Suburbian Superman” and “Rockin’ Moonbeam” to round it out.

The Slider cover

T. Rex’s followup to Electric Warrior never hit as hard as that album did in the US, but back in the UK it was an absolute glam-rock monster, showcasing Marc Bolan’s seemingly effortless ability to create huge hits and intriguing, unusual deep cuts. The stomp and sass of “Metal Guru” and “Telegram Sam” racked up further number ones, but the moody sigh of “Ballrooms of Mars” and the electronic elfin beauty of “Main Man” remain equally, remarkably affecting.

Let's Have A Party cover

Mud were a classic example of a singles band that almost didn’t need albums to tell their story, riding the combination of the Mike Chapman/Nicky Chinn songwriting machine and cover versions of older hits to add their own cheery vibe to the heyday of UK glam rock. The 1990 compilation Let’s Have a Party makes for a perfect starting point to see what the shouting was all about, with massive hits like “Tiger Feet” and “Lonely This Christmas” combined with their Buddy Holly and Elvis remakes and more besides.

Hey! cover

The Glitter Band’s remarkable story, where a live backing band for Gary Glitter himself ended up not only being its own entity but starting to score bigger hits than him at one point, makes for its own bit of rock and roll legend, and in retrospect that split turned out to be a pretty good thing for the group. With Mike Leander’s sonic skills to hand for them, their debut album Hey! balances out songs from their days as a general covers band with a slew of originals like the hit singles “Angel Face” and “Just For You” that made them part of UK glam rock history.

Sladest cover

A classic case of necessity being the mother of invention, Sladest was initially put out as a late 1973 stopgap compilation with a slightly shorter tracklisting in its American version versus the UK one. But whatever version, it’s almost the definitive Slade experience in a nutshell — ‘almost’ because there’s no “Merry Xmas Everybody,” for instance, but so many of their legendary shout-along terrace chant singles, giddy misspellings intact, are here that it’s a perfect starting point, from “Cum On Feel the Noize” to “Mama Weer All Crazee Now” and back again.

The Psychomodo cover

If The Human Menagerie had established the florid reputation of the original lineup of Cockney Rebel then The Psychomodo cemented it to the full, with Alan Parsons and bandleader Steve Harley acting as co-producers. The quirky “Mr. Soft” was the hit from the album, while other standouts include the epic slow burn of “Cavaliers” and the closing “Tumbling Down,” both an unintentional foreshadowing of the band’s collapse soon after and a big descending dark ballad that ended up playing a key part in Todd Haynes’s glam fantasia Velvet Goldmine.