Book review: Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and its Legacy by Simon Reynolds

Wouldn't it have been downright glum without any of the glam?

Monday, 12th December 2016, 2:17 pm
Updated Wednesday, 14th December 2016, 1:42 pm
Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and its Legacy by Simon Reynolds
Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and its Legacy by Simon Reynolds

The 70s music scene might then have jumped straight from washed-out denim to that unwashed punk look.

Shock and Awe not only examines the stance and style of Marc Bolan, Alice Cooper, David Bowie and other flamboyant personalities who spearheaded the movement but also chronicles their achievements against a backdrop of social upheaval and political disillusion.

By subtitling his book Glam Rock and its Legacy, author Simon Reynolds allows himself to track the reverberations too.

In that way he is able to devote the final 80 of 680-plus pages – in the chapter Aftershocks: A Partial Inventory of Glam Echoes and Reflections – to showing that those four years or so of ‘alien glamour, gender mayhem and thrilling music’ continue to influence contemporary pop four decades later.

On the (glittery) face of it, glam might seem like a fairly narrow, long-faded subject to cover.

But Reynolds allows the term some elasticity which brings the opportunity to highlight not only the obvious candidates but also some less usual suspects from art pop and theatrical rock.

Think Roxy Music, Roy Wood, Cockney Rebel, Be-Bop Deluxe, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Queen and, from across the pond, Sparks, The Tubes, The Runaways and the New York Dolls.

This 70s flashback rightly throws the spotlight on the success and, some might say, excess of those two Ss – Slade and The Sweet – whose careers rocketed into a teenage rampage of hit after hit after they ditched unfruitful, unprofitable styles for a more direct thumping sound with an over-the-top panto dame image to boot.

But when it came to the height of platform soles, the most impossibly towering footwear became synonymous with one particular performer, partnered with huge-shouldered, metallic looking garments.

Thanks to his historic sex crimes against underage girls, the now disgraced and jailed Gary Glitter remains conspicuously absent from the endless regurgitation of music back catalogues that fill supermarket shelves.

Yet Reynolds has not airbrushed from his subject’s timeline the transformation of Paul Gadd, whose career actually started before The Beatles began theirs, into what was once unkindly dubbed ‘the Michelin tyre man of glam.’

For a few short years larger than life… a bit like glam itself.

(Faber and Faber, hardback, £25)