Unusually for a box set like this, there’s no obvious subtext attached to the release – no social impact, political slant or historical relevance beyond a general time of flamboyance. The accompanying booklet enthuses wildly about each artist but makes no pretence that lives have been irreparably changed by them and treats the obvious faces (T-Rex; Slade Glitter Band) on an equal standing with the lesser-known Shabby Tiger, Crunch and Gumbo. A bigger give-away are photos of magazines at the time – Mud are cover stars of Popster; Slade fill the front of a 1973 copy of Music Scene and elsewhere, Arrows are championed as “the pop sensation of the year”. Record company propaganda to support a scene which had a mass-market audience but as many critics and music fans who held it in derision.
T-Rex’s “Metal Guru” crops up early on disc one, sandwiched between The Barron Knights and Squeek, an appropriately odd grouping which highlights how ready both record companies and bands looking for a breakthrough were to jump on the bandwagon. Largely based in the UK and with plenty to spangle the audience’s eyes, glam outfits were ideal for Top of the Pops and broad-appeal TV shows at short notice and their 2-minutes melody-heavy songs were tailor-made for quick consumption.
There is much in common with the bubblegum pop scene of the 60s in America with a cynical conveyor belt of ‘talent’ being assembled but likewise, there are also strong shadows cast by the guitar-based garage scene of the same period. These, after all, were bands who could play their instruments and play live, whilst often writing their own material. Squeek were the first band to release a single on Bronze Records, later home to Motorhead, Girlschool and friends. Geordie, appearing with “All Because of You”, are only slightly removed musically from Brian Johnson’s subsequent band and like the oddly-non-appearing Sweet are undeniably LOUD. See these guys live and your ears would be ringing considerably more than if you’d seen many other acts who considered themselves musically beyond their ken.
As much as kids, teenagers and adventurous grandmas loved Glam for its showiness and lack of pretentiousness (or so much that it became impossible to determine any more), it still managed, perhaps appropriately, to ruffle feathers. Chicory Tip, of all bands, found themselves banned by the BBC for “Cigarettes, Women and Wine”, a rare foray into foot-stomping, a feat not achieved by Paper Lace, alas, but through no lack of riffing and crunching on the surprisingly angsty, “So What If I Am?”. Top of the tree is “Father John” by Lemming, “Oh, how I’ve been possessed/She made me feel depressed”, they sing (after a spot of speaking in tongues), surrounded in the accompanying video by Satanic imagery, tolling bells and a witch.
Like all short-lived musical scenes, the sound-a-likes do a good job in burying anything daring to be in any way original. Suzi Quatro and Sweet are the main targets, though 50s harmony groups, as exemplified by Mud, are spread equally thin. It’s difficult to imagine that vinyl was so cheap that it simply didn’t matter if a track failed to hit the mark, Glam was so focused on singles that the very few who made it to album stage more than balanced the sheets. Big Boy Blue’s wailing “Getting Hungry” takes Ohio Express’ innuendo into an even grimier place – talking of which, Sisters’ “There’s a Raver Coming Home” is a straight take from that other obviously missing link on this set, Herr Gadd. The eradicating of Gary Glitter’s musical dominance of the charts and his countless television appearances as simply himself, will sooner than later lead young people to believe he was a tiny cog in a massive machine but both musically and visually, there were few beyond the megastars of music who came close. “Gary Glitter/He’s a bad, bad man/ Ruining the reputation of The Glitter Band”, sang Luke Haines and at the end of disc two are that very band sounding utterly vital, yet cast adrift in the most terrible sea.
There are some gems which may be new to you (or to put it another way, they were to me). Catapult’s “Teeny Bopper Band” has an element of fellow Dutch band Focus, shrill and filled with boiling wah-wah to create a truly massive sound until it abruptly stops, the band unable to to do any more than lurch over the line. Dancer’s “Hate Generator” is equally bizarre, a sort of proggy Sparks with an ejaculating Wendy Carlos Moog sound bursting into a jolly chorus about hate. This is rather why Glam was so short-lived and is remembered almost totally in an ironic sense – it simply had nowhere logical to go. Laying all its cards on the table from the opening stomp, it could get no more ridiculous nor turn the corner into stripping away the costumes to reveal anything anyone any longer cared about. It scarcely seems real and the passing of fifty years only serves to add to the strangeness and charm.