Glitter Rock beats Glam to the NY Times

Sylvester glammed his glitter; the Hot Band not so much.

I haven’t held under a microscope all 687 pages of the copy of Simon Reynolds’s 2016 tome Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and Its Legacy, from the Seventies to the Twenty-First Century that I picked up at the late great Ed Ward’s estate sale to verify this, but I’m more and more convinced that almost nobody called glam rock “glam rock” back in its actual heyday — which to say, say, 1969 (David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”) to 1978 (Nick Gilder’s “Hot Child in the City” — no mentions in Simon’s book, for roxy rollers Sweeney Todd either!) or thereabouts.

Exhibit A would be the Google Ngram line graph below, which reveals barely minimal publication of the phrase “glam rock” prior to 1980 (that includes England right?); “glitter rock” usage exceeding “glam rock” usage from the late ’60s until the mid ’80s, by tenfold around its 1980 peak; and “glam metal” not appearing at all until the late ’80s.

New York Times searches pretty much confirm this hunch, if you toss in an obligatory time lag for writers there to catch on to trends in the first place. “Glitter rock” appears in 1973 and immediately takes off — at least 10 appearances in its first year alone, including ones that apply it to Sylvester, Funkadelic and Dr. John, all of which make sense when you think about it. (Dr. John gets two Reynolds-book shoutouts; the others none.) But there’s no “glam rock” in the Times until 1989, in this case two years after the debut appearance of “glam metal.” Yet that doesn’t stop writers from using the term (as I have myself many times I’m sure) to refer retroactively back to the ’70s stuff, including in rather perfunctory obituaries of guitar heroes Johnny Thunders and Mick Ronson and reviews of a later Bowie album and a T. Rex reissue.

Also notable that later NYT critics didn’t hate the style as much as old guys had (Ian Dove actually seemed to prefer softee-rockers Orleans, years before “Dance With Me” and “Still the One” and their naked album cover), and that Richard Nader prematurely predicted the music video age. How come nobody ever told me about Danielle Dax before?

March 25, 1973: “With the exception of glitter rock, which is really more mascara and media than new music, the seventies have yet to produce any significant upheavals in contemporary music. It’s a time when all the past strains are flowering, from the gentle folky sounds to hard loud rock.” – Loraine Alterman

May 6, 1973: “So what is there—transvestite rock, glitter rock? That’s manipulative entertainment to shock somebody, to throw them off guard. It’s not what I like. That’s just amusing for a short time. It’s as if a very well‐tailored man walked along 57th Street and urinated on the window of Henri Bendel. You’d watch for a while but you wouldn’t buy his album.” — Paul Simon, talking to Loraine Alterman

May 13, 1973: “It had to happen. In this the heyday of glitter‐rock, with people who should know better gobbling up anything of a bizarre bent, somebody was bound to notice that there hadn’t yet appeared a black contender for the title of Queen of Rock. God only knows where they scraped up Sylvester James, but if Sylvester and the Hot Band (Blue Thumb BTS 45) can be taken as an indication of how low some people in the industry will stoop to cash in on the drag race, then let the record buyer beware. This album has little to recommend it to even the least discriminating listener.” — Jim McGylnn

June 24, 1973: “Steeleye Span is a charming British quintet that has been around since 1969 and whose latest record, Parcel of Rogues (Chrysalis CHR 1046), deserves more attention than it seems to be getting. But first, one has to over Come a couple of prejudices. The group is being wed as a clean, healthy antidote to glitter rock and its attendant decadences, which immediately raises the hackles of all of us who aren’t quite ready to equate Alice Cooper with the decline and fall of civilization, and who secretly retain a fantasy Image of our selves as unrepentant rebels. Anybody who is advertised as being clean and healthy has to be innocuous, right? In this case, wrong.” — John Rockwell

July 27, 1973: “Glitter rock, which one person calls shock‐schlock rock, still thrives in New York City. One of the newer and more outrageous groups, the Funkadelics, will be appearing at a Randalls Island concert Aug. 1 1. Those oldtimers, the New York Dolls, are at the Coventry, 47‐03 Queens Boulevard, Queens, this weekend along with the Brats, Luger and Malachite.” — Les Ledbetter

July 31, 1973: “Nineteen Seventy‐four is the next change,” [producer Richard Nader] said, predicting that an inexpensive ‘video cassette or a video disk’ will he readily available within two years. As a result the artists are going to put more emphasis on what they look like as opposed to what they sound like,” Mr. Nader said. “The demand is going to be to see how freaky they are. The first indications are of a wave of glitter rock. Some of its prophets are Alice Cooper, David Bowie, T‐Rex, Dr. John. Elaborate costumes, freaky outfits, costume changes, lights, smoke and fire on stage. Skits in stead of songs, or skits to songs.” — McClandish Phillips

August 6, 1973: “Although the English rock group Mott the Hoople has toured America each year since 1970, the Friday concert at Felt Forum was its first as a headliner—due mainly to the success of a hit single recording, ‘All the Young Dudes.’ Despite the fact that the song was written by David Bowie (who was the group’s producer), Mott the Hoople is far from that glitter‐rock image, platform‐soled boots apart. It is a tough droning boogie band, working with both piano and organ this tour, that wallpapers the hall with sound. Not spectacularly original but well able to relate for a couple of hours to its audience—which returns the compliment with its own form of high energy. On the same program, the New York Dolls made their concert debut. At present, the group is very much a Manhattan cult, very much glitter, sequin, attempted outrage and energetic rock. The opening number was ‘Personality Crisis, a name that fitted its singer, who was dressed as if he were Joel Grey in Cabaret and performed as if he thought he was Mick Jagger. The Dolls make mistakes, fumble around somewhat and don’t appear too original. The group draws its own highly specialized (and glittery) audience. In the Dolls, New York may have found rock’s equivalent to the old Mets. The concert opened with announcer overkill: The disk jockey Murray the K. introduced the disk jockey Wolfman Jack, who introduced the greenhaired record producer, Todd Rundgren, who introduced the New York Dolls.” — Ian Dove

October 7, 1973: “Fabulous Rhinestones, the group that opened Wednesday at Max’s Kansas City, Park Avenue South and 17th Street, will probably suffer from its name, which conjures up images of unisex glitter rock. Actually nothing could be farther from the image. Rhinestones is a gritty, tough‐sounding rock band playing with a walloping, dancing beat that underlines urgently declaimed vocals—’Do It Like You Mean It’ and so on. They also are capable of injecting a strong Latin feeling into their traditional rock ‘n’ roll sounds. Nothing is effete about the Rhinestones or Orleans (which opened the evening’s show). Orleans is also a group with open ears—many rock styles are neatly distilled by the group, although it leans toward the hoarse urgency of soul material.” — Ian Dove

October 12, 1973: “Broadway’s Palace Theater is obviously finding music profitable — the box office opens Monday for the three‐week Bette Midler season (which looks set for sellbut status), and this is preceded by four evenings with the singer Vicki Carr, starting Oct. 25.And the Palace is also casting around for two more pop‐rock attractions to slot in before the Carol Channing musical Lorelei arrives Jan. 14. Expect one of them to be David Bowie, despite the fact that the glitter‐rock artist has publicly stated he has given up touring and live concerts. Bowie is expected to use the Palace engagement as a further means of boosting his record sales in this country and is presenting a lavish event, the Ziggie Stardust Show (named after one of his albums) with expensive sets and dancers for one week.” — Ian Dove

November 2, 1973: “The trouble with glitter rock in New York is that it brings out so many of the bizarros, and the social takes over from the music. And it was never more so than on Wednesday—Halloween. There was even applause in the main lobby of the Waldorf‐Astoria as bemused hotel guests watched the large crowd, rhinestoned and sequined and unisex, parading their fantasies on the way to a performance by the New York Dolls in the Grand Ballroom. It was billed as the Waldorf’s first real rock attraction and, in view of some door‐smashing between locked‐in security guards and locked‐out Dolls freaks, will probably be the last.” — John Rockwell

Orleans: Clearly way too heterosexual for glitter rock!


December 30, 1987: “The triumph of Bon Jovi underscored the fact that 1987 was a banner year – perhaps the best ever, commercially speaking – for hard rock, much of it tinged with varying degrees of metallic ferocity. Terms like ”soft metal,” ”speed metal” and ”glam metal” were trotted out to distinguish different shadings and styles. Motley Crue, Whitesnake, Def Leppard, Poison, and Cinderella, bands whose most recent albums have each sold over two million copies, led the invasion of the charts by metal-oriented bands and made teen-oriented hard rock the year’s most significant commercial trend.” — Stephen Holden

July 10, 1988: “These days, heavy metal has its own proliferating factions and subgenres. There’s the sweaty, chugging heavy metal of AC/DC and Motorhead; the pop-metal of the Scorpions (also featured on the Monsters of Rock Tour), who use catchy tunes and stage choreography; the glam-metal of Poison and Aerosmith, who strut and pout in flamboyant makeup, and the speed-metal, inspired largely by Metallica, of Megadeth and Queensrÿche (if a band name has an umlaut, it’s a heavy metal band), who set apocalyptic lyrics at breakneck tempos.” — Jon Pareles

March 5, 1989: “Among eclectic rock eccentrics, Danielle Dax makes Siouxsie Sioux (of Siouxsie and the Banshees) and Lene Lovich seem constrained. Miss Dax and her collaborators, Daniel Knight and Steve Reeves, have soaked up everything from the British glam-rock of T. Rex to the lightly penetrating quavers of India’s soundtrack vocalists to the industrial crunch of current dance music.” — Jon Pareles

April 25, 1991: “Johnny Thunders, a rock guitarist and songwriter who was a founding member of the New York Dolls, died Tuesday morning in New Orleans. He was 38 years old. ..The New York Dolls blended elements of the Rolling Stones and American hard rock bands like MC5, and pioneered a heavily theatrical style that came to be called glam-rock.” — unsigned obituary

December 15, 1991: “From the falsetto backing vocals to the soles of Marc Bolan’s platform shoes, T. Rex epitomized early 70’s glam-rock cool. For all their brazen double-entendres and libidinous uh-huh rhythms, T. Rex singles like ‘Jeepster’ and ‘Metal Guru’ managed an innocence that most of the decade seemed intent on overhauling. Bolan’s fey images of cosmic cars, purple-clad dandies and diamond studs often, happily, meant nothing at all; T. Rex was one of rock’s supreme expressions of style over substance. The Essential Collection picks up with tracks from the band’s 1970 breakthrough album Electric Warrior and continues until Bolan’s death in a 1977 car crash.” — Karen Schoemer

November 1, 1992: “Prince synthesizes disparate musical styles with stunning dexterity, stripping each influence of its individual nature and making it new in the mix. Funk jams run into pseudo-techno raves, lovers’ rock goes cabaret, a quiet storm fades into a Beatlesque ballad, and swinging lite jazz escalates into glam-rock opera.” – Ann Powers

November 2, 1992: “Daisy Chainsaw’s music pilfers from an array of influences, starting with British glam-rock and moving through the punk era. The guitarist Crispin Gray emulates David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust phase and cranks out chaotic leads recalling the amateurish glory of the 1977 English explosion.” — Ann Powers

February 8, 1993: “When bands like the New York Dolls and T. Rex, KISS and Cheap Trick wowed 70’s fans with comic-book flash and bad-boy attitude, rock usurped the dominant ideology with a casual shake of the tail feathers. These bands played rudely constructed songs with a basic pop flair and never acted as if they deserved anything more than their share of fun. But fun, in their hands, became a weapon against social convention. Star Star revives those 70’s trash values without bothering to update the style. At the Limelight on Jan. 31, the group’s singer, Johnnie Holliday, skipped around in a flouncy housedress, while the guitarist, Jay Hening, struck a pose in banana-colored platform shoes and leopard skin. The band mixed originals like the honky-tonkin’ glam-rock ballad ‘Cowboys in Space’ and the skittish ‘Nervous’ with the Dolls’ ‘Jet Boy’ and Cheap Trick’s ‘California Man’.” — Ann Powers

May 2, 1993: “In 1972, David Bowie, then an obscure British singer, transformed himself into Ziggy Stardust, a groovy guitar-slinger whose androgynous appearance announced the new glam rock. Glam trashed glamour and made trash glamorous. Musicians like Mr. Bowie, Lou Reed and Marc Bolan dressed in platform shoes, feather boas and purple eye shadow. Meshing cheesy pop with pretentious art-rock, their music inspired a giddy, glittery pansexual liberation. But soon pop stars like Gary Glitter and Kiss robbed glam of its iconoclasm, and the moment faded. Last year a number of English bands, most notably Suede, began performing music with the grand gesture of glam. Critics quickly announced the genre’s revival, heralding it as an antidote to the blandness and misogyny of much of grunge, metal and rap. To a pop world dulled by framentation, new albums by Mr. Bowie and Suede would seemingly offer the hope of transcendence through fabulousness.” — Evelyn McDonnell

May 4, 1993: “Mick Ronson, the former lead guitarist for David Bowie’s band, and a rock music producer, died on Friday in London. He was 46…Mr. Ronson was a hard-rock guitarist who also understood melody, and his chunky chords and riffs put a firm rock foundation under the ironies of Mr. Bowie’s androgynous glam-rock. Songs like ‘Suffragette City’ helped to establish the proportions of a genre that survived the 1970’s and thrived anew in the 1980’s as so-called lite metal.” — unsigned obituary

Glam-revival goth girl Danielle Dax has excellent hair — though, shockingly, not under her arms!


  1. via facebook:

    Kevin Bozelka
    Oh motherfuck me! This bullshit again! “With the exception of glitter rock, which is really more mascara and media than new music, the seventies have yet to produce any significant upheavals in contemporary music.”
    “It’s as if a very well‐tailored man walked along 57th Street and urinated on the window of Henri Bendel. You’d watch for a while but you wouldn’t buy his album.” —Yes, I fuckin’ would, Paul Simon!
    Oooh I love the June 24, 1973 John Rockwell take!!!!
    Wow. On July 27, 1973, “the Funakdelics” were considered “newer” while the NY Dolls were “oldtimers.”

    Chuck Eddy
    Yeah, that was pretty weird. Figured I’d let people find it themselves.

    Steve Pick
    It’s been a long time but I kind of remember the music was simply referred to as “glam” with the rock not explicitly stated most of the time. That, however, would be a search engine research nightmare even Chuck Eddy might not undertake

    Chuck Eddy
    That did occur to me — but yeah, the search would be basically impossible

    James Porter
    When Creem magazine did an article on Dr. John in 1975, he had a very flamboyant stage show. He did tell the interviewer something like: “now don’t go thinking we’re some sandbox glitter-rock band.”

    Ian Grey
    Well, for starters, nobody ever called anything “shock‐schlock rock”. I used to go to a club called the Chickenshack in the Valley where one could find various Runaways, Iggy, some future glam metal bros and other aligned persons and we used to joke about how you knew something was at least two years old if it appeared in the Times as ‘new’ and ‘the latest’. Glitter and glam were just interchangeable. I think ‘glitter’ was a derogative thing writers singed on a band that embraced Ziggy values. My band, the literally glam The Quick, actually stole outrageously from bands like The Move but, due to some weird production decisions, we ended up sounding like Sparks-meets-Nick Gilder (who we knew!) but critics called _all_ of us glitter. One could really feel a certain contempt in the air for us unmanly types. XGau’s entire review of The Quick album was “white dopes on punk”, which wasn’t even clever back then or remotely accurate.

    James Auburn Tootle
    David Johansen in the 3rd issue of Punk Magazine, 1976:
    [Photo of Johansen saying, in a comic-strip-type balloon, “I THINK THAT WAS DEFINITELY PUNK ROCK. IT WASN’T GLITTER ROCK.”]

    Ian Grey
    I’d argue he used “glitter rock” because that was always a demeaning insult.

    Andy Zax
    The section divider I salvaged from Rod McKuen’s record collection backs you up 100%. [Divider labeled “GLITTER ROCK.”]

    Ian Grey
    Sorry to go on and on, but I think there’s an opportunity to strike some new critical territory here because none of us called ourselves, well, anything. We were aligned with Bowie’s mission but expressed it radically differently. Actually, the sexy NewYawk of Milk n Cookies, the slinky Nick Guilder, the Euro-high-style Sparks, the Fred Segal-goes-mod thing The Quick was
    attempting, the girl-hard-rock glimmer of The Runaways, the jumpsuit futurism of BeBop Deluxe…all we had in actual common were rather high voices.

    Janiss Garza
    Ian Grey you were there so you know. Anyone who wasn’t is just guessing.

    Ian Grey
    Anyway, I see this mostly as a cultural/fashion issue with a dash of sizzling homophobia. Traditionally, middle America, home of Real Rock by Real Men, has nothing but contempt of and terror about fashion which is separate from style. So when we started dressing like European Vogue centerfolds, when we burned our denim while making music that leaned more towards Fassbinder than Ford, well, boomer men couldn’t stand for that! And so the birth of glitter, which some of us wore—as has always been the case—as a highlighter aspect of eye-shadow, but which was used to degrade and despise our project that so vigorously rejected denim culture. Calling what we did “glitter” is like calling a nuclear submarine “kitchen” because there’s a room where you can heat a microwave dinner. And, of course, there was no way the boomerati could countenance a blatant love of the theatrical, the interestingly-dressed, the made-up, the must-be queer. And again, voila, “glitter”, something tiny,tacky, briefly shiny and utterly inconsequential. So in terms of how they felt and feared, “glitter” was a perfect expression of contempt. As an accurate descriptor of what we did and what our allies called it, it’s just silly. We wanted glam, we dressed glam, we crafted glam, we studied glam in films and musicals, we were in a constant fashion/music/no-difference conversation with our glam peers and leading figures *and then* we called what we did “glitter”? Nope.

    Steve Schneider
    IAs a kid growing up at that time, I never once heard the term “glam rock.” Didn’t even know it existed until I started reading British music mags in the early ’80s. When Cooper, Bowie, Sweet et al were making their biggest waves, it was “glitter” all the way. But this was as a kid in central New Jersey, which likely reinforces your point more than contradicts it.
    I also recall Juan Croucier telling Faces magazine “I think of Ratt as fashion rock” around 1984, and thinking “Boy, he is going to pay for that on the tour bus.” The last thing even a glam metaler wanted to be associated with was “fashion.” That was for dweebs like Duran Duran! 😉

    Tony Green
    I remember bugging out over that Jobriath cover back in the day.

    Kerr Duul
    Of course over in the UK where it was invented nobody has ever called it glitter

    Chuck Eddy
    I’m skeptical. As I understand it, that Ngram graph should theoretically include the UK, though I’d welcome evidence to the contrary. Are you saying Brits always called it glam rock, or called it something else entirely?

    Kerr Duul
    Always called it glam rock. On top of the pops it was called glam rock. I dont know if the weeklies covered it much, it was very much a pop thing.
    Didn’t Simon Reynolds write a book on it? I’m sure he could provide you with print examples. But it was always called glam rock here by fans, top of the pops, radio DJs. ive never heard it called anything else. even roxy music got called it though they also get the art rock/pop tag as bowie would. but ziggy era bowie is peak glam. as was Sweet, Slade and T Rex.

    Chuck Eddy
    Interesting. But yeah, I open that blog post mentioning Simon’s book.

    Kerr Duul
    Glam rocks peak was before I was born too. 71/72.
    Bolan thought so too in 73
    [Melody Maker headline: “GLAM ROCK IS DEAD! SAYS MARC”]

    Chuck Eddy
    Clearly a US/UK split decision. And I guess I don’t get how Ngrams work.

    Kerr Duul
    What was the earliest example of glam rock or glitter rock in the US? In the UK Suzi Quatro was the most famous US glam rocker.

    Chuck Eddy
    Alice Cooper’s Pretties For You was 1969. So that, maybe?
    Unless the Velvet Underground count (which maybe they should.)

    Kerr Duul
    What did alice cooper call his music at the time?

    Chuck Eddy
    No idea; not sure why that would matter. Also, I forgot Little Richard.
    It’s amusing how the British always think they invented everything.

    Kerr Duul
    I think you mean ‘Americans’

    Sundar Subramanian
    Bowie said “glam rock” in 72 in the Telegraph.

    Brian Chin
    I seem to recall the word “glam” a lot in the headlines in Melody Maker in the early Seventies, when I was reading it every week.

    Chuck Eddy
    Seems like it took several years to cross the Atlantic!

    Phil Dellio
    Don’t forget Ricky and the Balloons–I think “Glamour Boy” (1973) was prairie shorthand for Glam.

    Chuck Eddy
    I swear, I was just now in the bathroom brushing my teeth, thinking of posting the Guess Who song, and wondering what Canada called the stuff.

    Phil Dellio
    We called it high-class-in-borrowed-shoes.

    Kerr Duul
    Glitter Rock actually does get mentioned here.

    Chuck Eddy
    Of course. It’s weird they think Gary Glitter was “extreme”. (An extreme pedophile, maybe.) Also doesn’t seem to say who named the genre(s)?

    Kerr Duul
    Marc Bolan was always credited with it

    Simon Reynolds
    It was always glam rock in the UK – or just glam. I was surprised when going through american writing of the era to see this term “glitter rock” – it seemed dissonant (and also has a more dismissive edge). Apparently In 1972 Bowie said this in an an interveiw “I think glam rock is a lovely way to categorize me and it’s even nicer to be one of the leaders of it.”

    Sundar Subramanian
    Simon yep I linked that interview upthread.

    Simon Reynolds
    I have had people say this about postpunk as well – no one used it then – but i have the receipts! Can point to dozens of uses of the term in 1979 and 1980. The earliest is jon savage and jane suck in the winter of 1977 when they are writing about New Musick for Sounds – ie what comes after punk but still out of punk. “Postpunk projexions” – adjective before it becomes a noun, a substantive entity. A classic path for genre-ification and probably how it worked with ‘glam’ too

    Chuck Eddy
    Yeah, I admit Simon, I was skeptical about “post-punk” for the longest time too — and then I wound up finding it all through the Rolling Stone record guide (see my turnaround toward the bottom of this way too long post). That’s 1983, but Rolling Stone has never invented anything, so it doesn’t surprise me now that the term was around several years before that (right, as an adjective if not a noun.) And I’m now more convinced than I was, uh, seven hours ago that the US and UK called glam/glitter different things back in its time. (Still curious how Google Ngram could have missed all that though.) But I’m fairly certain that nobody will ever convince me that early ’80s post-disco r&b was called “boogie” in the early ’80s.

    Adam Sobolak
    Even more forgotten are some of the alternate terms for prog, such as “flash-rock”.

    Chuck Eddy
    Growing up, I mainly remember people calling Yes and ELP “classical rock.”

    Ian Grey
    Well, in the case of ELP, ‘classical rock’ is journalistically accurate, as all their albums either used, repurposed or riffed on classical music written by a classical organist over a rock beat—it’s totally literal! Meanwhile, Cooper, well, he was sort of inducted into the glam ranks retroactively for lack of anything actually accurate. I was in junior high when Yes came out, so all I recall is them being lumped up with King Crimson under various descriptors.

    Adam Sobolak
    Nowadays, “classical rock” sounds like one of those old-fashioned “rock in the classroom” descriptors (ie the foundation for explicating stuff like “Whiter Shade Of Pale”)

    Simon Reynolds
    Techno-flash was an insulting music paper term in UK in mid 70s for usually synth wielding proggers like ELP and rick wakeman

    Sara Sherr
    I forgot about Danielle Dax! I used to have this on cassette and it was pretty unique, IMO. She did one more album after that and disappeared.

    Chuck Eddy
    Definitely a subject for future research. I remember her name, but that’s all!

    David Williams
    Stuck in rural NE Texas, all I knew was what Creem (miraculously available at the mom and pop drug store magazine stand) told me!


  2. “In 1971 and 1972, Gary Glitter pioneered a musical sound and style which became know as Glitter-Rock or Glam Rock in England which later became known around the world as Disco Rock.” (!!!???) — Bruce Harris, liner notes to Gary Glitter’s 1980 10-inch six-song U.S.-released Epic Nu-Disk best-of EP Glitter and Gold.


    1. via facebook:

      David Williams
      Disco(teque) rock, of course, but I’m not sure I ever saw that anywhere, especially for Glitter/glam?

      Chuck Eddy
      Me neither. But “around the world” could mean, like, Thailand and Peru!

      David Williams
      I don’t think Gary Glitter was ever charged with a crime in Thailand

      Chuck Eddy
      One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble.

      David Williams
      Our first stop is in Bogota…


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