Monday, December 14, 2020

You Better Hang On To Yourself

Glam rock, or glitter rock, emerged in the early 70s, a post-hippie phenomenon and antidote to all the earnest seriousness of the era. The dream was over, the stars burnt out and from the smoke of Altamont, came what? A teenaged transvestite revolution? Science fiction kabuki escapism? Exactly what the doctor ordered! There was still a sense of realism, a Hemingway sensibility in the U.S., but in England it was time to grasp the new decade with reckless abandon.

The first artists to bridge the gap from hippies to glitter kids were the inimitable David Bowie and one time male model, Marc Bolan. Bolan, who for all intents and purposes was T. Rex, more or less invented glam rock in 1971 as the first to wear feather boas and top hats and to write songs not meant to be taken seriously. Dialing back the "freak-folk" of his first band, John's Children, and the original incarnation called Tyrannosaurus Rex, while adding an electrified Chuck Berry groove to his Tolkien tales, Marc Bolan rocked glitter and boas like few others. Appearing on Top of the Pops to sing his hit "Hot Love," Bolan created an instant sensation, in the process inspiring every artist on the glam docket. 

Like Bob Marley and reggae or Dylan and folk, David Bowie embodied the glam scene while simultaneously rising above it, creating his "Ziggy Stardust" persona after watching Bolan's career take off with a similar concept. Bowie had been a hippie folkie of sorts, particularly with 1969’s Space Oddity LP, but Marc's template appealed to both Bowie's theatrical side and his love for the simple, stripped-down rock 'n' roll also embodied by American friend, Lou Reed. The combination did for Bowie what it couldn't do for Bolan: it made him a star in the U.S. And while Bowie soon transmogrified into the Thin White duke, a blue-eyed soulster, a new wave experiment, even an EDM artist, it's his glam period people think of first when assessing his legacy. (See the Ziggy review in an earlier post.)

This was the era that spawned The New York Dolls, Lou Reed’s Transformer, Slade, Sparks, The Sweet, Mott the Hoople and Roxy Music, the epitome of jaded androgynous style and European cool. One of the best, if not the very best, bands to come out of the 70s, Roxy Music were rock's last great innovators - on an epic scale; the sound they developed was the Lapis Lazuli to virtually every new musical genre originated since then. Their music can be roughly divided into two periods: the first two Brian Eno-dominated albums and everything else afterwards when the band's sound was dominated by Bryan Ferry's sultry croon. While the Eno albums do strike one as significantly different from the later stuff, one soon realizes that this difference has a purely technological character: the real heart of the band has always been Ferry.

Though his contributions were colossal, Eno's departure, as he himself admitted, helped Roxy become a more focused, energized band. Eno helped Ferry morph his songs into referential collages and eerie synthscapes and that experimentation gave early Roxy their identity. Eno is easier to spot on Roxy's flashy, daring self-titled 1972 debut (the inventiveness of songs like "Ladytron" and "The Bob (Medley)" help to cover up rattly production values), but For Your Pleasure is a greater testament to Eno's importance. It's hard to imagine an album that better exploits the tensions between two fast-diverging creativities.

While T.Rex and Bowie created their music from out of the personas they'd become, Roxy Music created personas from out of the music. Though the end result was the same, the difference was evident and a key distinction in the evolution of glam.

Just a few AM classics from the Glam era:

David Bowie: Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs
Lou Reed: Transformer
Roxy Music: Stranded, For Your Pleasure, Country Life
T.Rex: The Slider
Eno: Here Come the Warm Jets