Largely a British phenomenon, glam rock peaked during the mid 1970s. The "most famous exponents" of the movement were "Queen, Marc Bolan and T.Rex, Gary Glitter and the bands Sweet and Slade." Other influential performers include Alice Cooper, Kiss, David Bowie, Lou Reed, Roxy Music, Mud, Mott the Hoople, The Glitter Band, Brian Eno and Suzi Quatro.
Glam fans (usually referred to in the contemporary music press as "glitter kids") and performers distinguished themselves from earth-toned hippie culture with a deliberately "artificial" look. This is derived in large part from a fusing of transvestism with futurism. Evoking the glamour of 'Old Hollywood' whilst consciously wallowing in 1970s drug and sleaze success, the stars of Andy Warhol's films and his stage play Pork were crucially influential to the nascent glam movement. The Warhol coterie were provocatively camp, flamboyant, and sexually ambiguous. Mid-1960s Warhol Superstar Edie Sedgwick cultivated an androgynous, ultra-hedonistic image.
With then-recent homosexual reforms in the United Kingdom and the militant Stonewall Riots for gay rights in the US, sexual ambiguity was briefly in vogue as an effective cultural "shock tactic". David Bowie caused a media uproar in 1972 when he told the UK press he was "gay." While glam rock denied traditional gender-representation, genuinely gay glam rock musicians were rare. The late Jobriath was amongst rock culture's first openly gay stars, while Queen's Freddie Mercury stayed mostly "in the closet".
Science fiction imagery was a core strand of glam rock's stylistic weave. Themes of spaceflight and alien encounters were prevalent at the more cerebral end of the glam rock spectrum. Glam style strongly referenced this anticipated era with silver astronaut-like outfits, multicoloured hair and allusions to a new multi-gender social morality. Glam performers and fans combined nostalgic, "decadent" and "space age" influences alike into a uniquely "glam" synthesis of Victorian, cabaret, and futuristic styles.
While makeup and androgyny had featured in rock culture before the 1970s(most notably in the work of Syd Barrett, the Kinks, and the Rolling Stones), glam rock proper is generally agreed to have first been synthesised by Marc Bolan. With his then two-piece band T.Rex, his song "Ride a White Swan" was a substantial UK hit single. "Ride A White Swan" was released in October 1970, but topped the UK charts early in 1971. During the late 1960s Bolan had played psychedelic-folk music with his two-piece band Tyrannosaurus Rex which found limited commercial success. For the band's vastly more successful T. Rex incarnation, Bolan simplified the music, using elements of 1950s styles and amping them up with loud, distorted guitars, this approach realized in full on the album Electric Warrior released in the early autumn of 1971. Bolan also changed his image by wearing makeup and sprinkling glitter on his face, and it was the sight of a man with an unbelievable amount of 'futuristic' makeup on his face which greeted viewers of "Top Of The Pops" and cemented the 'faux gay space alien' image of early glam rock. Bolan's futuristic and androgynous outfits further distinguished him from his old 'hippy' self and appealed greatly to his new younger-teen audience. By 1972 Bolan and T-Rex boasted a fanatical popularity amongst British teenagers not seen since the Beatles.
In Bolan's wake, previously existing pop-rock bands such as Slade and Sweet would emerge and consolidate their commercial success over 1971-72. Pure pop artists like Gary Glitter and Alvin Stardust would also rise to fame in 1972-73, making glam a national music phenomenon in the UK.
Bolan may have hit upon the crucial synthesis of 'bisexual alien' image with a 1950s-futurist hard rock-pop sound, but he was all but eclipsed by David Bowie. Despite having a hit in 1969 with the song "Space Oddity", his albums The Man Who Sold the World and Hunky Dory did not gain much recognition in the British mainstream. Though nominally a hippie in appearance, Bowie experimented with glam-style androgyny during the late 1960s, as evidenced both on album covers and his public image.
In April 1972, following Bolan's successful new image, Bowie changed his image drastically to fit the new concept character he had designed for a musical project named Ziggy Stardust. Strongly influenced by films of Stanley Kubrick (such as A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey), the rock and roll of the late 50s and early 60s, various literature, philosophy and other influences, Ziggy extended beyond the concept album and spilled into real life. When the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was released, Bowie became famous and experienced his greatest commercial success in the UK.
Over the years 1972-74, Bowie's image grew more extreme, as did those of the his fans, and his musical scope widened to include American soul and funk influences in his music. In addition, Bowie would promote and collaborate with two at-the-time obscure Americans - Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, who both took in glam influences in both their music and image. He would go on to produce The Stooges album Raw Power and Reed's album Transformer, two now influential records in the history of music and both important examples of glam and protopunk. Bowie would also create Mott the Hoople's glam anthem "All the Young Dudes".
Roxy Music belonged more to the arty and progressive side of glam rock than any of the others, yet they still scored four top ten albums during the period without the mandatory many single releases usually considered a staple of glam; Roxy Music, For Your Pleasure, Stranded and Country Life.
Slade's remarkable series of successive UK number one singles over the mid-1970s rivalled the Beatles, and the Sweet also became a strong 'singles band'. Always the shameless showbusiness cash-in, Gary Glitter amassed a wide popularity during the early 1970s. His band, The Glitter Band began to release their own material in 1973. Pop acts like Suzi Quatro, Mud and Wizzard all appeared and had great UK success during this time.
Though primarily a UK-centred genre, Glam rock rapidly influenced popular culture to the point where everyone from the Osmonds to the Rolling Stones wore some glitter or makeup. Even though their sales-oriented work had little if any connection to science fiction, sexual ambiguity or high art, the genre's pop stars also wore makeup and 'futuristic' garb. However, as glam dragged on, it became more difficult to differentiate between glam bands, earlier bands who had changed their image and bubblegum pop as it was largely regarded as becoming increasingly more diluted and commercialised. In addition, many felt that most of the new glam bands were simply cashing in on the fad.
In 1973 the New York Dolls released their debut album and the American Graffiti movie hit the screens. In the US, the Dolls' album attracted uniformly low sales whilst the 1950s-60s 'Rock and Roll' soundtrack to American Graffiti was a phenomenon, outselling any and perhaps all glam rock albums put together (although later on the Dolls' album would be regarded as one of the first punk records) and Malcolm McLaren, who later went on to engineer the career of the notorious Sex Pistols, briefly managed the Dolls. McLaren insisted the Dolls switch from glam outfits to red leather and Communist symbolism, but this Pistols-like experiment in outrage failed and the Dolls folded soon afterward.
Over 1974, a surge in nostalgia for the 1940s and 1950s and the rise in popularity of Reggae and Disco music supplanted Glam in music culture. Science fiction was also falling from favour as a mass concern. However, some notable bands appeared during this period, the most enduring being Cockney Rebel and Queen. Although presenting a classically 'camp' glam image at the time, Queen mastered the art of the catchy single and their run of hits eventually eclipsed even Slade.
By 1974 Glam had become a quasi-subculture. However, the social upheavals of the 1960s had produced a fertile post-hippie era in which not only "futuristic" glam rock could flare, but the undercurrent of nostalgia which had run throughout the 1960s (after all, 1950s celebrants Sha Na Na had performed at Woodstock amongst the blues-rockers) could surface and become a mainstream interest. As it unfolded with a disconcerting slowness the "space age" gradually fell from popular culture currency and by 1975 the future was out of style, and glam rock had subsided in popularity. These retrospective bands as well as the new soul and disco music from the US flooded the British charts until the outrage of punk became popular a few years later.
Bowie officially announced his retirement of Ziggy in 1973 with a "farewell concert" (in which he announced somewhat ambiguously that "it is the last show we'll ever do"); he then went on to create the album Diamond Dogs, which many see as a farewell to the glam movement. He had largely changed his musical style to a combination of soul, funk, Krautrock and disco music by the mid 1970s. T. Rex quickly faded from the musical scene as their album sales and popularity collapsed, partially due to internal fighting and substance abuse in the band. However, before Marc Bolan's death T. Rex had partially returned to mainstream popularity as Bolan had cleaned up, hosted his own TV show Marc and had toured with new punk bands such as The Damned. Sweet and Slade had hits well into the mid 1970s but Sweet changed their image and sound to be harder while Slade faded in popularity but carried on until they found more retrospective commercial success in the 80s and 90s. Roxy Music would carry on releasing albums and would resurface to their greatest success in the New Wave movement of the early 1980s while former keyboardist Brian Eno released a few albums of glam leanings before becoming a pioneer in ambient music. Some American acts influenced by British glam such as Kiss and Alice Cooper would go on to have great commercial success.
Gary Numan became hugely popular in the UK during the late 1970s, strongly influenced by glam in both image and sound even though his music was synthesizer based, making synthpop popular. The Gothic rock movement spawned from post-punk associated with the Batcave club in London (such as Specimen) took cues from glam, in particular Roxy Music and David Bowie. Bauhaus took a large amount of influence from Bowie and covered his hit Ziggy Stardust. Another movement from around the same time was dubbed the "New Romantics" and included Adam and the Ants, ABC, Culture Club, Depeche Mode, Ultravox, Japan, Duran Duran, and Soft Cell, who were strongly influenced by glam rock in both image and music, some even starting out as glam bands. New Wave united these artists of post-punk, gothic rock, synthpop and blue eyed soul under one banner and both Roxy Music and David Bowie played and would play a large part in shaping its sound. Both used the genre and their retrospective influence to gain large commercial success in the early 1980s.
Hanoi Rocks was formed in 1979, widely regarded as one of the first glam punk bands. The American glam metal movement would at first take huge influence from glam rock, but also from the NWOBHM strand of heavy metal (particularly bands like Judas Priest) and American bands somewhat affiliated with glam such as Kiss as well as Hanoi Rocks and the New York Dolls. Quiet Riot had their first huge commercial success by covering Slade's Cum on Feel the Noize in 1983, which peaked at number 5 on the Billboard chart. Mötley Crüe also took a huge amount of influence as most of the members were in glam rock bands beforehand. However as time went on there was less of a pure glam rock sound in glam metal and it began to be more influenced by a number of different styles of 1980s pop music. Nonetheless, the Los Angeles music scene spawned many glam metal bands, including Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Twisted Sister, Poison, Cinderella and many others, who had a vaguely glam-influenced appearance coupled with metal attitude and sound that dominated MTV for several years. Waves were also being made in the U.K. with bands such as The Quireboys, Tigertailz and many unsigned acts such as Spoilt Bratt and City Kidds.
Alternative rock would be influenced somewhat by glam, particularly in the UK. In the 1990s, Britpop referenced glam rock, with bands like Oasis using Slade and Mott the Hoople as primary influences. Placebo, Suede, Manic Street Preachers, Spacehog, and Morrissey's album Your Arsenal also had glam rock leanings. Although widely viewed as adversaries (largely due to it replacing glam metal), grunge would take in some influences of glam musically as it was strongly influenced by 1970s rock, punk and heavy metal in general. Green River would cover Bowie's song Queen Bitch, while flamboyant frontman of Malfunkshun and Mother Love Bone (which was a predecessor to Pearl Jam) Andrew Wood was a fan of both T. Rex and Gary Glitter. Nirvana would cover The Man Who Sold the World in their MTV Unplugged concert. Most of the first grunge bands would be strongly influenced by The Stooges, Kiss and Alice Cooper.
In 2000, American band Cherry Poppin' Daddies (best known for their smash swing revival hit Zoot Suit Riot) attempted a glam rock revival with their follow-up single, the Tony Visconti-produced "Diamond Light Boogie". Despite critical acclaim, the single failed to chart.
In Japan, Kenji Sawada was the pioneer of glam in the mid 1970s. Later he was crowned as "Pioneer of visual kei" after the term "visual kei" was indentified. Visual kei would come to prominence in Japan in the early to late 1990s, influenced strongly appearance wise by glam and New Wave or goth but usually playing a brand of many different styles, from heavy metal to pop rock. Some representative bands are X JAPAN, LUNA SEA, Kuroyume, MALICE MIZER and GLAY, among many others.