10 Classic Glam Rock Albums
By Joe Lund
John Lennon once famously described glam rock as simply rock and roll with lipstick on. As usual, the former Beatle was right on target. Although in its early ‘70s heyday, glam was sometimes maligned for its emphasis on “image,” there’s no denying the genre yielded a trove of classic albums. Below are ten of the very best.
T.Rex — The Slider
Electric Warrior receives more attention, but no T. Rex album embodied the glam aesthetic more than this 1972 milestone. Released at the height of T.Rextasy, The Slider came off as a quixotic blend of British guitar pop and late ’60s American bubblegum music. Bolan’s solo on “Ballrooms of Mars” soars heavenward, while tracks such as “Metal Guru” and “Telegram Sam” sound gloriously ecstatic.
Roxy Music — Roxy Music
Roxy Music made better albums than their self-titled debut, but none bore the sparkling freshness and campy energy of this initial effort. Visually, the band parodied glam’s excesses, but beneath the tarted-up façade lay songs brimming with rich imagination. Brian Eno’s electronics wizardry and Phil Manzanera’s dazzling guitar work were key ingredients, and singer Bryan Ferry was the perfect frontman to convey the group’s newfangled style.
David Bowie — The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Marc Bolan ignited the spark, but it was Bowie who set the glam movement ablaze with this landmark LP. Aided by the masterful guitar playing of Mick Ronson, Bowie crafted a theatrical masterpiece built on hook-laden, high-energy pop rock. Ronson’s solo on “Moonage Daydream” remains one of the genre’s most euphoric moments, while “Ziggy Stardust” has been hailed as rock’s first-ever power ballad.
Queen — Queen II
Queen injected glam rock with a bigger, more anthemic sound with this glittery opus. Paired with Freddie Mercury’s underrated keyboard work, Brian May’s crisp guitar leads and pristine riffs created a theatrical backdrop for songs that were by turns ferocious and elegant. “Ogre Battle” packs all the pile-driver wallop its title implies, while “Seven Seas of Rhye” exudes the spirited melodicism that made Queen a lasting force.
Lou Reed — Transformer
Superb songwriting, thoughtful arrangements, and Mick Ronson’s deft guitar touch were key components in Lou Reed’s sole foray into the glam world. Peopled with real-life characters from the Andy Warhol “Factory” scene, the album was in essence a snapshot of New York’s underworld at the turn of the ’70s. Ronson’s string arrangement for “Perfect Day” exudes pastoral beauty, while “Satellite of Love” boasts a breathtaking vocal outro that’s packed with celestial splendor.
New York Dolls — New York Dolls
Just when it seemed the British had an exclusive claim on the glam aesthetic, out stepped the Dolls in their platform boots and poofed bouffants. Produced by Todd Rundgren, the band’s debut LP roared on the dual-guitar strength of Johnny Thunders and Sylvain Sylvain. Songs such as “Personality Crisis” and “Trash” sound like punk rock as envisioned by twisted cartoonists.
Jobriath — Creatures of the Street
One of the most hyped artists in rock history, Jobriath was heralded, briefly, as the American counterpart to David Bowie’s emphatically British androgyny. Tragically, the New York-based singer-songwriter made just two studio albums before retreating into obscurity, eventually succumbing to AIDS-related illness in 1983. This 1974 album–a mix of Jagger-esque swagger, show-tune bravado, and swishy rock and roll–is a lost jewel in glam rock’s glittery lineage.
Mott the Hoople — All the Young Dudes
These working class blokes from the London suburbs entered the glam world with trepidation on this monumental LP. Presented (in the form of the title track) with a classic Bowie-penned anthem, Ian Hunter and his bandmates brought a gnarly rock and roll spirit to their glitter-dusted arrangements. Mick Ralphs’ muscular guitar work, in particular, put a meat-and-potatoes punch into tracks such as “One of the Boys” and “Jerkin’ Crocus.”
Slade — Slayed?
Never mind that Slade failed to make much of a splash in America. In their native England, the band scored a string of chart-topping singles that, for a time, made them rivals to the glam throne shared by Bowie and Bolan. Quiet Riot’s 1983 cover of “Cum on Feel the Noize” eventually gave the group some stateside cachet, but this 1972 album–packed with glitter-pop party anthems–remains an underappreciated classic.
Suede — Suede
Occupying stylistic terrain somewhere between David Bowie and the Smiths, Suede was the great hope of British pop at the turn of the ’90s. Centered on Bernard Butler’s shimmery guitar riffs and the sparkling charisma of singer Brett Anderson, the band’s songs were richly melodic and laced with sexual ambiguity. Tracks such as “Animal Nitrate” and “Metal Mickey” boasted a pop shimmer evocative of Marc Bolan at his very best.