Oh! You Pretty Things: David Bowie's 1971 song became an anthem for the glam era: "Don't you know you're driving your mothers and fathers insane? Let me make it plain, you gotta make way for the homo superior..." Bowie's alien persona - androgynous, dangerous, sexy, and flamboyant - connected with youth and caused a stir among their parents. The song's title has now been adopted by a new 3-CD box set from Cherry Red's Grapefruit imprint. Alas, "Oh! You Pretty Things" doesn't appear anywhere on the collection. If Bowie's recording couldn't be licensed (as was likely the case), surely Peter Noone's single with DB on piano could have made the cut? But while the title song is conspicuous by its absence, the set is chockablock with artifacts of a movement which, in fashion and sound, cast aside repression to celebrate individuality and challenge gender norms.
As compiler David Wells explains in his introduction, "Glam rock was, primarily, a British phenomenon, with many bands wielding recycled Chuck Berry riffs to an Oscar Wilde/Noel Coward-derived camp Englishness that had previously been the province of The Kinks." Over 66 tracks and roughly four hours, that fusion of past and present by "the edgy, androgynous, peacock-plumaged real deal" is explored mainly through British tracks but also with contributions from U.S. hotspots such as New York and Los Angeles.
Glam didn't come in one shape or size, and not every artist here would be classified as such. Many transcended the tag. But the songs here have been chosen to emphasize those certain qualities, and indeed, there were abundant connections made among artists of the era. T. Rex's Marc Bolan joined Jeff Lynne on guitar for ELO's classical-rock fusion "Ma-Ma-Ma Belle." Bolan was lifetime friends with David Bowie, whose ghost hovers over this collection. From his orbit comes familiar tracks by Dana Gillespie (the Bowie-penned "Andy Warhol"), Ian Hunter ("Once Bitten, Twice Shy"), and Mick Ronson (a cover of The Velvet Underground's "White Light, White Heat"), plus one from the rather less well-known Simon Turner (covering Bowie's "The Prettiest Star").
The Velvet Underground were far from glam, a gritty group of New York art-rockers sponsored by Andy Warhol. But frontman Lou Reed enjoyed one of his greatest successes with 1972's Bowie-produced Transformer from which the relatively low-key "Satellite of Love" (with DB on background vocal) has been culled. Reed's sparring partner in the Velvets, John Cale, also got into the glam mode with 1974's dark, noir-inspired "Gun" on which he was joined by Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera and Brian Eno. Roxy actually opens the collection with the offbeat "Pyjamarama," and tracks are included from both Manzanera and Eno ("Big Day") and lead singer Bryan Ferry ("Chance Meeting"). Reed's "I'm Waiting for the Man" also gets a gutsy airing by the U.K.'s husky-voiced Tina Harvey.
Another artist who benefited from Bowie's friendship and collaboration was Iggy Pop, heard here with The Stooges on a raucous, rough 1972 take of "Gimme Some Skin." Primal and ferocious, Pop eschewed camp glamour altogether. The same can't be said of Jobriath, the Philadelphia-born singer-songwriter who broke new ground as an openly gay man signed to a major label, Elektra. His sexuality was part and parcel of the package. His funky, theatrical, and naughty "Earthling" gallops with confidence, and a reappraisal of his complete discography is long overdue. Equally trailblazing is Jayne County. The transgender artist who began her career as Wayne County is heard on the energetic proto-punk rave-up "Queenage Baby," her early signature song. Punk met glam on The New York Dolls' debut; from that Todd Rundgren-helmed LP comes "Personality Crisis." Even musical theatre got in on the act: Oh! You Pretty Things presents Tim Curry as the self-described "Sweet Transvestite" Dr. Frank N. Furter ("from transsexual Transylvania") from the Original London Cast Recording of Richard O'Brien's ultimate cult musical, The Rocky Horror Show.
These three discs are packed, but the sheer variety of the songs keeps the collection from ever becoming monotonous. '60s mainstays The Kinks, The Pretty Things, and The Troggs all reworked their sound to keep up with the younger generation as heard on "Powerman," "Joey," and "Strange Movies," respectively. Strawbs - still going strong today, as evidenced by their 2021 release on Cherry Red, Settlement - successfully transitioned from folk to rock with the glam-influenced "Going Home." Flashes of sci-fi prog (Hawkwind's "Kerb Crawler"), pop (Leo Sayer's falsetto beauty "The Dancer"), and sheer rock-and-roll (Fumble's cover of "Not Fade Away") all make for lively highlights. A bona fide sci-fi legend even pops up: Hawkwind associate and fantasy author Michael Moorcock, fronting his band The Deep Fix on a Bowie-esque demo of the blistering "Dodgem Dude."
Controversial scenester and trash rock guru Kim Fowley makes an appearance with the ramshackle "Hollywood Nites," name-checking Rodney Bingenheimer's Sunset Strip hotspot The English Disco. It was at that venue that Fowley discovered The Hollywood Stars' Scott Phares; he quickly signed up the boys. The first iteration of the group is represented by "King of the Night Time World," a slice of SoCal rock from 1974 with the louche swagger of glam.
Oh! You Pretty Things: Glam Queens and Street Urchins 1970-1976 is housed in Grapefruit's by-now-familiar clamshell case, with each disc in its own paper sleeve. The 40-page booklet features track-by-track liner notes from David Wells and copious photos and memorabilia. While the six-year period covered by this collection represents the chart apex of glam, its influence has never really waned. Latter-day pop artists such as Lady Gaga and Katy Perry have taken cues from the proud and unabashed individuality of glam, while the style also opened the door for sexually and gender norm-challenging artists from Prince to Lil Nas X. Grapefruit's box makes for a vivid and detailed snapshot of the original glam era. It's available now at the links below.
Various Artists, Oh! You Pretty Things: Glam Queens and Street Urchins 1970-1976 (Cherry Red/Grapefruit CRSEGBOX087, 2021) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada)
- Pyjamarama - Roxy Music
- Ma-Ma-Ma Belle - Electric Light Orchestra
- Barbecutie - Sparks
- Joey (Single Version) - The Pretty Things
- Tumble with Me - The Hollywood Brats
- Rolling with My Baby (Single Version) - Silverhead
- Teenage Archangel - Be-Bop Deluxe
- On the Ball - Streak (*)
- Once Bitten Twice Shy (Album Version) - Ian Hunter
- Kerb Crawler (Single Version) - Hawkwind
- Payroll - Brutus
- Bright Lights - England's Glory
- Andy Warhol - Dana Gillespie
- Blue Movie Star - Rococo
- White Light, White Heat - Mick Ronson
- Send Me the Bill for Your Friendship - Duncan Browne
- Powerman - The Kinks
- Up in the Air - Bearded Lady
- The Prettiest Star - Simon Turner
- The Cops Are Coming - Heavy Metal Kids
- Glittery Obituary - Blackfoot Sue
- Street Urchin - The Pink Fairies
- Take Me Bak 'Ome - Slade
- Little Darling - Thin Lizzy
- Cat's Eyes - Zior
- Satellite of Love - Lou Reed
- Gun - John Cale
- Lady Easy Action - Despair
- Shame, Shame, Shame - The Hammersmith Gorillas
- B-Movie Bedtime (Demo) - Doctors of Madness
- Gimme Some Skin - Iggy and The Stooges
- Rat Crawl - Third World War
- Give Yourself a Chance - Agnes Strange
- Chance Meeting - Bryan Ferry
- The Purple Speed Queen - Curved Air
- Earthling - Jobriath
- Big Day - Phil Manzanera featuring Eno
- Around and Around - Slowload (*)
- Strange Movies - The Troggs
- Rosie's Coming to Town - Rosie (*)
- Queenage Baby - Wayne County
- Sweet Transvestite - Tim Curry
- The Six Teens - Sweet
- Personality Crisis - New York Dolls
- I'm Waiting for the Man - Tina Harvey
- Small Town, Big Adventures - John Howard
- Space Ace - Brett Smiley
- The Dancer - Leo Sayer
- Peaches (What's It All About?) - Richmond
- Going Home - Strawbs
- I Love You for Your Mind (Not Your Body) - A Raincoat
- The Monk - Rupert Hine
- All I Wanna Be - Rusty
- The Browns - Duffy
- Last Chance - The Winkies (*)
- Ragman - Hard Stuff
- Dog Meat - Flamin' Groovies
- Dozy Dora - Bullfrog (*)
- Little Girl - Spiv
- Not Fade Away (Single Version) - Fumble
- High School Dropout - Crushed Butler
- Dodgem Dude (Demo) - Michael Moorcock and The Deep Fix
- Hollywood Nites - Kim Fowley
- King of the Nighttime World - Hollywood Stars
- The Last of the Teenage Idols - The Sensational Alex Harvey Band
- Saturday Gigs - Mott the Hoople
(*) previously unreleased
Larry Davis says
I got this set recently in a trade...really fun, entertaining, interesting & informative...and that knockout thick booklet is as much a highlight as the music itself...Cherry Red does great product!! I also have on Grapefruit the 2 boxes of Tommy James & the Shondells & the fun Bubblerock Is Here To Stay comp...will also order the 4CD Action box Shadows & Reflections...keep em coming!!
Bill B says
ELO, Thin Lizzy, Hawkwind were all glam rock.... who knew?
The biggest glam band of the seventies is nowhere to be seen. T.REX.