[2 October 2011]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Children of the Revolution: The Glam Rock Story 1970-75 is a meticulously researched and undeniably thorough guide to the music of that genre, as well as its attendant fashions and cultural effects. Author Dave Thompson (Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell: The Dangerous Glitter of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed) knows his glitter, and he leaves no rhinestone unturned, here.
Presented in a chronological chapter and encyclopedic entry format, Children of the Revolution begins where glam is believed to have been born, and that’s with Bolan. “It was Marc Bolan who set the glitter ball rolling”, Thompson states in his introduction, and he goes on to explain how the psychedelic era, musically past its prime in 1969, still had a hold on the fashion world at the dawn of the ‘70s. This, along with things like the decriminalization of homosexuality in Britain in 1967, the repeal of a law censoring plays and other stage productions, and the continued popularity of psychedelic drugs, fostered an artistic community—with Bolan at its center—that created glam. Bolan was the first to combine “the sexual ambiguity, the sartorial sensuality, the literary art, and theatrical cinema”.
That explains the “glam”, and Bolan was undeniably the man to emulate in all aspects, but even he knew, the music was the main man. Glam Rock was all about projecting a glittering image, but that image would fall flat off its platforms if the songs didn’t rock. As the individual entries start, it’s interesting to note that the first song singled out is the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back”. Not because it was glam, but because it was inescapable, irrepressible, and, therefore, influential.
Another influential entry in the 1970 section mentions Nicolas Roeg’s film Performance, which was largely loathed at the time, but still made its mark. However, the bulk of that year covers Bolan. His formation of Tyrannosaurus Rex while dreaming of going electric, the rivalry with David Bowie (including of course, Bolan’s guitar work on the sessions for Bowie’s “Prettiest Star”), and the eventual shortening of the band moniker to T. Rex are all discussed at length. To be fair, there are entries for RAK records and for the first television appearance of a little group called the Sweet, but in 1970 it really was mostly Bolan.
In 1971 and through to the end of the volume, the entries become more numerous and varied. T.Rex and the Sweet dominate Top of the Pops in ‘71, but they’re joined by other, now familiar, names like Slade, Alice Cooper, and Bay City Rollers, as well as by lesser-known artists and influential events like the London run of Andy Warhol’s Pork. It wasn’t all Gary Glitter’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll, Roxy Music, and Ziggy Stardust (though you would probably be forgiven if you thought it was) in 1972. The next year had still more Sweet, Slade, and Spiders From Mars, but it also gave us Cockney Rebel’s The Human Menagerie, Suzy Quatro, The Rocky Horror Show, Queen and Wizzard. Mud had its first hit, Alice Cooper had Billion Dollar Babies, Bolan attempted to abandon glam, and Bowie retired for the first time.
The chapter on 1974, while continuing to present TOTP positions, significant releases and relevant events, focuses more on the reasons that glam and glitter never really took off commercially in the United States. I can tell you now, it was not Jobriath’s fault, but Thompson suggests it might have been OPEC, or Nixon, or Terry Jacks. This was the year Jefferson Airplane took a nosedive by changing its name to Starship. Maybe the US didn’t deserve glam rock?
The year 1975 marks the end of the era , but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have some sparkling highlights: Sweet’s “Fox on the Run” battled Bay City Rollers’ “Bye Bye Baby” for top chart position, Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson toured together, The Arrows’ Roger Ferris wrote a response to the Rolling Stones’ hit “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll” (which later caught the attention of one Joan Jett, by the way), and Roxy Music released “Love Is the Drug”.
The entries in Children of the Revolution, though encyclopedic in style and organized by month, have a consistent narrative within the chapters that makes it feel as though you might be reading a biography of glam, rather than a reference book. It brings in all sorts of artists and records—some well known (Mott the Hoople), some more obscure (Tim Dandy), some cult favorites (Sparks) to tell the story of a particularly exciting time in (mainly British) musical history, while simultaneously providing context for glam rock’s social, sexual, and cultural impact.
Children of the Revolution: The Glam Rock Story 1970-75 has a personal epilogue from Thompson, as well as four appendices, one of which is about, perhaps, the very thing that destroyed glam. It’s entitled “Disco”.