Top 10 ‘70s Glam Rock Songs
In many ways, the glam rock explosion of the early '70s was a “rage against the fading of the light.” By that we’re referencing the “fading” of the ‘60s’ cultural Technicolor dream: the Beatles’ break-up, the Stones’ Altamont debacle, the Manson killings, the deaths of Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison, and the general abandonment of the Age of Aquarius’ peacefully revolutionary spirit in exchange for the ill tidings and dark omens of the ‘70s – not helped, perhaps, by heavy metal’s apocalyptic visions and prog-rock’s studious self-importance. Amid this climate, many probably echoed Frank Zappa’s latter-day question: “Whatever happened to all the fun in the world?”
But, luckily, upon this dismal stage there promptly alighted a number of amicable aliens – Bolans, Ziggys and Roxys, among them – clad in dazzling colors and playing uplifting music capable of driving away those dark shadows. Together, these artists ushered in the classic glam rock era; and while the movement’s original sunburst winked out well before decade’s end, it continued to influence new generations of visually arresting artists well into the ‘80s, ‘90s and the present day, with much help from MTV. Be that as it may, we’ve decided to narrow our focus on that original batch of innovators for this Top 10 ‘70s Glam Rock Songs, and, no, Gary Glitter isn’t invited – sorry!
From: ‘Guilty Until Proven Insane’ (1978)
Don’t be fooled by their all-black wardrobe in the video below. Skyhooks were easily the most flamboyant, androgynous and successful Australian glam rock band of the 1970s (behold the evidence here), simultaneously scandalizing and tantalizing what was then a very conservative country. Problem was, their biggest hits often addressed short-lived local gimmicks and generally lacked both substance and staying power, leaving us no choice (and what a choice!) but to select this, their irresistible final gasp, for our list of the Top 10 ‘70s Glam Rock Songs.
Having already claimed a lofty place in rock history for his work with The Move and then Electric Light Orchestra, Roy Wood completed his triple play as the mastermind behind glam rock big band Wizzard. The ensemble’s second single, the euphoric UK chart No. 1 hit ‘See My Baby Jive,’ paid lushly-orchestrated tribute to Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound,” and the band’s over-the-top wardrobe, hair and make-up did the same for, what, 'The Wizard of Oz’? Close enough, as the following clip will show.
From: ‘Can the Can’ (1973)
You won't find a better '70s role model of female rock and roll empowerment than Michigan native Quatro, who cut her teeth in a groundbreaking ‘60s all-girl band before moving to England at the behest of producer Mickie Most in the early '70s. Diving into the bustling glam rock scene with both of her platform boots, and helped by the Chinn/Chapman songwriting team (about whom more later), the eternally leather-clad Suzi achieved glam rock immortality on the back of 1973's positively barnstorming hit single, '48 Crash.'
From: ‘All the Young Dudes’ (1975)
Mott the Hoople latched onto an unexpected lifeline to achieve glam stardom – a lifeline cast by avowed fan, David Bowie, who composed the timeless ‘All the Young Dudes’ for the long suffering, recently broken up group. Talk about winning the glam rock lottery! Although Mott’s earlier and latter-day catalog was in fact rife with underrated gems crafted by front man Ian Hunter and co., there’s no doubt that it was ‘All the Young Dudes,’ with its almost hymnal qualities, that earned the group entry into glam rock heaven.
From: ‘Slayed?’ (1972)
With a whopping 17 consecutive Top 20 hits and six No. 1 hits to their name -- including our selection for the Top 10 '70s Glam Rock Songs list, 'Mama Weer All Crazee Now' -- Slade were basically the most successful British band of the '70s, if you can believe that. Notably, they were also among the most fun, thanks to their tongue-in-cheek lyrics and poor spelling, which complemented the outrageous alien outfits of guitarist Dave Hill and lovable front man Noddy Holder's glammed up leprechaun look.
From: ‘New York Dolls’ (1973)
Certainly the most important and influential ‘70s glam rock band spawned on this side of the Atlantic, the New York Dolls inspired a million careers despite meager album sales thanks to their music’s elementary, proto-punk simplicity and fearless cross-dressing ways. Perhaps even more significantly, the group's distinctly American spin on glam rock showed the way forward for Aerosmith and, by extension, all of their '80s hair metal disciples . . . not that you should blame them for that!
From: ‘Roxy Music’ (1972)
Roxy Music's 1972 performance of 'Virginia Plain' on Britain's ‘Top of the Pops,’ regaled in their brightest glam pomp and majesty, is one of the most seismic events in the history of British pop music -- literally reverberating well into the '80s and '90s through countless artists who thought aliens from a magical glam planet had landed on Earth that night. Obviously, the band would soon evolve away from glam to safer pop and MOR domains, but their impact on glam rock history cannot be ignored, nor overstated.
From: ‘Desolation Boulevard’ (1974)
Perhaps the prototypical glam rock group, right down to the lingering confusion over legitimate artistry and dependence on meddling producers, the Sweet rode a wave of smash hits penned largely by the aforementioned Nicky Chinn/Mike Chapman songwriting team to the top of the glam rock hierarchy. 1973's 'Ballroom Blitz' epitomized the pinnacle of their calculatingly fey, handclaps-driven soft metal aesthetic, and never mind that none of the lyrics make any sense: fans were listening with their eyes as much as their ears, after all.
From: ‘The Rise and Fall Of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars’ (1973)
David Bowie's remarkably diverse artistic achievements almost obscure the fact that, notwithstanding the fluke '60s hit 'Space Oddity,' it was his glam rock creation -- Ziggy Stardust -- that shot his career into the stratosphere. And with good reason, as there has never been another alien rock star quite like old Zig, never mind a backing band as devastatingly awesome as the Spider from Mars, led by the one and only Mick Ronson. Were it not for the elfin rocker cited below, we would have had no choice but to put 'Ziggy Stardust' at the top of our list of the Top 10 ‘70s Glam Songs.
Marc Bolan’s T.Rex churned out a wealth of classic songs worthy of crowning this list -- ‘Get it On,’ ‘Jeepster,’ ‘The Slider,’ etc. -- but, in our opinion, something about ‘20th Century Boy’ epitomizes everything that was so flamboyant, alluring, infectious, ephemeral and, yes, glamorous about the glam rock era. Likewise, it showcases glam’s first shining star, Marc Bolan, in all of his blinding, gold lame glory. Were it not for Bolan’s explosive and mercurial success to start the decade, ‘70s glam rock may have been a musical footnote rather than a major component of ‘70s rock and roll.