We're All Gonna Rock To The Rules That I Make

Not so long ago, a certain prestigious gallery put on a huge exhibition entitled Glam! The Performance Of Style. Taking the satin and tat of Glam Rock as its stylistic cue - albeit leaning very much towards the artier Bowie/Roxy end of the scale rather than just having a huge screen showing Noddy Holder shouting "IT'S GRIM-LEYYYYYYYS" on an endless loop - this was an ambitious and well-presented collection that sought to reflect just how far Glam's influence had pervaded into the wider sphere of arts and culture, with exhibits ranging from a photo of Showaddywaddy to a small artillery of Alkasura jackets, some Richard Allen books safely secured in a glass case to prevent them from going on the rampage, and a collection of films by gender-ambiguous shock performance art troupe The Cockettes, one of which, following several minutes of provocative homoerotic male full-frontal activity, caused someone to tut and walk out when a topless lady appeared on screen.

There was, however, one figure who was perhaps even more conspicuous by his absence than he would have been by his presence. Come on, come on, you know full well who that is. Now, before we go any further, nobody is seriously suggesting for a second that there should have been huge framed photos of The Artist Formerly Known As Rubber Bucket taking up an entire wall of every single room, but the question remains of how you can stage a full and comprehensive retrospective of Glam Rock without in some way acknowledging - even if it's just via the same sort of 'cover versions by other artists' subterfuge as the compilers of the superb Glam box set Oh Yes We Can Love skilfully deployed - someone who, no matter how subsequently disgraced, was for many, many, many years seen by the general public at least as the be all and end all of all things Glam?

And the answer is that you can't. Well, not properly. If, due to the actions of a handful of genre participants (and, somewhat unfairly, a brace of untalented tosser DJs who happened to be presenting pop shows when Glam was big, as opposed to all those other years either side they were doing exactly the same that somehow don't seem to have wound up quite so tainted by association), you have to play down the fun and throwaway footstompy side of Glam - which, with its heavy slant towards provocative art, high fashion and gender politics as opposed to The Tomorrow People, Spangles and the BBC Schools Clock, Glam! The Performance Of Style seemed jarringly keen to do - then in some ways you have to start pretending that Glam Rock was something that it wasn't. Or rather something that was only half of what it was. Which is all very well and good when you're exploring the films, fashion houses and indeed art galleries that fired the imaginations of your Ferrys, Enos and Harleys, but not so much when people start trying to fill the musical void on the other side of the newly decimalised coin by roping in other more culturally acceptable yet less genre-appropriate pop favourites that simply happened to be around at the time. Look down any list of 'Glam Rock' artists these days, and it probably won't be long before you stumble across a mention of Abba, whose visual links with actual proper Glam Rock were tenuous at best, and musical links slightly less than non-existent. If wearing silly shiny clothes and having a bit of early seventies pop clout are all you need to qualify, then, frankly, let's have Bobby Crush on the lists too.

Just for now, though, let's take a look back at a time when lists of Glam Rock artists had actual literal Glam Rock artists on them. And were actual literal lists too. No, really. Back in 1989, probably before any of the featured artists even had a computer to take in to be fixed, K-Tel put out a rather splendid compilation entitled Glam Slam. Wrapped in a lavishly-designed memorabilia-strewn gatefold sleeve, this was quite possibly the first occasion on which anyone had attempted to put together a coherent overview of the genre, and alongside the obvious big hits and big hitters the compilers also found room to feature a couple of relative obscurities from the likes of Hello and Argent, and a mildly contentious inclusion from bill-fitters in sound only 10cc. Promoted by an inevitably Holder-shouted TV advert boasting camera flare-occasioning archive clippage of many of the featured artists, it was a foregone conclusion that any aspirant investigators of the more esoteric corners of pop and rock history would invest in Glam Slam as soon as paper round revenue permitted, and on top of that, exposure to this previously rarely discussed genre suddenly seemed to fling open a door on a lost popular cultural world every bit as remote and evocative as mid-sixties pyschedelia, only with more Barnaby.

Still tucked away inside the lavishly-designed memorabilia strewn gatefold sleeve of my own copy of Glam Slam is a not particularly neatly folded sheet of A4 paper, on which I attempted to scribble together a definitive list of artists connected to my then-new musical obsession. It's a list that's split into three columns, and the first - headed 'Glam' - features all of the usual suspects (and indeed suspects) with some newer and less well-known additions like Sailor, Barry Blue and The Arrows appended to the foot of the list in varying shades of biro. The second one, headed '?', catalogues the longer-careered likes of Elton John, Lou Reed, 'Dinners' McCartney and Lulu, who while never quite fully committing themselves to the Glam Rock cause certainly adopted its musical and sartorial trappings for a nicely effective while (though no Abba, oddly enough). And the third, helpfully headed '??', simply lists The Wombles and The Goodies. No, still can't figure that one out.

In addition to Glam Slam, a fair few of the names in the first column of that list were arrived at via the three volumes of Glam Rock released by Virgin Video around the same time, which featured a dazzling collection of vintage TV performances from across the globe by the familiar and the forgotten of Glam Rock (and, on the less essential third instalment, some more up-to-the-minute pop gaudiness from the likes of Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Twisted Sister and Doctor And The Medics), which in those pre-TOTP2 days was an almost unheard of feat of archival archaeology. Well, to be honest, you did occasionally get the odd clip on daytime TV shows and the then still-rare phenomenon of nostalgia shows and pop retrospectives, but you get the general idea. And, given that there's now no way that you're ever going to get a DVD release of any of them, it's time to take another look at one of those Glam Rock video compilations. Unusually, we're not going to be taking a look at the first Volume of Glam Rock here, as it's a bit too limited in terms of range of artists, and it was confusingly issued in two versions (one with Roxy Music doing Virginia Plain, one with Wizzard's Ball Park Incident instead) due to mysterious rights complications, and on top of that we'd have to deal with the thorny subject of someone going on Top Of The Pops in full Nazi uniform, and frankly we've already got enough on our plate as it is. Instead, though there'll no doubt be reference to the contents of the other two volumes en route, we'll be turning our attention to the more wide-ranging line-up - if not more widely-ranging in terms of trouser width - Glam Rock 2.

Despite the subtle but effective attention to detail in the sleeve art, featuring both some authentic-looking star-spangled fabric and a short but enticing sleevenote about how much fun the likes of Roy Wood and Noddy Holder brought to the pop scene, Glam Rock 2 opens with - ironically - a none-more-eighties scrolling video effect showing various featured performances, including, you can't help but notice, a Slade one that doesn't actually appear on the tape. Closer examination reveals this to be a mimed Coz I Luv You, and quite how and why it ended up being trimmed from the running order will have to remain a mystery.

What's less of a mystery is the identity of the lengthy drum intro playing behind this opening sequence, and sure enough, as soon as the guitars kick in we're straight over to Suzi Quatro, thundering through Can The Can with the aid of her band of Lance from Home And Away lookalikes. Though, it has to be said, very few people will be paying much attention to them - even when there's a close-up of one of them doing the 'eagle' noise on his guitar - when there's a sparkly-eyeshadowed busty leather-catsuited frontwoman whacking her bass and yelling with full force rock fury, proving years before punk that women could do 'real' music just as well as men without having to draw attention to the fact that they were doing so, and generally showing exactly why she was such a huge star at the time. Placing this as the first song on the video also raises a couple of interesting points from the outset; firstly that this sounds very heavy indeed for something that was roundly dismissed as 'pop rubbish' at the time (leading to an infamous incident in which her producer sent a giftwrapped brain to the NME), and secondly that, at least visually, this is a very different sort of 'Glam' to either of the previously identified strains, still glittery and androgynous but with a more straightforward, rather than parodied and exaggerated, fifties-influenced look. Of course, putting it at the start also makes sense in that it's simply a great opening track with a steadily excitement-building intro, much like Rock And Roll Part 2 had been for the first volume. And moving quickly on from that...

...we come straight onto, erm, the Glittery one himself. Let's be blunt about this; the flimsy Always Yours was already one of the least remembered chart-toppers of all time even before we were all instructed to forget it by law, and, unfortunately, hearing it again after such a long interval does nothing to improve its standing. This isn't even a particularly imaginative performance either, just some straightforward camp-expressioned miming with The Glitter Band standing around doing a synchonised arm-pointing dance. Not that any of his songs included on the first volume of Glam Rock were any more imaginatively staged, but at least they were good songs. Well some of them. Anyway, that's as good a moment as any to leave Always Yours where it is.

T. Rex's Electric Warrior-era singles were all on the first volume of Glam Rock, mostly drawn from refreshingly unfamiliar-looking European pop shows, so the first glimpse we get here of Marc Bolan and company is via the original promo film for Children Of The Revolution. Not that the 'rock historians' very often deigned to lower themselves to write about Glam Rock at the time - Stuart Maconie's two-page Glam retrospective in Vox circa 1990 was something approaching an act of revolution - but believe it or not, it was a widely expressed opinion back then that Children Of The Revolution marked the moment at which T. Rex 'jumped' the 'shark', largely on the basis of its purported Holidays In The Sun-esque lack of substantial discernible difference to previous offerings, and the fact that - shock horror - it only reached number two. However, one listen to the still-mighty song itself is enough to confirm why this daft opinion has long since been overturned, and though while admittedly the band do look a little, erm, 'tired' in this performance, there's no disputing the energy, enthusiasm and star quality that are still vividly on display. Of course, the words 'Bolan' and 'Boogie' would indeed become mutually incompatible soon enough, but thankfully we'll have to wait until Glam Rock 3 to witness any of that.

Next up is Alvin Stardust, once regarded as a derivative johnny-come-lately bandwagon-jumping Glam opportunist of the first order, but more recently belatedly promoted into the First Division for rather quite obvious reasons. Though it would have been better if the reasons had actually been to do with his music being quite good after all. And The Grimleys, obviously. He clearly wasn't quite so readily disregarded at the time, though, as this Top Of The Pops performance of My Coo Ca Choo is pretty much the most visually elaborate, if not ridiculously over the top, inclusion in this entire compilation. It starts with a Thermal Image Camera-enabled rendition of Alvin himself in profile, before he becomes a zoom-varying full-size figure superimposed in front of footage of his decidedly less than Glam-looking band, with additional psychedelic multi-image effects thrown in (or should that be thrown on?) for good measure. Meanwhile, in a weird coincidence, it was around the time of the video's release that Cadbury's Picnic opted to start advertising their wares with a comedy rewrite of My Coo Ca Choo, featuring the video-manipulated Calvin The Camel singing the praises of "peanuts, raisins, whuafffer biscuits". Though as the accompanying The Chart Show-riffing data boxes informed us, he wouldn't be touring because 'he can't stand dates'. The writers of TV's Thompson were reportedly not losing sleep.

Five numbers in, we finally get to Sweet, all of whose biggest and best hits - or at least the ones that there were actually still extant TV performances of - were included on the first volume of Glam Rock. Though even then they were somewhat compromised by the use of a weirdly edited promo film for Teenage Rampage that omitted roughly seventy five percent of the actual song, and the skipping over of the oft-repeated eye-maddeningly solarised Top Of The Pops performance of Blockbuster! in favour of another lesser-seen one from another edition, in which Steve Priest's somewhat ideologically dubious choice of 'camp' stage gear caused uneasiness and indeed queasiness even at the time the video was first released. Thankfully there's nothing so troubling on offer here, though unfortunately Glam Rock 2 is left with no archival option than to delve into the somewhat less celebrated era when they started writing and producing their own material, and it doesn't always make for satisfying listening. Action, dating from the all but post-Glam year of 1975, was a reasonably enough sized hit, but it's quite clear from this performance that the band had more or less phased out the spangly business in favour of a more conventional 'rock' look and indeed sound, while the song itself comes across as a collection of decent ideas in search of a way of actually working alongside each other. Barring a lone stray late seventies hit, Action was to prove to be their last regular top twenty appearance, and those lyrics about not needing to conform to other people's commercial gameplan, and indeed that sarky cash register in the middle, must have rung a tad hollow afterwards.

Thankfully, next up comes someone who quite clearly has no qualms about being commercial and doesn't care who knows it. Despite Roy Wood seemingly being unencumbered by the need to come up with more than one tune, Wizzard nonetheless managed to score a string of surprisingly credible Phil Spector-pastiching hits featuring increasingly bizarre instruments whilst trying their absolute hardest to look as ludicrously far past the point of tinselly ridiculousness as was possible, which stand up as some of the best chart offerings of their time. Early seventies pop did not come much more fun than this, plus they get extra points for jointly kickstarting the whole craze for Christmas singles, to the chagrin of miseryguts Scrooger-than-thou types and TV's Phil Popes everywhere. Appropriately taken from the 1973 Christmas Top Of The Pops, this performance of their finest five minutes See My Baby Jive features guitar-toting gorillas, foxy handjiving backing dancers, rollerskating angels, a custard pie fight, and Roy Wood playing both a French Horn and a vacuum cleaner - the possibility that that's exactly what he was playing on the actual record cannot be discounted - and should be used as Exhibit 'A' whenever anyone tries to prove that they're better at liking music than you by showing you a clip of Thom Yorke mumbling into a microphone about a bird that fell in a bin or something. This is exactly the sort of infectious pop silliness that we're losing out on by trying to play down the fun side of Glam Rock, and nobody's any the better off for that.

More tongue-in-cheek silliness follows, though this time it's 'allowed' due to Sparks' more critic-satisfying eccentric art-school leanings. This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us scarcely needs any introduction (though you'd be surprised at how rarely heard and indeed little remembered it was back then), and this Top Of The Pops appearance was the first that the majority of the UK had seen of Ron and Russell, and never let it be forgotten that the latter's exaggerated theatrics are every bit as entertaining as the former's more celebrated toothbrush-moustached glowering. For no readily obvious reason it's cut a bit short here, omitting the final verse and Russell's song-closing dramatics, but even so this is every bit as entertaining and indeed silly as the Wizzard performance, and once again this is exactly the sort of thing that will get missed out on if we start prizing 'art' above all else, however legitimate the reason. Although this wouldn't be missed out on due to it being regarded as 'art' in some quarters. Erm, as you were.

The same is less equivocally true of Suzi Quatro's Devil Gate Drive, which is a fun and rowdy enough rock'n'roll pastiche as it is, and is rendered here in a truly mind-frazzling sensory assault of dazzling multicoloured back-superimposed post-psychedelia psychedelia, which quick-cut alternates with an entire alternate performance in extreme close-up, while Suzi and the heavily-haired boys indulge in a wilfully ridiculous routine involving formation high-kicking dancing and bizarre interludes of 'worshipping' her gods-proferred bass guitar. It's in seeing footage like this (and indeed Can The Can) that you come to realise just how good a rock musician she was and just how unfairly this has been overlooked since, admittedly partly due to her later successful diversification into stage and television acting, radio presenting, all-round entertaining and presenting Central TV's Gas Street. Also, it's handy evidence to back up Noddy Holder's oft-repeated, under-appreciated assertion that Glam Rock came about because people needed a bit of fun in the face of the grim realities of the early seventies. Well that and the Carnaby Street boutiques starting selling glittery jackets, and the new studio technology that allowed for better recording of heavy drumbeats, and the influence of The Move, The Small Faces and Syd Barrett, and the general evolution of pop-art in a more minimalist and primary-coloured direction, and Dominic Sandbrook's probable conclusion that none of this happened outside of a couple of ephemeral second division pop stars who'd been palmed off on Mickie Most and/or Chinn And Chapman by their record companies in desperation, and... erm... um... c'mon boys, let's do it one more time for Suzi etc etc.

And it's a good job we've had that three-song outbreak of hilarity as - who'd ever believe it - a certain slightly less welcome party is now being wheeled onto the stage on the back of a giant tinselly revolving heart. I Love You Love Me Love was once so popular that it was included on the first ever commercially available compilation of karaoke backing tracks (1990's Karaoke Party on Trax Records - go on, look it up), but now just leaves the unwary listener with a bit of an uneasy feeling, particularly when it's staged with such adulation and reverence. You do have to feel a bit sorry for poor old Mike Leander, who wrote, produced, played on and probably even did the bulk of the singing on all of these now verboten hits, but it's a sympathy that can only extend so far and sometimes the inadvertent implications of a song and artist are just so much that you don't even feel like putting forward an argument for the music itself. Good Lord we need a good laugh at this point.

Thank fuck, then, for Alice Cooper, and the truly hilarious promo film for Elected, featuring everyone's favourite shock-rocker cruising the streets on his fictitious presidential campaign, 'meeting' the public (including one lady who appears to think he's an actual candidate) and planning his next senatorial move with the aid of a suited-up chimp. It's hard to convey in words just how expertly assembled this bit of irreverent comic nonsense is, from the moment a limo pulls up to reveal him grinning out of the window, to the madcap rally invaded by someone in a sub-Banana Splits elephant suit at the end, but if you're familiar with Elected and know how good it is, then saying that it's a perfectly judged visual accompaniment should get the manifesto across just fine. What's particularly interesting is that while this may all seem like a two-fingered response to America's political establishment in the wake of Watergate, the actual scandal was still some months away from breaking when the song was recorded and indeed released as a single, and this promo film will almost certainly have in fact been filmed while the initial attempted covering up was taking place. Nothing ever hits quite so hard as inadvertent satire before the event.

One of the few non-Top Of The Pops performances on the tape, T. Rex's Telegram Sam is actually taken from Music In The Round, a short-lived London Weekend Television Sunday Morning arts show in which Humphrey Burton introduced and chatted to young and up-and-coming musicians ranging from The National Youth Jazz Orchestra to early music enthusiast David Munrow as they played to a small audience at London's celebrated Cockpit Theatre. The complete T. Rex edition, showcasing songs from The Slider, has since shown up on several official collections and is well worth tracking down, though the undisputed highlight is this powerful live rendition of the then-recent chart topper which, the superbly slovenly Bolan-voiced count-in aside, manages to sound impressively close to the original studio version. Incidentally, all of Music In The Round still exists, as do plenty of other ITV music shows from the sixties and early seventies featuring all manner of arcane and fascinating Glam, Psych, Prog, Soul and even straight ahead pop acts that were bewilderingly overlooked by the producers of recent missed opportunity Pop Gold. Still, it was worth it for all those endless clips of Bros on The Roxy.

Then Alvin Stardust's back with a decidely more visually appropriate backing band - who he's actually standing next to this time - for Jealous Mind, which was in fact a bigger hit than My Coo Ca Choo despite not being quite as good as it, and this is a much more moody performance, deliberately playing up the puzzling and quickly dropped 'Mean Man Of Glam' element to his stage persona with some half-hearted guitarist-shoving and microphone stand-twirling. Much like with Suzi Quatro, this was a very clear attempt to create a more subdued and stylised form of Glam, mining the rougher glitz and glamour of late fifties fashion rather than retina-infuriating gaudiness, and while it may have worked when he was telling errant road-crossers that they must be out of their tiny minds, pretending to be a big tough rebel telling 'the man' to stick it now doesn't seem to sit well with the context of times, and it was on becoming a more jovial and affable caricature that Mr. Stardust found his way into the public's affections and the wider world of all-round entertaining. TV-am, Hollyoaks, Godspell and I Feel Like Buddy Holly all lay ahead. Someone really ought to have put him in a sitcom, though.

A familiar - though noticeably re-recorded, presumably in accordance with those arcane Musicians' Union rules about bands having to mime to an alternate re-performance of their hit - Moog-tastic intro announces the arrival of Fox On The Run by Sweet, a superb bit of self-penned nonsense where they had the good sense to actually write and perform it in the style of their earlier production team-driven hits, meeting with massive success that unfortunately convinced them that they could do it all themselves in future. And what do you know, there's just enough of a hint of Glam still detectable in both their image and their performance to make it fit seamlessly in with the surrounding songs. Actually, on closer examination, those bizarre regulations don't seem to have been as rigorously enforced as you might expect them to have been, as surviving early seventies editions of Top Of The Pops appear to capture most of the featured acts more or less miming to the available-in-the-shops version, but as Sweet were so calamatiously keen to emphasise their 'real music' credentials to all and sundry by this stage, it's hardly surprising that they should have taken the fullest possible advantage of the opportunity to impress the wider viewing public.

One widely-adopted simpler solution to this issue was to unobtrusively whack a couple of extra drumbeats or vocal ad-libs over the top of the existing recording, and that's exactly what T. Rex opt to do with Metal Guru, throwing in the odd additional double-tracked Bolan war cry so that Ben Kingsley Musician's Union would never suspect a thing. Again this is an effects-swamped performance, with multicoloured camera effects very much to the fore, and if this and other similar inclusions in the compilation prove anything, it's that the music was really only a part of the equation and indeed that Glam Rock could not thrive by sparkly eyeshadow and camp posturing alone, and needed the artifice, the spectacle and whatever visual wizardry the 'backroom boys' could throw at it to truly become otherworldly, and that this mighty combination of factors is what sets T. Rex apart from the likes of, well, Abba. Though that said, you really did need to have the music, the image and the personality as well as the TV spanglings. Otherwise you'd just be Rod, Jane And Roger.

Next up... well, it's Mr. Glitter again, and what's more he's adding insult to injury by bending the rules slightly. Performed here with an uneasy fusion of high camp and a post-Glitter Band assortment of for-the-money session musicians in dinner jackets, which it has to be said contrasts rather dramatically with the visual flair in evidence throughout most of the rest of this tape, A Little Boogie Woogie (In The Back Of My Mind) actually hails from his mildly commercially revitalising attempt to 'go' disco at the end of the seventies, and while it's certainly a fantastic song, it's not really 'Glam Rock' as such and, even allowing for the paucity of available archive material, seems a bit of an odd choice. Anyway, if you're troubled by my saying it's a fantastic song, keep in mind that in the late eighties, Shakin' Stevens - in the midst of his short-lived 'House' phase - had a huge hit with a Mike Leander-instigated overhaul as performed on TV with a quartet of dancers whose heads appeared to stay in the same place whilst their bodies moved around, and we can all enjoy that without any guilt or misgivings. Not least considering that whilst endeavouring to determine that this really was a Top Of The Pops performance and not one of the German shows (which it does look and sound a bit like), YouTube provided some very unwelcome confirmation when TV's Scrawny Old Bastard showed up to back-announce it. Yeah, thanks for that.

And, saving the most ridiculous for last, it's time for Mud doing Tiger Feet, with the aid of some blokes doing a decidedly awkward dance that looks for all the world like the 'how to play badmington' diagrams from the Fist Of Fun book. And Mud, really, encapsulate the inherent problem with trying to play down the less heavyweight side of Glam Rock; they rocked as hard as The New York Dolls and dressed as flamboyantly as Bowie, but because they did so on lightweight Crackerjack-friendly numbers about hypnotists and partying cats they aren't really allowed anywhere near the too-cool-for-art-school performance-of-style side of things. Suggesting that Glam was something it wasn't leaves no room for Les Gray singing Lonely This Christmas to a ventriloquist's dummy, and that won't do at all.

But that's not all; there's also a spot of hidden post-credits hilarity in the form of some post-credits hilarity from the Top Of The Pops itself, in which Mud and their dancers are joined onstage by The Glitter Band, Alvin Stardust's mob, assorted Rubettes, Carl Douglas' non-Glam Kung Fu-fighting backing dancers, and Dave Lee Travis 'playing' a Christmas Tree, for a bit of custard pie-flinging year-end fun. Yes, that's just who we needed to show up right before the last paragraph.

So, that's Glam Rock 2, and that's the end of our look back at a video that for obvious reasons has long since been consigned to the dustbin of popular culture, and which perhaps wasn't the most popularity-courting outmoded artefact ever picked out for discussion on here. It's quite possible that a few readers might think that it should not have ever been discussed on here at all, and some might even have taken offence at it, to which it can only be suggested that they maybe possibly actually read the whole article and pick up on certain not exactly subtle undertones contained therein before raising indignant objections.

As for Glam Slam, it was quickly followed by a couple of imitators which were eagerly purchased by new converts to the tinseltastic cause; the even better yet Glam Crazee, and Wig Wam Glam, which I will one day personally destroy every copy of.

If you've enjoyed this, you can find more articles about popular culture from the deepest early seventies in my book The Camberwick Green Procrastination Society, available in paperback here, from the Kindle Store here, and as a full-colour eBook here.