Glam rock (less commonly glitter rock), a style of rock
music popularized in the 1970s, was mostly a British phenomenon and confined
to larger cities in the U.S., such as New York and Los Angeles. It was
distinguished by the costumes and stage acts of the performers rather than
any particular aspect of their music. The emphasis was on superficiality and
an unabashed embracing of decadence, fame, and sexuality, a statement of
sorts against such acts as Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Yes and Genesis, whose
music was often referred to by critics as art rock.
Glam performers often dressed androgynously in make up and glittery,
outrageous costumes, not dissimilar to costumes that Liberace or Elvis
Presley wore when performing in cabaret. The most famous example is David
Bowie during his Ziggy Stardust phase. Sexual ambiguity became a game; Bowie
told the press he was bisexual simply for the publicity while the late
Jobriath is thought really to have been rock's first openly gay star. One of
the most famous examples of a bisexual glam rocker is Freddie Mercury of
Although credit for starting the trend in Britain is often given to David
Bowie, it was probably Roxy Music, headed by Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno, that
led the wave. However, Roxy Music avoided the excesses of many of their
imitators. Ferry wanted to give his young audience an excuse to dress up for
concerts, or as he said "It would be like a night at the opera for
them." Some also credit Marc Bolan of T. Rex as the progenitor of glam
In America, glam rock was most prominently represented by the proto-punk
New York Dolls, whose sleazy Rolling Stones-influenced rawk was matched by
the wildly feminine look of the band. A sensation in New York City, the
group was never able to find a wider audience, although their subsequent
influence was great. Earlier, in 1968-69, Alice Cooper had arguably sketched
the first hints of glam rock when they used a transvestite look and an
overtly sexual attitude as part of their outrageousness.
Glam rock was a major influence upon the late 1970s UK punk rock
movement, particularly the Sex Pistols.
Glam rock also was reflected in the movies Brian DePalma's Phantom of the
Paradise, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, David Bowie's "The Rise and
Fall of Ziggy Stardust", Alice Cooper's "Good to See You
Again", Slade's "Flame", Todd Haynes' Velvet Goldmine, and
John Cameron Mitchell's glam rock musical, Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
Today, the glam rock legacy is carried out by a sparse few worldwide,
such as androgynous poet Raziel Lafleur, and his devotees.