10 Glam Rock Bands Who Shaped the Genre
Glam rock — the real thing, not the ’80s hair metal genre which mutated from it — was a cultural revolution that, in its own way, was as much a reactionary movement as punk would become a few years later. It shrugged off years of hippie psychedelia and priggish pretension to make rock fun again, returning to the classic three-chord boogie but augmenting it with a camp androgyny, a tribal beat and a steadfast post-ironic refusal to take anything too seriously. The result was a birthing ground for hair-metal but also punk, art-rock, and power-pop.
The following list depicts ten glam rock bands that founded the movement and their impact on the punk rock and hair metal scenes that followed.
Marc Bolan, who for all intents and purposes was T. Rex, more or less invented glam rock in 1971. Dialing back the freak-folk of his first band John’s Children and the original incarnation called Tyrannosaurus Rex, and adding some electrified Chuck Berry groove to his Tolkien tales, Marc rocked glitter and boas like few other.
Appearing on “Top of the Pops,” a British music charts television show, to sing his hit “Hot Love,” Bolan created an instant sensation. His performance has been repeatedly referenced by several of the artists in this list as an inspiration for their style.
Like Bob Marley did with reggae, Bowie embodied the genre while simultaneously rising above it, creating his “Ziggy Stardust” persona after seeing his good friend Marc Bolan’s career take off with a similar concept. Bowie had been a hippie folkie of sorts, but Bolan’s template appealed to both his theatrical side and his love for simple, stripped-down rock and roll.
The genre 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 a blue-eyed soulster, a New Wave experiment, and even eventually an EDM artist, it’s his glam period people first think of when assessing his legacy.
Throughout his career, David Bowie produced over 27 studio albums including his last album “Black Star,” released two days before he died of lung cancer in January 2016.
New York Dolls
The New York Dolls changed the world in about a dozen tracks — much like their predecessors who took inspiration from them, the Sex Pistols. Their first studio album somehow managed to combine strains of Bolanesque glam, Stonesy raunch and New York decadence, delivered with a ferocious zeal that inspired a legion of punks, headbangers and sleaze rockers.
The only band on this list not based in the U.K., they were equally ignored by U.S. and U.K. radio, and you didn’t need to look at their shockingly gender-blended attire too long to see that they were just too wild for their time. Imagine a world without the Pistols or Guns N’ Roses, and you’ll see just how important they were to music culture, simply by existing.
The bad boys of UK glam, Slade partied and performed like the good-time hooligans they were, mastering the art of the crowd anthem with purposefully misspelled chants like “Cum On Feel the Noize” and “Mama Weer All Crazee Now.” (They also contributed the ultimate Glam holiday theme, “Merry Xmas Everybody” to the music world in 1985)
If those two sound familiar to U.S. audiences, it’s because Los Angeles hair-metal band Quiet Riot based their whole career on covering them exactly. The members of Slade, as a whole, remain superstars in their native land, however, and after decades of touring, they did manage to finally crack the U.S. charts in the mid-Eighties with “Run Runaway” and “My Oh My.”
Though he’s sadly remembered now for pedophilia and his resulting prison time, the bizarre Teddy boy-gone-spaceman Glitter had the glam thing down pat in the early ’70s, combing tribal beats, snarling guitars, and football chants to create an irresistible new blend of bubblegummy arena rock.
Joan Jett and Adam Ant have both cited him as a major influence, and his singles were both simple and iconic enough to inspire covers by everyone from Brownsville Station to the Spice Girls. His backup band, appropriately named the Glitter Band and heard on his lone stateside hit “Rock and Roll Pt. 2,” split from him. They went on to perform in their own separate run as glam gods.
That rare U.K. glam band that scored several U.S. hits, (The) Sweet was the product of songwriting legends Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, who wrote ridiculously catchy hits ranging from Exile’s “Kiss You All Over” to Toni Basil’s “Mickey.”
The band’s glam style was unsurpassed, and had Queen not already existed, you might say the same for their harmonies — loud falsetto screeches that should have been over the top but somehow fit perfectly. When they chafed under Chapman’s notoriously rigid control, they proved they could write their own hits just fine: “Ballroom Blitz” was a victory for Chapman and Chinn, but “Fox on the Run” was Sweet’s triumph.
As with Bowie, Roxy Music’s lineup, featuring future Bowie collaborator Brian Eno, was far too arty to stay with the glam movement long. Their best early singles — bolstered by the archly gorgeous vocals of Bryan Ferry and the searing guitar work of Phil Manzanera — epitomized the feel of glam. Simultaneously snide, slick and silly, they often seemed to be mocking the bourgeois ideas that made rock fun in the first place.
They went on to inspire an art-rock movement all their own, one which was a major impression on the New Wave and New Romantic genres. The Cars and Duran Duran both drew inspiration from the group.
Mott the Hoople
Mott the Hoople started as a concept band, performing as if lead singer Ian Hunter were Bob Dylan and his backup band was a sleazier version of the Rolling Stones. The schtick yielded moderate success, but it wasn’t until David Bowie — there he is again! — gifted them an LGBTQ-friendly ballad called “All the Young Dudes,” which soon became the glam anthem to rally behind.
Mott the Hoople was canny enough to adjust accordingly, kicking off a brief but highly influential second career as glam giants. “All The Way From Memphis” and “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” became hits in the 1980s for U.S. hair metal bands Contraband and Great White.
Suzi Quatro was a leather-jumpsuited self-described “hellcat” who looked like the girl next door but played a thunderous bass guitar. Known as a major influence on Joan Jett and directly inspiring the formation of the Runaways, Suzi was the first female bass player to become a major rock star, inspiring women artists to this day.
Before shifting to a successful career in soft rock — most known therein for her duet “Stumblin’ In” with Chris Norman — in the late ’70s, Quatro released a series of screechy glam rock anthems to great acclaim in the English and Australian charts.
Quatro has sold over 50 million albums and is still performing as of 2021.
Wizzard started after lead singer Roy Wood left his already-famous band Electric Light Orchestra — formed from his The Move bandmate Jeff Lynne — to go full-on glam. With his striking stage presence — imagine a Day-Glo, Ren Faire Rob Zombie — Wood led Wizzard less like a rock band and more like a traveling troupe of oddball freaks and circus performers. His insanely catchy stomps washed in his own version of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound made Wizzard a smash success in glam rock.
Oddly enough, their most famous hit is “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday,” released in 1973. The band split up in 1975.