When the digital switch over thingy happened recently I decided that would be the end of it for me. Aside from the unashamed tripe dished up daily, the one eyed beasty called television is responsible for more hypnosis and bulls**t than most people realise, and I for one am happy to lay it to rest. Of course the tv licensing people will no doubt brand me a liar, but hey, that’s their problem!
What it has done is make me reach into my huge archive of video tapes. My initial delve was towards all the wonderful Zombie movies I avidly collected in the 80’s, mostly Lucio Fulci but the entire George Romero back catalogue. Those 1970’s Italian Horror movies really float my boat, because they’re so incredibly dark and atmospheric, and the vibe of all the Zombie/Cannibal movies is desperate and Apocalyptic, and I’ve had a hundred dreams where I’m the Ian McCulloch figure, the dude who leads the good folk away from the bad!
But what did I nonchalantly stumble over in my rifling’s?A whole evenings worth of Glam Rock! Yee-har! A fabulous Glam top ten presented by my favourite DJ’s, Tony Blackburn and Alan “Fluff” Freeman. It was probably the very awful “Never too young to Rock’n’Roll” movie that followed it that got me thinking about the common threads in Glam Rock. The biggest influence is 50’s Rock’n’Roll, like most popular music post Elvis, and certainly Doo Wop is an influence too, with all the “bop shewaddy” backing vocals of Mud, Wizzard, Showadywaddy and the Rubettes. But there’s another looming prescence which may have alluded all but the most obsessive……Phil Spector.
Showaddywaddy, and Mud, who weren’t really Glam, all wore regulation Teddy Boy drape coats, and brothel creepers, aside from Mud’s very girly looking guitarist Rob Davis, now a songwriter of some renown, having written “Can’t get you out of my head” for Kylie. And Les Gray undoubtedly sang like an Elvis pastiche, tho’ their hairstyles would’ve certainly got them kicked out of the Silver era club, our local Rock’n’Roll joint in Maldon. All of Glam’s key players referenced 50’s Rock’n’Roll in some way or another. Bill Legend told me Bolan’s hero was Eddie Cochran. He also said Bolan told him he received a telegram from Elvis, wishing him luck on his first tour of America, tho’ Bill thought that was pure fantasy on Marc’s behalf. Bill also told me David Bowie(via Tony Visconti)asked him to drum on the “Diamond Dogs” tour, which he declined!
The sound came from somewhere else tho’. Of course it’s obvious that Roy Wood, a totally under rated English pop genius, replicated Spector’s “Wall of Sound” almost as obsessively as Brian Wilson did. And a damn fine clone it was too. But compare “Angel Face” by the Glitter band and “Instant Karma” by the Plastic Ono band and I think you’ll get my drift. An often used effect in Glam is the Sun style slap back echo. And what does Spector do with Lennon’s vocal on “Instant Karma”? It’s said that John hated the sound of his voice, and urged Spector to cover it in Elvis echo. And I know from personal experience, slap back echo does wonders for one’s voice, an instant double track, with every breath sounding full and dramatic. And it’s not just the vocals, on both Lennon’s and the Glitter band’s singles, there’s slap echo on the drums and hand claps, both an essential part of the sound.
Something I really love about the Glitter band is their tuneless thug/football hooligan/terrace style Heys! and along with the neo tribal/Burundi drums, saturated with Spector style echo, guarantee to get the pulse racing. Plus they have 2 drummers just like the Wrecking crew. The Glitter band’s vocals aren’t quite as intense as Lennon’s, but the compression on the drums and bass give it a similar density to “Karma”. And with “Power to the people” there’s even Saxophone to thicken up the sound, just like the Glitter band. Mott the Hoople used wailing 50’s style sax to good effect on their singles “All the way from Memphis” and “Honaloochie boogie”, courtesy of Andy Mackay from Roxy Music.
Perhaps it’s a sound very much of it’s time, the early 1970’s, but a good degree of the Glam rock that followed Lennon’s solo singles certainly have Spector nuances.
So we’ve got the dense, compressed drums, with added echo(just like “Instant Karma”)on the Glitter band/Rubettes/Suzi Quatro/Slade and the Sweet 45’s, with a driving, heavy bass. As Alan Williams once said to me, all great Rock’n’Roll has the drums upfront, and certainly Glam is no exception. The guitar sounds reflected 1970’s heavy Rock, the Marshall amp/Les Paul archetype brought on by the Who, followed by Free and numerous other Blues Rock ensembles. Then we have the Sun/Elvis slap back echo on the lead vocal, and listening to “Mama weer all crazee now” even the very venerable Sir Noddy of Nodsworth Holder has that close slapback on his voice. And of course, special reverence must be given to Slade, who along with the Glitter band influenced several generations of musicians, and continue to do so today.
I pretty much hated Glam all together in it’s time. I loved Bowie, Roxy Music, the New York Dolls and the Stooges, and thought mainstream British Glam Rock was the pits. But when I heard “Fox on the run” by the Sweet on a de-tuned radio when it was released, I realised they rocked pretty hard, especially their B sides, where they were given free reign. Sweet were the sub Heavy Metal archetype, and perhaps we have them to blame for “Hair Metal”, bless ’em! And if you watch the Sweet on TOTP, doesn’t Mr Priest look like our favourite Droog, Alex? I have “Turn it down” as the ring tone on my phone, set to maximum volume. It always goes down well at the checkout in Netto……
Over the years I’ve become very fond of the genre, especially Slade(Noddy is a national treasure!)the Sweet and the Glitter band. I suppose I forgave Bolan post Tyrannosaurus Rex, because “20th Century Boy” and “Solid Gold Easy Action” rocked fabulously. Oh yeah and Bill Legend played in my band, the Surf Rats. Not that you’d know that if you checked any of the numerous websites pertaining to Mr Fyfield, I’m not sure why because he played with the Surf Rats longer than he did T.Rex. God bless Bill.
Through Bill Legend I also got to meet Len Tucky, the ex Mr Quatro. I found Len to be a man of few words, and if I could accurately described his demeanour it would be stoic, tho’ I’m told he’s extremely deaf after many years of his lugs being battered by Marshall amplification. Another Glam player I met a few years ago was Vic Faulkner from Hello. Vic was a pro player from his early teens. His success with Hello means a nice yearly royalty cheque, just in time for Christmas. A more affable fellow you’d be hard pressed to meet, Vic is a fabulous bass player, an excellent guitarist, with a voice to match, and still playing.
Ian Linge, the Surf Rats rhythm guitarist was a major Glam fan in the day. He said when a new single was released in those times, people would actually queue outside the most popular record shop in Maldon, Ma Cater’s, in their droves to buy it. And of course sales in those days were phenomenal, you really did have to sell millions to get into the charts. The popularity of Glam Rock in the 1970’s was akin to Beatlemania in the 1960’s, and certainly all the girls at my school adored Bolan, the Sweet and Slade, along with their contemporaries the Osmonds and the Partridge family, tho’ the Mad Princess tells me you had to like either Donny or David and that there was fierce rivalry in opposing camps! I tried to capitalise on this by having my long hair styled like David Cassidy’s, and this did indeed bring some successes with the fairer sex, along with a wee bit of eyeliner, blusher and glitter applied to the barnet! As Steve Preist from the Sweet once said, “sure, we’re Gay, now where’s yer girlfriend?”
Of course Roxy music weren’t part of the mainstream pack, and didn’t fit the Glam archetype. I have to thank Miss Peyton for turning me on to their wonderfulness. In 1972 via Veronica’s Dansette I was given an incredible Rock’n’Roll baptism, most importantly the Stooges and Roxy Music. Roxy’s style and music totally suited Veronica and Hilary’s mentality, a mix of Biba chic, Greebo fashions and 1950’s Kitsch, with a dash of Rock’n’Roll, courtesy of their Mum Cath, a major Elvis fan. Roxy had a Sci-fi edge too, more glamorous than Ziggy’s alien. Their spaceship would have been made from chrome, and fashioned with the sleakness of a 1950’s Cadillac. When I heard “Virginia Plain” in the Summer of ’72 it blew me away, their Velvet Underground rhythms, the like Hawkwind-but-weirder synths, and Ferry’s neo crooner /Elvis vocals added up to a startling and unique sound. And when I heard their first album it took me to a very strange place indeed. Very melancholic and icy, with great Pop sensibilities. And can I perhaps be the first to say their sound was certainly Prog-ish on the first two albums?
At this point, with the exception of Slade(see “How does it feel?”)it has to be said, that unlike popular music in the 60’s and early 70’s, Glam was amazingly devoid of the Beatles influence.
Another band that didn’t fit in the Glam mainstream were Mott the Hoople. I emailed John “Mojo” Mills at Shindig magazine recently, mostly in an attempt to blag a job with what I consider to be England’s finest music magazine. He asked me about ideas for future articles, and I told him something that I’ve been milling over for a while is a career overview of Mott the Hoople. Great he says, I’m making a documentary film about them! Pah! Beaten to the punch! They fascinate me as a band, they went through so many phases and styles, from Folk, to Dylan, to Blues rock and Prog, and Bowie, and beyond, but were always Mott the Hoople. And perhaps to some extent, they channelled 1950’s Rock’n’Roll more than any of the other players, certainly on “Mott” and “The Hoople” albums. I’ll try and summarise them: Dylan listening only to Sun era Elvis and Chuck Berry, with an altruistic philosophy, fronting a band who rocked hard, copped the Stones’ best swagger, inventing the sort of sloppiness that made the New York Dolls brilliant, and had Mick Ralphs as their Ronno. A Glam Rolling Stones if you will. And lest we forget, when Mott went toes up, Mick Ralphs positively shone in Bad Company, at least for their first two albums. I can still feel the excitement when Will bought “Brain Capers”, wondering what stoned idea made them attach a Lone Ranger mask to the cover……
I love the story Bowie tells of Mott rejecting “Drive in Saturday” as the follow up to “Dudes”. He was convinced it would be a hit for them, and when they told him they weren’t interested, he did what any star of his calibre would do……he shaved off his eye brows.
I guess it also had to be said, can any one imagine any of today’s humourless Rock’n’Rollers wearing the ridiculous costumes of the Glam era? And I think the 1970’s were much happier times, when people were less uptight and game for a laugh. And that reflects on classic comedy too, whether it be Monty Python’s or Morcambe and Wise, or Spike Milligan, inherant English silliness, much loved and sadly missed.
“Are you ready Steve……?”